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A Day in the Life of a Grad Student

UL Grad School -- 05/04/2017

Billie R. Tadros is a doctoral candidate in English and Creative Writing and is the Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. You can find more of her and her work at www.BillieRTadros.com and on Twitter: @BillieRTadros.

4:30 a.m.

My alarm sounds for the first time, the one entitled “A Rustling in the Trees.”I hit “snooze.” My wife Brooke and I have been trying to get accustomed (again) to a 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule, but, inevitably, we end up staying up later and, therefore, waking up later.

5:00 a.m.

Dolly on the Bed

Brooke’s in New Orleans for work, so it’s just me and our senior dog Dolly (who is entering what I’m calling her “terrible tens”). The second time my alarm goes off, I’ve got a puppy leg (she’ll always be a puppy to me) against my shoulder. Dolly actually slept in my spot last night, so I had to shift over to Brooke’s usual side of the bed.
 
This may be TMI, or I may be “doing the most” by sharing this—one of my students in my English 205: American Literature I class last semester told me I often “do the most”—but I’ve been having vicious night sweats (likely stress-induced).
 
I’m soaked, and at first I’m ready to blame Dolly. Then I realize I’ve done it again.

5:20 a.m.

My Desk

I sit down at my “desk” with my coffee so I can finish prepping for my 9:30 a.m. section of English 211: Thematic Approaches to Literature. (This “desk” used to be our dining table. But Brooke and I live in a studio apartment, so in the interest of maximizing space, we now eat dinner on TV tray tables, and we’ve converted the dining table into a desk space I can use when I’m working from home.)

My course section is entitled “‘Bodybuilding’ and Trauma: (Re)Constructions of the Body in Literature,” and today we’re continuing our discussion of Kathy Acker’s essay “Bodies of Work” and beginning our discussion of Leslie Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain.”

Additionally, I’m collecting index cards from my students on which they’ve written two truths and a lie about themselves. This is how we’re all going to get to know one another—and learn about the assumptions we make about ourselves and others: every class meeting, I’m going to randomly select one or two index cards and read aloud the three statements each student has written about himself or herself. At the end of class, the rest of the students will raise their hands to indicate which one of the three statements they believe is the lie, and then the author will reveal the truth (about which one is the lie).

As Thursday was our first class, I shared with them two truths and a lie about myself:

1.  My father’s family can be traced back to pharaohs in Egypt.
2.  I have broken bones in both of my legs.
3.  I have three Achilles tendons.

SPOILER ALERT: At the conclusion of this post, I will reveal the lie.

7:30 a.m.

Dressed for School

I’ve planned my class, I’ve packed a lunch and a snack, and I’ve showered, and so now, since it’s still early in the semester and I’m still trying to impress my students (and myself), I’ve tried to dress like a professional.

I’m wearing what I fondly refer to as my “teacher sweater” (and yes, I own two of them). I’ve got my backpack, and I’ve got my lunch bag on my shoulder, and I’ve also got a grocery bag filled with books and knickknacks to take to my office on campus.

My Shoes

(Note one pair of what I’m calling my “interview shoes.” I bought this pair of plaid oxfords and three other pairs of shoes on Amazon a few weeks ago, as I’m currently on the job market. With regard to this particular pair of shoes, Brooke asked “But how often are you really going to wear those?” I’ll show her.)

8:15 a.m.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend Mug

(Not pictured): I park in Lot 17 at Johnston St. and Lewis St. and make it almost to the door of H.L. Griffin Hall before one of the handles of my paper bag breaks, and the whole thing hits the pavement. I see little pieces of porcelain shatter, and I mourn the loss of whichever of the three mugs I’m transporting with my books has just broken.

I discover it’s one of the mugs my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas. (It says “HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND.”) It’s got a chip on the top, but it looks like it might be salvageable, so I wrap it back up in its paper towel bundle and carry the bag under my left arm to support its weight. (My bicep is bulging under the stress beneath my teacher sweater, and I feel awesome about this.)

My Office

I get to my office and unpack the contents of my paper bag, placing the books on what little shelf space remains. I then take my race bib from this weekend’s Louisiana Quarter Marathon in Baton Rouge and affix it to my wall (my running shrine) with Scotch tape. (I had become an avid marathoner during my time as a grad student at UL Lafayette, but in 2014 and 2015 I had two knee surgeries that I thought had taken me out of the running—literally. I’ve just started to make my way back into distance running.)

My colleague, fellow graduate student, and office mate Hannah Ritorto and I have been working to perfect the lighting in this office, as you can see.

Marathon Running

Marathon Mug
 

 

On Saturday I ran the Louisiana Quarter Marathon in Baton Rouge with my colleague and fellow graduate student Nolan Meditz, and I managed to place first in my division. My winning mug is now on the mug tree in my office.

9:30 a.m.

I plan to show up early to class so I can get the projector set up before 9:30. But I use the faculty restroom to refill the water compartment of the Keurig, and I spill its contents all over the floor and spend my prep minutes squatting and sopping up the liquid with paper towels.
I’m too scattered to take photos of the awesome class that follows this catastrophe (otherwise, I’d share them with you). Picture a whiteboard covered with marker scrawl (blue and red), which includes the following terms: connotation, denotation, feminism, epigraph, Descartes, mind-body split.
 

10:45 a.m.

Organization Chart

As usual, I’m so enthusiastic teaching that I’m sweating, so I’m grateful that my teacher sweater is hiding the pit stains. I return to my office and play around with the dissertation schedule I’m trying to create for myself. I begin with an Excel spreadsheet that displays my teaching, office, and Writing Center hours, and then I begin writing tasks I should be completing daily/weekly on tabs to affix to the “open” spaces in my schedule.

This isn’t working as well as I had planned.

Lunch and Coffee

I move on to lunch, and my third (fourth?) cup of coffee in my Luke’s Gilmore Girls mug. [This is also a gift from my sister-in law. What I expected would be the highlight of my day was an interaction with a student in the next class in room 321 as I was packing up my belongings following my class. He said, simply, “I like your mug,” and then, soon enough, as I was erasing the board, we were talking about our mixed feelings about the Gilmore Girls revival. What I think is still most vexing for me is that, as I’ve aged—matured (?)—I’ve moved from desiring to be Rory Gilmore to desiring to be Lorelai Gilmore. (Perhaps I’ve always desired them both.)]

One thing I should do, and that I would recommend you (my fellow graduate students) do is consider making a Gantt Chart to organize/plan your research and writing goals.

Check out these resources:

Gantt Charts

Sample Gantt Chart: https://www.scribd.com/doc/48986539/Gantt-Chart-for-the-Dissertation-Project

How to make a Gantt chart using Microsoft Excel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_u_jm1211D4

Other tips on Gantt charts, including how to make one manually: https://theresearchwhisperer.wordpress.com/2011/09/13/gantt-chart

12:00 p.m.

Checking the Writing Center Schedule

My Tuesday Writing Center shift begins at noon. This is the first day we’re open, so we don’t have any clients yet, but I check the schedule just to be sure.

Writing Center Staff

We’ve got an awesome staff and team this semester; two of them, Andy Patrick and Alise LeBlanc are pictured here, and the photo credit goes to Sarah Moosa.

As the Assistant Director of the Writing Center, I also serve as the primary tutor for graduate students, especially graduate students writing theses and dissertations. What’s not pictured is the work I did giving electronic feedback to a student in the Educational Leadership Ed.D. program at UL earlier today.

(If you’re a graduate student, know that the Writing Center is here for you too! Email me at billie.tadros@louisiana.edu if you have questions about our services for graduate students or if you’d like to work with a tutor to develop or polish your thesis or dissertation.)

2:30 p.m.

Office Visitor

My shift finishes at 2 p.m., so I return to my office and begin searching job postings. (I’m planning to graduate in May, and I aim to do this once a week, but I haven’t checked postings in about two weeks.)

My friend and colleague Jessica Doble comes by to say hi and give me a pep talk. Jessica’s focus is folklore, and she has experience with conducting interviews for research; interviews are a major part of the research for my dissertation project, so she talks me through how I might next approach my transcripts and coding them as I write my chapters.

4:30 p.m.

Walkies!


I don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough work done—on my dissertation in particular—but I head home so I can walk Dolly and head out for a run before the sun sets. (I’ve been working out far less frequently than I’d like to because I’m so overwhelmed with the job search and my dissertation, but I also recognize that I need this, and that it’s part of who I am, and who I’m privileged to be following three knee surgeries.) I’m training for my first half marathon since my most recent surgery in September 2015 (I used to run marathons).

6:10 p.m.

Finished my Run
I’ve gotten my six miles in, and I feel dramatically better than I did before them. I’m not the praying kind, but if I were, I’d pray that even if I’m unemployed next year that I’ll still be able to run (which has been iffy, to say the least, for the last two and a half years). 

6:30 p.m.

Cooking Dinner

I stretch, and I call Brooke to check in with her. (She’s in New Orleans for work for one more night.) I start cooking my dinner: polenta and a Kirkland Signature frozen turkey burger from Costco, to be paired with the braised cabbage Brooke and I made the other night. (I feel fancy about this.)

By necessity I’m gluten-, garlic-, and onion-free (and also have to eliminate other common allergens), so Brooke and I have to cook at home a lot. As our schedules have both become more and more unmanageable recently, we’ve downgraded (upgraded?) to occasionally using disposable serving ware. (I should also mention that we don’t have a dishwasher. My dreams for our future, in which I have a job, include rooms—plural—and a dishwasher.)

Dolly Howling

Dolly starts howling at me, so I decide to take her out for her night walk before I eat.

7:30 p.m.

Dinner is Served

Dolly and I get back from our walk. I serve her dinner, and I reheat my food.

Dolly has a tendency to act out—in general, but especially when either Brooke or I are out of the house. She howls at me because she wants treats to comfort her. (I empathize—deeply. But we’re supposed to be watching her weight.)

8:00 p.m.

The day is not over (is it ever?!), but I’m getting into pajamas. I’ve got my sweatpants on and my American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Overnight Walk Shirt on. And I’ve got wine. (Two significant notes: 1. I’m going to have to take this shirt off when I go to sleep because I’ll sweat straight through it if I don’t. 2. I will admit that the wine in my glass is Kirkland Signature Pinot Grigio. (You may have noticed that the turkey burgers I cooked were also from Costco. If Baz Luhrmann could give “only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” If I could give grad students only one tip for survival, Costco would be it.)

My two truths and a lie? The lie is that I've broken bones in both of my legs. (I’ve actually never broken a bone).