Graduate School: How to Survive Without Shooting Your Loved Ones.

A very happy October to you all.  I am pretty positive this year could not have gone any faster than if it had taken some sort of stimulant.  Summer came and went with the blink of an eye, and now we are approaching the holiday season faster than ever.  Of course, we’re also approaching basketball season! I plan on attending the Notre Dame game in South Bend, and if I can I’ll be heading to Waco with the team to watch the Baylor matchup (that should be one amazing game, if I do say so myself). 

But lately, basketball has been the last thing on my mind.  So what has been forefront in this brain?

Old English grammar.
Freshman English Pedagogy.
Russian Formalism.
Inglourious Basterds.

Must be English Graduate School, eh? Note: I taught Inglourious Basterds in my class.  It wasn’t an excuse to look at Michael Fassbender all afternoon.  Not entirely.

In late August, I started my first year of official graduate studies.  Last year I took four graduate courses and four undergraduate courses in order to prepare me for this year, and so far it has been going pretty well.  Of course, there have been moments where I’ve snapped, but I’d like to think the lack of hysterical crying or thoughts of mutiny are comforting in some small way.  Granted, I’m only six weeks deep and the crux of my work hasn’t popped up yet (that’ll happen after Halloween…and if you don’t hear for me after that, send some sort of search party), but I’d like to think there have been moments where I could possibly pass on some survival tips to you all.

1. Dress like a Mother F-ing Adult.
Last year in the first semester, I was incredibly conscious of the way I looked in every single class.  I would show up looking like I was either on my way to the Academy Awards, or vainly hoping I’d get spotted by Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist.  Then, I ended up devolving (as we all do, eventually, when our brains begin to melt with the stress and strain of English lit) into the college girl uniform: Uggs, sweatshirt, and sweatpants…perhaps with the word ‘PINK’ emblazoned on the behind.  But I was only a non-degree student, so it didn’t matter too much what I looked like, only that I worked hard.  Now I’m actually teaching a classroom of students as well as a member of the academic community of graduate students here, so that requires some effort.  I actually have to shave my legs a few more times a week because I don’t feel like a professor unless I’m either in a skirt or dress.  Which might be horribly anti-feminist, but there is a hell of a lot of power in a pencil skirt and you couldn’t pay me to say otherwise. 
My teaching outfits comprise of pencil skirts, button downs or tank tops tucked in, a cardigan, and high heels.  Not too high, though; the first day I was so nervous I nearly fell off my Jessica Simpson pumps, which were possibly the worst possible decision for a new teacher to ever wear.  My students probably thought I supplemented my professor paycheck with sidewalking.

In all honesty…I dress like that because it makes me feel professional.  A skirt and some form of high heels instantly makes me go “Okay, I’m an adult.  I better act like one.” It’s much easier to act like an adult in fancy clothes than it is with the word “PINK” on your ass.  Plus, who ever felt like a grown-up in UGG boots? I put those on and immediately regress to eight years old.  Nobody wants an 8-year-old grading their papers.  Unless you want an immediate A and lollipop/Gusher juice prints all over your essay.  Or bits from Klondike bars.  Or marinara sauce, if you’re from my family.

2. Buy Stock In Starbucks.
I started 2011 with the best of intentions.  I wanted to completely quit drinking coffee, forever, that’s it, the end.  I lasted four weeks.  Actually, I lasted all three remaining weeks of winter vacation, and a week of graduate classes.  That should explain it all right there.  I try to only have a cup in the morning, but I’ve noticed that cup is getting a bit bigger and lasts longer.  There have been a few times I’ve had to resort to a second cup in the afternoon but I can’t let that happen again as it leads to me zooming around my kitchen with a whisk yelling ‘BAKE ALL THE THINGS’ while my mom looks on with a bemused, disturbed expression.

In short? Coffee is a great study aid when used wisely, and a great way to jack your heart rate through the roof when abused.  As Dumbledore said to Harry upon the occasion of giving him the Invisibility Cloak, “Use it well.”

3. Don’t Eat Failure Piles In Sadness Bowls.
I have Patton Oswalt to thank for that reference to KFC’s Famous Bowls.  I don’t tend to go for KFC but I can definitely tell when I need more sleep or have too much on my mind, because I want to form a deep and lasting relationship with copious amounts of food.  Ice cream, in particular.  When I’m stressed I tend to snuggle up with my Swedish boyfriend, Lindt 90% Dark.  And his buddy, SoDelicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream.  And their slutty friend, Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack.  And sometimes, I do all of those things together.  I should be paraded through the streets as an example of harlotry. 

As awesome as these things are (and they are SO, SO AWESOME), they don’t make me feel too good when I stressfully binge out on them.  I end up crashing on sugar with a major tummyache and I already have intestinal issues as it is.  When I eat healthy, I feel better, which makes me want to do better in school, which makes me not want to murder things.  Plus, when I eat a lot of sugar I get acne, which on a fifteen-year-old is kind of funny but on a twenty-six-year-old teacher is kind of gross.  This week was my birthday and the sugar/diet soda combo gave me such a hangover I nearly passed out in hot yoga class.  I’ll take a satisfying practice over a Coke any day.  And I say this with a batch of brownies in the oven.

4. Take Breaks. Often. And With Someone Who Knows How.*
This could be anything.  Sometimes when I’m knee-deep in identifying nominative cases or figuring out if a word is genitive plural or singular, there will be a knock at the door and Lovebug will come running at me.  Instant study break by watching my nephew attempt to make out with a stuffed Winnie the Pooh? I’ll take it!  The point is, you need at least a few moments in your day when you say “Enough, Shlovsky!”

What do I do in this revolutionary acts of laziness? Sometimes I bake muffins.  Sometimes I go to yoga or do my workout for the day…although I gotta be honest, yesterday I watched Sex and the City on the elliptical while proof-reading drafts and blasting Lady GaGa through my iPod  Multitasker to the max, peeps.   Not sure if that’s dedication or ADD.
My point is, even if it’s as simple as making yourself a cup of tea and sitting outside for ten minutes savoring it before it goes lukewarm, your brain needs a vacation.  That’s all it wants when you’re stuffing it full of theoretical critique.
*I know where your mind went on that one.  Perv.

5. Have a Family Who Loves You.  Or At Least A Wine Cellar That Does.
One day last year, stressed out of my mind, I came home from school, stood in the kitchen peeling a carrot, and just started bawling.  While eating the carrot.  And attempting to wash a dish.

This was when I had been waitlisted for school, and I wasn’t sure where my life was about to go.  I had also done a lot of yoga that week, so maybe my brain was just on camel pose overload.  My mom, without saying a word, came over to me and put her arms around me and let me cry for a few minutes.  We stood there, motionless, for a while, until I managed to eke out between sniffles, “I really like the work, it’s just a lot!”

My mom nodded, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and then asked, “Would you like a glass of wine?”

Sadly my request for two full glasses so I could doublefist was rebuffed.  It’s like being at a casino bar in my house sometimes. 

The point is, my mom knew I just needed to cry it out and as Oprah says “do my boo-hoo’s” so I could come back a bit stronger.  We all are going to have days in graduate school (and in life) where the day is just going to punch you in the ovaries.  The question after that is, what do you do to punch the day back?

If these tips fail, I hear Michael Fassbender is a great secret sixth option…


Published by The Curious Ally Cat

I'm a 34 year old adjunct professor and writer in Connecticut. People seem to like me because I am polite and I am rarely late.

One thought on “Graduate School: How to Survive Without Shooting Your Loved Ones.

  1. I'm in my first year of law school and while I definitely fail on the dressing like an adult part (jeans and sneakers every day! Especially with the mile trek from the parking lot to the law school!), everything else rings so true! I merge 4 5 into one by at least one of my breaks being that I call home daily, as well as dropping emails and texts.

    I'm also finding that it helps to have specific things to look forward to – whether it's a trip to Philly, the barrister's ball or a visit from friends/family. Or okay, sometimes it's a cookie or a cupcake after an especially arduous reading assignment!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: