html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Bad grad school, I of II

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bad grad school, I of II

Second grad school was miserable for me, and I honestly think the largest part of it was pure bad luck. As far as I can tell, it was being there during the wrong years, some malice and some tactlessness on my part that made my Ph.D. program so bad that for two quarters I cried everyday for my whole drive home. Then I realized that they couldn’t make me stay for my Ph.D.; I could flee with a masters! With an end in sight, it all got better.

My first year at Davis was in law school, which was fine. That year, however, the Environmental Policy group lost three of six professors, including mine. She passed me off to another professor, whom I liked but whose work wasn’t what I was looking for. The next year was my first in grad school. My new advisor went on a year long sabbatical; two more professors left the Environmental Policy group. It was a real shame that the only professor left doesn’t like women, or engineers, or lawyers, or masters students. It was also too bad that I didn’t understand quite how touchy he was about the new field of policy science, and spent the first day of class badmouthing the theories in the book he edited. I didn’t know! I also didn’t know that he was entirely willing to tell people that they didn’t belong in his program, or call them ignorant assholes, or not tell them about meetings, or savagely criticize their presentations in class. He had a reputation for being brusque; when I tried to tell my professor or the department chair about him, they would assume that was what I meant. But he went after me special, and he was the only professor there.

If your group has almost no professors, it also can’t have many students. My year, we got two students. It was great when I could take classes with yet another Chris, but mostly I struggled with being the only person in class who wasn’t from that department. I split my third and fourth years between grad school and law school. It was OK, if I didn’t mind that grad school was on quarters and law school was on semesters, and it took me ten hours to register every quarter because no one had done that joint program since before they switched to on-line enrollment. I just got used to having five finals periods each year. I started TAing, and loved that part.

My third year the policy group managed to bring on a couple new professors, but not soon enough for more students in my fourth year. It was probably too late for me to have a sense of camaraderie with them anyway. The next year the group went on a huge recruiting drive. It was really hard to get students for our policy program. Our program was housed in the Ecology group, which required a rigorous biological sciences background. But we did pure policy and it was hard to find people who wanted to do that after a science background. I inadvertently got my revenge when the new potential crop of students came to check out the program and meet the current grad students. Somehow I was the only person left after dinner with the five potential new grad students. Someone casually asked if I had enjoyed my time at Davis. I couldn’t say anything, but I guess they got their answer when tears welled up in my eyes and I stared silently at my plate. We didn’t get a single student for the next year. Serves them right.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, this is getting terribly depressing M. The whirlwind that is the professorial ego...tell me about it! I can totally relate to the lack of comraderie: I think there's something quite mean, atomising even, about the process of 'higher' education. And no, that's not when I first became an imaginary person :)

9:50 AM  
Blogger Erica said...

I'm sorry your grad school experience was so unpleasant... I don't know what it's like to be in that situation, but I know how much power professors have over their students, so I can imagine how awful it must be.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Sheila Tone said...

Wow, I thought only the law school was that bad. I thought those other programs were different, because they were designed to encourage, rather than discourage.

Although come to think of it, my misery was related to other students, not professors. I did work at at least one law firm with a boss like that, though.

1:34 PM  

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