The Honeymoon Phase Is Over: Struggling Through Grad School

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Alright, we’re nearing the end of the semester, and I’m already growing frustrated with being back at school. Naturally, I figured I’d document this frustration in an article called The Honeymoon Phase Is Over.

Table of Contents

The Honeymoon Phase

If you’re unfamiliar with this phrase, the honeymoon phase is a period of time when an individual is happy because everything is new and exciting. I suspect the phrase refers to the honeymoon period after a wedding when a couple is on cloud 9—another quality phrase.

Of course, eventually that excitement tends to level out, and the individual is forced to face the daily grind. As you can probably imagine, I’m ten weeks into my grad program, and I’m already a little grumpy. Let’s find out why!

Grad School is Hard

You may recall that I wrote an article called Grad School is Hard pretty recently. Well, think of this article as an extension of that. Of course, I want to focus more on the specifics this time around.


A quick way to dampen anyone’s mood is to give them an exam. An even better way to ruin their mood is to hand their exams back. As it turns out, I had my first pair of exams in early October, and they didn’t go over well. In particular, I took an algorithms exam and a programming languages exam. Here are the scores:

  • Algorithms exam: 63/100
  • Programming Languages Exam: 76/100

Now, I’m used to scoring poorly on exams. After all, I did my undergrad in Computer Engineering, and engineering courses tend to enforce a pretty hefty curve. Unfortunately, I scored on the lower end of the curve on both of these exams, so I’ll be stuck doing a lot of work to catch up.

However, that’s not why I’m frustrated. I’m frustrated because I expect better out of myself. I’m also frustrated because I now have to take the qualifying exam. In my department, if you maintain a 3.6 through the three core courses, you don’t have to take the qualifying exam. At this rate, I’d be happy to escape with a 3.3.

Why are exams still the de facto standard for grading? I perform so much better in a project-based environment. Luckily, that’s what research is, so I hope I can demonstrate that in the future.


At this point, I’m still in the honeymoon phase with teaching. That said, grading is getting old. For reference, here’s a typical workload every week for me:

  • Teach two 55-minute classes
  • Run one 55-minute lab
  • Hold three 55-minute office hours
  • Grade 40 homeworks
  • Grade 20-40 labs
  • Grade 40 projects

Then, twice a semester, I have to juggle all that with exam grading which can take up to ten hours of a week alone.

To make matters worse, all this grading amounts to roughly 20% of their total grade. While I appreciate that they’re getting a lot of hands-on practice with little to no repercussions for being wrong, I don’t feel like the effort to feedback ratio is good. In other words, I’m spending a lot of my time grading, but I’m not sure any of my feedback is helping.

To be honest, I find my office hours to be the most effective teaching method because students can ask targeted questions and get one-on-one help. I don’t feel that grading gives them that same level of feedback, but who knows.

Life is Hard

While grad school itself has been tough, life can sometimes seem tougher.

Seasonal Depression

As we close in on the end of the year, I’m noticing my seasonal depression kicking in. Getting up when it’s dark and walking home in the dark are not great ways to maintain a positive mood. On top of that, the temperature is dropping, and people are starting to get sick; it’s hard enough to pass exams when I’m healthy.

To make matters worse, my Tuesdays and Thursdays run late which force me to walk home at 8 PM. And let me tell you, Columbus drivers are the worst (and I lived in Atlanta…). They don’t even look to see if anyone is crossing the street, so I have to be extra defensive when it’s dark.

On top of that, the holidays have reintroduced sugar into my life, so I’ve gotten addicted to that again. For most people, that probably sounds weird, but sugar literally makes me sick since I gave it up in July. Now that I’m eating it again, I get sick, but then I get headaches when I don’t eat it. It’s incredible.

At this point in this semester, I’m starting to have flashbacks to my time at GE. Of course, life is a lot better since then, but I can already see myself dipping into old habits.

Vehicle Troubles

Speaking of driving, my wife and I have been spending a lot of time and money fixing up our old 2003 Hyundai Elantra. You may recall that I ranted a bit about my old Jeep. Well, we’re starting to wish we would have kept it. It seemed quite a bit more reliable than this Hyundai is turning out to be.

Perhaps the most common problem we’re facing is mechanics ordering the wrong parts. That never once happened to my Jeep. In fact, I rarely had to wait longer than two days to get my Jeep back from the mechanic. Meanwhile, we have waited up to two weeks in some cases to get the Hyundai back, and that just isn’t ideal in this car-driven society.

In fact, these car troubles have been really hard on my wife as people always make snarky comments to her like “why don’t you buy/lease a new car?” and “I can’t believe you still drive that.” I got a lot of those same comments when I drove my Jeep. For whatever reason, people can’t possibly understand why we would hold onto a paid off car. I’d prefer to not to have the debt, frankly, but thanks for your advice.

Money Management

Since Morgan and I make less money together than I was making alone a year ago, money has been tight. It’s not like we’re wasting our money either, we’re just living paycheck to paycheck which isn’t fun if you’ve ever had to do that.

In particular, I’ve been trying to save money because I know that I won’t be making any money in the summers. If things seem tight now, they’re going to be really tight when Morgan and I are both jobless for a few months every year.

Of course, I’m always grinding away on this site with the hope that maybe people will find value in it, and I think I’m doing alright. In fact, I probably average about 5000 page views a month now, so I can’t complain. I just need to figure out how to monetize this thing, I guess.

Political Struggles

It should come as no surprise that politics have been weighing heavy on me as they have everyone else, so a list of names should be enough to voice my pain:

  • Donald Trump
  • Brett Kavanaugh
  • Stacy Abrams
  • Ted Cruz
  • Andrew Gillum
  • Alex Jones
  • Jim Acosta
  • Beto O’Rourke
  • Jeff Sessions
  • Matthew Whitaker
  • Mitch McConnell
  • etc.

There should not be this many names associated with political frustration. The division in this country has weighed on my quite heavy lately.

Looking Ahead

Now that I know the honeymoon phase is over, I can start to look at grad school—and life—through a more practical lens. Look out for a first semester reflection article after I get my first grades. I’d like to keep all that fun stuff documented here, so I can sort of plot my own growth over the next several years.

Journey to a PhD (49 Articles)—Series Navigation

As my current career trajectory shifts away from engineering, I find myself in a peculiar position as a PhD student. As I explore the latest concepts in Computer Science, you can find that journey documented here in my series titled Journey to a PhD.

Jeremy Grifski

Jeremy grew up in a small town where he enjoyed playing soccer and video games, practicing taekwondo, and trading Pokémon cards. Once out of the nest, he pursued a Bachelors in Computer Engineering with a minor in Game Design. After college, he spent about two years writing software for a major engineering company. Then, he earned a master's in Computer Science and Engineering. Today, he pursues a PhD in Engineering Education in order to ultimately land a teaching gig. In his spare time, Jeremy enjoys spending time with his wife, playing Overwatch and Phantasy Star Online 2, practicing trombone, watching Penguins hockey, and traveling the world.

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