Beware, undergrads! We graduate students lurk anonymously in your midst, often unbeknownst to you or even others of our own kind.
“But who is the graduate student?” the wary freshmen might ask.
Some things to know:
First, we carry messenger bags, preferably leather. Also, we are all married, frequently to each other. A few of us have kids. In fact, some of you are our kids.
You may recognize us as your TAs. As such, we are gatekeepers to your future employment, bastions of intellect and pioneers of all human knowledge. We are also chronically in debt.
We are not easily identified. Just as you are reading this newspaper, you may be sitting next to one of us. Perhaps you met us in line for coffee at Einstein’s this morning, our identity only subtly betrayed by the smirk crossing our face when you asked, “What year are you?”
“I’m a graduate student,” we intone. You, on the other hand, are an undergraduate. Under. Beneath us. (Look, we didn’t make up the word.)
But fear not, undergrads. We pose no threat. On the contrary, we are quite benign. We know that this University is your turf. UT belongs to you; we are happy simply to visit awhile.
If the Eyes of Texas are upon you, then perhaps we are but the focus of its peripheral vision.
Unfortunately, the graduate student is under persistent emotional duress. Despite the efforts of our University and peer organizations, we struggle to feel connected, to develop a cohesive community in spite of and because of our diverse population. We are alone in the crowd.
For undergrads, UT is an experience. For grad students, it’s work. And I’ve had my grad professors state it that frankly: “This class is your job.”
How does this happen? How can it be that undergrads — and we were undergrads once — revel in fulfilling, overlapping communities, while grad students are here simply to punch the clock?
To explain the plight of the graduate student, we have to again ask who is the graduate student, but seriously this time.
Grad students are fewer in number but broader in focus. At UT, there are more than 12,000 graduate students (compared to nearly 40,000 undergrads) active in 100 fields of study from architectural history to textiles and apparel technology.
Grad students have a vast range of interests. The leaders of our elected governing body, the Graduate Student Assembly, are a Ph.D. student in higher education administration, a second-year law student and a Ph.D. student in sports management. Talk about a dream team.
Grad students are older. Duh. According to the most recently published data, the average age of a UT grad student is 29.3. But the distribution is wide, as students range from ages 18 to 65, with more than 13 percent over the age of 35.
Grad students are more globally diverse. The graduate population is composed of more than 26 percent foreign students, compared to just 4 percent for undergrads.
If there is a common way to characterize all graduate students, it is that they are all completely different.
We’re from different generations. We speak different languages. We have different motivations. We don’t live near each other — in the same hallway, same dorm or even the same zip code.
When we watch UT football, we quietly root for the other team in hopes of a more entertaining game. We can’t help it. Sorry.
Don’t get me wrong, undergrads. You’re all unique and special, too. It’s just that grad students are demographically different to a degree that exceeds the undergrad experience and precludes a common graduate one.
All of my rhetoric aside, I’m not so foolish as to suggest that grad students are loners, that we have no friends or that we haven’t found our own socially rewarding niches. We have.
But what I am saying is that grad students lack that unifying experience that makes us feel like we’re a part of a larger whole. Until the University increases the number and quality of structured events to allow grad students from all disciplines to interact, these feelings will persist.
Coincidentally, I’m flying back to my alma mater today for Homecoming, where I don’t feel so much like an intruder. I’m hoping that eventually UT will feel like home, too.
Curl is an advertising graduate student.