Here Are Two People I Went to Grad School With

Someone recently linked me to this article about the ten people you meet in grad school. I replied with “Here are ten reasons I don’t like listicles: 1) They try to be entertaining and rarely succeed, 2) There are way too many ads, 3) By the 5th item, you can tell the author is reaching and desperately trying to hide their repetitiveness.” (I stopped my response at three reasons, because I have integrity and will stop before I have to reach.)

But really, I’m just jealous because I didn’t get hired as a writer to write such lists myself. And now that I’ve done some pouting about it, I have to prove my salt by posting my own version (and it will make clear why I don’t get hired to write lists).

I started grad school in 2009 when I was 22 and drunk with my luck at getting a full ride to an English PhD. I had no idea what I was doing, of course, but I’m a scrappy person. I want to provide a brief corollary to how I describe myself in my first post: I’m tenacious, tending to jump headfirst into the deep end and flailing hard enough until I can swim. I’m lucky, but I force myself afloat when I’m not. And moving to a new country for a program I felt unworthy of was a special, dark sort of deep end that made me compete for a baseline amount of confidence.

So here are the two (only two? There must have been more. May come back to edit if I remember others) kinds of grad school people who shook my frail self-worth:

The Privilege Guilter

Some people have this tic: They HAVE to be the most woke in a room of people. Probably because they need to prove it to themselves. Sometimes they are know-it-alls. At all times they are insufferable. Relentless and single-minded in the pursuit and prosecution of privilege-blindness, these Voices of The People may be insensitive to the natural flow of conversation and surely stopped listening to you 10 minutes ago. This is because they are planning the best reproach for your lack of commitment to social justice. Common offenders include undergraduate students, grey-haired professors, fellow grad students–people from the day-to-day life of a budding academic. Privilege guilters are at their finest when a teachable moment presents itself, though sadly the glory of preachers fades quick for the choir. Yet they soldier on, at the risk of irritating or alienating, for the treasure of their opinions belongs with the greater good.

The Frantic 30-Something Adult 

30-something adults tended to be on the fast lane at my PhD program (this means every seminar paper was a potential journal article, every dissertation chapter a writing sample for the job market, every conference a useful networking opportunity). The 30-something has to be bitter about being 30 and in school. It’s not fair and it’s not flattering, but it’s real. Being over 30 in grad school tends to mean underfunded retirement, interest-accruing student loans, impatient spouses and children, aging parents. In 2009, it also meant the recession had a direct and possibly brutal impact on life. These folks aren’t typically generous or patient with clueless 22-year olds (i.e. me) who have the nerve to take the same classes while still bumbling through an evidently pupal stage of emotional growth. Most of them get tenure-track jobs, because they drive on the fast lane.


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