Most people will tell you that going on to university makes you stand out, sets you apart as someone who is sure to go places. Funny thing is, once you get there you feel like just one in thousands…
And not even one of the notable ones.
Think of it a bit like a lake. You have your sunfish and rainbow fish that might catch your eye for a few moments, but who typically keep on swimming and enjoy their quiet lives largely un-remarked.
Lower than them, you have the suckers, or bottom feeders. You know, that dazed-looking kid you noticed on your first day of class who you never saw again – and before you know it a betting pool has formed around whether they’ll show their face on the day the essay is due… or at least at the exam? That’s them. Every university needs them to make the average students feel good about themselves and to even out those dreaded bell-curves, much like the lake needs its suckers to keep the ecosystem running. Did you ever know they were so vital to your university experience? I bet not, as, in the end, most people don’t pay them much attention.
Then you have your trophy predators, the Pike. Not only do these devour the more average students with their superiority and ridiculous GPAs, but they are the pride and joy of the fishermen who cast far and wide for the brightest and best.
These fishermen, er… professors as they are more commonly known, choose their prizes by trolling the classroom until they hone in on the students most likely to succeed. Once these trophy fish, I mean students, have been snared they snap a photo and release them back into the world. They have now earned bragging rights for life, or at least until their colleague snags a bigger star. I do not mean in the slightest to paint these professors as grasping, greedy folk. Have you ever met an unpleasant fisherman? I certainly haven’t. In fact they are some of the most delightful people of my acquaintance, perfectly content with the simple things in life. I would not be where I am today without the few wonderful professors who noted there might actually be more to me than.. well.. me.
You might be wondering where I fit in to all this. Well, I was one of those fish, er students, in the middle. Occasionally noticeable, sure, but only if exactly what you were looking for. Truth be told, undergrad was great, but at least for myself, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It wasn’t until fishing for the first time this summer that it dawned on me that the two things were so comparable. You see, much like fishing, it can sometimes feel like it’s going to drag on forever when you start out, but once it gets exciting, it’s over before you know it.
Teachers in high school always insist everything they do is preparing you for university, and a lot of it truly is (and I had some incredible teachers that are a large part of the reason I am who I am today) but nothing can really prepare an 18-year-old for what is in store. The mad dash of 30,000 youth, the rapid stream of information pouring out of the mouths of not one but five different professors – each with their different quirks – and the sudden swarm of new friends as everyone tries to find their new group. I’ve always thought this experience much like that of a sunbather running down to the beach only to stick their toes in the water before finally deciding to jump in. At least for myself, once I’ve jumped in, I never want to get out again.
Finally, both a blessing and a curse, is the shock of new-found freedom – absolutely irresistible and yet intimidating at the same time. This freedom hangs over every single reading you attempt, tantalizing, teasing you with the thought that there’s no such thing as detention if you don’t get your work done. And besides, you don’t even have the class again until next week, plenty of time to do the readings! It’s once you listen to good ol’ Freedom’s call that a more accurate term for this fair-weather friend materializes – traitor. It’d be nice if one could learn their lesson after their first encounter with this uglier side of Freedom, but that’s not usually the case. No matter if it’s the 5th or 500th time, though, inevitably the result is the same – 48 hours of cramming for an exam for which you still have 200 pages of readings to do. I’d like to say I’ve changed my ways – but who would I be kidding?
Despite the struggles, I must have done something right, for here I am – in Grad School.
Everything written above may make the world of academia seem like an unending, confidence-erasing, battle of egos and politics and to a certain extent it is. But if it was truly all bad, there’s no way I would still be here. In fact, if you can get past the layer of select academics (who shall remain nameless) locked in a constant battle of one-upmanship, your patience will be rewarded with something undeniably exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
Now 4 months in to my Master’s of History degree, I’ve decided I’m ready to start this blog. I can’t promise that it will be anything particularly earth-shattering, nor can I promise regular postings. I can however promise to always be my honest and totally awkward self. Hopefully, my posts about the joys and sorrows of life as a Grad Student will entertain and, dare I say, enrich just one person’s life… even in the smallest way.
When deadlines are looming with CFPs/theory/citations melding into that giant, inescapable mire, and all else fails always remember: Life is beautiful.