The image below, from the French comic book Carnets de thèse (“thesis notes”), has been on my mind as I begin my fifth year of grad school. I bought Carnets de thèse as a present for myself for my last birthday, expecting it to be an educational glimpse into the French grad school experience and a dose of humor to get me through the rest of my own studies. Jeanne Dargan, the protagonist of the book, begins grad school with an excitement to begin her studies, a surefire plan to finish in three years, and a clear idea of what she wants to write her thesis on. However, as the picture below shows, the next five (not three) years end up being a slow descent into grad school madness punctuated by an annual tradition of changing her thesis topic. After finishing the book, it should come as no surprise to the reader that the author wrote and drew the book after leaving her own graduate studies. If they were anything like Jeanne’s, I can’t blame her.
I’m happy that I’m excited to be going into my fifth year, and not just because it means the end is in sight. Even though my dissertation topic has also probably changed once a year, I haven’t had to deal with the lack of support, the obstructionist secretaries, the unfairly-revoked salary, and the disintegrating relationships that turn Carnets de thèse into a very dark comedy (if it can still be called a comedy). I feel privileged, fortunate, and blessed to be able to say that, and I feel a great obligation to make sure the grad students I mentor in the future have an experience more like mine and less like Jeanne’s.