Friday, January 30, 2015

Things They Don't Tell You About Grad School, Part 3: You Need A Different Type Of Security Blanket

One of my counseling classmates was - is - experiencing food insecurity.  That's a politically correct way of saying she doesn't have enough money to buy food for herself and those in her household.  She made an off-hand comment very early in the semester, which I thought was hyperbole, but after paying closer attention over several classes, I realized it wasn't.

She has now received the support she needed to get through a very rough patch, but I learned a lot - about the available resources, humility, and the realities of students at IU.  For example, there are homeless students at IU.  They don't start out that way, but after paying tuition, they end up not being able to pay much else.  The undergraduate advisors in the School of Public Health have started a food pantry in the basement of the building because 3-4 students per week come in with concerns relating to food access.

Compare this to the fact that there are international students driving around campus in Lamborghinis.

Anyway, I told the story in general terms to my SPH grad classmates and they were basically stunned.  Being in grad school may make you like an adult, but that doesn't mean you won't need a security blanket.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Things They Don't Tell You About Grad School, Part 2: Listeners vs. Personalities

The degrees toward which I am working are housed in different departments of different schools: the counseling and educational psychology (CEP) department in the School of Education and the department of kinesiology in the School of Public Health (SPH).  As you can imagine, the faculties that populate these departments are significantly different.  No difference is more noticeable than the fact that CEP faculty are literally professional listeners - they have a doctorate in essentially interpersonal relations - and SPH faculty are professional....personalities, I guess would be the kindest way to put it.

Dealing with the CEP faculty is calming, equanimous, enjoyable even.  Dealing with the SPH faculty is sticking your hand into a bag of feral cats.  Their interpersonal skills are whatever they were born with, unlike doctoral training in counseling psychology, which rounds down the sharp edges and replaces them with sensitivity and empathy.

Since August I have engaged in a cultural/anthropological case study in the wilds of the SPH hallways.  I'll preface this story with the fact that if I were a weaker person, I would probably be seeking counsel from one set of my professors in order to deal with the other set.  Instead, I laugh a great deal at bumbles and learn what not to do.  I offer the story because it's the reality of my grad school experience.

The SPH faculty member who was recently put in charge of my graduate program is an older gentleman visiting for two years from Turkey.  He's not my professor, but ostensibly my advisor.  Early on in the semester our roles were reversed: he came to me a lot to learn how the department worked and which classes had what reputation etc etc.  We also talked about European vs. American research and rebuilding my program (that he heads) and sailing and traveling and racing and a broad range of other professional topics.  I always gave him my opinion straight up and considered him to have a good start on being a solid mentor among the faculty.  And then.

One day he found me teary eyed at my desk because my swim coach was being an ass and shuffled me off to his office to talk.  I told him the story and he preceded to claim that I was lying about the real reason for my tears - he thought I was hiding "boy problems" - and being more emotional than the situation warranted.  In the moment I was stunned because it was just so not how it's done!  How had this guy been advising students for a 35-year academic career and be so incredibly bad at counseling them?

He pretty much lost my trust and initially I was wary about what and how I said anything to him.  It balanced out such that I didn't seek him out, but acted normal when he left me no choice but to talk.  I found I wanted to see the train wreck up close some more!  Boy did I because "and then...."

About two weeks ago, at the end of a conversation during which I expressed my clear preference that professors put their syllabus on-line before the first day of class and he called me "fussy," he told me that I needed to grow my hair out because I "need a better look".

That's when I realized, I totally confound his notions of "female".  I don't look traditionally female to his Turkish sensibilities, but am not butch enough to be misidentified as male, and I have a stronger personality than he is used to from both females in general and his previous female students.  

So his hair comment probably meant "I see you as a b!tch and longer hair would help soften that image FOR ME".  
Utterly fascinating.  My hair and emotions are my hair and emotions, and he clearly isn't very used to or comfortable dealing with them.  Of course our language difficulties confuse the exchanges on top of the obvious cultural and personality differences.  He has become great discussion fodder for my multicultural counseling class.

But my main point is the sheer lack of interpersonal tuning, sensitivity, and empathy in one department which is so noticeable compared to the other half of people with whom I deal in a day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Social Stratification

The hierarchy in this apartment has been firmly established.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Things They Don't Tell You About Grad School, Part 1: Freedom Isn't Free

My Dad has a rule about money: "my one rule about money is that when we're spending my money, I make the rules."  One place I didn't expect to put this rule to such good use is thus far in grad school.

So much of grad school is about being under someone's thumb: chairperson, class professors, advisor, lab head, and so on.  Much of that control comes with money - usually tuition and stipend - attached.  How and by whom a grad student is funded determines a great deal about what they can do and what they say, about what they feel comfortable doing and saying.  They won't do or say anything to rock the boat - because they might (indirectly) lose their funding.

Unfortunately, a lot of what school- or lab-funded grad students can't or won't say is what needs to be said to make their lives and their departments a lot better.

I am self-funded.

Institutions of higher learning often forget that they are in a service industry, their students are their employers, and when you remind them of that, whoo boy, does it get interesting.

It's a teachable moment - but not in the direction they have come to expect.

Just before the Christmas break the physical activity class program that employs many graduate students, including me, had a holiday party.  I stood in line to get seconds just in front of my department chair.  He saw people with dirty plates waiting in line and joked "careful how much you guys take, I have a direct line to your bursar accounts."  I turned around and said - with a straight face because it was absolutely true - "This morning I wrote a $14,700 check to this school."  His face went slack and white.  He handed me a clean plate and replied "have as many as you want."

The chair of a department should never need to be reminded of the fact that some people are paying the price of a small car per semester for the privilege to teach basketball and take his motor learning class.

The head of "my lab" (I use a desk in their office and am generally active in their research) is on the cusp of retiring.  He really wants it to have already happened, but it hasn't - and can't - because he six (!) PhD students and one Masters student who are outstanding.  Several are stagnant and probably won't finish.  [In my opinion, mostly for lack of buy-in and motivation on both parts.  If it's not coming from one side, does the other spend the energy to meet in the middle?]  Still he doesn't show up for pre-arranged meetings or respond to emails and swims every noon at masters and has gone on sabbatical this semester.  No one will call out his behavior - and I haven't quite worked up the guts to do so - even the ones who are at risk of not completing their doctorate.

The downside of not being in a lab: no funding.  The upside of not being in lab: I'm done when I say I'm done.

First semester counseling masters students take a counseling lab.  Counselor training works toward a national licensure, so this lab class is pretty standardized across all nationally accredited programs.  My co-hort's lab was taught by a professor unprepared and not suitable to teach this lab.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  The department didn't know this, but neither they did check his preparation or suitability nor provide guidance and oversight to ensure my class's adequate instruction.  "Blah, blah, academic freedom, blah, blah."

So I went into my graduate coordinator's office as a disgruntled consumer: "When you accepted me, you essentially promised to appropriately prepare me for professional licensure and practice in this field.  I placed trust in you to do this to the tune of $4,000 (just for this class) and you aren't holding up your end of the bargain.  It's our job to pay you, show up for class, and do the work.  It's your job to teach us what we need to know.  Do your job, the one I'm paying you to do."

His name was removed from where he had been slated to teach the class next fall.  (NOTE: All of my other instructors have been very good to great.)

Fifteen-thousand dollars a semester buys my freedom to do and say not just anything, but what needs to be done and said to get the most out of my time here.  It's a price I pay gladly.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sign Of The Times

Last night I went out for dinner and lounging with a group of my counseling classmates.  During a discussion about TV shows, one girl mentioned watching One Tree Hill when she was in the 5th grade.

I have a vivid - and real - memory of gathering around the TV to watch the series premier of One Tree Hill (and belting along to the theme song, probably still could) with my three roommates my senior year of college.

I texted one of said roommates and she confirmed that "yes, for the record, we are indeed old."

Traitor.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Darwin Would Be Proud

This morning I discovered a new species of rabbit.  Compared to previously recorded specimens of Oryctolagus cuniculus, she is 40% rabbit, 10% parsley, and 50% carpet strings.

So....Oryctolagus Carpetculus?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Something Is Afoot In Ex Phys

Hopefully it isn't my foot.


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