PhD Reflections - Starting College
By Andrea Porter
Forget the new sports car and a younger blonde at a mid-life crisis! Go back to college!
For 10 years I was the director of a busy department overseeing self-paced credit students, kids camps and community ed classes, which always tied me to my phone and email. Working on the university administration side made me pine for Camelot—the sweet spot at a university where students learn cool stuff and don’t read emails.
With a hope and a dream, I applied to Texas A&M University for a PhD, and amazingly got in as a funded student with a graduate assistantship, which meant I went from director to minion. However, the first week I was there, I realized how much I’d moved up in the world! For example, my tuition bill carried a balance that was supposed to be paid by the assistantship. I set out making the necessary calls, first to the business office, then to the registrar, then back to the business office, next to HR.... I found I was getting nowhere until I voiced my frustration to my supervisor who asked what I was doing. I answered just trying to resolve the problem. She said, that’s our job, not yours! Ahhhh, what beautiful words.
Moreover, I had been arriving to the office and classes wearing the clothes that I was accustomed to wearing—blazers and jackets, dresses, and nice professional clothing—and people kept confusing me for a professor or administrator instead of a student. It was a hard feat dressing down because I only owned one pair of jeans and most of my shirts were to wear under jackets. I hadn’t planned on a new wardrobe for going to college, but it was evident I needed a new look for College Station. The latest style is wearing short running shorts with an extra large t-shirt, but there’s only so much a 40 something can pull off! Instead, I decided on a look that goes from season to season: jeans and Aggie t-shirts!
Within a couple of weeks, I wondered how I’d ever lived my previous life! I never looked at my email except for once a day because nothing was important. There was no political maneuvering, no solving conflicts between employees, no fighting to advance my department. My clothes were more comfortable. And most of all, there was no stress! Students sweated projects and tests like it was life and death, but coming from a world where I was responsible for other people’s kids’ safety, classes could throw NOTHING worth stressing over. The only thing I had to worry about at my graduate assistant job was me! College had turned into an extended vacation resort.