On Campus
Nov 23, 2010, 04:02AM

How To Be A Graduate Student

Tips from the student rep.

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Lauren Manning

Every other day my inbox gets flooded with emails from prospective grad students who are totally desperate to get a Ph.D. from my school. For the past year I’ve been the student representative for my program, which means that anybody who wants to know something about the program talks to me first. It’s a neat job because I get to meet a lot of new faces. Plus it helps finance my collection of European fashion magazines. They’re $20 each!

People email me out of nowhere and they’re like, Hi my name is Whatever and I work on I Don’t Care, and I know XYZ is the best school for me/I really wanna go there. And I’m thinking, okay, everybody wants to come here, so take a number dude. I’m not sure about how good I am at telling people how to get into graduate school, but I definitely have some pointers on what to do when (if) you get in.

Make up words. People will be like, Yo, this dude in my Early Modern Literature seminar just freakin’ makes up his own words! He must be a genius.

First week of class: complete every reading for all your classes. Stay up late writing notes, and then type them out so they look nice and pretty in seminar. Highlight the poem in yellows, blues and pinks, to make it look like you have a whole system that nobody can decode. Bring the assigned English translation as well as the original Latin manuscript to class—then bring the Greek one as a back-up. You’ll stun the room with your organization and ability to read classical Latin and Greek.

Sixth week of class: check the reading out of the library 22 minutes before class. Skim the table of contents, see what comments people before you have penciled in. Search for the book on Wikipedia/Amazon/Barnes & Noble. On the way to class open the book to a random page and memorize it. When the professor calls on you, cite this paragraph as one that gave you the most “critical difficulty,” call to question what it means. Congratulations: you’ve participated for the day.

Learn to use “kind of”  and “sort of” in place of “like” and “um.” Say “always already” every chance you’ll get. You’ll sound smarter, and everyone will think you’ve read your Derrida. Brownie points! Learn to stretch the simplest idea with as many filler words as possible. Confuse people. Example: “What I think Spivak is talking about is a kind of critical, hermeneutic distance between THE other and the sort of place of an/other.”

Buy a 58-pack of black Moleskines and only write in it with a pencil no larger than three inches. The smaller they are, the smarter you look. Do not bring any books or articles to class. Do not take any notes. Appear bored, but make brilliant comments as often as possible. You’re a genius now! Ask everybody you meet about how their projects speak to race/class/gender/sexuality.

Be the “seminar asshole”  by disagreeing with/questioning anything your classmates say. Example: “The sky is blue.” You say: “But what is the politics of blueness, and what does a critical lack of blueness signify, for instance, about the modalities of yellowness? And how does that, in turn, relate back to race, class, gender, and sexuality?”

Write the seminar papers for all four of your classes the week before they’re due. Wonder how you managed to write 80 pages in five days. Wonder the same thing every semester. Ask every new person you meet, whether or not they’re in graduate school, questions about what they work on. But only pretend to be interested. You’re basically waiting on them to ask you what you work on.

Monopolize the entire conversation during seminar.

Go to academic conferences. Sit in on a talk in an area of your interest. When it’s time for the q&a, ask a really, really long question that’s not really a question, more like your chance to demonstrate to the whole room how much you know about the topic. Then just stop talking and wait for the speaker to figure out your question.

At any talk you go to, ask the speaker why they spoke on chocolate, but didn’t dare to mention wood blocks. (The speaker is thinking: Because the talk was on chocolate, NOT on wood blocks you asshole!)

Promise your advisor you’ll hand in a chapter of your dissertation by such-and-such date. The date gets near and you realize you have no new work. You’ve been watching too much Gossip Girl, too many reruns of Project Runway. Completely avoid your advisor and all of her known associates until you have new work.

Have sex in the stacks of the library.

Submit your seminar paper to a prestigious academic journal such as October, Grey Room or American Quarterly. Wait nine months for the reviewers to get back to you. Read the comments and see that two of the three reviewers think the paper is good enough to publish, but the third basically wants you dead and you can’t understand what you did to piss them off. Article rejected.

Wonder if graduate school is really for you. Think about “taking a leave of absence” to work for a consulting firm, easily making $125,000 your first year. Come back to graduate school five years later, $375,000 richer.

  • Utter brilliance as usual - but what are the politics of article comments? How can we inscribe article commenting within a discourse of the subaltern?

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