Post Academic

The Post Academic Survival Guide to Grad School: Freeloading and living on the cheap (with poll)

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 22, 2010
Tags: , ,

Piggybacking on Caroline’s wonderful interview with Adam Ruben about his book, Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School, we wanted to offer our own little survival guide.  Today’s topic is freeloading, and how to make the most of stuff you can get for nothing or close to it because that’s what you’re getting paid.  Maybe we should add the freeloader to the grad student personality types we’ve mentioned here and here

1. Food: Getting free food is a good place to start, since it’s still somewhat common even with budget cuts hitting schools everywhere.  Usually, the price of admission is only your time and maybe a little bit of your attention.  And since events supplemented with food usually take place during times when people aren’t teaching or going to class, there’s a good chance that they will coincide with lunch time or a nice afternoon snack.  I’ve been to events that have offered trendy vegan sandwiches, Vietnamese subs, all sorts of pizza, and even a taco buffet.  At the very least, you’ll score some cookies or a fruit-cheese platter, and coffee.  Keep an eye out, especially, for anything that a Dean organizes or a beginning/end of the year departmental open houses, where they know food is a way to fill seats.  Also, student recruitment events are a good bet for good food.  But be forewarned that everyone else knows this too, so show up a little early if you want enough to eat.

More free stuff below the jump!…

2. Books: Of course, grad school is one of the few places left where you’re surrounded by books.  It’s easy to accumulate free books, and you can even get some titles you actually want–without pinching them from your roommate or “forgetting” to return them to your classmate.  One legit way to do this is to create a ridiculously incoherent syllabus of only books you like or will be using in order to get desk copies from the publisher.  A less convoluted way is to TA for courses that are right down your alley, since your prof will make sure you get desk copies.  But be careful not to take anything and everything just because it’s free, or you’ll end up with multiple copies of out-of-date comp teaching guides.

It’s easy to fill out a nice collection at minimal cost.  You can buy up collections of disgruntled grad students who are leaving school behind and have nothing to do with their books, except sell them at cut-rate prices.  The only thing is you’ll probably have to put up with random scrawls and comments–but hey, you might learn a lot about your ex-classmates strange habits, if not from the content of the notes themselves.  Faculty can also be a good source of books, but they often give up random old texts and dusty journals, thinking that they are being generous when they’re really just doing spring cleaning.  The one thing I would avoid is taking the books of deceased faculty, no matter how tempting the titles are.  I took a few from a prof I didn’t really know once because the students were told that he would’ve really liked us to, but then felt creeped out enough to never actually look at the books themselves.

Just be judicious in what and how much you take or buy, or else you might end up with an academic hoarding problem, like I’ve had!

3. Furniture: Free furniture is great, especially when you start grad school and own pretty much nothing.  You feel that one day you’ll be able to afford real furniture, so what’s the point in wasting money buying anything when you can get it for free or almost no cost?  The very first couch I had in grad school was this monstrous one my roommate and I found in the parking lot and somehow crammed around the corner by our door.  What was even better about it was that I was able to leave it with him after I moved out of the apartment before he did!  It also helps to find roommates who already have furniture, as I have been lucky enough to have.

Here again, you can take the charity of outgoing grad students and faculty who have gotten to the stage of their lives where they can get new furniture.  The dept listserv can be marketplace (as I’ve noted in the past), but you have to be quick, because the stuff goes fast and people quickly figure out who’s got the best goods.  But again, be wary you’re not guilted into taking stuff you can’t use or that’s in bad shape from a prof you work with or a good friend leaving grad school.  And please, please don’t be the jerk who takes free stuff, then resells it on the listserv, even if you need the money–yes, there are people who do that!

4.  Shelter: One of the stranger freebies you can get, if you are so inclined, is someone else’s house.  Faculty are always looking for housesitters while they are doing whatever glorious, exciting things they do when they’re away.  Now I really don’t like living in someone else’s house, but you may need to get away from a crazy roommate for a weekend or have some peace and quiet to study for something.  And if it’s a faculty house, it’s likely that it’s nicer than your on-campus apartment built in the 1960s.  Plus, a nice homeowner might even leave you a little something for your trouble, like food or even some cash.  Just be forewarned that there are usually some strings attached, and they usually involve cats.  Before you commit, do your homework, unless you want to take your prof’s pet to the vet when s/he never did, and end up fronting cash for her/him that you don’t have because they didn’t leave any emergency money behind.

5. Random Sh*t: Again, check your dept listserv to see what stuff people might be unloading that you might want.  On our listserv, there are always tickets to events that people are trying to get rid of, though they usually want face value for them.  But hey, if you didn’t have a chance to buy a ticket for, say, the Pavement reunion show before it sold out, you might be able to find one.  And don’t neglect all the social networks you have at your disposal to find out about deals that make no sense, but that you can take advantage of.  One year, I got a bunch of free coupons I could use at the plaza across from school for *not* buying a parking pass–even though I lived on campus.  Why there’s such a promotion, I don’t know, but I was happy to get a free meal and some stuff for it.

So what free stuff do you want?

“Fischbuffet des deutschen Kochs Torsten Sembries” by Claus Ableiter from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under creative commons.

“hector” by Mike weir from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under creative commons

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