I entered college with a conflicted mindset.
I was not entirely positive of what I wanted to go into, but had decided on a catch-all degree where I could get a job and be good at it: Communications (specifically the professional & technical writing track).
[This would later change when the university decided to get rid of the program without grandfathering. I ended up History & English with a Certificate in Writing.]
I was going into the university Honors program.
Having left high school bitter and broken from working hard, sticking my neck out, and still not getting my desired results (ideal college choice, placement in the Top 10, etc.), I was worried I had worked too hard. I hadn’t gotten exactly what I desired, so why should I exert as much effort?
But academics… that’s what I’m good at.
I went in full time, every semester. I took classes every summer. I worked, at minimum, two jobs; most of the time, I was working three jobs.
I got all “A”s in almost all of my classes; in fact, my lowest grade (a B) was for a science course that was discontinued because the material was so poor and the class conducted so badly that the professor was denied tenure.
I excelled in the Honors courses, eventually going on to write an Honors thesis with the founder of the program, while serving as a teaching assistant for the director.
Which brings me to the continuation of jealousy, rage, and overall distaste for my own complacency with academic authority (which will soon change in this story).
I spent a year on my thesis, something that was quickly molded differently from what I originally wanted to write. I ended up writing… what my advising professor wanted me to write. Dramatically so. My professor was very keen on the history of the novel, and so I took a path down there, merging my loves of history and literature. Though it was a far cry from my more John Locke/revolution ideas, I figured he knew what was best.
But it was also what he wanted research on.
Then I was on my own.
From the other people I’ve known that have conducted research at both the undergraduate and graduate level, they have told me they had input from their mentors. Tips, tricks, advice, editing help, research help.
Every week I met with my professor, with a backpack stuffed with books and a notebook of my plans.
Every week, my professor spent 30 seconds on my thesis, and the rest of our hour together ranting (perhaps an inspiration for what I am today).
My mentor ranted about the school, students, society, his job, and everything in between. I understood; I empathized and looked forward to our meetings, feeling thrilled that I was trusted with so much information about the school, academics, and more.
Until a year later, when I turned in my over 80 page thesis, got an “A” and that was that.
Since that time several years ago, I’ve seen many friends go to conferences with their work, present their work, and even publish their work. One of their advising professors even raised an eyebrow when I mentioned I had done a thesis with my mentor–something others later told me was because my mentor “has something of a reputation for not being helpful to students.” Had I known this, I wonder how different the rest of my academic career might have been.
I didn’t have a heavily edited, or even vaguely edited, piece. I did not have experience presenting or a mentor to guide me. I had someone who was, as I soon discovered, “checking out” of university life which had stressed him/her for so long.
The root of this entire spiral of “rages” comes from the recent discovery that the infamous “#2” Valedictorian from my high school had not only published his/her honors thesis, but had done so at my #1 choice school. The kicker? I read the paper, and it was similar to mine (though I’ll be honest AND arrogant… mine was better written).
Cue the rage at having to feel jealous, but still experiencing it nonetheless.
My university experience had become–in no uncertain terms–as bad as my high school experience, if not worse.
I dealt with a sexual harassment scandal in a university position, which resulted in my coworkers and me contacting the dean, the chancellor, the ombudsmen… everyone. We fought for our rights over the course of a year; our superiors had directly violated several university rules, putting us in danger, harassing us themselves, and more. Other professors had even become involved, long aware of the injustices of our particular department.
As typical of life: it was easier to ignore us, and in some cases, hush us up (not with money, but with intimidation, cut hours, and in one case, a dismissal). We could not afford lawyers. Many of us were working full time (including other jobs), going to school full time, and also trying to figure out the rest of our lives.
So we moved on.
I graduated, again, with top honors. High distinction. Member of several honors societies. Honors program.
But did they necessarily do much for me again? No, not really. I would go on to deal with the standard injustices of life, fueling my rage and jealousy for those who had it better around me. Did I have it the worst? No, I know that… but then I also know comparing injustices becomes a sticky, dangerous game. It itself becomes an injustice.
I did learn, though: academia is no protective womb. I was good at school like a fetus is good at developing. Everyone does it, at different paces, and at different levels. In the end, you get flushed out just like everyone else.
So I sit, and I rage.