Three months in, and I’m starting to get a hang of things here.
But November was still a very difficult month to be a (relatively) new graduate student.
Sleep became negligible. Insanity may have ensued. On one of my students’ papers, I left a comment saying, ‘Good fork.’
For some of my peers, both in my program and others, November was an awful month: they questioned why they were in grad school, why they were in their programs, or if completing a masters was what they should even be doing in the first place.
November was the month when graduate advisers saw a lot of tears.
Thankfully I didn’t have those kinds of doubts about what I was doing, but other things came up regardless.
In addition to dealing with the stress of friends and classmates, there were threats of three unions on campus potentially going on strike, including the one I am part of as a teaching assistant. There was also a debacle about student fees that was publicized in national media.
So although I had a good handle on my school work and continued doing well grade-wise, it was still a stressful month. Being a TA proved to be a steep learning process.
My students handed in their first papers this month, and that was definitely an experience I was not prepared for. Each paper was around four pages each and took me an average of 20 minutes to mark. I had 49 papers to mark, which according to a conservative estimate took me slightly over 16 hours. In actuality, I think it was closer to 20.
It really felt sometimes like there weren’t enough hours in the day to mark, eat and do my own work. Sleep became negligible. Insanity may have ensued. On one of my students’ papers, one of the comments I left was, “Good fork.” I found a new appreciation for the people who had to mark anything I ever submitted.
I expected that I would feel much different about marking papers than I did. Not only was it incredibly time-consuming, but there was no cathartic ending to the ordeal. Although there was the power-trip element (mwahaha!), when my students earned low grades I felt terrible.
Luckily, one of the second-year masters students in my program gave me a great piece of advice: we’re graduate students because we were the keeners in our undergraduate classes. What was considered an acceptable grade for us may have been an outstanding grade for others.
Despite this, I still felt bad giving marks I would not have been pleased to have received myself. At the same time, it isn’t fair to give students an A for Effort. Apparently I’m a bit of a hard ass. But I hope that creating a clear marking rubric and a detailed list of expectations will allow my students to do better on their next papers.
Speaking of papers, I’m starting to write my own. My term papers, in fact: 20 pages of well-researched arguments that will hopefully change the world. Or if that isn’t feasible, at least get me a good grade. My bedroom is a mine field of book towers among a few piles of unwashed clothes. But who needs clean clothes?
Although I am a huge nerd who actually likes school, sometimes I think the best part of my program is the people who are in it. I have made friends with the people in my program, and many of us are going through the exact same things (research frustration, fighting with our sleep patterns). We hang out before and after classes as well as in our free time. My personal cohort is especially amazing, but the second year masters students and the PhDs are pretty cool too.
Other programs on campus are jealous of our camaraderie. And at this point, I’m happy to rub it in their faces a little bit.