Is This a Graduate Student?

Monday, October 25, 2021

I have made a terrible mistake. I’m writing this to you, the readers of UCSF Synapse, to warn you against making the same horrible error that I have made for the past four years. It’s too late for me, but there is still a chance you may be able to save yourselves.

You see, for the majority of my time here at UCSF, after I was accepted into the Tetrad Graduate Program and moved across the country to get my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I was living a lie. I thought, for some reason, that I was a graduate student.

But it turns out I wasn’t. At least, not according to the letter the UC regents sent to the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) late last Sunday night.

For the first year of my time here at UCSF, when I was paid through my program’s training grant, I was not a graduate student.

For the next three years, when I was paid through a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, I was not a graduate student. In fact, I only became a Graduate Student™ last September, when my NSF GRF funding period ended, and the university began paying me through the payroll.

And here’s where I made a massive mistake. Because for those four years, when I came into lab, performed experiments, gave presentations for my program, TA’d classes for other graduate students, attended seminars, and mentored younger graduate students — I wasn’t getting paid to do it.

The money that UCSF gave me for those four years was not a paycheck. It was a “gift.” With “no strings attached, no required reporting, and no required work.” And, fool that I am, I worked the whole time!

Now that I have become an official Graduate Student Researcher, it is too late for me. Now, I am required to perform “services for the University” in addition to “focusing on [my] own studies required for the completion of [my] degree.”

Although no one has yet contacted me to inform me of what those services are or how I may perform them, the University’s letter implies that it will be a full-time job, leaving me no time to finish my degree.

But for you, dear reader, it is not too late. If you are in your first or second year of a “graduate” program, you still have a chance. If you are receiving funding from the NSF, NIH, Department of Energy, NIAID, or NASA — stop working for free!

Instead, learn a new language, adopt ten cats, watch all five seasons of Riverdale.

Pursue whatever type of studies you want, knowing that the University of California will, once a month, send you something that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a paycheck. And they will expect nothing in return.