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J-School Confidential: Cushy Undergrad Program This Ain't

One newly married j-schooler breaks down her week and laments her lost leisure time

By Beth Braverman - October 26, 2007
I got married and started graduate school within one incredibly hectic week in September.

Six weeks later, now that I'm settled into both the role of wife and graduate student, I've learned that the latter has had far more implications on my daily life (and my relationship with my husband) than the former.

I naively imagined my schedule in graduate school would resemble my schedule as an undergrad -- replete with sleeping in and an abundance of free time. My class schedule seemed to confirm this -- I have no classes before 2:30 p.m., and I spend a grand total of about 16 hours per week actually in a classroom.

As my husband puts on his suit, I remain in my pajamas and boot up the computer and the coffeepot before brushing my teeth.

But I find myself far busier as a graduate student than when I worked at a full-time job. Instead of eating dinner together at least four times a week as we did before graduate school began, my husband and I look forward to Tuesdays as the one weeknight we during which we can share a meal.

My alarm usually goes off somewhere between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., (In my previous job, I woke up at about 7:15.) As my husband puts on his suit, I enjoy my impermanent reprieve from corporate dress codes. I remain in my pajamas and boot up the computer and the coffeepot before brushing my teeth.

I start the day reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times business pages online. In addition to preparing me for class, these daily readings provide proof that my Business and Economics Reporting curriculum is working, as I understand more of these stories every week.

I work on class readings or other assignments for the next few hours, before taking a mid-morning break to visit the gym. A graduate student's schedule is incredibly conducive to working out. I hit the gym almost every day, but instead of sweating next to 20-something professionals like me, I find myself surrounded by buff housewives (making me feel completely unfit) and aging retirees (making me feel very svelte).

I return to home and consume my lunch back at the computer, just like I did when I worked. Depending on when classes start, I usually spend the first half of the afternoon working on the various freelance projects that allow me to continue paying the bills while I am in graduate school.

By mid-afternoon, I am on a bus headed to campus, working on more class readings. Most afternoons involve meetings with classmates on various group projects and then two to four hours in lectures such as Evidence & Inference or History of Journalism for Journalists.

My hardest class is actually not a journalism class at all. It is an accounting class taken by all the business and economics concentration students this semester. I already see the benefits to me as a reporter in taking this class, but I haven't taken a math class (or used a calculator for more than figuring out a tip) in at least eight years. We take the class at the School of International and Public Affairs alongside aspiring accountants and international business professionals with far more experience understanding balance sheets than we have.

It also doesn't help that the class takes place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday nights, and I frequently find myself thinking more about what I'm missing on primetime television than what I'm learning in class. Luckily most of my j-school classmates seem to be having equal difficulty with the accounting. We have begun looking into hiring a tutor to help us get a better handle on the class.

Classes go late on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I usually don't return to the apartment until close to 10 p.m. While I relished night classes as an undergraduate, I'm afraid I've outgrown my nocturnal instincts, and I tend to spend the latter portion of these classes staring at the clock and thinking about all the things I need to get done at home. When I do get back to the apartment, I say a brief hello to my husband and lock myself in our office to spend another hour or two on homework before going to sleep.

Thursdays, my classmates in the Business and Economics Reporting seminar usually grab dinner and happy hour drinks after class. The drinking and venting bring me back to my days as a daily newspaper reporter, and comfort me that everyone else seems as busy and overwhelmed as I am. One classmate quit her part-time job since starting the program and another reports that he regularly stays up till 4 a.m. finishing assignments. Fridays I have only an accounting recitation, and I usually spend the rest of the day (as well as Saturday and Sunday) working on a Business and Economics reporting assignment due every Monday at 8 a.m. and an accounting assignment due Monday evening.

I do my best to make it out to a social event on Saturday nights, where I usually spend half the evening explaining to my friends who are not in graduate school why I never come out anymore.

I reassure both them and myself with a reminder that the M.A. program is nine months long, and since midterms start next week, I'm a quarter of the way through.

Beth Braverman is a freelance writer and graduate student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in Astoria, N.Y.

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