5 Strange Joys of a First Year Doctoral Student

So I’m a doctoral student. Every now and then I have to say those words aloud and pinch myself. It’s a super strange privilege and isolation that occurs in the hallowed halls of a university that I’ve experienced in three different ways now. I’m just now getting readjusted to it once more.

There are a few realities I’m just now starting to comprehend.

I get paid to read, write, study, and think.

I’m a graduate assistant, which not only means that I work for the university, but it also means that they pay for my education. While GA positions are not uncommon, mine is a bit unique in the sense that not only am I a part time GRA, Graduate Research Assitant, but I’m also a Graduate Assistant to a university department. My work consists of university outreach and assisting to a research grant. I get practical experience and get to rub shoulders with the faculty on campus. People know my name when they see me, it’s pretty wild.

Aside from work though, I’m a student. I’m a full-time student. Being a student truly is my only job and it’s a damned good one! I spend my days reading articles that excite, bore, intrigue, and infuriate me. I spend a lot of time condensing my thoughts into writing, and in between it all, I will talk off anybody’s ear about my thoughts on any topic. I sit in class stewing on the relationship between Jurassic Park’s ethics and the Zimbardo experiment. I stay awake at night translating documents into Spanish and reading about how rich people and poor people differ when they talk to their children. 

It’s hard, it’s intense, and it’s the kind of stress I enjoy. I can’t believe they’re paying me to experience it.

People care about what I want to study, and they want to help me.

Whenever you introduce yourself or are introduced to someone in university, they will ask you what you study. If you’re getting your bachelor’s it’s, “What’s your major?” If you’re getting your Master’s it’s, “What do you study?” If it’s your PhD it’s, “What program are you in? What do you study? Oh, what got you into that field?”

My favorite part typically comes right after, “Oh, did you see that article on indigenous languages in the digital age? They’re making apps with them!”

My second favorite part is when I indeed have seen that article and can reply with, “Yes, I did! It’s amazing! I know that Hawaiian is on Duolingo now!”

There’s another thing people do in this environment, “Have you met so and so? They study that too, I have her number, you should email her and see what she knows. She might become a useful mentor to you one day!”

It’s like music to my ears. I can’t believe people are this helpful so often.

I now have a schedule.

If you’re like me and lack the discipline or wherewithal to maintain a schedule (it truly is a skill that I need to work on, but it feels like I’m fighting my biology all the time!), school and work are a marvel. You have classes you need to go to, and if you’re like me and also work at school, being on campus at set times is necessity as well. Even though my position grants me a lot of freedom in my schedule, I still try to maintain some sort of 9-5 situation just so that I can maintain the new habits I’m trying to make. It’s good for you, I think, ’cause without a schedule I feel adrift!

Student benefits when you’re older are a godsend.

Student discounts come in all shapes and sizes. From BOGO burritos at Chipotle to cheaper airfare across the globe. You best believe I’ve been taking advantage of every single one. 

Therapy on campus? Check.

Campus gym facilities and exercises classes? Well, the way my sleep schedule is set up, and y’know, I had Chik-fil-a earlier so I don’t know if my stomach can handle running today but uh…. Check?

You get the idea. I had forgotten how wonderful all this stuff was and am so glad to be back in it.

Last month I was feeling really unsure about my decision to return to the US and continue with my education. I still have my moments of doubt, but as time goes on (and I become too busy to worry!) I’m starting to think I’m in the right place. It’s weird, when I was abroad I felt adrift, like I wasn’t working toward anything, and now that I’m back I feel like I’m working myself out of things. No matter what happens, I know that when I’m at work and in class, I feel good. And I want more of it.



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