The unsung grad student

Sep 032008
Authors: Seth Anthony

I often hear it cited that there are 25,000 students at CSU. What’s often left out of this observation is that over 4,000 of us are graduate and professional students.

When I started my first year of college, I didn’t have much of a clue what graduate students were, except that they taught some of my labs, graded papers, and had very, very small offices.

Now I am one, and I can report back to you from the other side.

Who are we as grad students? We’re working towards degrees too, just fancier-sounding ones like M.S., Ph.D., or D.V.M.

We decided we weren’t done learning and that we needed or wanted to gain more experience to advance our careers.

We often exist in that state of limbo between school and the “real world.”

While most undergraduates are just emerging from their parents’ households, most graduate students are starting or already have households of their own.

We’ve often given up the opportunity for higher salaries in the workforce in order to continue our education.

In programs from music therapy to molecular biology, we perform experiments, conduct outreach, take courses, teach courses, mentor students and do hundreds of things that help the university function.

While faculty justly get the credit for securing research grants and developing innovative research ideas, it’s very often graduate students who do the work in the laboratory or the library to turn those ideas into reality.

Sound glamorous? Occasionally it is, but we have plenty of struggles, too. Just like college degrees, grad school costs big money.

While some graduate students are fortunate enough to have assistantships to help cover our tuition and living expenses, all of us deal, in one way or another, with the impacts of rising tuition and student fees.

Another facet of grad school life is that, even though we’re technically students, it’s really more like a full time job. Graduate students — especially those of us on assistantships — often put in 40, 50, 60 hours a week or more of work that directly supports CSU’s mission of teaching, research and service. However, at best, we’re considered “part-time” employees. That means that we don’t qualify for any of the benefits that CSU’s staff and faculty receive, despite the long hours.

One of those benefits we’re looking for is health coverage.

While most top research universities in the U.S. cover almost all of the health insurance costs for their graduate students, CSU does not — yet. We’re slowly moving in the direction of increased health benefits, but this has been accompanied by a mandate on new graduate students to purchase health insurance.

Although there have been some benefits to this arrangement, the complaints about this new mandate have been numerous: The plan seems more expensive than other plans on the market, and qualifying for a waiver feels like an arbitrary and bureaucratic process.

In short, portions of the new system have proved burdensome, complicated and frustrating — not the ideal first step towards improving benefits for grad students.

CSU can and should do better.

Grad students, this is where we need your help: The next meeting of the Graduate Student Council will be on Monday at 6 p.m. in Lory Student Center Room 210.

We need you to come and share your experiences and frustrations, especially with the new health insurance policies. Help us tell the university, clearly and loudly, what changes need to be made, and what our common interests are.

And for the 21,000 undergrads on campus — realize that we’re here too, and that our interests overlap with yours.

Improving the lives of grad students helps enhance the quality of your undergraduate education and adds to the stature of the university. You might even think about grad school yourself — despite the low pay and the long hours, it’s still, on the whole, an immensely rewarding experience.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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