Thursday, April 7, 2011

Coco Higgins - The Illustrious Life of a Graduate Student


At the moment, I am in one of my city’s 24-hour coffee shops, sitting here with other nocturnal creatures at 3AM. I have a stack of 80 undergraduate exams I have to grade – some are quite impressive, but sadly, I question whether or not some of these students bothered to show up to any classes. At the risk of violating FERPA, I might even say that some of these kids are dumber than a box of hair. How unfortunate.

As I’ve implied above, I’m currently a grad student. This semester I’m taking two independent studies, which means that I have practically no structure in my life. Most of my time is spent napping, dicking around on the internet, and watching tennis matches that very few people care about.

A few weeks ago, I was in line for a concert when all of a sudden I became extremely fuzzyheaded, nauseated and almost fainted. I left the concert and hobbled over to my friend’s car. After a few wrong turns, I made it home and ate a salad. My dad told me that I might be hypoglycemic, which is a precursor to the diabetes that runs on both sides of my family. Sure, he’s a licensed physician, but I think maybe he just took this opportunity to tell me to stop smoking and drinking.

Suffice it to say, I started caring more about my health recently. I stocked up on protein bars and decided that I should start exercising. I wore some shorts and started putting around my neighborhood, looking the utter complete fool running for five minutes and gasping for air and crawling for the next five. Also disappointingly, these short shorts do not have pockets for cigarettes. Or a flask. (Note to self: should I start wearing cargo pants when I work out? Hmm.)

To echo my poor health, my fat cat Mr. Weatherbee (sometimes known as Creamsicle, Creature, Animal, Weatherpants, Puppy, etc.) has an ear infection. I’ve been putting drops into his ears the last week or so and now the poor guy looks like a drowned rat. I’ve also started calling him Mr. Soggy-Ears. I don’t think he’s all that pleased.

But to get back to my illustrious life as a grad student – I’ve come to realize that I suffer from impostor syndrome and a form of academic bipolar disorder. I’m waiting for the day they discover I’m a hack who doesn’t deserve to be studying at this fine institution. I keep losing motivation, coming up with reasons and excuses not to do research, and overall I become paralyzed by self-doubt. This leads to extreme laziness and procrastination. Witness exhibit A: hours on the internet, tennis obsession and a permanent imprint of my butt on the couch.

But the other day I had a fantastic conversation with my advisor. I presented some of my work to him and he used the O word on me. He said it was ORIGINAL. How fantastic is that, right?! He said it was refreshing, and that I could turn it into a thesis. BOOM. Euphoria. And just a few hours before that, I was wallowing in self-pity about how I’m not producing anything of value. I’ve been riding this high for about 36 hours now, and I’m not sure how long it will last. I bet by tomorrow, I’ll be feeling sorry for myself again and not doing anything. See – small academic validations produce a few highs, but for the most part, grad school is a place for self-loathing.

Why am I doing this again? Oh right, I want to teach one day. Get kids excited about art and learn about themselves through the application of rigorous critical thinking. How lofty. I’ll be lucky to get a post-doc in Nebraska, or some underpaid no-benefits gig as an adjunct prof in Wyoming. But hey, with all my physical training recently, maybe I’ll look into becoming a luchadora. Who doesn’t like masks and wrestling boots, right?

Back to grading.


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