Monday, March 14, 2011

50. You are surrounded by graduate students.

A graduate student in his first year of a PhD program was disappointed that his classmates scattered to the four winds as soon as their unbearable seminar meetings were over (see Reason 21). Not yet knowing any of his fellow students, he expressed his disappointment to a tenured faculty member. The professor responded without the slightest hesitation: “There is nothing to be gained from the company of graduate students.”

Graduate students are not bad people, but they are often unhappy people for a variety of reasons (see Reasons 1-49). Graduate school can produce real friendships and even marriages (see Reason 48), but it is rarely experienced as a community of people working together. Instead, grad school throws people together who are fighting their own lonely way toward degrees, often in direct competition with each other (see Reason 2). It is what they share that makes them unhappy—alienation from the real world, unsatisfying work, terrible workspaces, tiny paychecks, ballooning student loans, and constant uncertainty over what awaits them at the end of their long road through graduate school. Being surrounded by unhappy people is hardly a recipe for happiness.



53 comments:

  1. Hah! This is one of the funniest on the site. I like how, as the list gets greater, the posts get more basic and obvious.

    After reading this, I'm imagining grad school to be like my dirty, pest-infested, slumlord-owned apartment. When my roommates and I see each other, it's like we remind each other of our regrettable predicament.

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  2. I agree with the young urban amateur - this is one of my favorites. I especially enjoy the "see Reasons 1-49" note.

    Of course the graduate students couldn't ever hang out with us undergrads, though, no matter how much happier we may be - stooping to our level would undo the basic reason for attending graduate school (i.e. being better than we are).

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    1. As a grad student, I am seeing this first hand. It is so hard to get to know other graduate students, let alone try to befriend them. It is not surprising then that most of my friends are undergrads. Thank goodness I'm only pursuing a Masters degree!

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    2. don't you know you can't be friends with undergrads? That's why nobody likes you!

      (sarcasm maybe, but tell me there isn't some truth)

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  3. This reason is the best yet and I couldn't agree more! I'm a non-traditional graduate student with extensive prior professional experience, and I've found that graduate students are amongst the rudest, most unpleasant people I have ever encountered. Yes, my partner's work colleagues (in a non-academic industry) get in tiresome ruts where they (like grad students) only discuss work-related topics, but at least most of them are humble enough to show interest in other people as well, laugh at themselves, and practice social niceties like saying "thank you."

    The only trouble is that little grad students, at least a fortunate minority, grow up to be less little professors with exactly the same rancid behavioral problems. In other words, if grad students are jerks, professors are jerks with (more) power and (bigger) paychecks. Perhaps Reason #51...?

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  4. This is probably the best reason yet.

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  5. Oh good, I was beginning to think that my rude, bitter and generally unpleasant behaviour was simply a result of me just getting older or something. It is nice to know that I'm not alone.

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  6. I met the most bizarre people as a grad student and now have a wide variety of colorful anecdotes to share at parties. Grad students are really a mixed bag: some are genuinely engaging, smart and fun; others are petty little ass-holes looking to triumph over others and rub their success, or preferential treatment by faculty, in fellow grad students' faces. In the end I only stayed in touch with a few people from grad school but that's more than I can say for my Undergrad years.

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  7. Can't wait to see the remaining 50 reasons!

    Here are some suggestions. Feel free to use them.

    - Other Graduate Degrees are More Prestigious. Everyone knows Harvard gives more prestige points than Podunk U. But even the Ivy leagues have competition. What's the point?
    - Prestige is worthless.... that is unless you think your heritage, schooling, or exam scores have a greater affect on the world than your actions.
    - China. (and other foreign countries). There are millions of people in advancing economies that are pursuing cheaper graduate degrees in other countries. They face the same problems as we do regarding the market, but it is still a grim perspective from where we sit.

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  8. After seeing an ad on your blog I thought of another reason.

    - Government grants. Nothing beats using taxpayer money in the form of loans or grants to get a graduate education only to work in restaurants. Thank you tax feeders.

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  9. Your blog is one that I visit obsessively (yes, almost daily) since it reminds me to stay away from grad school. I saw Mark had some suggestions so I thought I'd add my own. And it also felt to me in this Reason, along with the others, as though you're losing some steam -- so here's to help you chug along!

    1) Following up on Mark's suggestion of foreign countries: how about outsourcing of academic work? I remember a segment of a national newscast focusing on a business school professor who sent her students essays to Singapore or India (or both?) to have them corrected.

    2) I think you had a post about doing work / writing that no one will ever care about / read. What about doing research on common-sense, mundane or useless topics? For example, just today I attended a lecture about social interaction in a foreign country -- what essentially anyone can learn if they visit that country.

    Like I said, I'm not in the ivory tower, have never stepped foot in it, and don't plan to do that, ever -- so I apologize if my suggestions seem odd or off-track. But I hope it's food for thought, just like your blog is!

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  10. Another good reason if you're looking for more is:
    Often the exact same research that gets you little or no attention in grad school can be of huge interest in the "real world".

    Eg. there's a guy who did a load of research on rapping for an MA and got an OK grade, but because no one was really interested in it at his uni, he decided not to do a PhD on it and instead put the research out as a book for a general audience and now it's a bestseller -

    http://www.amazon.com/How-Rap-Art-Science-Hip-Hop/dp/1556528167

    http://howtorapbook.com

    It's been quoted by Yale Uni, has top US poets saying it's great, etc and now he's the expert on it, so lucky he didn't just use the research for a Phd!

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  11. I don't think that inclusion of this reason is evidence that our beloved blogger is "losing steam." It seems to me that a blog devoted to giving prospective grad students some reasons to consider doing something else with their futures can't very well lead with the (awful) truth that many/most grad students are horrible to be around. It may be a basic truth, but it's also one which the target audience probably wasn't ready to confront (i.e. you will be around rotten, annoying people and risk becoming one yourself) until they got through some of the other reasons first...

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  12. I know I stayed away from the undergraduates because of the possibility of running into them in classes. Also, hanging out with the undergraduates at my university meant that you went to loud parties with binge drinking (or to the loud bar with binge drinkers) which always made it harder to get work done later.

    I forget if you have brought up the diet/weight aspect and addictions aspect of graduate school. You either gain so much weight that you become very unhealthy and can't afford new clothes (so you always look bad), or you lose too much weight and have people comment on your tremendous weight loss. Also, if you somehow manage to keep weight, your diet itself will be horrible and start lacking in many nutrients.

    As for the addiction, I have noticed that if you do anything in any amount, graduate school just makes it worse. If you eat a little too much, you overeat. If you drink caffeine to "wake up", then you will end up with a severe caffeine addiction that has become detrimental to your health. Don't drink much alcohol? Chances are you will start to drink away your pain over time. Heaven forbid if you smoke at all, the chain smoking that you will do to try and keep somewhat stress free will kill you faster then you can earn your degree.

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  13. I really don't see the problem with being surrounded by grad students since grad school is often, depending on the grad school that you attended, just a microcosm/reflection of the wider world that you want to be in. One's colleagues as a grad student usually is influenced by the school, research and teaching ranking worldwide, the department, the part of the world, the funding avaliable etc..

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  14. The problem with being surrounded by grad students is that most of them are snitty, narcissistic little wienies who perfect the art of perpetually looking pissy while managing to say nothing of consequence at great length.

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  15. @ Anonymous 8:30PM

    I confirm the addiction for Caffeine AND alcohol. Oh dear! Wish I never had decided to go back to grad school! Now I need to finish because of the psychological cost of dropping...

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  16. Talking about nutrition, the author hasn't written anything yet on ramen noodles, nor on the horrible sleeping patterns that grad students like myself develop.
    MM

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  17. Eileen: I agree with both of the reasons provided by one of the Anonymouses above. It is dangerous to socialize with someone whose grade you might someday be responsible for, and undergraduate social experiences are rarely enjoyable for non-undergraduates anyway. (Would any mid-twenties person, grad student or not, feeling of superiority or not, really enjoy going to an undergrad party?)

    I actually liked nearly all of my grad student colleagues. Some were eccentric but at least among those I knew well, none were creeps.

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  18. i am glad this blog exists so that less useless people decide to come to grad school.

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    1. "fewer" useless people.

      Delete
  19. @ Anon March 19, 9:07am

    I'm glad this blog exists so that useful people decide to get away from useless grad school

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  20. Oh wait. I forgot that all "undergraduate social experiences" must look like something out of American Pie. We can't possibly ever go out to dinner, or stay in and watch a basketball game, or venture out to the orchestra or to see a play like normal people. You mean people sell beer in things that are not kegs?

    And you will DEFINITELY be responsible for our grades, because there's no way that we could ask to be in someone else's TA section, or not take the class you're adjunct-teaching, or just avoid your discipline altogether because we're studying something completely different.

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  21. (For the record, I'm not saying that each and every grad student should become BFF with an undergraduate, or that doing so would solve all of his problems. I just think that most grad students - even the ones in their twenties who aren't married and have no children - have a strong desire to think of themselves as very different from us. I do know enough graduate students to know that the younger ones often have a lot of interests in common with my friends and me but for whatever reason they try to make us out to be children and themselves, adults - which is something my employed friends in their mid-twenties rarely do.)

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  22. Reason Number 51: You Need to Deal with Undergraduates Students

    http://www.thestar.com/news/article/956501--york-ta-apologizes-after-criticizing-students-on-facebook

    Reason Number 52: You Lose Complete Respect If You Try to Improve your Miserable Conditions.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=35242909882

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  23. Ha!

    There are still plenty of Reasons to be mined. Our blogger hasn't even touched the experience of women in certain branches of academia: http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/.

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  24. Addendum to March 20, 2011 11:41 AM: On the other hand, as serious as issues of gender inequality are, they might be issues for a different blog, one devoted to aspects of graduate school that one should fight to change rather than reasons not to go at all.

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  25. Other reasons (from a grad student who decided to quit but won't be gone until the end of this semester) worth mentioning and that I have all experienced:

    1. Your professors will ask (and expect) you to do unethical things such as grading a group of students' (i.e. the one's failing) papers differently (at a lower standard) from the rest of the class, just to inflate grades and create the appearance that "everyone does well in our department." It doesn't matter that failing students failed quizzes, to do homework, to turn in assignments, and don't even make minimal effort in the course. The department expects me to pass them anyway.

    2. Professors would rather starve than eat a piece of humble pie. They fucked up majorly during my MA exams, but refused to acknowledge any personal responsibility. I repeatedly heard, "A mistake was made with your exams" and never got an apology (too much hubris).

    3. Even staff (such as a Graduate Student Affairs Officer) will act as puppets for departments. The GSAO of mine threatened me. She flatly denied it ever happened later.

    4. Faculty won't stop with controlling their puppets to harass you. They'll also expect you to take their bribes (in my case: you'll fail my course, but if you drop now, and enroll in this fake course that doesn't exist [but faculty get credit for teaching, defrauding the university in how much work they really do], you'll pass). I refused. It only added to how much harassment I faced. Other grad students, however, often are willing to sell their soul, foolishly believing the faculty have realized they are "special" and have wonderful talent. In one case, that "special" student was one who rated his students' essays as "poor, mediocre, and good"---but I've been attacked and accused of being the bad teacher because I actually have standards and students fail.

    5. Along with the harassment, faculty will also withhold information to try to hurt you, and then manipulate it when they do have to give it up. In my case, they refused to give me my teaching observation report even though other students got theirs immediately. I finally got mine 4 months after I got observed; the letter is dated two months before now, and the faculty member has completely changed her story. The positive post-observation meeting we had has become a negative report about how "unengaged" and "silent" my students were and how bad my teaching was.

    Good thing I recorded that post-observation meeting. I learned all too well (but too late) to buy a tape recorder and record every meeting I'll ever have in the department. I think a tape recorder is the only way you might stand a chance of surviving the wolves (faculty, staff, and fellow grad students). I keep it on me at all times. Even if I'm just walking to make copies in the copy room, that recorder is always on.

    6. Related to this reason #50, most of your grad students are miserable cowards not worth your time. Even though students in my department know how greatly I've been wronged and that there are problems, everyone's out to save their own ass and "not rock the boat." Many have no problem selling out fellow grads or throwing them under the bus in order to get that nod of approval from faculty.

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  26. @ Eileen:

    You are half right: grad students do stink--they are arrogant narcissists. But to be honest, the only grad students I know who spend time with undergraduates are male grad students who are preying on their female students because they think they are easy marks. Ew.

    The half wrong part is that undergrads (UGs) stink too. Not each and every one. But in the aggregate, yes. If you are reading this blog because you anticipate going to grad school, one of three things will most likely happen:

    1) You will be fortunate enough to receive an amazing funding package that requires no TAing. Any beliefs now you have about UGs can remain intact because you don't have to deal with them on a minute by minute basis. Unlikely.

    2) You will cultivate a teaching persona that you are the "young, hip, in-touch" instructor (see first reader comment, #51) and blindly worship youth. This seems to work for male academics better than women, but go for it.

    3) You will end up like the rest of us: jaded, cynical, and exhausted. Unable to carve out sufficient time for research because of UGs' wheedling, grade grubbing, constant pestering. I didn't start out this bitter and haggard. Like you, I thought that the negative attitudes of my older colleagues were shocking when I joined up with team academia: I wanted to teach and believed in critical pedagogies, student empowerment, etc. Quarter after quarter of groundless complaints, blatant disrespect, sexist comments in student evaluations, obvious lies, entitled attitudes, refusal to accept responsibility--it wears you down. Review these posts the afternoon after you've had to tell the same student to stop texting in discussion section three times within 5 minutes, or the day that your student claims that they can't be held accountable for the assignment because they had to go to a party, or that they can't remember to do the (stupid, pointless) weekly reading logs, even though, in anticipation of such complaints, you take the time to send out weekly email reminders. The day you overhear students laughing about how dumb the TA is because s/he was so easily conned into believing their dead-grandmother excuse and granting them a paper extension. The sexual harassment, racism, insults, and sometimes even threats. Yes, in many ways, grad students are loathsome. But it's nearly impossible to survive the shenanigans of the grad student-undergrad professional relationship and come out with positive regard for a class of folks who show us disrespect on a daily basis.

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    1. Hi. It sounds more like you are critically analyzing the occupation of "teaching" in general here (albeit from the perspective of the graduate student). I personally have taught in foreign countries and you deal with basically the same stuff (although American students have their own specific virulent behavior issues).

      When I did my undergrad education in the Ivy League I was appalled by the lack of sophistication of my fellow undergrads. In fact on one occasion I totally lost it in class and went off. Interestingly, when I handed in my final exam the next day I was surprised to find that the graduate student in the class found it funny (in a supportive way) that I had lost my cool. Now that I have gotten a better idea of the hidden world of academia (through this blog and other enlightening resources) I better understand the reaction of these graduate students (a few of whom I genuinely liked).

      I wish I would have known the reality of the situation THEN so that I could have offered them some support. I hope they are doing well wherever they are.

      JOIN THE RESISTANCE!
      http://www.facebook.com/StudentLoanResistanceOfAmerica

      Delete
  27. I disagree--I think it's important to highlight the pervasive sexism of academia and it's something to consider carefully before deciding to go to grad school, precisely because it's all too easy to believe that departments strong in gender studies will be free from these types of issues. If I'd known the extent to which my putatively feminist department would harbor sexism and that the feminists (faculty and grad students) themselves would end up displaying a lot of deeply troubling, anti-feminist behavior, I would have accepted elsewhere (or not at all). Not to mention the different treatment male and female TAs receive from undergrads...

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  28. @ Anonymous 10:25 Actually, I'm reading this blog because every week it reaffirms my decision NOT to go to graduate school unless I somehow unexpectedly become independently wealthy and find myself in the position of not having to work for a living. And even then I'd still only consider it.

    I'm not saying we as a group don't "stink," though I would argue that we're not any worse than people in general, but that's not the point. My point here was that graduate students avoid undergraduates because spending too much time with us reminds them that while they are older than we are, their financial situation, career prospects, and, often, overall life experience (e.g. leaving school for a full-time job with benefits and a salary) aren't all that different (essentially Reason #51). They compensate by stressing the alleged difference in "adult-ness" between the groups, whereas people in their mid-twenties who have progressed past "being in school" in the growing-up process don't feel the need to infantilize us because they actually are adults.

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  29. No, undergrads ARE worse than people in general. I defy you to call your boss a "bitch" or give her the finger, or sit sullen and unattentive while he talks to you, or argue with everything he says, or slam your fist down on his desk, or falsify your work report in the most obvious way possible and then lie about it. You will be fired. Undergrads know they can get away with being wienies because most of the time TAs are not empowered to do much about it. Your twenty-something friends don't have to work with you--it's a different relationship.

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  30. I work at a so-called party school. Several years ago, during the Bacchanalian Halloween bash that overtakes CampusTown each year, an undergrad was stumbling around with a live chainsaw. A LIVE CHAINSAW.

    I don't want to hang out with undergrads.

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  31. god, my fellow grad students were the most maladjusted bunch of narcissists I've ever encountered.

    I've never had great self-esteem so it was like blood in the water for them, and I totally believed there was something wrong with them.

    Turns out there was something - a lot - wrong with all of them. When I made the best decision of my life - to totally quit, they got even meaner. I still hear that they gossip about me to this day. What about me leaving was so threatening to them? Assholes.

    Oh, and I still know which ones were sleeping with the profs.

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  32. Congrats on a great decision, 10:14! Am gearing up to quit myself, and this blog has been a real inspiration. However, I'm fairly certain that MY fellow grad student are actually the most malajusted bunch of narcissists. What freaked me out the most was that it was just like high school--trapped with mean girls and other bullies. "Calls to take action" against other grad students and public bullying on the departmental listserve, smear campaigns against profs as well as grads. When I worry about leaving I just remember that I didn't know that any of these weirdos existed before, and how great it will be never to see or hear about any of 'em ever again. Wheeee!

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  33. "No, undergrads ARE worse than people in general. I defy you to call your boss a "bitch" or give her the finger, or sit sullen and unattentive while he talks to you, or argue with everything he says, or slam your fist down on his desk, or falsify your work report in the most obvious way possible and then lie about it. You will be fired. Undergrads know they can get away with being wienies because most of the time TAs are not empowered to do much about it. Your twenty-something friends don't have to work with you--it's a different relationship."

    From their point of view, higher education is just this unaccountable gatekeeper to the middle class that will leave them five figures in non-dischargeable debt. And yes, as you probably know, higher education institutions are often more an expensive daycare center for people 28-70 years old than a place of scholarship.

    The undergrads pick up on this nonsense after awhile, and develop a bad attitude. Rampant cheating and seeing other students get capriciously better treatment than they do doesn't help, either.

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  34. Re: Undergrad attitudes

    Yeah, it's really tough. I often get comments like "There is too much work in this class." And "The teacher didn't make it exciting for us." I.e. that learning should be easy and fun, two ideas that are relatively new regarding education.

    This is usually from my 18-21yr old population. Who have no direction, are just trying to fill some requirements, and don't see the practical value of most of the courses that they take.

    My other class with students who are coming back to college after life interrupted, or coming for the first time as adults do not have this same problem. They usually know what they want, know what they need to get it, and can see the practicality of the information they are going to learn in my class. Makes a world of difference.

    -Kay

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  35. Is you for real? Complaining about graduate school? Complaining about engaging in a safe, clean, air-conditioned pursuit where no one punches a clock? The dissertation is too hard and you'll never finish it? ABD for years and years? This person obviously slacked through the PhD program, did not use his time wisely, and didn't get a job because, when universities can afford to be picky, who wants to hire the guy with an inferiority complex who took 6 years to write a dissertation? You delay your life by going to grad school? No, you keep living your life and grad school is part of that life because you are passionate about your field. I never regret my decision to go on to the PhD in liberal arts, because I'm living my dream. I'm living the American dream. He needs to go read a list about working graveyards at a steel mill or something and get some perspective. What an ass.

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  36. "Is you for real? Complaining about graduate school? Complaining about engaging in a safe, clean, air-conditioned pursuit where no one punches a clock? The dissertation is too hard and you'll never finish it? ABD for years and years? This person obviously slacked through the PhD program, did not use his time wisely, and didn't get a job because, when universities can afford to be picky, who wants to hire the guy with an inferiority complex who took 6 years to write a dissertation? You delay your life by going to grad school? No, you keep living your life and grad school is part of that life because you are passionate about your field. I never regret my decision to go on to the PhD in liberal arts, because I'm living my dream. I'm living the American dream. He needs to go read a list about working graveyards at a steel mill or something and get some perspective. What an ass."

    No, you are the ass. Enjoy the tangy taste of that Koolaid when you're Dr. Unemployed And Deep In Debt.

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  37. I am a graduate student, and part of a group of students that are friends and have a lot of fun together. We found a sketchy bar down the street from the university that gives free popcorn and has cheap drinks. We meet there every Friday and have a few drinks and chat. We try to keep the work-talk to a minimum. It is a great time!

    On a slightly-related note: Many of the problems I've read in this blog also apply to getting a job...

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  38. Well, I had my clique. We all got on pretty well. What I hated was that they could never stop talking shop. I mean, it'd be 3 a.m., we'd be drunk and stoned, and then someone would start going on about department drama and... god dammit, thanks for killing my buzz.

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  39. My experience is that grad students are shitty people. My undergrad was not worth it simply because of some of the tas that I had.

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  40. So true. Finishing up a 5-year program now, and trying to make friends in grad school was for me a lot like the 5 stages of grief.

    1) Denial: Trying to make friends with people, naively thinking grad students were "normal" people I could get along with outside of school

    2) Anger: Realizing that each friend I made, one by one, was either jealous, petty, arrogant, too neurotic to handle, or vindictive

    3) Bargaining: Trying to hold onto the 1 or 2 "friends" I made along the way who were vaguely, remotely normal and at least treated me with basic human decency

    4) Depression: Finding out that even those people were just using me for whatever help I could give them, then deeply disappointed and sad when they suddenly stopped needing me and (naturally) ditched me

    5) Acceptance: My chances of making friends with any of these people is nil. I have a few friends, a great husband, a cat, some hobbies I enjoy, and my self-esteem back. Screw 'em.

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    1. 3) and 4) sound just like what I went through during divorce and unemployment during and after grad school. I found out very quickly just how few 'friends' I actually had. These generally had been through some of the same kinds of life trials. However, of the remaining few, there was nothing so depressing as being asked what prized personal goodies I was planning on giving away (hint, hint) when I moved, and realizing in one case that I had been cultivated solely as a poorly compensated taxi and catering service.

      The good news is, you can choose your friends. There is no substitute for a good dog.

      Delete
  41. I feel incredibly lucky that my cohort learned early in our coursework that we were not competitors at all. Each of us has research interests that are different enough that there is little overlap. We managed to work together through all of the methodology courses and seminars within our discipline as a unit. We studied together for the comps. The result was that we all performed better than those that went before us and we are all good friends. Their support was essential at multiple points in the program.

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  42. This comments make me really appreciate my cohort. This doesn't really match up with my experience as a second year PhD student. We share notes, have lunch together, go to the movies, etc. When I was going through a rough period, my cohort made me feel better. Maybe it has less to do with grad school, and more to do with the kind of people certain programs attract?

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  43. this one was funny. i grew up in and later did an MA in a college town and spent my last 10 years there surrounded by grad students. some of them (most of them) are really nice people, but they are miserable. a night out with grad students is a 4-hour bitch session about whose advisor is the biggest asshole, whose department is the most dysfunctional, who got screwed the hardest by their committee, where to find cheap housing, etc. i got sick of it and finally moved away. at 33 i was financially independent and one of the main reasons is that i decided not to continue grad school. peers my age who are STILL working on their phd are financially impoverished and spiritual shells of the people they were when they started the program. on top of that, everything they do depends on someone more powerful than them, who they hate (with reason, usually).
    intellectually, i also have a much more satisfying life as i am free to read whatever i want, attend theater and concerts, travel the world and meet people from all walks of life.

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  44. From my experience as a graduate student at two large state universities--one a third-tier, the other an R1--I would venture to say that the lion's share of grad students are losers: maladjusted, without any real talent (including that for scholarship), lacking in social skills or empathy, usually without humor, and looking to duck responsibility and adult life. All of these characteristics described me during those days. Today I work at a dull, 9-5 job at an average salary--and yet I am actually far less depressed and frustrated. The minor annoyances I have to tolerate from coworkers pale next to the bullying, intrigue, insincerity, posturing, and futility of grad school.

    The work of this blog has barely begun!

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  45. THIS: bullying, intrigue, insincerity, posturing, and futility. Humanities grad students scare me. No empathy, so self-assured. The performance and posturing never ends. You either join in or pay a price. All of us have foibles, but there was something unsettling about too many people I met in grad school. Be careful out there...and if grad school leaves you feeling rotten, don't blame yourself.

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