As those of you who have done graduate work can attest, it can be a pressure cooker of stress. Between the intensity of the work and the financial strain of limited income, one sometimes feels overwhelmed. And sometimes you feel like a professor is gunning for you, or just doesn't care. Certain professors get reputations of being mean and impersonal, sometimes rightfully so, sometimes just because they have very high standards and that comes across as mean and uncaring. OK. Enough background. Here are two from my experiences, and a bonus that was told to me by one of my graduate professors.
I was in my second year of my Classics masters program at the University of Kentucky. Debbie was pregnant with Ryan and the morning sickness was pretty severe. Our cash was stretched to the breaking point. I had a TA position teaching first year Latin. I don't know how it works now, but in those days, TAs got in-state reduced tuition, not free tuition. And they required the tuition to be paid the month before the term started. It was December, and I didn't have the money for the tuition. I would get the extra cash two weeks after the deadline. I was wondering out loud to the department secretary, Sharon, what I was going to do when one of the Classics professors walked in. He heard what I was saying and offered to loan me the money to pay the tuition! I could pay him back in January, when classes started again. Talk about an early Christmas present!
The second story is set in Chicago, during my second year there. We lived in married student housing, just south of the Midway. We were in the habit of walking then, just as we are now. We would load the kids up in the wagon and pull them around the quads every evening. They would get out and walk some of the way, but mostly they rode. Occasionally, we would extend the walk to go to the store. At that time in Hyde Park there was a family-owned grocery on 56th or 57th Street. One January evening, with the temperatures in the zero degree range and falling (along with some snow), we walked to the store to get milk. On the return trip, about a block or so from the store, a car slowed down. The driver rolled the window down and called out my name, asking if we wanted a ride home. It was one of the toughest professors at the OI! He had a reputation of being extremely tough and students were scared of him. We turned him down because we're from Minnesota : ) But that offer meant more to me than I can explain.
OK. Final story. This was relayed to me by the ancient history professor at the University of Kentucky when I was there. He was a graduate student under Chester Starr back in the early 1960s. For those of you who don't know, Chester Starr was probably the best Classics history person in that time period. My professor was his graduate assistant. He told me that about once a week or so, Starr would throw him the keys to his Mercedes and tell him to take a drive. Starr said that he looked strained and might enjoy the break of driving a luxury vehicle.
Merry Christmas! Even Scrooge can be nice : )