Grad School: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

I am sitting in Gray Owl Coffee while my sister learns to belly dance next door. Next to me on the table is a green wine bottle with two dead chrysanthemums in it. A crocheted cozy swathes the base of the wine bottle in colors pulled straight from the seventies, a mottle of rust and gray and goldenrod. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cozy itself was from the seventies. A thick film of mold floats in the water in the wine bottle. The fuzzy mold climbs the dead chrysanthemum stalks up to the neck of the bottle, where it cuts off, perhaps deterred by increasingly dry air as the colony moved away from the water. I am drinking a grapefruit soda, which turned out to be terrible.

I am also, twice over, a Master of Science.

Even as late in the game as the morning of the day my document needed to be in the library, I thought I wasn’t going to make it. All week, I vacillated between hope and doubt. Around 3 am on Wednesday morning, I felt sure that I would never finish. Then I calculated the amount of money it would cost me to extend my thesis writing past the end of the semester. I decided that a few more hours of sleep were not worth a thousand dollars, so I sat back down at my desk and finished the second draft in six hours.

For a brief while, there was hope. Then, the comments arrived. I spent Thursday struggling to motivate myself to slog through the endless red ink my adviser had bled onto the first thirty pages of my draft. I made progress; again, I thought I might finish.

But by Thursday night, my adviser’s comments on the last fifty pages of my documents had not arrived. Doubt returned. If he didn’t comment it all, he was never going to sign off on it.

Finally, around 1:00 am on Thursday, an email appeared. “Are you up? Where? I have the rest of my comments for you!” My adviser was triumphant. I received his scan of the comments he had scrawled on a hard copy of my thesis. I slept for five hours, resolving to address them in the few hours I had on Friday.

And so I did. Shanna made me breakfast (a scrambled egg and avocado breakfast burrito dressed with salsa, accompanied by tea in a mason jar) and I addressed comments with fervor that was far out of my reach the day before. The comments, while each being composed of a great deal of red ink, did not take long to address. I scrambled. I thought I might make it.

In the morning, I left Zack’s house for the lab. I printed a copy and walked through the rain to the grad college, huddled under an umbrella to protect the document from the rain. Of course it would be raining on the day I needed to carry important documents across the campus.

I passed the grad college’s format check. Things were definitely looking up. Back in the lab, I started addressing the remaining comments in the order of importance: analysis and conclusion first. Figures and headings before anything else. Implementation chapter last. Zack came in to bring me food (bean burritos from Taco Bell, extra onions), and then helped me with the LaTeX, disappearing whenever Chris came by to check my progress. Chris fixed my bibliography while I continued addressing comments. There were several that I wanted to address, but knew I wouldn’t have time. I accepted imperfection, and moved on.

It was after 3:00 when my adviser did his final check of my document. We fixed an incomplete sentence, started and never finished. We removed a duplicate section that had snuck in during the revision process. We ignored the hbox overfull errors.

And then I had to print it, and get it to the grad college before 4 pm. My adviser taught me a neat trick with Preview to delete pages, and I speedily created two documents, one of the color images, and one of the black and white pages. Zack and I dashed across the street to King Kopy, where we waited with a handful of other graduate students, several of whom were practically foaming at the mouth with anxiety.

I tried to keep my personal foaming to a minimum, but the forty-five minutes it took to process and print the 32 color pages were excruciating. I called the grad college (at Zack’s urging) to find out what happened if we didn’t make the 4:00 deadline. After saying that we had to have it in by 4:00, no exceptions, they immediately relented. As long as it was there before 4:30, it’d be fine, they said. Even if we couldn’t get it to the library’s acquisitions department on Friday morning, if we got it in to the grad college by 5:00, we could just turn it in to the library on Monday.

Still, at 4:13 when we had three copies on 100% cotton paper printed and collated, Zack and I sprinted. I knocked his car door against the car next to him in my haste. The girl within glared at me, but said anything. I wished there was a universal hand sign for “thesis deadline panic”.

We drove to the grad college, where we were given a form to carry to the library. Zack felt that driving on the sidewalk would not win us any friends. It was 4:24. We ran, and I wished that thesising had not supplanted my running a few months back.

I sat down at the acquisitions desk in the library at 4:28. A kind librarian, decked out in silver and turquoise bangles and a variety of gold rings, accepted my three copies had me sign another form, to be delivered back to the grad college before 5:00.

The trip back to the graduate college was practically a leisurely stroll, by comparison. We were passed by another graduate student, running towards the library, carrying her dress shoes. We shouted encouragement as she passed, knowing that she would make it. (I had overheard a the phone call from the grad college when they called the acquisitions department to make sure it was okay to send another student over.)

At the graduate college, they accepted my form and gave me a white t-shirt, emblazoned with MASTER in big, red letters.

I guess that made it official.

Grad School: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

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