Chickens and Eggs

“Don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched,” they say.

And I try not to. One of the simple rules I live by is to have low expectations (or even no expectations, which is a bit different and a bit more difficult). Maintaining that kind of mindset usually prevents disappointment and begets pleasant surprise.

Unfortunately, I was an unwitting perpetrator of a months-long chicken-counting flub regarding my teaching career… or lack thereof? [Cue suspenseful music.]

One of my classes this past semester was a pedagogy course meant to train new graduate student instructors, or GSIs. GSIs run discussion sections, hold office hours, and grade homework for undergraduate classes. If one wants to go into academia and become a professor, teaching experience as a GSI is highly recommended, maybe even a requirement. As for me, whose goal is to teach linguistics at the university level, I was itching to start teaching as soon as I stepped foot on campus last year.

I didn’t get assigned a GSI position this past semester, but I took the pedagogy course anyway, in hopes that it would help me secure one for the spring semester. And for months, it basically looked like I was all set. I did all the readings and sat in on other GSIs’ classes to do observations. I was told I’d be notified around Thanksgiving of which class I was assigned to. In the meantime, I began to tell my friends about how excited I was to finally start teaching and set about planning my schedule around my perceived future busyness. All those naive little chickens, flapping about in my head.

Well, Thanksgiving came and went; still no email from the department. I kept up high hopes, though, reasoning that paperwork was probably just being processed a shade more slowly than usual. But then, a few days after I returned from break, the GSI for my pedagogy course casually tossed the bombshell my way: “Oh, Andrew, it’s really too bad that you and G didn’t get GSI appointments for next spring. Kind of a waste of the semester, huh?”

I was floored. “Wait, how do you know I don’t have a GSI appointment?”

“You mean you didn’t know?”


“Oh… I’m so sorry you had to find out this way. I thought someone would have told you.”

Well. What a load of guano. I was so upset that afternoon that I hammered out a couple more pages of my seminar paper. (Frustration makes me productive, I’ve noticed.) I was reluctant to complain to my adviser, knowing that I was lucky to have an alternative source of funding and didn’t need  to teach to support myself financially.

“But I want to teach; shouldn’t that count for something?” I kept thinking. “This is why I wanted to go back to school in the first place.”

The next morning, in a room with three professors, including my adviser and my pedagogy course instructor, I did my best to express my disappointment with measured calm. We were just exchanging pleasantries before a guest speaker began their talk, but when my adviser asked, “How’s it going?” I forwent the canned “I’m fine” and admitted to them that I had really hoped to get the teaching job. My course instructor sympathized; my adviser basically shrugged his shoulders like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; the third professor began to tell a vaguely unrelated story, as is his wont. [Cue melancholy backing track.]

Resigned to my fate, I scolded myself for all that chicken-counting. “Just remember that things in grad school will rarely pan out the way you want them to,” I thought. “Keep your expectations low.”

Those damn chickens. I guess the eggs in my basket were the kind for eating. Should’ve made an omelette instead.

[Cue plot twist sound effect of choice.]

The very next day, my adviser knocked on my office door. “Oh, good,” he said, seeing only me. “You’re the person I wanted to talk to. How serious were you about wanting to GSI next semester?”

“… Very!” I replied, hardly daring to hope.

Surprise! As it turns out, another grad student who had been assigned to the introductory Linguistics course decided to turn down the appointment in order to finish their dissertation, which opened up a spot for me. I was ecstatic. After another quick meeting and a few email exchanges, I was all set. I will be teaching next spring! [Cue triumphant fanfare!]

So, this winter break, I will be preparing for my first GSI experience. I’m very excited, of course, but I should also, you know, temper my expectations. Being a GSI isn’t easy, and burnout from the workload is fairly common. Still, I have been waiting for this for quite some time.

They say not to count your chickens before they’ve hatched.

But also don’t count your omelettes before the eggs are broken. 😉


Word of the Day: apothegm /’æp.ə.θɛm/, from the Greek meaning `something clearly spoken’, is a synonym for words like adage, aphorism, and axiom that all start with a and mean a short, wise saying, like a proverb. There are probably nuanced differences between these four, but I’ll let you tell me what they are, if you so desire. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


About Andrew C.

I'm a grad student at UC Berkeley.
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3 Responses to Chickens and Eggs

  1. Ashley Hsu says:

    This was great!! I’m happy that you are getting the opportunity to teach!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nancyfang says:

    Yeah, go Andrew! There’s something to be said about some well-placed complaining. 🙂


  3. Exciting! I’m glad you got an appointment in the end. Your department sounds different from ours; here, absolutely everyone starts TAing second year, unless you have a fellowship or a research assistantship. We have a TA shortage, not a surplus!


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