roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Academic Culture- pt.1

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In the next few posts, I’m going to explore some of the intricacies of academic culture that I have grown to hate.

Scene: undergrad university, circa early 2000s.  Home to a decent education and some weird topiary that resembled balls.

int. tiny windowless office, framed pictures propped up against chairs as all walls covered with books.

My Favorite Undergrad Prof: (wearily) they’ll try to take it away from you.

me: (unfortunately dressed in sweatpants) what do you mean?

MFUP: your love of english, of books.  It will be all you have left and they’ll try and ruin that too.  Don’t let them.

me: ok!!!!!1

(end scene)

Even though MFUP tried to warn me, it was pointless as I didn’t fully grasp his meaning.  And to be fair, he was kind of enigmatic.  I thought he meant that graduate school would be a lot of work.  That I’d feel crushed under the immense weight of all the intellectual shit I was asked to do.  And since I pretty much knew everything at 21, I figured I could handle that.

leggo my ego

I had no idea he was referring to the soul crushing death of my ego that was about to occur, for reasons not directly linked to assigned readings or papers.

(I should also say that my undergrad experience was precisely the reason I fell in love with english as a subject.  Small classes, professors who nurtured your interest and skills and wanted to discuss literature and books with you in their office hours.  We did mostly close readings from a historicist perspective.. no freudian analysis of Bronte or anything like that.  Of course I loved it and wanted more.  But my experience left me completely unprepared for the realities of academic culture.)

So off I went to a top program in Non Native Country, populated with students from across the globe.  My culture shock was not unlike that of that of Bill and Ted upon meeting Socrates.  Some of the other students were nice people who kept their heads down and did their work.  The majority of them were sycophantic blowhards who both spoke and wrote in jargon and openly sneered at anyone without a similar academic pedigree to themselves– public boarding school, oxbridge etc.

Those first months I cried a lot.  I felt lost, alone, and moronic.  Why hadn’t I read Foucault and Derrida?  Why had I not picked up on those obvious Freudian tones in Bronte??? What the hell was I doing here as I clearly wasn’t smart enough to make it?

Then after another miserable night at a party where these public school boys got drunk and threw around 10 syllable words and names of obscure philosophers, I had an epiphany.  What made all of these people necessarily smarter and or more deserving of a graduate education than me?  Verbal obfuscation and being boring drunks?  Why was I worrying about not being able to play their game, when the more basic tenet was that I didn’t want to play in the first place?

It was with that realization that I grasped what MFUP tried to warn me about the previous year.  Once I decided not to assimilate, life became a bit easier.


Written by universityoflies

April 30, 2012 at 11:10

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