Got the Life?

Grad school’s a weird thing. On one hand, I’ve never had this much work to do, ever. In an average week I’ll have at least six hundred pages’ worth of readings–which is to say nothing of writing, researching, and working (I start my marking job at Ryerson later this week). On the other hand, since I have no real time constraints to speak of (six hours of class a week, and it’s all on either Monday or Tuesday), I’m also unoccupied unusually often. It’s almost like being in permanent exam mode: a typical day for me now consists of waking up, doing schoolwork for sixteen hours, and going to bed. When I need a break I head up Main Street to Tim Hortons; if I had S-Flemo with me it’d be a virtual replica of the Queen’s exam experience, but with the CN Tower in the background instead of the Princess Towers.

To that end, I’m beginning to understand why so many academics are insane–or at least incapable of normal social interaction. This isn’t a lifestyle that encourages balance: it basically demands that you spend all your time in one of three places (in a classroom, at a library, or in front of a computer) and that you do almost all your work alone. Throw in the wanton self-neglect to which you subject yourself as an undergrad and…well, it’s a ticking timebomb, isn’t it?

Of course, this dovetails into a classic chicken vs. the egg argument: what came first, academia or academics? It’s an interesting debate. We’ve all encountered professors who can’t sustain smalltalk–like the one who took my buddy’s class out for drinks, then spent the entire time discussing Victorian literature. But having spent a month-and-a-half as an academic…well, like I said, I’m starting to understand. This is their life, after all; it just happens that no one cares about the specifics, or can even relate to them on a superficial level, for that matter. (Right now, for instance, I’m reading a book about the effects of wage labour on domestic work in pre-Civil War New England. Imagine dedicating your entire life to that?) This, of course, has a trickle down effect: their students become the next generation of social inbreds. Risa, for instance, had a conversation the other day with a guy in her program, the gist of which is that academics who are either a, married or b, involved in a long-term relationship are compromising their scholarly integrity. Why? Because they’re allowing their commitment to waver. Risa wouldn’t make this kind of thing up–and frankly, after five weeks in school, I could totally see that conversation happening.

So where do I stand? Well, for one thing, I hate what I’m doing–hate it with a passion. In fact, if this were a two-year program, I’d have dropped out long ago; I can barely stomach the thought of doing this for another eight-and-a-half months, let alone until the next World Cup starts (and there is the one gratuitous sports reference…come on, I was doing well). However, since it’s only a year-long program I feel I can handle it: buckle up, hammer down, kick its ass, add its name to my resume, and then never, ever open another academic book as long as I live. Graduate school is an interesting place; that I’m more interested in being an impartial observer than an active participant, however, speaks volumes regarding my future in academia.

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