The emotional roller coaster of graduate advising

I wasn’t supposed to be in the office that Tuesday morning, but the deadline for a conference paper was looming, and I had to escape my house to concentrate on writing.

When someone knocked on my door—three loud bangs that made me actually jump—my initial feeling was severe grumpy cat irritation. I DO NOT HAVE OFFICE HOURS TODAY, HOW DO YOU EVEN KNOW I’M HERE?!! (For those who find this response uncharitable, please keep in mind our advising context… with a thousand majors and open advising, it can be a zoo.) I contemplated not answering.

But I’m so glad I did because when I pulled the door open (standing in the way, so no one could just walk inside. I told you, grumpy cat style.), Kyle was there with this knowing look.

Me: “Yes?”

Him: “YES.”

Me: Goosebumps.

Cue: Hugging and a little loud exclaiming.

Kyle, my first graduate advisee, had just gotten the call. He was accepted to his first choice doctoral program with full funding and an assistantship. I don’t think we even exchanged full sentences at that point. Just “OMG I got ins” and “You did its” and “I’m SO proud of yous.”

Although the situation called for champagne, we grabbed lunch on account of it being 11:30 and a work day. Over chow mein and honey walnut shrimp, listening to Kyle bursting with joy as he talked to his family, I realized how utterly full of emotions I was, too.

Although “emotional roller coaster” is such a cliche, I can’t deny that the description really fits!

Elation. Happiness. Contentment. Pride. And RELIEF. I didn’t consider until that moment how knotted up I’d been since Kyle started applying to doctoral programs. With each day of waiting, I was thrown back to my own grad school anxieties and wondering how to respond should things not go his way. Thank goodness it didn’t come to that!

Since taking over as the director for my department’s master’s program, I’ve realized that a lot of this job, as well as teaching and advising graduate students in general, is emotion work. I feel so much for these students. I empathize at conference paper rejections (we’ve ALL been there, and recently, too, friends). I commiserate when “that time of the semester” hits (it’s not just students who get crunched). I mourn the loss of sleep, share in the laughter, roll my eyes at the cohort drama (nowadays we save that crap talking for post-faculty meetings).

It’s wonderful and tiring and inspiring and overwhelming sometimes. I’ve never seen so directly how my decisions as a professor and committee member affect people’s lives—who gets into the program, who gets the TA funding, what paper just isn’t up to snuff, how much letters of recommendation really do matter.

It’s definitely a humbling experience.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not after getting to nearly garrote Kyle with his Master’s hood or seeing the shining faces of those I’ve helped in some fashion walk across the graduation stage into a new phase of life.

I have the coolest job ever.

–dr. shawna

 

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