Carmen Burlingame sits at a table in the women’s studies office in Anspach Hall surrounded by papers, books and caffeine.
“I don’t sleep,” the political science graduate assistant said, gesturing to two bottles of 5-hour Energy and a liter of Diet Coke.
Burlingame, from Hastings, said there are times when she is in the office until 2 a.m., and she spent all five days of spring break in Anspach Hall.
“I thought about changing my address,” she said with a laugh.
But Burlingame wouldn’t have it any other way. As a graduate assistant, she has built relationships with faculty and gained experience teaching, going to conferences and delivering presentations.
“The benefits are worth the sleeplessness,” she said.
As a political science graduate assistant, Burlingame said her work is 50-percent teaching and 50-percent research. Burlingame said time management has been her biggest struggle as a GA, because she had to learn how to balance her coursework with the demands of professors. She has had to give up her social life but believes the work is worth it in the end.
Burlingame is the first political science student at CMU to be in the accelerated masters program. After only her fourth year of higher education, she will graduate with her master’s degree in May. Burlingame has also been accepted into the master of public administration program and plans on pursuing a doctorate in political science. Her ultimate goal is to be a political science professor and to teach women in politics and youth civic education.
Before this, Burlingame did her undergraduate courses at CMU and had a research assistantship in the political science department, so she already had experience working with the faculty.
“I wasn’t as bright-eyed as everyone else,” she said. “I was nervous, but I was confident because I already had relationships with faculty in the department.”
Burlingame said Cherie Strachan, political science professor and director of the women’s studies program at CMU, has been her mentor.
“She’s been the one who really guided me into the masters program,” Burlingame said. “She gave me experience with teaching before I was funded (as a GA).”
The relationships she has built with faculty and other GAs are what make her look forward to coming to campus every day.
“The networking is the most essential,” she said. “These people have become my friends.”
Burlingame has been a GA for two semesters, and she is assigned to PSC 150: World Politics, PSC 242: Intro to Comparative Politics and PSC 320: American Legislative Process and finds time to help in other classes. She admitted to sometimes facilitating discussions for PSC 326: Women in Politics. A lot of her time, however, is spent behind the scenes.
“I’m more or less as needed in the classroom,” she said. “I spend a significant amount of time grading papers.”
The research portion of her assistantship has involved working on professors’ research interests and preparing for a conference in California in March and an international conference in Prague come April. Between her teaching and research duties, her weeks can get extremely busy.
“There are times when it feels like it all happens at once, but it’s fairly steady,” Burlingame said.
Despite the long hours, she says she loves being a GA and the experiences she has gained both in and out of the classroom.
“I feel like this is my internship for when I grow up some day,” she said. “If I could be a GA forever, I would be.”