Don's Diary

July 28, 1995

SUNDAY. As the men's final at Wimbledon gets underway, I fall asleep feeling quite contented, having just consumed a splendid Sunday lunch at my parents' house. I have recently come "home" for the summer to do a bit of TEFL-ing to assist my bank balance, although I am supposed to concentrate on writing my MA dissertation this summer.

I dream my usual dream - of when I am a "don" - and assure myself that having worked bloody hard to get there and at considerable cost, I will not let demanding students, book reviews, or administration get me down. Don's Diary? Don's holiday more like, for nothing can be as bad as being a postgrad without a grant, with four months to write a dissertation and more than Pounds 4,000 to be paid back to one's financial backer (good old Dad!).

MONDAY. Set off at eight o'clock to begin another week of trying to help Russians improve their English. Thankfully my class are quite keen and I am not forced to make them pay attention. Grab draft copy of chapter two of my dissertation on the off-chance that I might have an opportunity to read through it during my coffee break. It remains tucked in my bag for all but a brief five minutes.

En route fantasise that I am off to teach a two-hour seminar on American postmodernism, with Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho as today's book. In reality teach Russian students how to use the present perfect. Thankfully they seem to grasp it quite well.

TUESDAY. Application arrives for PhD scholarship at the University of Copenhagen. Unfortunately I am not married to a Dane, nor are my parents Danish, so my chances of being awarded a scholarship are low. Nevertheless I am determined to apply. After all, what is the European Union for if it is not about student mobility? In any case, I speak fluent Danish.

I want to move there because my partner's own research is taking her there, so what other option do I have if I want to continue in academia? Although I have a supervisor lined up I still need DKr40,000 (Pounds 4,650) a year to cover fees. Feel frustration boiling over. Remind myself to be nice to students as their fees help reduce my debts.

WEDNESDAY. I am beginning to worry because I am the only member of staff not to have been paid yet, although I am one of the most qualified. Try to contact Russian boss who is ominously "out at lunch" yet again. Decide saving might prove useful strategy, especially as we need money behind us for when Katinka and I get to Copenhagen.

Come home and finish off chapter two of dissertation after considerable effort. I find it hard to concentrate in front of my PC every afternoon as I am worn out from work. Teaching English for four hours a day is tiring but a necessary evil for someone in my predicament. Remind myself that I chose to do this. Curse whoever is responsible for the lack of graduate funding in the United Kingdom and EU as I dash off to post draft chapter to my supervisor. Pray I catch him before he disappears to Sweden.

THURSDAY. Still no pay. Try students out with an excerpt from Jay McInerney's Story of My Life but find myself frustrated at their lack of ability to communicate their thoughts about university literature students. Realise it is probably better to stick to language games, grammar exercises and topical discussions with Russians, and hope that I can get some part-time lecturing work once I am in Copenhagen come September and finally get to teach literature proper.

Start reading for next chapter of dissertation.

FRIDAY. By 11.45am I am in despair. My boss has informed me that I am surplus to requirements for the coming weeks as 50 "new" Russian students have failed to get exit visas. Without the Pounds 185 I was counting on my finances will continue to suffer. I can't even sign on as I am still a full-time student.

Over lunch with my father he explains that I should try and remain optimistic. After all, it was only last week that my GP told me to slow down as I have been suffering from migraine and high blood pressure. My body is beginning to tell me that the stress of juggling a part-time summer job, a dissertation and the uncertainty of the future (ie. September) is a bit much. At least a week's enforced unemployment will give me more time to work on my dissertation, or getting the 5,000 word research proposal Copenhagen want, or the next batch of speculative letters I have to send off to Denmark in search of work which might help me fund a PhD.

SATURDAY. I get up at nine to finish off an article on Norwegian poetry. My partner complains that I will make myself ill if I never take some time off. I am probably the most manic workaholic in academia she knows. I remind her that in the past I worked five mornings a week for ten weeks to pay off some of the debt incurred by an MA course I had taken in order to get on the road to academia. It had been hard teaching and preparing classes on top of writing my dissertation, not to mention trying to secure scholarships or work in order to fund a PhD, but it was worth it. No matter that I collapsed from nervous exhaustion when I had finished.

I moan about the silly amounts of administration, nagging students and lack of time for research, but remember that lecturing beats being a postgraduate any day.

Jon Buscall

A postgraduate student whose ambition is to be a lecturer.

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