Graduate School - A Tough Journey

Today at www.thesquare.com, I read the following:

”..i don’t have a complete picture of labor laws, unionization and history, but it seems to me that the function of unions were originally for blue collar workers that were being mistreated. the notion of a labor union for graduate students is asinine.”

My reply to the post on the board was:
I really wish it was that simple. One always has to keep in mind that graduate students are there is earn a degree rather than become cheap labor supporting the University system. On one hand, graduate school can realize your life long dreams, but the vulnerability of graduate students is quite often exploited, more than you want to know - sometimes worse than blue collar workers.

Harvard and Yale or any state school’s backbone are graduate students: be it your freshmen English writing TA, calculus recitation instructor, or research assistant in the billion dollar genome project (or something similar) at your alma mater. In sciences and engineering, most of the graduate students in United States do get full or partial support in return for 20 hours of work as a research or teaching assistant. The same also, happens for quite a few humanities students. Sometimes, 20 hours become 40 hours a week for tasks that does not contribute toward their completion of the degree (like being a teaching assistant), and so forth. It gets terribly more complicated on top of it when international students are involved. I am excluding fellowship and professional degree graduate students in this discussion.

I think there should be something like union or a watch-dog organization that makes sure that they are treated fairly and properly compensated. Moreover, a lot of schools are now giving add-ons like medical insurance just to be competitive to get the best students - not out of altruism. If you want them to spend 80 hours/ week in the lab for 6 years, working toward million dollar grants - at least give them medical insurance.

End Note: One has to go through a graduate school to know that it is not an easy ride.