I am 6th year PhD student in the department of English at UIC. I work the equivalent of two full-time
jobs. But I can’t make ends meet.
When I began my PhD work here, I had already obtained a master’s degree – so I was no stranger to the rigors of academic work. It came as no surprise when a colleague of mine calculated that based upon the average reading load per semester and the average number of minutes it takes to read a page of academic prose, just the act of reading in our program was a 40/week job (38.8 hours/week of assigned reading). I would expect no less of graduate school.
In addition to this work, however, as a condition of my enrollment, I was also teaching 2 sections of composition. As comp is required for all UIC undergraduates, these courses usually fill to max capacity – 23 students. The First-Year Writing Program requires that these students complete four writing projects totaling 20 pages of finished work by the end of the semester. Each writing project must go through at least two drafts. Putting my rusty math skills to use: 2 x 23 x 20 x 2 = 1,840 pages of
freshman writing to be read, evaluated, and constructively commented upon per semester, in addition to
my 40 hours a week of assigned reading. I haven’t even factored in yet the time spent in the classroom
(both attending class and teaching it); working on, writing my own research; and applying for grants or
to conferences and publications. I won’t even mention time for pesky things like friends, family, and
But again, I didn’t enter academia in order to pursue a life of leisure. Quite the contrary, my teaching
has been a huge source of fulfillment for me, and has informed my scholarship in ways I could never
have predicted. My problem is not that I have to work hard. My problem is that, while it ought to be
clear that I am working the equivalent of two full-time jobs, I still can’t make ends meet.
According to the cost of living calculator on UIC’s Financial Aid webpage, the cost of living in
Chicago for 2012-2013 is $17, 958. (It is worth mentioning that many other independent assessments
set this figure significantly higher.) Currently, I am paid $15, 500. Every year I am forced to choose
between taking on outside work (with the effect of slowing down my progress toward degree, and
extending my indentured servitude), or taking out loans and falling further into debt. Besides the
situation being untenable, it is unconscionable of UIC to tell its graduate students (who, by the way,
teach over one third of all undergraduate students) that despite all the hard work they do, they don’t
deserve a living wage. UIC calls itself a world class university. But, when it comes to employee
compensation, benefits, and working conditions, UIC is anything but world class.