Sense and Sensibility (book)
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Sense and Nonsensibility: Lampoons of Learning and Literature

Graduate Students Anonymous

Joel: I’m Joel, and I’m a graduate student.

I’d like to welcome our newcomers to the Morningside Heights Chapter of Graduate Students Anonymous.  Please join me in the Serenity Prayer – or if you if you have objections to assuming a posture of wretched subordination that re-inscribes a patriarchal godhead, the Serenity Request:

Group: “To Whom It May Concern – grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the theory-interpolated capacity to know the difference.”           

Joel: Before we begin, you should know that we are not allied with any sect, religion, organization, school of economic theory, or position on the mind-body problem.  We welcome members of all races, genders, and modes of critical inquiry.

Also, we have no membership fees and there are no dues.  We rely on your voluntary contributions; we take cash or checks, or donations charged to outstanding student loans. 

So, welcome again. Who would like to start?

Clara: Hello, everyone.  I’m Clara and I’m a grad student.

Group: Hello, Clara!

Clara: I’ve been a grad student for…nine years.

Group: <supportively>  Yes.

Clara: At first it seemed like fun.  I loved reading, the course work, writing papers.  I thought I had everything under control.  Then I started my dissertation. 

Group: <muffled groans, grim nods>

Clara: After a year, my first advisor left.  It wasn’t long before I had switched topics.  Then my next advisor left me.  I needed money, was up to my neck in debt.  I didn’t know who or what to turn to.  So I started to…<voice drops> TA.

Group: No!

Clara: I told myself it was just for a term.  But then one course led to another….I just turned thirty and <sobbing> I still haven’t finished my thesis proposal!

Joel:  Thank you for sharing, Clara.  Being a graduate student has affected each of us differently.  Many of us, like Clara, feel trapped, hopeless; for some, the feelings are of humiliation and failure.  Who else would like to share?

Lloyd:  I’m Lloyd and I’m a grad student.

Group:  Hello, Lloyd!

Lloyd:  Hello, everyone.  I’d like to share.

Joel:  Please do.

Lloyd:  When I was young, everything came easily to me in school.  I got high grades, aced the SATs.  At Yale, I started hanging out with a very intellectual crowd.  Being an academic looked so cool.  All my professors wore knit turtlenecks and had over-sized, dark rectangular glasses.  They were so ironic.  My parents warned me but I was headstrong – I applied to grad school in History.  At first it was great.  It gave me confidence to talk to people.  I met a lot of attractive, very ironic women.  Then I started my dissertation and moved in with another grad student.  Now all we do is read Bourdieu, eat Cheez Doodles, and theorize Seinfeld reruns.  All my friends from college are doctors or lawyers – they own cars and have started families.  They treat me like ….<breaks down> the Other. 

Group: <sympathetically> They don’t understand what it’s like!

Joel:  Lloyd, thanks for sharing.  Everyone, grad students often live in denial.  It’s difficult to look into the mirror and say, “I will never get a tenure-track job.”  But self-knowledge is the first step of recovery.  I want you to look into the eyes of the person next to you and declare, I am a graduate student.

Group: I am a graduate student!

Joel:  First steps, first steps…It is important to realize that one can still be a grad student long after leaving grad school.  Can someone speak to this?  Yes?

Sarah: Hello, everyone.  My name is “Sarah” and I’m a grad student.

Group:  Hello, Sarah!

Sarah: I actually left grad school after a decade of working on a PhD in English.

Group: Good for you, Sarah!

Sarah: Now I work for a public relations firm.  I earn a good income.  Last year I got married.  My husband’s a lawyer.  He knows I was working toward an advanced degree, but he’s very accepting.  In college he was himself tempted to take the GREs.  Things between us were great until we started decorating our apartment.  My husband wanted a built-in maple bookcase, but I insisted on wood planks and cinder blocks…

Group: Uh-oh.

Sarah: Then in December I developed insomnia.  I couldn’t sleep, was consumed with anxiety, started smoking again.  I didn’t know what was happening until I realized it was the week of the MLA annual meetings.

Member of group: I was going to say!

Another member: I can still smell the carpet at the Sheraton!

Sarah: I couldn’t help myself – I started sneaking peaks at the job ads in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  I smuggled my old copies of Derrida into the bathroom.  I know it’s crazy – I know how low grad school brought me – but I still miss the thrill of critique.

Member: Don’t be hard on yourself.  We all miss it.

Sarah:  Now I’ve just found out I’m pregnant.

Group: Congratulations! 

Sarah: But I don’t know what to do – I still think of the calendar in terms of semesters.  How can I give birth during reading period?  The thought really upsets me….

Member: Reading period was always a nice time.

Other member: That’s not the point!  It’s her feelings we need to consider.

Sarah: Then there’s the deeper fear, the thing that really terrifies me.  What if my child grows up to be…a grad student.

Group: We’ll be there to help.

Joel:  Thank you for sharing, Sarah.  That was meaningful.  It shows us that once a graduate student, always a graduate student.  In fact, some people are graduate students without ever having entered a graduate program.  Is there someone here who knows what I’m talking about?

Isabelle: I do!  Hello, everyone.  I’m Isabelle and I’m a dry grad student.

Group:  Hello, Isabelle.

Isabelle: I went straight to library school from college and now work in the reference department of a public library.  But I still love reading ancient philosophy on the side.  Sometimes, lying in bed, I think about going back to philosophy, maybe just for a Masters.

Group:  Resist, Isabelle.  MAs lead to PhDs!

Isabelle: I know, I know.  I’ve seen what doctoral programs can do to decent, intelligent people – one of my closest friends is a terminal grad student…But yesterday, a high school student – he couldn’t have been more than fifteen – came in with a question about Plato, and that grad fever started to burn again.  I know I shouldn’t have, but after work I bought this <holds up a copy of Acing the GRE>.

Group:  <Gasps.> 

Member of group:  <screams>  Put that away!

Another member of group: Give it to me!

Joel:  Everyone keep calm – the book is still shrink-wrapped.

Isabelle: Yes, I haven’t opened it.  I…I…<wailing> just hold it!

Joel: Thank you, Isabelle, for sharing your pain and your temptations.  For some of us, the struggle to sublimate our grad student desires is a lifelong one.  May the beaten and tortured faces of the graduate students around you provide you with courage and resolve.

In closing, please remember that nothing you have heard this evening should be repeated to anyone: graduate students are by nature paranoid and so strict confidentiality is essential. 

Finally, please take a moment to reflect in a non-logocentric fashion on those who still suffer the torments of their affliction both inside and outside the rooms of Graduate Students Anonymous.