In August of 2003, I spent $280 on X-rays and $400 on laptop repairs. I was in between fellowships and had no health insurance. I had slid down the steps of my charming two-floor walkup, resulting in an injury to my arm and, more painfully, damage to computer files containing my dissertation-research notes.
Those charges reflect a moment I have tried hard to forget: sitting in my apartment, immobilized by pain, staring at a gross lump on my wrist and a computer that refused to respond. Thankfully, a friend of a friend from college worked in an orthopedic surgeon’s office and was able to pull a few strings so that I could avoid the expense of an emergency room. The fall (luckily) cost me a total of only $680 but scared me enough to wonder how I could afford to remain in this career. —Elizabeth Tatem —A Career in Adaceme (Chronicle)
I was pretty fortunate in the student-debt department. As an in-state student at The University of Virginia, with the support of my parents and various part-time jobs, I had no debt as an undergraduate or MA student, and I think I only had to take out a loan for one or two years while I was at studying for my Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. When there weren’t enough university teaching jobs to go around, I collected unemployment benefits. Happily, I accepted a full-time job offer, which paid the bills but slowed down my completion of the Ph.D. a bit. Once I was done with the Ph.D., I took on a couple of extra classes, and put all the money towards paying off my student loans.
At the time we were renting a duplex. While it felt good for a while to be debt-free, it feels even better now that we’re putting money into our own house.
I’m blogging this because I remember a discussion between grad students of different disciplines at the University of Toronto. The students from the sciences, whose professors brought in grant money that they used to pay their students to staff their labs, were able to treat their graduate work as a job. They complained that they had to spend most of their time doing the work that their adviser wanted them to do, rather than the work that they needed to do in order to finish their own research. But most would not consider doing the work at all if they weren’t paid for it.
The same is apparently not true of us nutty English types.