Monday, April 11, 2005

Circular logic

So The Doktah was getting ready to graduate. Her schedule resembled mine, except with less moving and more traveling. She was writing a grant for her upcoming post-doc which was supposed to start in October. She was also writing her thesis for her defense in August. From mid-August to October, she was going to be in Europe for something like three or four conferences. And I think also to work in someone’s lab in Prague? Maybe? The point is that she was very, very busy with highly stressful, life-changing things.

But her trip to Europe, combined with conflicting schedules of her thesis committee, caused her to miss the deadline for defending her thesis in time for the August graduation date, pushing her official date up to December. This was a problem, because the university where she was going to do her post-doc wouldn’t let her officially begin working there until she had deposited her thesis.

“Depositing a thesis” involves printing it out on very expensive paper at least three times, more if your mom wants a copy, and bringing it over to the woman who accepts theses. (Aside: One woman in our department had seven copies of her thesis bound to distribute to her friends and family. And another guy had eleven copies made. Eleven. Was he using them as buisness cards? “Hi, nice to meet you, here’s a copy of my thesis.”) Then she measures the margins and checks the figures; you sign a copyright form and she signs a form and you’re done. It’s very much a technicality.

But our grad school wouldn’t let her deposit her thesis without completing a health insurance waiver form. The health insurance waiver form could not be completed without proof of alternative health insurance. She couldn’t get health insurance at her new university until she officially started her post-doc. And she couldn’t officially start her post-doc until she deposited her thesis.

I’ll let you read that again so it can sink in.

So in addition to finishing her thesis, writing her grant, packing up her life – remembering to set aside supplies month and a half in Europe – and finding a place to live, she had to start calling bureaucrats and ask them to use some common sense. This is tricky, as bureaucrats are not known for their common sense. There was a lot of, “Yeah, hmmm. You’re in a bit of a pickle there. Wish I could help,” going on.

I had graduated by this point, so The Doktah finally called me in near hysterics to see if I had any insights to offer. I suggested she try to buy temporary insurance, but because of the enrollment periods for the insurance at the new university, she’d have to have it for months, and she couldn’t afford it. I told her there must be someone higher up the chain who could allow her to deposit her thesis, as the whole situation was completely insane. There had to be someone with the power to cut through the red tape.

Then I thought of Awesome Secretary. Awesome Secretary was the reason I chose this grad school over my second choice. She was the graduate assistant for our department, and she was the kind of secretary who rules the world. You did not want to get on her bad side, because simply by not going out of her way to help you, she could make your life a living hell. She made everything easier. She was awesome. And fortunately, she liked The Doktah.

I told The Doktah to ask Awesome Secretary to make a few phone calls and get someone higher up the chain to see some sense, and she did. The Doktah was eventually allowed to deposit her thesis, even though it meant risking several hours without health insurance, and The Doktah is now happily ensconced in her post-doc. Awesome Secretary is still smoothing the way for grad students at our school.

1 comment:

Orange said...

Awesome Secretary indeed. My department had one of those when I started, but she ditched us for the psychology department (of all things). Fortunately we've got another one now, but we were without an A.S. for a year or two.