Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Drowning as a Grad Student

Yesterday I met with our Chair of Graduate Studies as prep before meeting with my director mid-February, I wanted to make sure I was correct with the dates, and see if there were any potential pitfalls I needed to be aware of. Our Chair has been here a while, and worked with a lot of grad students, so knew they would have the information I needed.
I had to make some tweaks to my #DevilDiss timeline, but nothing major, which is good.

As anyone reading my blog is aware, I'm very concerned about money. I am self-identified poor, always have been.
Particularly, lately I've been concerned about how I am going to pay my bills in June and July because my TAship is over in May, and I will have to pay $594 in tuition to defend this summer in addition to my rent and bills.
Both the Chair of Graduate Studies and Department Chair have talked about possible solutions. And I appreciate it. But possible still means I'm stressing.

While I have felt that my head was barely above water. It was at least above water.
This changed today.
As of today, I had still not received my student loan refund, and in previous years it disbursed on the 8th and 13th January so I went online and used their chat feature.
They told me that I was shown as an over need- as in I was getting too much money from the university, so my loan was being held.
Let's skip the fact that anyone in grad school could be classified as "over need."
The issue appears to be that grad studies puts in a placeholder for tuition payments, and according to that, I'm getting too much money. So they're lowering the student loan refund I'm getting. By roughly $871.
That's a lot. But let's skip the fact that's a month and a half of rent and bills.
Financial aid says they should have this fixed the next couple of days and disburse my money.
But no one can tell me why this is an issue this semester and wasn't last when I don't think anything's changed. Or why they're lowering my payment.
At least I'm getting money.
I was advised by my Twitter support group to be sure I was asking for departmental help.
So I sent a long, detailed email to them.

And was told, sorry, but not our issue, contact X...

And I gotta tell you guys, I'm having a hard time.
This feels a whole lot like the straw that broke the camel's back.
You wouldn't think asking for $6841 to pay rent, cover house bills, books, grad school expenses for five-six months would be a big deal. But it apparently is.

I hope the nice financial aid lady I spoke to was right, that I get the whole (albeit now lessened) amount, and it's resolved in the next couple of days.
But here's what will happen if not:
  • I will possibly have to pull out of conferences I've committed to. Because that's expenses I can't justify, regardless of what it does reputation wise.
  • I will immediately have to find a job to cover rent. Any job. 
  • Having to get a job will impact my writing/dissertation schedule. I will have to juggle it. But I cannot delay graduating because I STILL can't afford to not graduate this summer. So this will just mean longer days, and weekends.
And I cannot stress this enough- these are REAL concerns with REAL consequences. Being worried and stressed about being unable to pay rent is not a pie in the sky worry, it's an ACTUAL worry. The same with paying other bills and groceries.
I am single. I do not have a spouse who can cover things until I sort things out.
I do not have a family that can pay my bills until I get a job.
There's just me. And me is freaking out.
These last couple of months I have heard a lot about how the first time on the job market is a "trial run" and no one gets a job the first time out. That committees want that PhD in hand.
And I completely get that. I did not honestly think I'd be a unicorn.
But that does not change the fact that I need help with how to pay rent and bills NOW.
And I'm sorry guys, but I'm not getting any help with that.
I'm getting...Second year on the market is often successful.
Keep applying.
Stuff comes up late spring semester.
Just get a job at a private school.

And I'm doing everything I can. And IF I can afford it I WILL go on the market again. But that's not my worry right now.

And I appreciate the sentiment behind the platitudes at the same time I wish someone was ACTUALLY helping me.
This is the reality I am now facing:
  • I have gone from worrying about how to pay bills in June to how to pay my end of month bills that are due next week.
  • I am worried my rent check won't clear.
  • I have applied to the two part time, one full time teaching job listed in Albuquerque. The full time one has since been pulled, I haven't heard from the other. The private schools aren't hiring. 
    • High schools generally don't post jobs until April and May when they know who is retiring and quitting. So I'll continue to look. But again, that's months away. And hiring a PhD might be a budget breaker for a lot of schools.
  • Tomorrow initial notices for first round cuts for Teach For America go out. If I get an offer, I'm taking it. I believe in the program, that's not an issue. But a minimum two year commitment means at least a year off the market.
The last few months have involved not only stress about finishing the dissertation, but paying summer bills, and making ends meet to get to the summer defense. Add to this the stress of no job prospects and it's a lot.
Reconciling myself to not having a job in higher ed has been something else I've dealt with the past few months.

Ironically at a time social media is talking about how important getting younger scholars involved and speaking up, I'm considering the irony that my voice will not be part of this conversation. Because I cannot even look forward to the next job market cycle. I can't see past all this.

I have started to prepare myself for returning to a high school teaching job, what that means for what my day to day life with Nehi looks like, as well as financially and professionally. It would be a big change. The bonuses of course are that I would have a steady paycheck and could stop being completely freaked out about money. And I loved my twelve years of teaching high school, so that's not an issue. It's a big change, but it's one I'd be happy with. BUT...

But there's no guarantee I'll GET a high school teaching job.

12 years of high school teaching plus 3 years back at school for PhD means I am completely and totally unqualified for a "real" job. The last time I worked in a restaurant or retail was 1998. There are plenty of people with actual recent experience that qualify above me.

My uni *may* be able to help with summer work. Or work next year. But those will be last minute and still don't help me know how bills are getting paid now or next month, or come June.

I've been mitigating a lot of this panic by just focusing on what was in front of me, and what I could control.
I knew I had student loan money to get me through this semester. I was hoping to get some help with conferences with grant applications.
I was staying optimistic by continuing to apply for jobs as they come in, particularly community college jobs that are starting to post. And by knowing I'd applied to every higher ed and high school job that had come up that I was even REMOTELY qualified for or could make an argument for. And by applying to Teach for America. I'd have to move, but I can justify that cost knowing I would have a salary.

But today, I'm not feeling optimistic.
I'm feeling like I have no way to pay bills this month, this semester.
I'm feeling like there's no one helping me and a whole lot of pass the buck, not understanding my economic situation.
I'm feeling like forget hoping for a higher ed job, I'm hoping I can get ANY job.

I feel like I'm drowning.

There are lots of issues grad students face. There's the misogyny of the academy. Concerns about publishing. Concerns about time to degree. Concerns about juggling teaching and course work. Concerns about networking, and getting into conferences.
But it's hard to focus on any of these when you're not sure how rent gets paid. Or groceries. Or heat or phone.

I say it all the time... IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT CLASS.

And everyone from graduate chairs to advisors to directors need to understand these realities.

I admit to starting this year hopeful.
I was looking forward to finally earning that Harry Potter's outfit.
I was looking forward to graduating. To defending. To being Doctor Devil.

I'm not worried about finishing the dissertation.
I'm worried about getting a job. Paying bills.
Right now my ideal, my dream isn't landing a tenure track job.
It's any job that allows me to cover my monthly expenses.
Any situation that takes away this daily stress and worrying.
It's not feeling like I'm drowning on a regular basis.

I'm smart, and I've always been poor, so this is not new to me. My godmother mentioned the other week that I'm almost 40 and haven't been homeless as an adult yet. I'll figure it out.
But man, oh man do I wish I had some help, or something to hold onto.

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