Friday, May 14, 2010

Glad to Be Grad-Free

Jack Donaghy: We might not be the best people...

Liz Lemon: But we're not the worst...

Jack and Liz: Graduate students are the worst.

- 30 Rock Episode 3.01 "Do-Over"

One of the most exciting things about moving away from the Ypsi/Ann Arbor area is that I will again be free of grad student culture. I have many wonderful friends who are in grad school, but grad students en masse are just plain awful. Here's why -

They Throw the Lamest Parties Combining social awkwardness, alcohol snobbery and incessant shop talk, grad student parties are super boring. And what's with the themes? I've encountered every theme from "Lloyd and Ally celebrate the fact that they will never get married" to "Jackie's Birthday/ T-shirt Decorating Party!" (isn't Jackie's birthday enough?). I once asked my grad friend L why they feel compelled to attach a theme. She supposed that most of them don't really know how to "party" so they need to couch it in a unique occasion. I trust L's perspective because she has actually lived and worked outside of academia as an adult, which reminds me of my next gripe...

They Whine About Their Paid Labor Resembling Other People's Jobs
To be fair, I firmly believe that grad student instructors/TAs/ whatever-you-want-to-call-them are some of the most exploited workers around. At schools like Michigan, they tend to do the real teaching while the profs get the propers and the great pay. That's why I'm glad that the UM GSIs have a kick-ass union with awesome health care bennies (which I enjoy as the spouse of a union guy). I appreciate the complaints at the heart of collective bargaining. I don't appreciate the following complaints (all true stories)

Having to work a full week before getting paid.

Having to work in the summer.

Having to go to work at 9am. When I recently heard this one, I got a big kick out of the facial expression on my young coworker, who has two jobs, regularly gets to work at 6am and had just finished a thirteen hour shift

They're Self Important Of all the self important grad student debates I've ever witnessed, my favorite was, "Is it morally superior to avoid Wikipedia or to improve it?" I think this example speaks to the average grad student's sense of their impact on the world. All of us humans affect our world in our own little ways, perhaps some more so than others, but I assume that few of us make an enormous difference. Similarly, I find Wikipedia somewhat useful and informative (usually as a starting point for a subject I want to explore further), but I assume that much of it is inaccurate and I don't put a lot of stock in it. Wikipedia is not that important to my life. A grad student is the only sort of person I know who would think that their choices about Wikipedia are actually important. This line of thinking signifies delusions of grandeur, and it's creepy.

They're Passive Aggressive Corrective In my line of work (catering at a pricey deli), I often encounter customers who mispronounce food words. The most common example is when someone pronounces the word crudite "crew-dyte". I never correct them. Even when I repeat the order to make sure I got it right, I say "veggie tray" because no one likes to be made to feel like a bumpkin. Grad students always correct me when I misuse a word, and they do it in the most obnoxious, semi-subtle way. For instance, I once wrote an email to a grad friend in which I said something like, "I'm weary about where this job is going." He simply couldn't help replying, "I can see why you are wary about where your job is going" Oh, brother.

Truly, I think that grad school must be a torturous, humbling, soul-shredding experience and the only way to get through it is to hope and pray that someday all that work will pay off in the form of a fancy, tenured position. But I also see how the pursuit of that goal has a way of pushing students further away from reality, to the point where these seemingly reasonable people can't pick up on the absurdity of their own words and actions.


  1. Wendell:

    I have to confess, I had a great time in grad school, but there were considerable differences between going to grad school in Akron, Ohio, and going to grad school HERE. Akron didn't substantially depend on the presence of a major university, which frankly looked a little out of place in such a once-thriving industrial center. Kent State, several miles to the east, fit in with its surroundings a lot more, and I suspect their students were rather more central to the town's young social life. I'd been three years out of school by the time I went to grad school, and I think this had a subtle impact on the way I experienced it and the way most of my colleagues (who jumped in straight out of undergrad) did. The number of times I had to hear people bitch constantly about "their" discussion section students, many of whom were non-traditionals with jobs and families, constantly grated, and the academic snobbery I half-expected to find anyway frequently surfaced in cartoonish ways that astonished even me. One in particular was pretty much a poster boy for the worst stereotypes of grad school (love him though I did). My social life here, thankfully, has mostly skirted the mortar board, and in the last few years I think I've found a wonderful medium between being a secular anchorite and an official fixture on the party scene. I've been to a couple of fun parties where there were lots of grad students and a determined effort to provide the merriment with some structure (frankly, after my experiences a couple of years back, better "Mad Men" parties than beer pong); it was a lot more enjoyable than I thought, but that sort of thing repeated must be obnoxious to go through. After reading L's comment, I'm picturing people in Buddy Holly glasses (SO 1994) and skinny jeans waifing around wailing "does anyone know how to have FUN???" Living somewhere that doesn't have academia as such a fundamental pillar of the community will be lovely, I agree.

  2. The UM/Ann Arbor grad scene is definitely a unique experience, if only because there is so much wealth here. I encounter many leftist "radical" graduate students who have had no exposure to working class people (or work as we know it) and are really pretty elitist in their own ways. And I think those sort of grad students tend to be the most cliquey and apt to attend un-fun parties. But hey, that's just based on my definition of fun (which generally does not include t-shirt decorating).

    "Mad Men" parties! That reminds me when I transferred to UM as an undergrad and went to an incredibly awkward "Swingers" party, complete with a bubble jet printed banner that said "That's So Money". I honestly wish I had a photo.

  3. AAAAAGGGHHH! "Swingers" was one of my single least favorite pop cultural features of the 90s. Mind you, it really predicted the rise of the douchebag, which had, of course, always existed, but which was about to make itself predominant in a really appalling "bird-of-paradise" way. Interesting that you remind me of this just as I finish up watching Lush videos on YouTube. The best and the worst of a decade.... *sigh*

  4. The swing revival was definitely one of those can't-wait-for-this-to-be-over moments in the 90s. Okay, I admit I was a Squirrel Nut Zippers fan, but then the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot" came out and I was done. Ah, 1997. I remember this one bartender at the Magic Stick who wore a silly hat and called every woman "doll". "Hey, doll. What can I get for ya', doll?" Wonder what trend that guy's on now...