Now that I’ve told you about my particular take on at least a part of the alt-ac/post-ac movement (shouldn’t we coin, maybe, “peri-ac” as an umbrella term?), it’s probably a good idea to tell you some stuff about me. I’m a midlife graduate student, so one of the things you should know is that my feelings about the negativity in some of the alt-ac post-ac blogosphere is predicated on the fact that I spent many years wishing I’d gone to graduate school, just like some bloggers wish they’d never gone.
So, why didn’t I? As an undergraduate, I went to Berkeley, then as now one of the flagships of US graduate education. A lot of professors thought of undergraduate education as an appendage to the graduate side.
I will say that this affected them positively in terms of pushing their students toward graduate education. In classes, a continuum between undergraduate and graduate study was often assumed. In fact, I had a work-study job as a journal editor with two merry professors, one of whom was constantly attempting to build the bower that was my graduate school plans. He would be sure to bring unusual words to my attention (like, say, palimpsest) and say “Remember that one, you can use it on the GREs.”
And, at some point, my roommate and I rebelled about this. I can remember my roommate (I’ll call her Mary, since that’s her name) screaming “Why do I have to think about this?? It’s just their profession!!”
All the genial assumptions that we were heading in their footsteps, for some reason, upset us: two first-generation college students who had trouble justifying their interests (history and the Holocaust, for her) and their determination to go to the best school possible, miles from home (me).
And then, there were horror stories from the graduate students. One in particular, a suite-mate I’ll call Ann, because that’s her name, arrived from Texas to study Chinese history. She also fled back to Austin after the first term, claiming it was student heaven as opposed to Berkeley’s student hell.
But when I look back at it now, California was not only not in a fiscal crisis at the time, it was something of a paradise. I paid, for my share of a two-bedroom apartment, $136 a month approximately 1 mile from campus. We paid tuition of roughly $300 a term for one of the finest educations in the US. So, bloggers who gnash your teeth about the contemporary grad picture, take note. Gnashing one’s teeth about the graduate experience, or considering the graduate student experience a trial, is not new; it’s something of a rhetorical trope of the experience.