Letter to the editor: stress culture at graduate student level

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As my first year here at Carnegie Mellon rapidly approaches its culmination, I would like to comment on the culture and support network that is being so hotly discussed around campus. As a person with a military background, I know the stress of combat, impossible deadlines, and true life-and-death decisions. Carnegie Mellon does not ask for any of those, yet I am more stressed and demoralized about my own capabilities than ever before. I didn’t want to believe that it could affect me because I thought it was simply a product of young undergrads with little real-life experience. I was wrong.

The graduate student community is being overlooked in many ways, with the vast majority of the focus placed on undergraduates. Provost Jahanian’s email today (April 1) states that “it is clear” that faculty “understand the pressures many of you face.” I have leaned on my advisor and many other professors and students and all have offered significant support. Yet in the classroom it is a different story. There is a belief that as a graduate student you are not entitled to breaks, expected to be overloaded, and even to fail. Days after an exam where the entire class questioned why we were at this university, the professor proceeded to say that he expected the highest grade to be a 50. Another said “graduate students don’t get days off” and held class on a day the university calendar marked for no classes. Another assigned a project with no warning before Spring Break, with mandatory submissions during the break. Heinz College doesn’t even follow the larger university calendar. Advisors actively tell you not to do homework and focus on research. There are few resources for those who have children and spouses.

I say this not to complain, but rather to inform. Professors must acknowledge that the guidelines established by the university are clear on the expectations. A 12-unit course is supposed to require 12 hours of work per week, to include class time, recitation, and assignments — not 30. The best way to mitigate the issues of students is to realize that nobody wins when students give up on trying because they have no more time or energy to put towards the assignment. Saying “the rules don’t apply because you’re in a graduate program,” or, “you should be able to deal with that on your own” do not fall under the support concept the administration is seeking. Change starts at the classroom level.