Friday, December 17, 2010

Smelling the roses

Hi my name is Ron and I’m a graduate student. I’ve been on this path towards the increasingly popular PhD for almost five years and, quite frankly, I’m tired of it. For a while now (let’s say four years) I wanted nothing more than to join my former undergraduate mates in the workforce. Working nine-to-five or, in many cases, eight-to-four, or in some cases, seven-to-three, going home and enjoying real free time. Doing things like cooking, going to movies, spending all of that hard earned cash.

Recently, I decided to scratch my employment itch and get a part-time position within the federal government. For 10 hours a week I work in a cubicle with grey walls and grey carpeting, situated within an office painted grey and office workers wearing grey suits with dye jobs to hide their grey hairs. Occasionally I walk to the window to get a glimpse of outside through what seems like grey tinted glass. The work that I do is mundane and trivial. I eat my lunch at my desk while browsing food blogs and fantasizing about leaving early.

For undergraduate students, December is the month where the semester’s stress culminates into a cess pool of sleep deprivation, too much coffee, and way too much cramming. For graduate students, December is equally as busy grading term papers and exams. While grading I sometimes feel like I can smell the stress hormones that somehow steeped into the pages while the students’ were writing their term tests.

Just yesterday I finished my grading for the term- phew. I was walking across campus after having dropped off the graded exams with the professor responsible for the course. It was a snowy grey day. As I walked, I overheard a conversation behind me.

It went something like this.

Girl- “Wow, that was a rough exam”
Boy- “Yeah, I should’ve studied harder”
Girl- “Me too. Oh well, it was great getting to know you this term”.
Boy- “Yeah, likewise”.
Girl- “Say, do you think you’d like to have coffee with me sometime? In a date kind of way? I’ll understand if you are seeing someone already, I just thought you seemed like a really nice guy and I’d like to get to know you better.”
Boy- “Yeah, I think that would be nice. Maybe it would be best after exams but I would really like that”

*end scene*

So I’m a stalker and I admit it, but this exchange turned a grey day into a brightly coloured one. It was like something out of a Hollywood romantic comedy and I witnessed it first hand. In that moment, it occurred to me that University is a very special place to be. Young people are finally given the freedom to learn about topics that interest them. They are learning about themselves, and, in some cases, finding love. I have been going through the motions of meeting with students and even teaching them, never really thinking about how pivotal this time period is in their lives. What a privilege to be part of something so important.

It sure beats a grey office cube.

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