In an effort to avoid the scramble of last-minute packing, I recently packed up my winter clothes. I discovered I own five Forbes branded jackets — a visible reminder that for the past four years, being a resident graduate student (RGS) at Forbes has been a large part of my identity.
My normal energy as an RGS is the “cool aunt.” I am here to listen and learn about your hobbies and your hot takes on the world. I come with snacks, but you might only talk to me once a year. In addition to being the “cool aunt,” I am a library, lending out books, parchment paper, pepper flakes, and vacuum cleaners. I am a little bit Career Services; I encourage students to apply for jobs they think they are underqualified for, and I watch them get and take them. I am a little like the McGraw Writing Center — I share my thoughts on what makes a good topic sentence or how to write a thesis. I’m part warehouse coordinator as I hand out piles of Forbes gear, from tank tops to yoga mats. And I’m a large part University Bureaucracy Demystify-er, helping navigate University systems ranging from Tiger Transit to the Student Health Plan to CPS to SHARE. I am a pinch of out-of-touch millennial — “What does ‘based’ mean?,” “No, I don’t have TikTok,” and “Yes, I saw the ‘Bee Movie’ in theaters.” And I’ve been a lot of an Event Planner, orchestrating events like “Garden Party, Garden State” and guided wine tastings.
My life in Forbes often feels far away from my life in Wallace, where I study in the Office of Population Research, and not just because of the 17-minute walk. I rarely disclose that I am a Forbes RGS, for fear that I will be told that I need to focus on my research or that it takes too much time. Yet, Forbes has always complemented my research life. I like doing events and feeling like I have accomplished something for the week. I am in awe of the student leaders of Forbes: the RCAs and PAAs, due to the number of activities and responsibilities they juggle with kindness and patience. I have gained a greater appreciation for other disciplines through my RGS colleagues and have helped troubleshoot research ideas and eccentricities within academia. Forbes provides an excellent way to network — I published an essay in the “Scientific American” because of a Forbes fellows connection. My students invigorate me with their curiosity, passion, and friendship. Plus, I am frequently told being a grad student is “awesome,” something I seldom feel.
I have learned a lot from the undergrads. It was rare back in my freshman year, in 2012, to openly acknowledge struggles with mental health over a meal. Today, I have an open conversation about mental health probably once a week. I look at the poster cards about diversity and look around the dining hall to see these numbers in action. The students I have met in Forbes come from various backgrounds all over the world. Maybe this is still not where we need to be, but it is an improvement from when I started.
Hopefully, the undergrads have learned something from me too, and not just fun facts about the U.S. Census Bureau. Maybe it is that you can get a C- on your first college exam, get rejected from multiple “dream” jobs and still turn out alright, or that it is never too late to pick up new skills and hobbies, to reimagine yourself, or that it is OK to completely change your mind with what you want out of your career and life.
When deciding which college to choose, Forbes was a no-brainer. My first year as an RGS was Fall 2019. Spring 2020 rolled around, and I had a front-row seat to the chaos of move-out. An anonymous student left a handle of Captain Morgan rum outside my door with a note that read, “My parents can’t know I have this. Thanks for everything!” Facilities staff asked me if I had any use for the hundreds of condoms that were left hanging in Ziploc bags outside RCA doors. A week later, I was also asked to leave; Forbes might be used for quarantine. I returned in early July, where three of us lived in the building’s Main Inn that summer. Forbes felt eerie, a ghost of the vibrant community I loved. To keep myself sane, I Zoomed into group fitness from the dance studio. I tried to teach myself how to play the drums via YouTube videos on that dilapidated drum set in the music room. I sat on the roof and wandered the halls, listening to Lana Del Rey. The printer ran out of paper while I was studying for my general exams.
Fall 2020 rolled around without students. Study breaks that used to be composed of Playa Bowls and House of Cupcakes were replaced by Among Us, movie nights, and trivia by my dedicated RCAs. Then, a “moisture problem” in the basement forced another move out in October. I would walk by Forbes and see the chasm that came with fixing the basement. The break in the earth, to me, represented the break in the Forbes community. The chasm was eventually filled a couple days before students arrived back on campus. Over the past two years, Forbes has come a long way and has roared back to life.
But life at Forbes hasn’t been all chocolate fountains and panoramic sunsets over the graduate college. When Spring 2021 came around, the halls were filled again, but there was an air of fear. Students were here, but were not really here; together, but also isolated. Confusion and dismay returned in December 2021, as Omicron swept across campus and events were canceled. Living in a dorm community during COVID-19 provided an unusual window to debates about public health, education, and socialization that peppered the pages of newspapers. Moreover, I have been in Forbes in periods of collective grief as we lost two members of our community, and my worst physical pain occurred when my stomach ruptured in the last week of class in 2021.
Despite the ups and downs, I can’t imagine my life in Princeton next year without Forbes. I will miss buying Girl Scout Cookies from our lead custodian, Ms. Marva, and chatting while putting on my rollerblades. I will miss the cooks like Bob, who always calls me “Colorado,” and Tyree, who has made me amazing breakfasts of fried eggs and mountain veggies. I will miss my interactions with the rest of the dining staff — like swapping music recommendations with Joe and Brenda wishing me a “happy Friday eve.” I will miss the dining staff members Lesley and custodian Vince asking me how my day is going and reminiscing with them over the years. I will miss the creativity of Operations Manager Violette and Chef Rick. I will miss the Head of College, Maria (Professor Garlock), who has been an example of balancing research and kindness and who has been a role model to me on being a woman in academia. I will miss the rest of the dedicated office staff. I will miss more people than I have the word count to name.
There is nothing quite like the community you will find in undergrad. It has been a privilege to be part of it for the past four years. To those still here, treasure it. It is not too late to make lifelong friendships and memories. And when you eventually move on, you will bring with you more than just sweatshirts.
Emily Miller is a Ph.D. student originally from western Colorado. When she is not writing and reading for her dissertation or The Prospect, you can probably find her at Dillon Gym, Forbes, or exploring New Jersey.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect [at] dailyprincetonian.com.