roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Posts Tagged ‘grad school

What It Feels Like to Be This Close to Submitting Your PhD

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My life and mind are a completely disordered mess right now, so I will leave you with this tiny analogy.

My thesis will be submitted any minute now.  As a result of continuous radio silence from my adviser, I am making some changes on my own before I cram this fucker into a bottle and throw it out to sea, hoping for one of this miraculous stories you hear on the news.  Like my shitty bottle washes up at Bruce Springsteen’s shore house, so he randomly decides to give me 1 million Cashmoneys even though I hate his music.

As I try and fix this complete clusterfuck, I feel that kind of panic you might get a few minutes before you have to leave for an international flight.  You haven’t packed your bags yet,  you have no list of what you need to bring and you’re not 100% sure if you know where your passport or plane ticket is.  So you’re just chucking random stuff into a duffle bag and hoping for the best, but pretty sure you are leaving out what is both obvious and essential.

I’ll update once I’ve boarded the flight.


Written by universityoflies

November 29, 2013 at 21:16

Adventures in Babysitting: University Edition

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I have been meaning to write something down here for ages, but then I sit down and watch 23 episodes of New Girl instead.  It’s a really specific type of ennui that I suffer from.

This is what has been going on in my life lately:

1. My thesis is still not done.  The ridiculous part is that it IS done.  Paradoxical, no?  A few minor tweaks is all that’s needed, but for some reason NOW is the time I feel most paralyzed by fear and self-loathing.  I was supposed to send something to my adviser a while ago and I have never missed a deadline before, but now I am afraid to open my school email account in case ze has randomly decided to be all quick on the uptake and berate me for being late.  I am so so afraid to do 2 more hours of work and hit send.  Because this is supposed to be the end and I fear/know that ze will write back with 800 more stupid corrections that I cannot possibly do, or else I will do them because I’m a chump, rinse lather repeat, and it will never be cleared for eventual submission.

2. Teaching has started back up again, and my students are pushing my fucking limits daily.  The good part of this is that if I am ever invited to a cocktail party, I will have loads of hilarious and witty anecdotes with which to dazzle city council members and local parliamentary representatives.  But in the meantime it just makes me feel depressed.  Per esempio, today I received an emailed assignment (which isn’t permitted btw).  The email had no subject line or actual text when I opened it, nothing like “Hey Prof UofL, I know emailed submissions aren’t normally accepted but my grandma’s chia pet died suddenly this morning and since she is currently on a tour of paleolithic era gravesites in Burma, I have to make all of the arrangements myself.  I hope you understand and I apologize profusely for the inconvenience.”    No, it was just a blank email with an attached document titled “Fuck.”

I’ll share some of the more ludicrous stories here whenever I run out of New Girl episodes to watch.

Written by universityoflies

September 30, 2013 at 20:17

What are Fair Expectations for a PhD Adviser?

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So what exactly is “fair” in the realm of phd advisement?

Ugh,university of lies...Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Ugh,university of lies…Hogwarts is not big enough for both of us.

Besides the obvious things, like answering your advisees emails, meeting with them every once in awhile, and not jumping into a dumpster, neverending story style if you should happen to pass your advisee on the street. (They probably can’t beat you up anyway.)

There’s such a wide range across the spectrum of phd advisers–you have individuals like my former adviser, who never read any of my material, period.  And then you have the other extreme– really industrious, kind souls who return your work a week or two after you write it and invite you over for dinner with their family on a routine basis.  I recognize that both of these examples are outliers, but it still leaves me feeling ill-equipped to determine if I am being ‘fucked with’ right now, or if I  have allowed myself to become so broken by the system that whatever sense of judgement I had is warped beyond belief.

Interweb friends, please help a muggle out here: what is a reasonable amount of time for a supervisor to respond to one of your emails? days?  weeks?

how many times do you need to contact your adviser before you get a response?  my magical number is more than one and less than 6.  and how long of a turnaround on a chapter is ‘ok’ in a ‘you are not being taken for a chump’ kind of way?

The next question is, is there anything in the fucking world I can do to speed this process up?

Written by universityoflies

March 4, 2013 at 15:39

The Science of Covering Your Ass

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How does a professor get students to take responsibility for their own actions and be proactive about their education?


No takers?

Okay, so that concludes today’s edition of  ‘fake question with no good answer.’  As I’ve learned after a few years shoveling shit against the tide, if someone is 19 and doesn’t give a shit, it is impossible to fucking ‘inspire’ them to take their sunglasses off, earphones out, cell phone away, open a book, read, and comprehend.  Gregory Hines and Fred Astaire doing a homoerotic tapdancing tango couldn’t do it.  And I can’t waste my time trying, because there’s the other half (or ok, 1/4, math was never my strong point) of the class who try and struggle, and need what time and attention I have to give.

So how do I make this disaster easier on myself?  How does one potentially avoid confrontation with angry/lazy students and ridiculous wars with university staff (whose office walls are laden with meaningless degrees from diploma mills) who entertain every ridiculous complaint, no matter how unwarranted?

How best to cover your own arse?

A syllabus is not enough, I now know.  Even if you spell out every single rule you can think of, a good portion of your students will take no note of this carefully drafted document, and claim to have no idea what you are talking about.  Just like they will have no idea what your email address is (even though it’s probably firstnamelastname@yourschool dot whatevs.)

Then I read some new agey type thing on the internet last semester, about asking the students to devise a list of ideal behaviors in a student and write em on the board.  Invariably, the list would be something like, ‘shows up on time, is always prepared, respectful, blah blah.’  And then you smile brightly and say something like, ‘now, wouldn’t a good instructor also show these same qualities?  Tell ya what, gang, you do your part and I pledge to do mine!”    Well, I am embarrassed to say that I tried that method too and I had my worst semester ever, behavior wise.

What else is there?  I know people who make their students sign a contract, where they must initial after every line filled with draconian laws like, ‘thou shall not park thy camel on the easterly side of the road after the golden orb reaches its daily zenith.’  I have no delusions that this actually modifies behavior, but at least it must cut down the redonk phone calls from Dr. University of Phoenix Online, who wants to know why the hell I didn’t let Mr. Apathetic Sunglasses-Head redo every assignment on the last day of class.

I really really hate trite expressions you might find embroidered on a pillow, but ‘it is what it is’ does fit the situation.  It is what it fucking is.  If I don’t like it, I need to channel my 1990s angst into fuel to finish my fucking phd and get the shit out of academic for good.

And just to end this on a positive note, listen to this:




Academic Word of the Day

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It’s that time again, folks!  Academic Word of the Day numbero tres:


Not only are you a hooker, but we don't think you know what the hell praxis is either!

Not only are you a hooker, but we don’t think you know what the hell praxis is either!

n. pl. prax·es

1. Practical application or exercise of a branch of learning.
2. Habitual or established practice; custom.
Used in a ridiculous academic paper title:
“O Celia, Celia, Celia Shits:  The Discourse and Praxis of Seventeenth Century Commode Etiquette”.

Awkward Student Interactions

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scene: disgustingly cramped on-campus cafeteria.  Home to dirty coffee machine, $8 sandwiches, filthy floors.  Cashiers constantly watch you like you’re stealing something, and sometimes you are, because these tiny little thefts are ‘reparations’.

I fill my cup with liquid poison when a student I’ve never seen before in my life approaches me.

Random Student: Hey, are you working today?

Me:  panicking that I don’t recognize this person, then realize they’re not some anonymous student of mine that sits in the back of the room with sunglasses on, but a complete stranger.  Yeah.

RS: oh that’s good.. cause I want a coffee and I have no idea how to work this machine.  Can you help me?

Me: (laughs that I am mistaken for a cafeteria worker in my ‘teaching outfit’.) um sure, it’s your lucky day, I’ll make you a coffee. (sticks cup under spigot, presses down.)  Here you go.

RS: so what’s your name…….(grossly suggestive eyebrow raise)

Me: Professor University of Lies.

RS: What??? professor??? oh shit!!! so you have your phd and stuff????

Me: No.  (cries)


The whole exchange was kind of hilarious.  Unlike some of my coworkers, I usually never get hit on.  But to get hit on and mistaken for a cafeteria worker and be reminded of my phd less status in less than a minute was a triple play of awesome.

Please Zeus I hope this person isn’t in my class next semester.


Written by universityoflies

December 13, 2012 at 03:58

Letter I will Never Send to My Phd Adviser

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jo march

Jo March says, “At least people read penny dreadfuls.”

Dearest Dr.——–,

It is with a heavy heart that I pen you this missive.

Winter has fallen; the children are hungry and Papa has been dismissed from the gruel factory.  Henrik and I lodge with the sheep each night—they are our only reliable source of warmth since depleting our stores of firewood.

Each evening when I hear the sleighbells signalling the postman, my heart sings with hope—perhaps he has brought me one of your much-needed letters!  But alas, I am to be forever disappointed! Why do you not respond to my pleas for help?  Perhaps I was too needy in wishing for a reply at all?

Mayhap you did not care for the chocolates I sent you, or the half-cow I slaughtered for your ice-house?

Please respond to my letters.  We are in desperate need of amnesty.  Send oxen, dyptheria medication, warm furs, and 50 lbs potatoes.

Or, failing that, advice on how best to finish my dissertation.

It is my dearest wish to exit phd hell, and you are both my jailer and parole board.

Yours Sincerely,

University of Lies