15 Reasons Graduate School is Like a Religious Cult

15 Reasons Graduate School is Like a Religious Cult July 15, 2012

Note: These are meant to be tongue-in-cheek. My graduate school experience is like one of the cushier New England convents with private swimming pools and flatscreen TVs than the forlorn mountainside shelters where monks beat each other with rocks and eat tree bark.

Grad students are terrible people.

1. On the first day you arrive, you’re reminded that you’re part of a small, elite subgroup with access to specialized knowledge that the average person can never hope to achieve. You’re congratulated for choosing to come to graduate school and leaving behind the shallow materialism of the world.

2. Despite what a great achievement it is to get into graduate school (or so they tell you), you start to notice that your only reward seems to be working harder than all your college friends.

3. You must express your willingness to be molded into a replica of your advisor, fervently and frequently, so that she never doubts that you are serious about your career.

4. You forfeit the comforts of ordinary life (like paying off debt or having a family) to live an ascetic life in a bug-infested studio apartment eating half-price bagels and drinking coffee around the clock.

5. You must thoroughly know the canonical texts starting yesterday. Failure to respond appropriately to a reference to Marx will indicate to others that you are not serious.

6. You must be busy. If you aren’t busy, you must look busy. If someone asks you about your reading load, groan and say “I can’t even count them all.” Stow a book in your backpack or purse at all times so you can whip it out whenever someone might see you relaxing.

7. You realize in your second year that no one has actually read the canonical texts, and that nobody else is reading nearly as many books as they say they are.

8. A crop of fresh meat (the next year’s cohort) arrives and you realize that you are becoming one of those other people who inflate their reading lists and pepper their speech with Marxist witticisms to boost their social standing. You loathe yourself, but you can’t stop the machine, so you might as well survive. You pick a favorite newbie and covertly explain to them that no one reads everything on the syllabus, then you look over your shoulder in paranoia for weeks afterward.

9. Sometime in October, your grandparent dies, you contract tuberculosis and break your leg, your apartment catches on fire, and your lover cheats on you, but you don’t ask for accommodation because someone might think you’re lazy or making excuses. You are asked to rewrite your final paper because you wrote it from a hospital bed under the influence of Vicodin, and your committee can’t figure out how to grade a thesis that involves Colonel Sanders winning the American Civil War with rubber chicken grenades, even if the role of chickens in warfare was a neocolonialist hegemonic paradigm.

10. You are caught in a dilemma over how to lie to impress your advisor: by saying you enjoy teaching and are grateful for the experience, or you disdain teaching because you’re a True Academic who lives only for research. You decide to just drive him to the airport instead.

11. Asking for money in exchange for work is prostitution. True Academics are motivated only by the love of learning and the benefit of the academic community.

12. You dress in dark, frumpy clothing to avoid being judged for spending time on something as frivolous as fashion.

13. You visit your non-academic friends for a weekend and struggle to relate to their pop culture references and stories about getting stoned. As a defense mechanism, you decide that your inability to understand them is a sign of your intellectual superiority.

14. You consider every interaction with non-academic people an opportunity to teach them something, which quickly dries up your party invitations. This is fine with you, because you’re tired of being surrounded by People Who Are Wrong, anyway.

15. You spend all your waking hours thinking about The Last Judgment (thesis defense).

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