Sense and Nonsensibility: Lampoons of Learning and Literature
Graduate Students Anonymous
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:
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.”
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
So, welcome again. Who would like to start?
everyone. I’m Clara and I’m a grad student.
been a grad student for…nine years.
Group: <supportively> Yes.
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.
groans, grim nods>
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.
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!
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 and I’m a grad student.
everyone. I’d like to share.
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
Group: <sympathetically> They
don’t understand what it’s like!
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.
am a graduate student!
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?
everyone. My name is “Sarah” and I’m a grad student.
actually left grad school after a decade of working on a PhD in English.
for you, Sarah!
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…
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!
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.
be hard on yourself. We all miss it.
I’ve just found out I’m pregnant.
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….
period was always a nice time.
Other member: That’s
not the point! It’s her feelings we need to consider.
there’s the deeper fear, the thing that really terrifies me. What
if my child grows up to be…a grad student.
be there to help.
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?
do! Hello, everyone. I’m Isabelle and I’m a dry grad
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.
Isabelle. MAs lead to PhDs!
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>.
Member of group: <screams> Put
Another member of group: Give
it to me!
keep calm – the book is still shrink-wrapped.
I haven’t opened it. I…I…<wailing> just
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.