Graduate students live in an awkward, liminal world, straddling the line between student and teacher. To our professors we are students. To undergraduates we are usually instructors.We’re both and neither at the same time. Graduate school is an expensive undertaking at a point in life when many others are getting jobs, buying houses, getting married, and raising families. Some of us juggle those aspects of life while still in school, others end up putting those things on hold while pursuing an education. Everyone teases you about what you’re going to do afterwards and when you’re finally going to get done and join “the real world.” A lot of us are aware that the funding and benefits we get are better than the adjuncts who are teaching us, and that is terrifying. It also explains why some of our instructors very nearly resent the graduate students they teach.
It’s even stranger as a graduate student with disabilities. I’m part of a very small demographic, and it’s not one that my professors are trained to deal with or for which my graduate program is designed. There’s a lot of things I wish that they knew, so in preparation for one day having a productive conversation, I’ll be presenting one of the list every couple of days.
1. I wish that they knew that I have to coordinate between three or four different offices to try to get accommodations as a graduate student. I must deal with the same office that handles the undergraduate students and usually isn’t set up to deal with the different demands placed on graduates. I sometimes have to deal with human resources if I have a campus job. I occasionally have to take problems with either my teachers or my bosses to the ombuds office. And finally, I may have to personally deal with my department to get accommodations.
For instance, no one at the student disability office would help me get a stool to sit on for teaching my sections. I have POTS. I can’t physically stand to teach for long, but I’m short and my students need to see me. I was told to ask my department for help. But that means negotiating with my department head, who doesn’t want to–and shouldn’t have to–know exactly what is wrong with me. My department isn’t trained to handle these requests, and I need the people in that department to be able to write recommendation letters. It’s TA work, not student employment in the traditional sense, so appealing to the overworked human resources department will not only waste money but probably will be unhelpful in the extreme.
End of the tale: as a graduate student, I’m probably not going get a stool any time soon.