On Campus
Feb 02, 2009, 05:27AM

Academia Gone Wild!

Grad School: Like the "real world," only with more gossip and paid sabbaticals.

Assignment.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Photo by gochie*

I know the economy is totally bananas right now, so much so that even the mail—known for its glacial service—might get its nuts cut out. But what really amuses me are all these bitches who say that they’re just Gonna Go to Grad School or something to avoid facing The Real World. I’m in the room five seconds before I hear somebody, anybody, say, “Yeah, I’m just gonna go to grad school.”

Oh yeah? Simmer down there, pup!

Most people who want to go to grad school don’t even know what grad school is. Hell, I’m in grad school and I still don’t know what’s going on. I mean, you’re sorta-kinda smart(ish). You did well in undergrad and you aced the GRE. So grad school should be a piece of cake, right?


The truth is, grad school isn’t about the one thing it seems to be about: class. Fooled you, huh? Grad school is really about going to job talks, professor talks and conferences. It’s about getting your seminar papers accepted to a fancy journal. It’s about being on committees and organizing panel discussions. It’s about getting over feeling inadequate or dumb next to that asshole who went to The Dalton School, Harvard, was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, won a Pulitzer, writes regular columns in The New York Times, and whose BFF is the acquisitions editor at Basic Books. Do not beat up the Asian bitch you have that seminar with—you know, the one you hate who uses words like “teleology” as often as possible.

I think grad school is fierce. But it’s also a place that comes with a lot of perks and negative side effects.

I think the best perk of going to grad school is that you are free to study whatever you want. For real. I know some people who are studying pornography, and others who work on food. I once gave a talk about the representation of hip-hop in this genre of contemporary French gay pornography. Linda Williams wrote a book called Porn Studies. How sick is that!

But I do get a little peeved at people’s research topics. Sometimes they can be so clichéd—like a Claire’s boutique. If I see another research project that looks at the intersections of “race, class, sexuality, gender, disability and nationality in ____,” I’m gonna punch somebody out. When there is a Department of Food Studies at every university, somebody shoot me.

Academics are lazy. We love to take leaves of absence and sabbaticals. I haven’t done any of that yet, but I do love having the summers off to do whatever I want. I’m so used to the year being broken up into two sections: nine months of school, three months of vaycay. And that’s the thing: if you go to grad school, you can get funding to do nearly anything in the summer. I got funding to live in the South of France for one summer. One of my BFFs, who shall remain nameless, got full summer funding to write a research paper. He worked on the paper a grand total of five days out of 100.

People always say that there’s no money in academia or in working as a professor. I guess that’s true if your greatest goal in life is to teach part-time at Washtenaw Community College forever. For years, the MacArthur Fellowship has surprised scholars the world over with $500,000 for doing innovative research. If your dissertation is sexy enough, Basic Books might give you a serious book deal, like it did for one of my colleagues. So I guess there’s no money in it if you’re content with being a traditional, uninteresting, below-average scholar. Which will get you fired, anyway. As in every industry, you gotta hustle!

But with every perk comes an equal and opposite side effect. The biggest one is that generally, academics don’t know how to communicate with other people. Not even socialites like myself. It’s a constant cock-block. Say you’re at a bar and you’re talking to this really delicious guy, and he’s just told you that he’s a lawyer.

The Lawyer: “What do you do?”

You: (nervously) “I’m a grad student.”

The Lawyer: “Oh yeah? Where? What do you study?”

You: “I go to school ‘in Boston’ (because you don’t dare say Harvard). I’m getting a Ph.D. in the History of Consciousness”

The Lawyer: “Oh? What the hell is that?”

You: “I’m studying the relationship between cyborgs, food, sexuality and industrialization in the 19th century. I want to complicate the phenomenology of the heterosexual matrix, and it’s direct implications on Victorian notions of ‘The Self’ in order to understand how, and why, cyborgs, food and sexual mores have percolated throughout the American imagination.”

The worst thing a person can do is ask what a grad student/academic “works on,” lest they foam at the mouth for five minutes about the Ottoman empire.

People in grad school can be so ruthless, ready to fight for the star professor’s attention. I once had a seminar with an extremely famous professor, but I didn’t learn a thing because every week was like, “Okay, kidz, let’s play Who Has The Biggest Dick!” We’d read a Henry James novel and these bitches would just put their dicks right on the table. I don’t play that “Look How Smart I Am” game, so I just sat there and watched them trip all over themselves. I barely peeped a word the whole seminar, and I probably did better than all them hos.

Despite the ups and downs, the perks, the flaws, and the clichés, grad school is an awesome place to be. But don’t go because America’s economy is imploding. Go for the gossip!

  • This is why I just say "I study Shakespeare," which is good for a vague smile or a grimace and not much else. The gossip, fear, loathing and laziness are indeed the best parts of grad school. Alec Baldwin got it right on 30 Rock when he said, "We may not be good people, but we aren't the worst. The worst are graduate students...graduate students."

    Responses to this comment
  • Nothing better sums up the complete uselessness of 90% of the academy so well as reading just the title of almost any doctoral dissertation -- "Batailleist `powerful communication' in the works of Joyce," "Cultural discourse and subsemioticist capitalism in post-War Paris," "The Consensus of Economy: The pretextual paradigm of expression, Marxism and socialist realism in Contemporary Russian news media." Pffhh.

    Responses to this comment
  • I hate to say it but the last one sounded just a little interesting, though your point is incredibly well-taken. I am, however, encouraged by the uptick in recent years of Buffy-oriented cultural studies: http://slayageonline.com/

  • Get a job!

    Responses to this comment
  • Also, do you remember that time in '78 -- it's you, me, Susan Sontag, and Richard Rorty, all hanging out at that ritzy wine bar and steak house in Chelsea. Sontag had a lecture at the MET that night and was two bottles of Paul Masson sauvignon down and went off on Rorty when he tried to take her to task for putting Heidegger in the Hegelian tradition. I remember she started threatening him with her steak knife and going on and on about the dialectic between self and other in the Ontological studies of post-WWII French philosophy. Now there was a woman who was FIERCE.

    Responses to this comment
  • Hey, that was nothing compared to the time at the New York Public Library when Pauline Kael actually jumped onto the podium and bit Sontag's pinky finger off. I had just given a paper about applying Walter Benjamin's ideas in The Arcades Project to representations of the city in Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes shorts, and was just glad to have escaped. As it happened Foucault was sitting next to me when Kael jumped Sontag, and he just put his hand on my thigh and laughed. I'll never forget that laugh.

    Responses to this comment
  • God damn, Foucault was a crazy SOB. Remember that party in Paris where he did all that coke, took of all his clothes, and tried to hog wrestle Derrida. Derrida was having none of it. You and Deleuze had to tackle Foucault and drag him outside. I remember Derrida just lit up another Gauloise and started talking to me about how the last time Michel had tried to naked hog wrestle someone it was at Sartre's house and he ended up breaking some of Beauvoir's favorite china. That man had problems.

    Responses to this comment
  • Let us not forget that magical evening when Slavoj Zizek stuck his wiener in the mashed potatoes at Marilyn Strathern's dinner party. And by "wiener" I mean monograph on Lacanian themes in Hitchcock.

    Responses to this comment
  • Why would anyone, aside from those who want to be doctors, lawyers or professors, go to graduate school? It seems, at least from this article, to be an expensive way-station to avoid getting a job.

  • You kind of answered your own question there Spartan, except Ph.D. level grad school generally doesn't cost the student anything other than time and dignity (i.e. you get grants).

    Responses to this comment
  • believe it or not, LOTS of people now are talking about going to graduate school as their option to avoid getting a job. i like being in grad school, even if sometimes i laugh at the ridiculousness of some of the titles of peoples work/projects.

    Responses to this comment
  • oh yeah, i love Buffy Studies. its so funny now that really anything can be a topic of study. truly anything.

    Responses to this comment
  • I just finished an M.S. Yes, the GREs are a joke. They are a way to show your advisor/grad entrance committee that you are committed to going to school. Any professor worth their salt won't decide if you go to school based on GREs. If you intend to go to grad school to avoid the working world or return to the glory days of your undergrad experience, you are going for the wrong reasons. First and foremost, I went to grad school to learn more about topics that interest me as well as to learn new skills. My first degree is a B.A., so in grad school, I learned a wealth of new skills and met dedicated people; however, above all else, I was taught new ways to think and approach problems. It sounds like my experience may also differ, as my research was applied. I share your teeth grinding over telling other people - or worse - listening to others talk about their research. Grad school is a great experience if you go for the right reasons. The reasons, of course, do include gossip.

    Responses to this comment
  • Also - I take umbrage at the idea that academics are money-sponges, turning in minimal work for large sums of money. In many fields of study, field and lab work are required which demand great effort and sacrifice. Grad school also taught me that there are a wide range of valid fields of study that involve skills and concepts that I might not grasp.

    Responses to this comment
  • What episode of 30 Rock was THAT??? OMG that's brilliant.

    Responses to this comment
  • FIRST: This is by far the coolest comment section ever on Splice. SECOND: I have to agree. "Cultural studies" (a lot of it going on in English) is the punching bag of the academy, but let's not forget the "academy" includes a lot of important work in medicine/sciences, not to mention new theories on history and politics. Many of Obama's advisors are/were professors. So no, it isn't useless. THIRD: Yes, PhDs get paid and the "job" is a professorship, hopefully. If not, journalism here I come!

  • so the other thing that really annoys me about the academy - hey, i make fun of it because i love it - is that "scholars" are SO QUICK to turn everything into a "critical" conversation. the day after barry o. was elected president, none other than Judith Butler, the most famous scholarly dykon on the planet, wrote a piece criticizing people and their barry excitement. a team of scholars at an east coast school are organizing a barry conference criticizing his first 100 days. YA'LL, DAMN. CAN'T THE MAN PEE IN THE WHITE HOUSE TOILET BEFORE PEEPS START GETTIN' CRITICAL?!?!!

    Responses to this comment
  • Grad school, depending on the type, is also good for learning how to abuse statistics, since nobody learns math as an undergrad anymore.

  • Grad school subjected me to three statistics classes and I have distributed and analyzed well over 1000 surveys. Statisticians could find a way to make you think Paris Hilton's record has sold more than Kind of Blue.

    Responses to this comment
  • ...actually, thanks to iTunes...and the incredible promotional tool that is a sex tape....miles never had a sex tape...well, that we know of.

    Responses to this comment
  • i think this sums it up: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=28

    Responses to this comment
  • great article.

    Responses to this comment
  • er... "Do not beat up the Asian bitch you have that seminar with—you know, the one you hate who uses words like “teleology” as often as possible." or "I barely peeped a word the whole seminar, and I probably did better than all them hos." or even "Academics are lazy. We love to take leaves of absence and sabbaticals. I haven’t done any of that yet, but I do love having the summers off to do whatever I want." Boy, this article makes me so...Andy Roonish. Given the deterioration of state support for higher ed, and the continued assault on tenure, sabbaticals are best understood, in the words on my dean, as no longer "to be expected" but rather competed for and earned. And faculty who take summers off don't get tenure (or sabbaticals). Other than that, best of luck Madison!

    Responses to this comment
  • "the heterosexual matrix, and it’s direct implications" Sorry, I just had to point it out.

    Responses to this comment

Register or Login to leave a comment