This is my final blog post for the Memorial School of Graduate studies. I’ve been writing for them over the past three years of my graduate school career, and putting pen to paper for one last blog post provokes nostalgia I never dreamed of feeling for this arduous process that is higher education.
I entered grad school with lofty expectations for myself, notably my obsession with graduating on-time. No small miracle, I completed my undergraduate honours degree at McMaster over 4 years, taking 8 full terms of courses and working myself to the bone. I was a success story, having completed my degree in the allotted and expected time frame. However, I only got there because of my privileged foundation: school was my job and I didn’t work outside of the university environment, I stumbled upon a program I loved before the end of my first year and launched directly into topics I had passion for, and I lived close enough to my hometown that I could visit my parents every other weekend for love, support, and free food.
Going into graduate school, I carried that expectation of being “on time” in my education. Now 3 years deep in a 2-year Masters degree, I feel silly, stupid, lazy, like a failure for not having graduatd yet. I won’t even graduate by the end of my third year; the thesis process is likely to roll me over into the Fall term of 2021 due to the bureaucratic process of internal and external peer review. I’m frustrated with not being done, yet I’m grateful for the lessons grad school has imparted in this last year, namely lessons about time.
One of my supervisors studies time – yes, capital T time, the overarching concept of Time. So time has always been on my mind as a sociological concept, but it’s taken until now for those lessons to finally sink in. Time is a social construct, meaning it’s not a fixed or objective thing, but it’s something we collectively perceive and structure our lives around. An analog clock hung on the wall does not determine time, it merely tells a time and keeps track of that time. Anyone familiar with the clocks around MUN will know that none read consistent: every clock at the university reads a slightly different time, and it’s up to the person to judge whether the displayed time correlates with their perception and understanding of time in that moment.
How does this apply to my life as a graduate student? As students, we’re systematically taught that our time is worth less than senior academics’ time. We structure students’ schedules around those of lecturers, and lectures are scheduled around the times of the university’s administration. Although it seems to students that the most valued time belongs to our professors, that’s incorrect; the power of time is situated in the administrative and bureaucratic systems of the Academy. And it is that time schedule on which our worth is based as to whether we are early, on-time, late, a success, a failure, penalized, or applauded.
Ironically, my journey through grad school teaches me that the Academy’s time isn’t my time, and I need not conform my time to the Academy’s expectations.
I have carried so much guilt with me through my degree as I saw my graduate timeline extending further and further past the 2-year allotment. My funding cut out, my thesis revisions piled up over numerous rounds, my budgeting went out the window, my job opportunities at MUN ran out and I was forced to seek new avenues for making rent money. From working as a Graduate Assistant, I went to work as a barista, a clinic assistant, a background actor, and now an entrepreneur. Following the money to make rent and pay tuition, I had to throw my understanding of time to the wind. When time becomes money, the time I was funnelled into as a student stopped making sense.
As a graduate assistant, I got paid $22/hour with a maximum number of hours per term. As a barista, I got paid $14/hour for 16 hours a week. As a clinic assistant, I got paid $15/hour while steadily working 20 hours a week. As a background actor, I got paid $230 for one day of shooting. Needless to say, there’s been little consistency in the monetization of my time. I’m tired of the temporal whiplash enacted on me by the Academy and capitalism. My exhaustion is what makes me forgo orthodox understanding of time and turn inward to my personal sense of time’s rhythm and passage.
My advice to fellow grad students is to take your sweet time. Stop and smell the roses. Take the week off of your work to get back in-touch with your organic flow of time and your daily life patterns. Spend those extra days editing and revising – who cares if you miss a deadline or two? As someone who’s chronically late, I can assure you that missing a deadline is almost never a life or death situation. You may end up disrespecting and violating other people’s time and the Academy’s time, but ultimately you need to prioritize your time because you’re the one in graduate school, you’re the one doing your research, and you’re only accountable to your timeline in life.
As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. So I bid you, be patient with yourself and you’ll find it’s more-so worth your while to take your time than to rush. Godspeed, and good luck.