Thoughts on life after the PhD
When I think about the millions of people who are currently out of a job, living in tent cities, or about to be evicted from their homes, the plight of the average grad student in these bleak economic times seems pretty insignificant. I and the people around me still get money to live on every month. We still eat in restaurants. We still travel to conferences, though not as much as we used to. We still buy lots of books. Most of us are grateful that, for the time being, we’re not out there looking for jobs.
In the summer, though, things have a tendency to get worse.
Most grad student fellowships are awarded for a nine-month or ten-month term, meaning that you need to set aside a little each month to cover your summer expenses (which I try to do but usually end up failing at because the stipend is really just enough to live on). Barring that, you need to seek out summer employment or you need to engage in the mad March-April scramble for the tiny amount of summer funding that’s out there. In the past this wasn’t too much of an issue–even if you didn’t get summer funding you could sign up with a temp agency or get some sort of summer teaching job. Nowadays, though, the prospects are a lot grimmer than they used to be. Temp agencies don’t have many positions open, and language schools are cutting back the hours of the teachers they already have.
This summer I was one of the lucky ones–or so I thought. I applied to an intensive six-week language program in Yokohama and applied for three different fellowships as a means to fund it. To my immense relief, I got one of the fellowships. And then the language school sent me a form letter saying my application had been rejected. I was shocked. Not because I thought my credentials were impeccable–they were good, but they weren’t perfect–but because summer language programs don’t really make a habit of rejecting people. Especially advanced Japanese language programs. They’re for-profit businesses. They traditionally don’t have an applicant pool that exceeds their enrollment capacity. Rather than feeling like a failure, I just felt bewildered.
After some correspondence with the school I still don’t know exactly why I was rejected, but I have a few ideas. One: the economy. With so many people frightened at the prospect of seeking jobs over the summer, it seems that more and more people are choosing to go back to school, and more and more students are looking to spend their summers studying (and getting paid for it) rather than temping or teaching. It appears my program and others got a significantly larger number of apps this year. Two: I’ve spent too much time in Japan and studied Japanese too much. This might not matter in a year in which the application numbers were low, but with a limited number of spaces I imagine the admissions committee would favor applicants who seemed to need the program more.
The good news is it looks like I’ll be able to keep the funding by doing a similar intensive language course at UCLA. It’s disappointing that I won’t be able to spend time in Japan, where I’d hoped to make a lot of valuable contacts, but if my school is willing to give me money I really can’t complain. And if this is the worst side effect of the bad economy that I suffer, I should smack myself upside the head for feeling even a moment’s frustration.
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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