The Real World

Posted on Friday, April 11th, 2014 by admin under Students, Uncategorized. Tags: ,

Student Perspective Post by Matt Barrett
Graduate Assistant for Communications

Between now and the end of the school year, there are a few blogs I’d like to write. For instance, next week I will post about a student who has won a major award, and then I’ll wrap up the semester with some musings about the year, followed by my thoughts on the upcoming summer. But right now, I’m in a strange in-between period. It’s too early to write about the summer or finals, and I’ve already written a blog about coping with end-of-the-semester stress (which I’ve recently re-read in order to deal with my current end-of-the-semester stress). So as I found myself getting lost in the pages of Mrs. Dalloway, I wondered: what do graduate students care about? For those who don’t know, Mrs. Dalloway, is a stream-of-consciousness novel that reveals the thought-processes of roughly twenty characters over the course of a single day. And in a way, I think it changed my life. Ever since I read it (which was just a week ago), I haven’t been able to look at people without wondering what goes on in their minds. So to make a long story short, I’ve been thinking about what makes everyone at UNCG so different—and yet, at the same time, how we’ve all been brought together by the pursuit of graduate school. Therefore, I’ve been considering a question that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully answer: what defines a grad student?

Last week I interviewed a grad student for the upcoming edition of Horizons, and she told me something along the lines of: “I wish I had appreciated my time in undergrad more, because I hardly ever faced any real world challenges.” This particular student is in the process of starting a family and will also be moving to Chapel Hill in the fall. Once she told me this, I understood her dilemma. Even with all of the work we have, there’s a lot more to do than just school. I’ve often thought how nice it would be to always avoid the real world—and at times I’ve even told my colleagues, “At least we don’t have a 9 to 5.”

Real World Comic

But does that mean we’re not in the real world? At first I thought it did. Then I put a list together.

The list contained things that I didn’t have to do in undergrad but I do now. Here are some of the things I wrote: buy groceries, cook dinners, pay rent, commute, wash dishes, and take out the trash. In college, all I had to do was walk half a block up the street and my meals were waiting for me. But the list went on. For instance, I can no longer save a pile of dirty clothes for my trips back home. And I’m responsible for student fees. And today I even had to call a mechanic to arrange an oil change. To me, this sounds like the real world.

I think that’s one of the great things about grad school. I’ve written a lot about how much I enjoy being a student again, but I don’t think I’ve ever touched on this. When I first went to college, my parents told me that I’ll probably learn just as much from living on my own as I do from my actual schoolwork. I think the same can be said about grad school. Earlier this week, I noticed that my refrigerator was empty—and then I remembered that there’s no dining hall up the street. I feel like this is a pretty insightful realization. All this time I’ve been living in the real world and I didn’t even know it.

It’s easy to forget, I think, because we’re attending classes on a university campus. Or at least it’s easy for me to forget. But if I look around, half of my colleagues are married and even a few of them have children. All of us live on our own and some still have their taxes to do. So it’s not just grad school that I enjoy but this whole being a “real person” thing. I’m not sure if everyone reading this will be able to connect to this idea as much as I have. It sounds like a pretty simple thing, to have to take out the trash and do laundry now and then. And maybe it’s because I’ve been reading too many books that analyze every little detail—but to me, this is a fairly big epiphany. Even now, as I look at my sink, I notice that all of my dishes are dirty. So if I’m ever going to live up to this self-proclaimed “real world” status, I guess I should clean them now.