Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Ambiguous "Work"-"Life" Balance of Grad Students

People often say grad school is the scion of "flexibility," an almost sacred place where people can genuinely pursue academic interests of their fancy, at their own pace, in a sea of endless resources. It is sheer independence, on one hand reflected in the I-don't-give-a-damn-what-you-do-as-long-as-you-pay-your-fees attitude held by the school administration, and on the other hand illustrated by just how much leeway the students are given to "pursue their own studies" as long as assignments are turned in at the proper deadlines.

...Or perhaps, not even. While crazy weekend all-night dance parties seems to become more and more far-fetched for the "mature" (i.e. older and less energetic) grad students, in their place came literally any excuse to have an alcoholic gathering under any occasion. Every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday became Friday and Saturday nights, and stepping into the local pub at any moment in time no longer brings any sort of shame or "wise" second thought...and so, the assignments are the ones being pushed back, with fierce last-minute type-ups occurring literally minutes before the due date comes to an end.

And we (the school administration included) are thought that procrastination was the realm of the high school students and perhaps some lazy undergrads. Quite a major portion of these grad students did have real full-time jobs at some point, being held accountable for completing far more difficult and complex projects with stricter deadlines than submitting 2000-word "research" essays to professors too busy with their own research projects to actually keep track of when the essays are actually submitted.

Obviously, being out of a full-time job, for many, means that they are also out of the rigid regimen associated with those full-time jobs. While everyone does agree that being in a place like LSE is indeed a financial investment despite tendency toward mass production, at the same time even the grad students, joining the ranks of the carefree exchange students, are simply rejoicing, maybe a bit too often, just how much "life" and freedom they got back by quitting their jobs and going back to school.

In the end, somehow "life" itself became "work," while actual schoolwork, whether it be reading or writing, simply became more and more of a nuisance that one has to put up with in order to continue enjoying the high "life" in the great city of London. In simply too many occasions, we have all been witness to another masters or PhD student with a bottle of beer (or something much stronger) commenting on just how little they worry about their papers considering how much of the school year(s) they still have left.

Having fun certainly do seem to slow down time in that particular manner. Everyone seems to reminisce about some "dude, that was sick" kind of party he or she attended, bragging and telling stories of someone's excessive drunkenness, only at the end to realize that the party actually happened, literally, one or two days ago. Give those storytellers a year in London, and they can definitely publish a few thick volumes that compile the collection of tales in "the Hard-living Grad Student's Guide to London."

And the fact is, there are just too many instances when the "life" of partying and having fun is not at all separate from the "work" of a grad student, often in a, well, quite nerd-like way. Tipsiness so often lead to massive debates about merits of free trade and immigration, with quotes flying in from current affairs and theoretical works supposedly read for seminars. And not a few of these pub debates are hosted by none other than the professors themselves getting a few pints at the end of their long, tiring days of dealing with half-serious students.

The blending together of "life" and "work," all in all, maybe the ultimate expression of what it means to be an academic, at the not socially compulsory grad school level. Even as many states the purpose of doing grad school is to buy time for finding that job, the fact that they are still willing to pay massively for being here means they do enjoy this grad school lifestyle. Otherwise they could have just cheaply stayed home and continued their job search while getting fed and clothed by parents. And with enjoyment, it should be no surprise that work, in many ways, become synonymous with life.

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