Monday, September 8, 2008

Five Ways in which Graduate School is Different from Undergrad

This is a short piece, but I've only been in graduate school for two weeks. I don't even know if you're suppose to hyphenate graduate school. Plus my dog as been couped up all day and is looking dejected so I have to go out and throw frisbee for him. As I chug along this semester there may be more on the transition from under-grad. Note to literallists: this piece is entirely tongue-in-cheek.

The chairs are more comfortable. The chairs in graduate school swivel and lean back. When you’ve made a particularly concise point that you believe has changed everyone’s conception of the subject, you can lean back and rock with your fingers inter-locked pretending to listen to the next comment appreciatively, although secretly you’re congratulating yourself for being so wise. At least until you realize that next comment is a complete rebuff of your argument and the speaker, unlike you, is actually using evidence from the text. Then you can lean forward quickly and try to find the page number, hoping that no one else in the room is listening to the argument.

You sit around a conference table. This is to make you feel more professional. Gone are the days when you would cram yourself into a little chair/desk thing like an NBA player at his 1st grader’s parents day. No, now you get to feel what the big shots feel when they “confer.” Of course, there is always that weird table-leg that positions itself between your legs, making your manhood feel compromised every time you shift your weight. The vast faux-mahogany table demonstrates the gulf between you and your peers, but it also demonstrates a loose community, kind of like holding the Zimbabwe election negotiations in the back room of Dennys.

You are committed to one field of scholarship and one field of scholarship only. Now, if reading about Atlantic trade agreements has got you cross-eyed, you can no longer go sit in a dark room afterwards gaining four credits for watching “Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!” for Cult Cinema. You must, after all that reading, go to another class and discuss Atlantic trade agreements. In fact, Atlantic trade agreement might permeate your dreams, causing you to dream you’re making a trade agreement with a unicorn from Brooklyn named Vinnie, who mysteriously turns into your fourth grade social-studies teacher.

You discover that you are extremely adept at the art of BS. Because that social-studies teacher disguised as a unicorn dream left you unable to sleep, you read Calvin and Hobbes until dawn, forsaking the reading you need to do for class. By class time you’ve read the prologue, the epilogue and the good part about the Indians rampaging against the settlers. With the well-honed skill of BS you acquired in under-grad, you can turn this small amount of reading into a long-winded discourse on the conceptual differences of clashing cultures and the wave of Euro-centric hegemony colonial trade brought with it. Don’t forget the hand-gestures, the head-nodding, the lowered voice for dramatic effect, and the brilliant regurgitation of your first point disguised as a new point.

People are better at sniffing out BS. So, that round of BS didn’t go so well. People take your claim apart piece-by-piece. A tag-team of students quotes from several points in the text that claim the opposite of your statement. Don’t worry, they could be BSing too. It’s all open to interpretation right? This should be your mantra, “everything is open to interpretation.” Say it over, and over...and over.


Emily Barton said...

Brilliant! Oh, and then there's one more piece to grad school: throw questions back at your professors in a way you never did as an undergrad. Act as though you're really seeking an answer instead of trying to prove that maybe you know a little more than they do (this was particularly effective for students getting Maters in Library Science, almost all of whom were actually working in real libraries, whereas most of the professors hadn't been behind a desk in a library in years).

litlove said...

LOL! It's true: the chairs are better and everything follows on causally from there.

IM said...

Emily, yes, that's a good tactic and I've lucked out and been able to use it a time or two.

Litlove, I used to wonder why I was pursuing a masters. Now I know...for the chairs.

Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently discussing about the prevalence of technology in our day to day lives. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes cheaper, the possibility of uploading our memories onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about every once in a while.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]R4i SDHC[/url] DS QDos)