"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Full Circle Redux

Not too long ago, I blogged about how things had come full circle in the professional sphere of my life, just as New Think Tank reaches its first birthday.

Seems it is the season for that sort of thing. Two old friends I ran into recently, whom I hadn't seen in ... well, we won't say exactly how long ... made me think of how things have come full circle in other ways as well.

Both of these people I knew as an undergrad but lost touch with soon after graduating. The first had been a peer (same year, same major) and roommate. Towards the end of the year that we shared an apartment, she started dating someone I thought was a total asshat. I couldn't stand this guy! He was spending more and more time at our apartment, and it drove me nuts. I couldn't even tell you exactly what it was that I didn't like. Possibly it was intuitive distrust? Possibly it had something to do with them fucking loudly and frequently on the living room couch when I was trying to study for finals?

Like I said, I don't know exactly what it was I didn't like, but when the lease ended, I moved out. A year later, my friend dropped out and ran off with Mr. Asshat, and I lost touch with her.

I won't get into the details of how we reconnected, but it turned out Mr. Asshat was an emotionally absuive ASSHAT who treated my friend like shit for years -- yet leaving her wanting more -- before they finally broke up when he left. Sounds familiar, in a weird sort of way ....

Approaching 30, she found herself broke and alone with no marketable skills and no college degree, so she took a job as a lowest-rung-on-the-ladder payroll assistant and discovered she liked working with numbers and was good at it. Over the next few years, she progressed slowly but steadily through bookkeeping and accounting positions with ever increasing responsibility and is now, today, the comptroller at a decent sized company. They fly her to London for meetings and what not.

Funny how things turn out. She was impressed with my Ph.D. but at the same time could relate to some of my post-ac employment frustrations -- from the opposite end. She said that not finishing her bachelor's was a sore point that has limited her options. Despite her current status, if she ever wanted to change jobs to something of similar status at another copmany, no one would give her a second look without the degree.

She said if she had it to do over again, she'd have majored in economics and gotten into policy work -- something more similar to what I'm doing now than what she does. But I wouldn't mind it if, at my next gig, they wanted to fly me to London now and again.

Funny how things turn out.

*     *     *     *     *

The other person I ran into had been a grad student when I was an undergrad. He had two master's degrees and was working on a PhD. In retrospect, I suppose, one should always be slightly suspicious of any graduate sstudent in their late 20s who spends over much time hanging around the undergrads. Where is that going to lead but backwards?

During my last year in college, I lived in a building called the Copycat. Despite the seeming coolness of this place having its own Wikipedia page, it was (and as far as I can tell still is) a shithole. Myself and two roommates shared a loft that rented for a grand total of $300 a month, which seems pretty great until you consider: the roaches (gah, they were everywhere!), the rodents (you could hear them at night even with the windows closed in the dumpsters three floors below), the sweatshop uniform factory upstairs (it released a steam vent every day at 3pm -- and that shit's fucken LOUD, especially if you're just waking up from the previous night's festivities), and the lack of hot water and ... oh, yes, the lack of a functional kitchen!

But when you're 22, I suppose, those are reasonable tradeoffs for some of the building's perks. We had us some KILLER parties!!

People would be spinning records, painting, dancing ... whatnot. In the morning, the view of Baltimore through those gigantic industrial windows -- the rundown rowhouses, the train yard, the city jail -- had a peculiarly postapocalyptic feel, as if the sunrise itself, shedding light on it all, was a perverse surprise.

Somehow (and I do not to this day know how) I made the dean's list the year I lived there, but my friend, Grad Student, apparently was headed in the opposite direction. 

Grad Student had attended one or two of those parties, but we (meaning my undergrad friends and myself) had initiated him into the madness and mayhem of those days, not the other way around, as you might expect between younger and older friends.

Long story short, sometime in the course of the intervening years, Grad Student, who is now well past 40, dropped out of his PhD program, joined a band, and has been, as they say, "living the life" for a while now. The band is actually pretty good, and it was at a show they were playing last weekend where Peaches and I ran into (Former) Grad Student afterwards.

(Former) Grad Student says: "Hey, I was just thinking about you guys! I tried to find you online but couldn't remember your last names. You remember the Copycat? I'm moving in there this month!"