57.2 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Column: Meet the Grad Student

Awaken, my column, and embrace the glory that is your birthright. Know that I am the Graduate Student, the eternal will of lab and library, and that you have been created to serve me.

Undergraduates often get all the press when it comes to universities, though not without cause. Of the more than 32,000 students currently enrolled at UC Davis, about 25,000 of them are undergrads. The undergrad years are what we speak of when we talk of Animal Houses, toga parties, girls going wild and the best years of our lives “if only we could remember them.” Most of the classes, clubs and communities on campus cater to the college cohort or the teachers that tutor them. So who are the graduate students?

Simply, we are the missing link between faculty and undergrad. Not quite employees, but not fully students either. We toil behind the scenes, in your peripheral vision, making your sobriety-based college experience go as smoothly as possible. Besides the occasional lecture, we set up labs, send class e-mails, hold office hours, write exams, hand out exams, proctor exams, grade exams, answer your questions about your exams, secretly laugh at the horrible responses you gave on your exams, post your exams to funnyexam.com and, most importantly, do research.

We may do a lot of things for you while we’re your TAs, but otherwise our main goal is to do our dissertation research and earn our advanced degrees, publishing papers and gaining teaching experience along the way while, yes, occasionally taking classes. (If you’re wondering about Post-docs … they can write their own column!)

Overall, grad school is like half a decade of your senior year of college. You only take the classes you like, you’re working on your thesis and you can drink legally. The main difference is grad students get paid to be in college while undergrads have to pay … wait, how much is tuition these days? That much!? Man, you guys are suckers, but more on that in a later column.

Now that you know who that funny-looking guy with the ponytail sitting in the front row of your poetry class probably is (the correct answer is “unemployable”), allow me to introduce myself.

Name’s Matan, pronounced the way you are not pronouncing it. Born in New York City, I got my bachelor’s degree in organismic (stop giggling) and evolutionary biology in 2009 from Harvard University. Yes, that Harvard. No, I never met Zuckerberg. I’m currently a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Entomology, which means I’ve been dodging the job market successfully for three years and have a year or two left before I officially become the less-cool and less-paid type of “Doctor.”

Why did I come to Davis? The number-one entomology department in the nation was one draw, and the other was location. Four years of Massachusetts winters take their toll, so I was looking forward to doing a Ph.D. in sunny California, spending my free time sunbathing on beaches and learning how to surf. Clearly, I had never actually looked at Davis on a map before I got here. I just assumed California was one giant coastline. Whoops.

Why am I getting my Ph.D.? The truth is, I love school. Always have. Academia suits me, and vice versa. I want to be a professor, and a Ph.D. is the first step on that ivory-paved road from graduation to tenure. Could I be making more money in industry, or consulting, or as a doctor or lawyer or plumber or stripper? Absolutely. Could I have gotten those careers after graduating? Probably (though I can’t tell which of the latter two jobs would have the harder interview). Clearly, I’m not doing this for the money: I do it for the thrill of research. For the pursuit of pure knowledge. For science. Sweet, wonderful, glorious Science! I’m doing what I love and getting paid for it: What more could I want?

There is much about being a grad student that I want to share with you, and so few columns to do so in. What are we waiting for, then? Allons-y!

MATAN SHELOMI has a lot more obscure gamer references for you at mshelomi@ucdavis.edu.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here