At the beginning of this week, Dr. Thapa, a core faculty member of IEDP, started our Monitoring & Evaluation class by asking us how we felt now that we’ve reached a little over a month of classes. I hadn’t fully realized it had been such a short amount of time; most of us arrived just 6 weeks ago to settle into a new city and attend orientation sessions. Since then, we’ve been delving into our classes, getting to know each other, taking advantage of the innumerable opportunities on campus, and trying to find free food (really, much of our day is asking where there are free-food events). To answer Dr. Thapa’s question, I would say this last month has felt like a timed, unlimited buffet.

Penn Buffet of Opportunities

Buffets, Time Limits, and Options

Buffets have limitless choices for what to eat. They’re also constrained to the amount of time you have to be there. In theory, you could be at one forever and try a little bit of everything, but at a certain point, many restaurants may ask you to pay again as the mealtimes shift or your party wants to leave. Buffets are also great for groups, so each person can customize their plate to what they want. In grad school, I see the different dishes as the options for how I can spend my days. Throughout the week I have to center my schedule around course-related activities. Then, I can add other things to my metaphorical plate that would complement my mealtime experience. However, a plate can only hold so much food at once before it becomes too much.

Choices, Choices, Choices

With this problem of endless possibilities within a limited amount of time at grad school, how do I choose? How do you choose between a talk from anthropologist Jason De Leon and a talk from journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, both of whom are MacArthur-award recipients? Or, between volunteering as a reading tutor and researching on literacy tutoring programs, both of which would contribute to my understanding of literacy intervention? There are so many ways to learn outside of the classroom, and it’s difficult to make the decision of how to do that.

Schedule Tailored to YOU

In short, there’s no wrong choice since every option will be incredibly fulfilling. I have to figure out what’s best for me and recognize that I will miss out on some opportunities because it is literally impossible to do everything, as much as I would like to try. It’s also easy to get caught up in thinking about how much others can pile onto their plates in one sitting and comparing yourselves to them. Sometimes, doing what’s best for me doesn’t work out; I try to pile up my plate, I become too full to move after eating, and I learn from that mistake. It takes trial and error in deciding how to approach this smorgasbord of enriching opportunities in a way that’s balanced and fits your individual needs and capacity.

My and IEDPers’ Plates

Over the past month, I’ve definitely been so enticed by all of the options at the Penn buffet that my plate was more full than it should have been. I saw some of the dishes my IEDP cohortmates were picking up, and they looked so good that I wanted to try them myself. Instead, I could easily find out about those events and activities through fellow IEDPers. In fact, a large part of having a meal isn’t only about the food you eat but also the people you share it with. In the coming weeks, you’ll see different experiences into how IEDPers have come to IEDP and navigate their own time filling up their plates at the Penn buffet. Hope you enjoy!