Graduate students prioritize their lives differently from undergraduates

Editor’s note: This letter is a response to a previous column, “An open letter to graduate students about school spirit,” published in the Oct. 8, 2013, edition of The Daily Illini.

I enjoyed reading your piece on the graduate community’s lack of school spirit. As an ’08 alumna of the School of Applied Health Science and recent alumna of the School of Labor and Employment Relations, and as someone who married a PhD student in Civil and Environmental Engineering, I believe that I have a diversity of perspectives into the world of graduate students.

As both an undergraduate and graduate student, I treasured my time at the University. As an undergraduate, I founded the Illini Field Hockey Club and was a member of a sorority. As a graduate student, my favorite nights were spent at the Ice Arena watching hockey games and shouting lewd taunts at the opposition.

I believe that you are right to say that there is a world outside of the lab. While some graduate students truly never see that world, there are others who do, if you know where to find them. Whether this occurs via ultimate frisbee on the fields near the president’s mansion or at Esquire watching football, these graduate students do socialize.

The problem with your statement, excluding the fact that undergraduates tend to act like inebriated fools at sporting events, is that graduate students do (and should!) prioritize their lives differently.

For my part, I socialized largely with the other graduate students in my program. This was a far more effective use of my time, considering that I was able to develop my network and make connections that will assuredly further my career.

A man in my husband’s research group began his studies with his wife by his side. Within a short period of time, he expanded his family, fathering an adorable son. This is not an uncommon occurrence among the graduate community.

Clearly, he should not spend his free time attending as many sporting events as possible rather than spending time at home with his son, supporting his learning and literacy.

My final example is theoretical, but anchored in the reality of the work of graduate students. Our students are some of the best and brightest in the world, and the work that they conduct is no different.

They contribute to the most ground-breaking research in their fields and quite frankly, I am grateful for their work.

If they wish to spend more time in the lab contributing to the collective knowledge and advancement of society rather than at a football game, I think this is a decision I can wholeheartedly support.

Rebecca Zwang,

School of Labor and Employment Relations alumna