Friday, August 22, 2008

-At least pay better!

Grad students don't really get "paid" a lot (I would say an average of $18k a year that actually goes to our pocket might be already an overestimate), and I had always seen it as a good amount of money. A student can typically survive with $1,000 or so a month, and because it's our choice to go to grad school I considered it a privilege, a prize.

Well, not anymore. I have found that the amount of stress a grad student has to carry on his/her shoulders is way too much for the money we get. As an undergrad I didn't have a lot of money in my pockets either (I had about a third of the money I get now), but somehow the way to survive college is way easier than that of grad school.

As an undergrad, I didn't hesitate to go to the movies, or a hiking weekend, or to spend hours at the field playing some kind of sport. Now, in grad school, I am always questioning myself about doing these activities. Can I really afford going to the movies? You at least spend 2 hours there, plus ~$20 (including ticket) per person if you happened to stop by the snacks. Maybe if I stay those 2 extra hours in the lab I can graduate earlier (or at least not later than planned). A movie is easy to give up, but there are other things that are not easy or good to give up. Exercise, for example, is recommended at least 3 times a week. You have to either do it very early in the morning, or late afternoon (maybe even at night). At least experimentalists don't want to stop their experiment when it's working nor waste time on something else when it's not working (once again, the longer it doesn't work the longer we are staying in school). And there are several problems with exercising in the morning or at night, 1) you get less hours of sleep, which are probably already running low, 2) there is nobody to exercise with you, unless you like running long distances by yourself (not me, I find that boring) you won't have a tennis, basketball, etc. partner, much less to play soccer, volleyball or any other sport that requires more than 2 people.

Having no pleasure activities builds stress, in many cases way too much stress. Now, add to that the physical stress that comes with operating a piece of equipment, preparing a sample or sitting at your desk or computer carrying out a calculation and we are fucked!

And I am not considering the food quality, the bed quality, the foreign students that miss home or feel out of place in a new society, married students, lack of future security, etc.

If the levels of stress are that high, we need more money. That way we could at least afford a massage one or two times a month (or semester?), or to take a one week vacation once a year in a nice place (but most likely expensive) and with no advisor or lab duties. Unless you are an assistant professor, you cannot complain: you either make a lot of money in the industry or are tenured and have job security.


Al Anine said...

Interesting post. I think graduate school is hard if you want to have a normal life. I did a terminal MS before I started my Ph.D. and I had no friends I spent time with on any regular basis that were not in my program(now I just have no friends, hah!). As for excercise, you can always find an hour or two while an experiment is running to go off to the gym or work out late at night. Being a graduate student is stressful but I think it is also very satisfying. And what is everyones preoccupation with money? If by $1000 a month you include rent and such I can understand that this is not a lot of money but during my MS I made $13K annually and survived and had fun. Given I did not attend a lot of movies!
Some University health programs include visits to a massage therapists, just complain of low-back pain hah!
I think that if you don't gain some visceral perverse sort of pleasure from doing science, grad school will always be a pain or just really long.

R said...

al anine,

"but during my MS I made $13K annually and survived and had fun. Given I did not attend a lot of movies! "

Why do we have to "survive"? We make basically the same as a waiter, but a waiter has more free time (he can work two-jobs, he can go home and sleep, or whatever).

As for working out late at night, why? why why why? Why are grad students supposed to give up their lives?

I understand that going to grad school is a personal decision, we are here because we want to, but that doesn't mean that we must be treated like shit.

In my experience, some university administrators try to make it "nice" for their students, but departments and advisors do not really care. They want results, and they expect you to work long, extra hours.