Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Grad Student "Identity"

Obviously I haven't been keeping up on this as well as I'd like. Things have been getting hectic. I've been out of town for the past two weekends and so haven't had time for much beyond schoolwork, driving, eating, and sleeping. But, it's time to take a deep breath and think a little bit.

I've been giving a lot of thought lately to my identity here in graduate school. For me, there are two sides to the equation: Graduate Student and Graduate Teaching Assistant. These are both mighty fine titles, but holding them simultaneously is sometimes difficult.

As a student, I know my job is to go to class, to study, and to keep up on my work. Easy enough, right? However, I'm in a pretty unique position within my program. I'm one of only a few grad students who started the master's program here straight out of undergrad, without any real work experience in between. That means 1.) I'm younger than almost everybody and 2.) I'm at a bit of a disadvantage by lacking those experiences in the workplace. I'm not sure what I want to do with my life or what skills I will need, so it's harder for me to plan out a course of study and know what I need to learn. On the plus side, I'm used to being in school so being a student still comes naturally to me. It's the role I'm most comfortable in.

Ok. So far, so good.

Now, the other side: GTA. I have to say, I had no idea what it took to be a teacher before I started doing this. I never realized all the planning and researching and just thinking that goes into it. Things that seem simple (writing a syllabus, grading papers) always take way more time than I think they will. Not to mention the fact that I am now a figure of authority for students who are practically the same age as me. It's a strange situation.

I tend to compare it to my experiences tutoring a lot. When I'm a tutor, I'm a peer. I'm a cheerleader for one student at a time. I get to say "Let's work together on this to make it awesome." I don't have to evaluate the work or give it a grade. Things are much less complicated.

Teaching is different. I have twenty-two students to deal with at a time (and thank goodness I don't have any more than that--I don't know how K-12 teachers keep everyone's names straight). It's hard to make sure everyone is on the same page, because inevitably, they won't be. And I'm now the one who has to say A, B, C, etc. That's a tough situation. The tutor in me always comes out when I grade; my comments are more about how to improve the text than anything else, even though I know I need to give it a letter at the end. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

The trouble is that I don't know whether I'm more of a student or more of a teacher. It seems that the answer should be student, because ultimately I am here to get a degree. But I can only be here doing this because of the teaching assistantship, which I get to keep by maintaining a certain GPA. I need one to keep the other. And right now, I find myself splitting my time almost equally between the two. It's a strange sort of limbo, and I'm finding it very interesting to think about how my two roles interact and overlap with each other.

Ah, well. Back to the grind. In parting I offer this delicious photo of a cappucino from Taza--if you're in the UC area and you haven't been to this place, check it out for some good coffee and neat latte art.

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