Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Today's Headaches

I've seen this blog advertised as "a good insight into life as a grad student." With that in mind, think of this post as more of a delicate description of day-to-day educational hazards than as the wry whining it is more likely to actually be.

So, my summer vacationing officially over, I came upon the surprising discovery today that September arrived without my noticing or approval. Unfortunately, I have a lot to do before the final day of September rolls around: I need to register for classes and sign up for health insurance, prepare and give a journal club talk (which is required to be on a paper or set of papers unrelated to my own research, which is to say, on a topic about which I am currently ignorant), and write up a conference proceedings. I would also really really like to be done and finished with this paper I have been stalling on for almost a month now. Clearly, the easiest-to-accomplish of these options is registering for classes.

Or so the naive would believe. I am starting my fifth quarter here, and as of yet, I have not managed to get through a quarter without some kind of registration snafu. First quarter, there was the issue of Ohio State deciding to issue me a completely random social security number (which, unfortunately, doubles as a student ID here). I, of course, did not have knowledge of this random set of nine digits, and therefore registering for classes with my own SSN was... tricky at best. This was easy enough to resolve, though.

Second quarter, I easily registered for classes, but about halfway through the term I started getting angry letters from the Bursar's office telling me they would kick me out of school if I didn't pay my tuition. Now, this was interesting, as I am not responsible for paying my tuition—my department is. Around this same time, I got a bill for one of my student loans, including a late fee. Uhm. I'm a student. My student loans aren't supposed to have payments due while I'm still in school. Turns out, one office had come to a full realization concerning my actual social security number, but some other office hadn't exactly gotten the message, and so my tuition had in fact not been paid, causing other offices to inform my lenders that I was no longer a fulltime student.

The problems involving registration for third quarter were actually all my fault, if I remember correctly. I was busy: I was observing in Arizona for over a week, and then there was spring break, and I just kind of forgot to register for classes. Whoops. And I was still trying to convince my lenders that I was a fulltime student, but I ... wasn't registered for any classes. So I got to spend a few hours running around a maze-like building writing checks of various amounts and calling my officemates for various passwords until I could actually register for classes.

Fourth quarter (summer quarter), I didn't register for "classes" until the very last day possible to do so without paying a fee. In the summer, we are still supposed to be fulltime students, and so we register for a full load of research with our current advisors; I waited until I knew who my new advisor would be before registering. No problem. Except I accidentally typed in "1" instead of "15" in the "number of hours" slot. It told me so; I went back and changed it, leaving the country thinking everything was hunky-dory. In Japan I got an email asking me why I had registered for only one hour, but that it would all be taken care of.

About a week ago, the graduate studies director for our department stopped by my office with a piece of paper, asking me why I was registered for no hours, and why I am a Master's student instead of a PhD candidate. Other than constant ill-luck with these sorts of things, I honestly didn't know, and said as much. I was, though, greatly amused at having yet another thing to add to my litany of registration snafus.

The amusement stopped abruptly around 11:26 this morning, when I tried to register for classes, and more importantly, sign up for student health insurance. The webpage claimed I am not eligible for health insurance because I am not a full-time student. This is unfortunate, as I would really like to have health insurance. After some increased back and forth with various parties, I learned that someone somewhere forgot to fill out some form, and everything should be taken care of shortly...

Tired, hungry, and grumpy, I then went to AGN lunch. AGN lunch is usually quite fun, not least because one selfless grad student takes Chipotle orders from people in the department beforehand, goes to Chipolte and brings back lunch for everyone. The burritos and burrito bowls are all numbered and laid out sequentially on the back table in the conference room. Today, however, my burrito was missing. The neatly ordered numbers simply skipped that everso important second odd prime. Tired, very hungry, and very grumpy, I went and fetched my own lunch instead.

The rest of the afternoon dragged on as I stared at the computer screen, each sentence I wrote looking suspiciously similar and as content-less as the one I had just deleted. At some point, the selfless Chipotle grad student brought me a bag of Werther's in apology for the lack of burrito, which cheered me up for maybe half an hour. A deep headache set in, the kind where anything hard and sharp (such as the edge of a desk) eyes me as if everything would be better if it rammed into my forehead at a high velocity. Coffee didn't work. Tylenol didn't work. Water didn't work. And worst of all, I was still wishing the weekend hadn't yet ended.

Now, I am a moody person. Those who know me will laugh at the understatement of this fact. The relevant aspect of said moodiness to this story is that many of my decisions are made based on my mood: what to wear, what music to listen to—and what to eat. And this particular mood dictated that a bag of Doritos was in order.

With barely enough change, I went over to the next building and put my quarters into the snack machine. A-7. The satisfying spiraling of the coils holding the bag—aaaand it just hung there, just barely, but most securely hanging there. In a heavy machine I could try with all my might to rattle, and never succeed.

About an hour and negative two sentences later, I mustered up the composure to borrow a dollar from someone, and tried my luck again at vending machine roulette.

I won.

I spent the next half hour or so happily downing half a bottle of Coke and one of the bags of Doritos, and even managed to squeak out three sentences or so of this paper. By then, of course, it was definitely time to go home.

Hopefully tomorrow will have less of a headache and more productivity.


Jon Voisey said...

You make me so look forward to being a grad student.

And I feel your pain on the SSN problems. In high school, I changed last names, and instead of bothering to change all my records, they just entered me as a new student but inverted two numbers in my SSN. Then, in my freshman keyboarding class, they had our passwords the same as our SSN and they told us to memorize them, and that we would be needing to use them the rest of our lives.

So I memorized an incorrect SSN and proceeded to use it at the dentist, doctor, first college and many other places over the next 6 years until it was finally caught by our accountant. Getting these various places to actually change your SSN is an amazingly difficult task.

Meanwhile, I'm also registered with the draft under both SSNs. Horay for snafus!

mollishka said...

Huh. I tried replying to this a couple of days ago, but it didn't work. Perhaps I'm a spam robot.

Anyhow, your story makes me glad that when I was eight my dad had me memorize a string of nine digits, telling me that it would eventually be even more important than my phone number. To an eight year old, such a thing was unfathomable, but hey, I liked memorizing things.

The real question is, if one of your SSNs gets called up in the draft, can you just be like, uhm, that's not me, that's my secret evil twin .... ?