To eat, or to graduate, that’s the question they’re forcing me to answer.

A couple of years ago, my department began a seminar series, inviting academics from around the world to give talks about their research. I didn’t pay attention, because I wasn’t interested in spending my Friday afternoons listening to people talking about the minutiae of their research.

The next year, the department instituted a degree requirement, forcing all new masters and PhD students to attend 70% of the seminars in the first two years of their program. To me, the series of unfortunate events were clear. The department had allotted lots of money to invite these speakers from around the world; the attendance was poor to the point of embarrassment, and so, to save the face of the chair, this requirement was instituted.

I attended grudgingly, silently protesting by bringing my computer with me to each seminar and spending the hour online shopping. I know this is immature, and unfair to the speaker. But really, when they’re talking about nano blah blah particles, I can sit there and stare blankly into space, or stare into my computer.

They monitor our attendance by requiring us to swipe our student cards at the door. The department hires a teaching assistant to enforce this.

Last year, I got a teaching assistantship whose tutorials directly conflicted with the seminars. I contacted the associate chair (the person who is administering the seminar series), and he said that I could make up for the requirement in a future term, or in the fall term of my third year.

Well, the winter term has come again, and I have taken the same TA position as last year. The same conflicts arose, and I contacted the associate chair again. The problem is that I have no more future terms to push the requirement onto. I’ve only got one full year left as a PhD student, which means that there isn’t another fall term! I told him that I did everything that was asked, and that he had even announced that conflicting TA-ships are legitimate reasons to postpone the seminar requirement.

He wrote back, telling me that I should not have taken the TA position. This TA position provides me with $3000 of income for the year. I prepped all of the work last year, and I would not be leveraging my time wisely if I didn’t teach it again. I want to be a lecturer in the future. TA positions give me practice. Sitting in a talk about nano blah blah particles doesn’t.

Thank you, department of X, for helping me get one step farther from feeding myself and professional development.

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