Graduate student in an undergraduate world

As a fifth-year grad student, I’ve lived in Princeton longer than anywhere else in my adult life. Eating local means tomatoes and blueberries – not peaches from my hometown in western Colorado. My fridge is now stocked with beer from Cape May – no New Belgium, no Ithaca Beer Company, no Flying Dog in Maryland. I own more orange than I ever thought possible. For the past four years, I’ve redeemed my American Airlines miles for United’s, so I’m better prepared for the certain chaos of Newark Liberty International Airport. Yet I often feel like a minority among graduate students in claiming Princeton as my home.

Honestly, the residential community of Princeton was a big draw when deciding where to pursue my PhD. I loved the idea of ​​having our own Graduate College, having our own bar, and being able to walk to campus. I was intrigued by the lack of law, business or medical schools, as this meant that the majority of graduating students would be PhDs, bound by a desire to learn more about our world – that whether it’s studying contemporary challenges like curing cancer, capturing carbon, or delving into the culture of the past. The graduate community is strong, with dedicated staff Personalresources for graduate students on skills and professional development, as good as affinity groupsa Graduate Student Governmentand other student leaders who give up their free time to organize events.

However, when I arrived on campus, my rosy image of graduate student life was challenged, as I was surrounded by the rhetoric of Princeton as an undergraduate institution. But, what I soon realized was that undergraduate experience and graduate experience are closely intertwined. I helped teach the little classes that Princeton likes to brag about. I have mentored undergraduate students in their summer projects and their theses. I have enthusiastically written letters of recommendation, participated in job search panels, and made formal and informal connections with undergraduate students through my work as a resident graduate student. All of this creates a unique undergraduate experience and helps me connect to this institution.

Yet the famous “undergraduate concentration” is sometimes impossible to ignore. In March 2020, I learned of the university’s closure during an undergraduate group discussion. There was limited coverage of graduate students in the Princeton Community Newspaper. A recent report on Campus Mental Health pointed out that the graduate student body has only one outreach counselor, despite graduate students making up 37% of the student body.

Additionally, the prevailing attitude that Princeton was not really a place graduate students call home was another obstacle. When I came for visiting days as a newly admitted student, the overriding message I heard was that Princeton was dull and boring, a place to be endured before moving on to bigger and better things . During my freshman year, no one else in my cohort lived at Graduate College, and only a few students lived on campus.

Initially, admitting that I loved life at Princeton felt like I was airing my “sloppyness,” or that I was content with the flaws of the college and the city, or that I was okay with it. to let the institution dominate my life. I was once told that living in university accommodation during the early days of the pandemic was “subjecting myself to tyranny”.

A selling point in Princeton depends on what it’s close to, New York and Philadelphia, not what’s here. Admittedly, Princeton lacks certain things, especially with cultural accommodations or the scarcity of religious communities. Similarly, higher education is defined by its temporal location, a mere step on your way to, again, bigger and better things. People are strongly attached to their undergraduate institutions and their first job, but graduate school? No. Part of that comes from the liminal status of being a graduate student. We straddle a line between being an employee and a student. We are independent adults, but also part of a residential community and subject to the vagaries of university politics.

But, graduate school and Princeton are not transitory. Most of us will spend years of our young adulthood in this place. Many, if not most, of us will live here longer than undergrads. While some of Princeton’s aren’t built for students, graduates, or undergraduates — I’m looking at you, Hermes 2023, and Harvest Restaurant Group — I found my favorite Indian restaurant, my favorite croissant, and housewarming cards for my friends who tick the traditional boxes of adulthood. I look forward to the seasonality of Wawa coffees. I somehow racked up over $15 in public library fines.

Where some may see a sleepy, posh or soulless small town, I see opportunity. I co-author and gig-go with friends. I’ve helped friends fall in love and deal with heartbreak. I improved coding, writing, teaching, ice skating, singing and interviewing.

One of the purposes of my writing this year is to outline some aspects of the past four years that have made me think of Princeton as my home. At the same time, I know there are structural challenges that go beyond individual attempts to foster community and work-life balance. Higher education is difficult and, sometimes, very consuming. Last year, I wrote a guest essay about my struggles recovering from emergency hospitalization. After posting this, several friends and strangers contacted me and mentioned that they had similar stories and struggles. The message was clear: I was not alone.

I don’t want a repeat of my undergrad life. I’m at a point in my life where I want the parties to end, not start, at 11 p.m. Instead of figuring out how to pay tuition through loans and work-study, I’m thrilled to earn above the median per capita salary. for Mercer County. In addition to reading research papers, I want to write some. I chose to call Princeton my home because I want to have a stake in where I live and where I work. I want what I do to matter, not just in the future, but today.

Graduate studies are a never-ending exercise in deciphering what matters. The pressure to produce top quality research and publish in the best media is often presented as the only thing that matters. My well-being, my friends, my family and my community matter too. I hope some of my pieces from the coming year will provide you with ideas to help you define your own time here. As a graduate student, you can go through all of this without ever having worn a Princeton Homecoming shirt or owned anything with a tiger on it, but, if you want to, you can.

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Emily Miller is a fifth-year doctoral student in demographic studies and social policy in Palisade, Colorado, and contributing editor to The Prospect at the “Prince.” She can be contacted at [email protected]

Self-essays at The Prospect give our guest writers and contributors the opportunity to share their insights. This essay reflects the opinions and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a personal essay, contact us at [email protected]

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