Honorary Grad Students

By Mona Malacane

Although it feels like weeks have already gone by, spring break was only two weeks ago. I can hear your groans through my computer, “Yes Mona, we get it, due dates are quickly approaching and I didn’t get enough done over spring break …” But I promise I’m not bringing this up to compound your end of the semester anxiety! Actually, by the end of this post, hopefully you’ll feel a little bit better about the stress of grad school.

Over this spring break I went back home to Georgia to spend some time with my parents, who have always supported my grad school ambitions. These trips home are usually full of reflecting for me. Something about going back to where I grew up makes me aware of how much my life has changed and what more I want to accomplish. It probably also has something to do with re-explaining how much longer I’ll be in grad school beyond the 2.5 years I have already spent here. Nevertheless, trips home aren’t complete without at least one or two conversations with my parents about the past, present, and future.


My mom, sister, and dad at my college graduation. (Go Dawgs!)

One evening over the spring break as we were chatting over wine I could feel the conversation starting to head in the general direction of the “reflection talk.” My dad beat me to it and started sharing some of his thoughts about grad school. As I was listening to him, I slowly realized that, in many ways, my family has also been going through graduate school with me. I don’t mean just listening to me talk about my assignments or projects or classes or daily life, but sharing in my ups and downs and everything that we as grad students are responsible for.

I wish I could remember what exactly he said but given the spontaneous nature of the conversation (and the wine) it escapes me. On the other hand,  I’m kind of glad that I can’t remember what he said because if I recounted his thoughts they wouldn’t be in his words. So for authenticity’s sake, I asked him to write his thoughts about what grad school is like and how he thinks I have changed since starting grad school.  Here are his thoughts in his own words:

“From a distance, I feel the stress of her long nights, incessant deadlines, and brief phone calls when I offer to do something for her and I quickly sense she is busy and really doesn’t have the time to chit chat. I’m not as offended as I used to be because I better understand the constraints she works under. She owns all of it. With great determination. I read what she writes and it’s so academic and I listen to her research which is so structured. If you can’t prove it with research Mona doesn’t believe it. I don’t always agree with this, because everything isn’t always black and white, but I respect her dedication to proof and seeking answers in the result.

Your independence is accomplished. It’s no longer something you strive for – it is real, but we still love it when you ask us for recipe advice, what cut of meat to buy, and an occasional life lesson which we love to give.

Maybe not a grad school thing but a trait your mom gave you that once you see something and try it you want to own it and be the best. I wish you wouldn’t be such a perfectionist. It describes your quest for quality but can also drive you crazy when it is elusive. We love and respect the way you have matured.”

Me reading my dad's sweet email.

Me reading my dad’s sweet email.

My fellow grads have stories of their own to share about observations made by their “honorary grad students.” They offer perspectives into grad life in their own special ways.

Min Ji Kim’s father: “I, as her father, would say that the grad school is more like waiting for her marriage life because it is something in which she wants to find happiness but still doesn’t even know where it is. I would explain that my daughter is having a very hard time struggling to find her own way to reach her goal. It doesn’t really matter what she’s grabbed or what she’s missed so far, however. I do know she is doing her best now … She has changed a lot. A lot in positive and desirable ways as she is studying abroad by herself far away from home.”

Kelsey Prena’s grandmother: “Just yesterday my grandma asked me how many classes I still have to take until I can work on the floor (in reference to hospital work).”

Nicky Lewis’s Grandma Betty: “So, you’re getting your PhD in television?”

Teresa Lynch: [In terms of having a significant other in grad school] “Life events are dated in terms of semesters, vacation destinations are determined by conference locations, and deadlines come before dishes.”

Edo Steinberg: “I didn’t hear this directly, but a distant relative of mine who heard I research satire once asked, ‘so he’s getting a Ph.D. in making fun of people?’”

Jess Thompkins: “My parents don’t comment much … mostly because they don’t understand what I’m doing in grad school. A few weeks ago I mentioned to my father about the female video game character content analysis that I did with Teresa, Irene, and Niki. His comment ‘Aren’t those outfits based on the fashion industry?'”

Nic Matthews: [What does it mean to have a S.O. who is a grad student?] “It means that nearly all conversations, such as where to crop an Instagram photo, eventually lead to a discussion on philosophy, relevant theories, and 4 study ideas. It means that I’m vicariously enrolled in 3 additional classes every semester having heard the reflections and insights gleaned from each reading. And it means that pushing dinner back a bit for work only becomes problematic once you pass 11pm … okay maybe 11:15pm.”

Antonina Semivolos: “My mom has been the most supportive person thus far … Even if we do not talk for too long, she always finds a way to entertain me, or to give me a wise and special advice (which I could never accept before, but am now receptive to because of the amount of intellectual angst I face every week). She entertains me with jokes about famous people and about what is going on in the world (I don’t own a TV), as well as reads my weekly horoscopes. She sees my working on a PhD as a way to synthesize the knowledge and experience I’ve collected thus far for my own benefit and that of people I will encounter in my life … I’m very proud of her because she’s made a few major sacrifices in order to emigrate with me to the US twenty years ago, and she is proud of me because I’ve been utilizing my time at the Indiana University, Bloomington in such a way as to obtain the highest caliber of contemporary knowledge. So, one of the main outcomes of my staying at the University has been our becoming closer as a family. It is the same with my older sister, even though I know she still secretly hopes I will someday become a medical malpractice lawyer in NYC.”


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