I thought it would be fun to write up a day in the life in Atlanta and a later one in SA to compare. There’s a good bit of detail here, mostly for future contrasting. So here’s A Day in the Life… the Atlanta/grad school edition!
During the week, I wake up between 9-10 AM most days. I’ll do my morning routine: breakfast, brush my teeth, wash my face, comb/straighten my hair, etc. Then I’ll either try and do some schoolwork or check social media (generally the social media part happens, the schoolwork too if I’m being disciplined). There is a lot of reading in grad school. And by a lot, I mean 100+ pages per class per week, in addition to other assignments. I also like to pet and/or cuddle with my roommate’s extremely adorable dog, Frijoles. She also has a super cute cat, Amor, but I’m allergic to cats, so no kitty cuddles for me.
I leave the house around 11-11:30 AM and hop on my trusty scooter (pictured below), which I’ve named Bug because it’s small and nimble, but also really annoying at times. Like when it’s cold outside and it takes me five tries to start the engine. It takes me about 20-40 minutes to drive to work, depending on traffic. My route isn’t exactly pretty- I used to drive past Piedmont Park on my way home- but it’s not unattractive either. Most days I try to focus on making sure the cars around me respect my space. The vast majority are great, but there are always people who are too impatient and try to pass me in a no-pass zone. My scooter goes 45 mph (72 kmh) max on a downhill and only about 20 mph (32 kmh) uphill, so I get the frustration, but I only drive on roads that are 35 mph (56 kmh). That’s crazy Atlanta drivers for you. In the summer, Atlanta’s temperatures are often in the 90s (F, ~32-35 C), but in the fall it’s chilly in the mornings (~60s F, ~16 C) and warm in the afternoons, so layering is a must. ESPECIALLY when you’re riding on a scooter which creates its own wind.
I have a really incredible fellowship with the Center for State and Local Finance (CSLF) at Georgia State University (GSU), where I work about 20 hours a week as a Public Finance Fellow. Once I get into the office, which is the Andrew Young School building in downtown Atlanta, I flash my ID to the security guard at the entrance and head up the elevator to my floor. I’m generally too lazy to take the stairs. I wave to our Admin Director, who sits at the front desk and always greets me with a smile and a “how you doing?” Then I head over to my cubicle area, which I share with 3 other grad/PhD fellows who are pretty great. I immediately get coffee, since it’s typically my first cup of the day; stash my lunch in the fridge; and refill my water bottle before settling in. Until recently, I mostly worked on researching a type of economic development tool in Georgia called community improvement districts (CIDs), a subset of the business improvement district tool used nationally and internationally (in fact, there are BIDs in South Africa!). The picture below is of me and one of my co-authors (and friend!), who was a Senior Research Associate at CSLF, after we published a whopping 100 page report on CIDs (can you tell we were super relieved to be done?).
More recently, I’ve started working on a project that focuses on transparency and integrity in state budgeting. Most states in the U.S. have a balanced budget requirement- i.e., their budgeted expenditures can’t exceed forecasted revenues, although actual definitions vary by state. However, states can get around this in very creative ways, such as altering revenue forecasts or shifting earmarked funds back to the General Fund that will later need to be replenished so that most people reading the budget see that it is “balanced”-but only because the cost of these actions is deferred until later. SUPER interesting, right?? Well, it is to me, thankfully. The research and academia focus of this job has been a huge shift for me, and a challenging one. My background is much more in program management, so it’s hard to have such intangible targets and place such a stronger emphasis on accuracy. But it’s been great, and I really love my fellowship! My coworkers are also amazing and really brilliant.
The first hour or so of work is generally catching up on email and setting out my research priorities for the day before I eat lunch. I typically eat at my desk, and then later I’ll chat with some of my work friends, like Meagan or Amber, as an actual break. A common work habit is for us all to go on an Ebrik run; Ebrik is a fantastic local coffee shop that I will seriously miss when I leave Atlanta. As in, the baristas all know my order when I walk up. Plus, it’s nice to take a quick walk break, enjoy the beautiful weather and walk past Woodruff Park. After the coffee break, I’ll generally do research until around 5 PM. I only work Monday-Thursday most weeks, leaving Friday for a homework, chores and general catch-up day. I’m also very lucky that my supervisors are really flexible about hours, which has helped a lot with all of the appointments I’ve needed to complete my PC medical tasks.
After work, I generally head to the gym. I was a cross country runner in college and a triathlete for a few years post-college, but grad school and a nasty bone contusion on my shin have reduced my workouts pretty substantially. Still, I typically go for an hour and do a swim, cycling, strength training, elliptical or running workout. Sometimes I’ll read on the bike or elliptical, a trick I discovered in undergrad- the motion prevents me from falling asleep while reading some pretty dense material, and I manage to skim enough that I absorb the main points! The GSU gym is five floors and is pretty fantastic. They have an indoor pool (25 yd instead of 25 m sadly), weight room, cardio room, indoor track, basketball and racquetball courts, and an indoor rock climbing gym. Post-workout, I’ll shower at home if I don’t have class afterward, or at the gym if I do.
On the one night I don’t have class, I’ll generally head home on my scooter after work. I try to always wait until after 6:30 PM to leave because otherwise I add an extra 15-20 minutes to my commute. Sometimes I’ll hang out with some of my wonderful grad school friends and have dinner at a place like Anatolia’s, a local restaurant that also knows me by name! Most of my friends here are fellow MPA students, and quite a bit are Fulbright or international students. Below is a picture of some of my closest friends in Atlanta, all current or former MPA students. We’re a pretty awesome bunch, if I do say so myself. Usually I’ll just head home though and save socializing for the weekend. I make all of my meals on Sunday, and I usually make some pretty delicious dinners in my slow cooker, like buffalo chicken and cauliflower with mac & cheese! I also talk to my parents at least once a week, usually on Tuesday evenings, although I generally end up talking to them more throughout the week. I have some truly amazing and supportive parents who are willing to listen to me rant or rejoice about whatever happened in my day!
Three nights a week I have class for two and a half hours. Good classes make it feel like it’s only an hour… less interesting classes make it feel a lot longer. This semester, I’m taking Leadership and Organizational Behavior, Law for Public Managers, and Management Systems and Strategies. Two of my classes don’t let out until 9:45 PM, which means I bring lunch and dinner with me- we have a microwave in most of the class buildings thankfully. It’s hard to concentrate so late, but luckily, I have friends in all of my classes, which really helps. I take notes on my laptop, usually on the professor’s powerpoint which is posted before class. We get a break of 10-15 minutes about halfway through. Our class buildings are fairly nice, although they’re typically freezing- even in the summer I rarely make it through class without having to put my jacket on.
Afterward, I come straight home typically. If my roommate’s still awake, we chat about our days and swap stories. My roommate is a returned PCV (RPCV) from Honduras and currently works for Peace Corps, in addition to taking two classes a semester. I pretty much consider her superhuman; plus, she’s wonderful and a great roommate. I like my house and neighborhood a lot. I’m only a half mile from the nearest grocery store, and there’s a nice 3 mile loop nearby that I enjoy walking/running. We’re not far from downtown but are also residential. My room is nice too- I’ve fit a queen size bed, a dresser and a cube organizer, a “desk” (read: IKEA table), a spacious closet, and a big bookshelf that’s full to bursting with books. My roommate and I each have our own bathroom, and we have a big kitchen and fridge. After living in Washington, DC for four years, having so much space- plus a front porch, driveway (that isn’t in an alley), and a backyard- is really luxurious.
After my nightly hygiene ritual, I usually lie awake for an hour or so. I’ve always had a lot of trouble falling asleep. Some of my nighttime rituals including listening to soft music (specifically Bonobo’s “Days to Come” album), doing a Sudoku or crossword puzzle, playing a world countries/capitals quiz, or other similar activities. Then it’s off to dreamland, rinse, and repeat!