As those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know, my graduate funding will run out at the end of this school year. But it will take me another year (at least) to finish my dissertation. I spoke to the placement director in my department, and this person told me that they may be able to give me a few classes to teach next year. But I've been thinking about what my other options are, because at this point, I'm still not sure what I should do.
I work for a website, but it's only part-time. If I want to have enough money to pay rent, buy groceries, and pay for other essentials, I need at least one other job.
I could go back to work in retail. I've worked at a bookstore, a clothing store, and the souvenir store of a major tourist attraction. It would not be difficult to find another job in retail. I'm actually pretty good at convincing people to buy things (even things they don't need). I'm also good at keeping a friendly expression on my face, even though on the inside I may or may not be thinking, How can I help you? How about I help you find the way to the exit, so that you can shop somewhere else?
But working in retail made me very unhappy. The hours are long, the pay is extremely low, and it's very tiring to stand on your feet for eight hours a day. It's also very tiring to listen to coworkers who think that if you don't fold a stack of sweaters perfectly, the world will end. Also, when the stores I worked for weren't making any money, I wasn't making any money. Everyone's hours were cut more often than not. Therefore, I could never rely on my earnings as a salesgirl.
I could keep teaching at the school where I'm teaching now, if the department offers me more classes next year. Several other grad students who are still working on their dissertations have also continued to teach at the school. I could also go back to working as an adjunct at one of the other schools where I've taught.
But teaching is very time-consuming. After spending hours teaching, grading papers, making lesson plans, and meeting with students to help them with their work and occasionally tell them that they shouldn't write papers like they write text messages, the last thing I want to do is work on my dissertation. What I want to do instead is sleep for several hours, read a good book that doesn't have five hundred footnotes in it, or take a walk around my neighborhood.
I could become a street performer, but I don't really know what I would do. Despite years of piano lessons, the only thing I can remember how to play is "Chopsticks". I can't sing very well without making people cringe and invest in ear plugs. I can't make balloon animals to sell to tourists, because I'm not very good at blowing up balloons. I always end up popping them by accident, which would scare the tourists and then they'd think that all the locals in Chicago are weird.
I've thought about applying for student loans or grants. The good thing about grants is that you don't have to pay anyone back for the money that you get, and it looks good on your resume. But a lot of people apply for those grants, so they're extremely difficult to get. Since I haven't distinguished myself in graduate school, it will be even more difficult to get one. But I'm still going to try.
I talked to people in the financial aid office at my school about applying for a small loan for next year. I also talked to a financial advisor, who gave me some good advice. I was reluctant to consider student loans at first, because in all the years I've been in graduate school, I've never applied for any loans. I have a tuition waiver and a stipend from my teaching assistantship, and I have always worked additional part-time jobs to pay for everything else. I was also raised with the belief that I should never borrow money if I can earn it on my own.
I have a small amount of credit card debt, but I haven't charged anything else and I pay more than the minimum each month. The thought of adding thousands of dollars to the amount of money I currently owe is daunting. Granted, even if I borrow money next year, I won't owe as much as most of my other classmates. They've been living off of student loans since the beginning, and they now have six figure debts. Their choice was not necessarily a bad one, because they were able to devote themselves to their work and succeed as a result. But it will take them decades to pay off those debts, because even though the cast members of reality shows get paid thousands (or millions) of dollars for living by the slogan "Who Needs a Conscience When You Can Be Famous?", educators are lucky if they earn enough money to live on and have a little bit left over to put in the bank.
But even though I am a workaholic, I don't know if I want to keep working so much next year. It's partly because I spent so much time at my other jobs that I haven't done as well in graduate school as I could have; I didn't have as much time to study. And I regret that, but at the same time I really never wanted to have a six figure debt; I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to pay it.
If I applied for a small loan, I wouldn't have to work next year. I could study all day without interruption. I could finally prove to my professors that my work is good enough, and then I would finally feel like I'm good enough. Maybe I wouldn't be so stressed and tired all the time, and maybe I would have time for the other things that are important to me, like fiction writing.
The thought of being in debt for years is scary. But the thought of failing to finish my dissertation and being forced to leave graduate school is even scarier. Even after everything I've been through, I still want to be a college professor.
What about you? How do you feel about student loans and debt in general? If you were in my situation, what would you do?
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