Working and Being a Full-Time Grad Student

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One of the most common questions I receive from prospective dance/movement therapy and counseling students is, “Do you work?”  Although the answer to that question is yes (because I do), I always feel uncertain of how to answer it.  Working is not necessarily the norm for full-time graduate students, and I imagine instructors often advise students not to.  Yet, the reality is graduate students need to work.  Well, maybe I shouldn’t generalize– I need to work.

In undergrad I never worked during the fall and spring semesters, arguing with my parents that my work load was much too large to do so.  However, now that I am in graduate school, that argument doesn’t resonate with me as much as it used to.  My work load in graduate school is arguably larger, yet I have still found time to manage a part-time serving job at a restaurant near my Wicker Park apartment.  Maybe it’s because I worked during the transitional time between undergraduate and graduate school and I couldn’t let that part of my identity go.  Or maybe it’s because for the first time I am financially dependent on myself and myself alone.

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Some prospective students, peers, and instructors seemed either surprised or impressed with my willingness to work part-time rather than strictly depend on student loans.  I have found though, that for me, working is recuperation from my studies and even the school environment.  No one at the restaurant (patrons and co-workers alike) wants to talk about dance/movement therapy.  No one wants to talk about mirroring, Marian Chace, trauma, or somatic countertransference.

And that’s okay.  Actually, that’s quite perfect.

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At work I get to be another aspect of myself, which is not entirely unlike my academic or professional self (in reference to my internship), but just different.  I get to access different movement affinities, which as Rudolf von Laban said, is what true recuperation is.  True recuperation is not collapse or complete stillness, but rather accessing different movement qualities than one is used to.  At work I get to be quick and direct, which is not something I always get to do in class or at my internship.

I’m not the only one in my cohort who works.  The most popular jobs are assistantships, positions in the service industry (waitress/bartender) or nannying.  Students can also find work on campus through ColumbiaWorks

I won’t advocate for working or not working, but rather advocate for making a smart decision either way.  Really know yourself and how much of a load you can handle before you make a decision.  If you do decide to work while attending graduate school, make sure it’s work that is worthwhile. Whether that means the job compliments your education or, like me, you find recuperation in it.