The Scoop on School: or, Five Fun Facts Every Graduate Student Should Know

“So, any idea when you’re going to finish your dissertation?” my brother asked innocently toward the end of our conversation yesterday. Why, after three and a half years, people persist in asking this question is beyond my powers of comprehension. Quite frankly, you have a greater chance of getting a straight answer out of the president on any given day than you do if you ask me that question.

I’ve written before about the drudgery of dissertating and the direct correlation between the units of alcohol I consume and the number of times someone asks the above question in any social context. I even went so far as to commiserate with my committee chair over the nails-on-a-chalkboard effect this conversation has on my nerves. “They don’t understand. You’re doing fine,” she assured me several weeks ago.

Then last week, I was filling out my mandatory annual progress report and feeling reasonably accomplished with a forthcoming book chapter publication, a conference presentation, and my work for the English Graduate Organization…until I came to the question: “projected date of dissertation defense?”, and I just might have scribbled the words “buggered if I know” before realizing that this probably wasn’t the professionally-minded response the department was looking for. Then I remembered that in just a few hours, I would be sitting in a room full of fresh-faced, undergraduate English majors, extolling the virtues of graduate school (in other words, perjuring myself).

Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The truth is, I love what I do. Not only do I get to read, write about, and (if I’m lucky) teach literature I love, but I occasionally get the chance to legitimate my fangirlish tendencies as “academic interests”. How many people can watch BBC 1’s “Sherlock” multiple times and call it research? But then there are the sleepless nights, the heart palpitations as a result of overcaffeination, and the threats to drop out of school and join a traveling circus as the wandering freak who can recite random passages from Bronte novels while balancing on one leg and spinning around with her eyes closed. (I’ve been contemplating adding a “special skills” field to my CV just to make room for that). The question that the uninitiated (in other words, non-academics) invariably ask is: how? How do you survive this masochistic mental torture?

So, I present for your edification: survival strategies: five facts every graduate student should know.
1. You will inevitably fall into at least one of these three categories: functioning alcoholic, caffeine addict, or chain-smoker. IF you do not fall into at least one of these categories, you are in denial.
2. You will learn quickly that any grocery list is incomplete without three staples: peanut butter, cereal, and vodka. Running out of any of these items constitutes a nutritional crisis. Running out of any or all of these items the night before a seminar paper is due constitutes declaring a state of emergency. IF you think you can write a paper in twelve hours without the sustenance of protein, fiber, and alcohol, you are deluding yourself.
3. Six hours of sleep will be a record-braking maximum from now until, basically, the end of your living existence, and you will learn to settle for half that on a good day (see number 1).
4. If, like me, you choose to live alone, assign at least one friend to be what I have affectionately termed your “Bridget Jones buddy”—the person who forces their way into your apartment when they haven’t heard from you in at least three days to make sure that you haven’t been devoured by wild dogs. Ideally, this should also be the person you would trust to clear your computer history in the event that you are eaten by wild dogs, or, in a twisted tribute to your love for Oscar Wilde, carried off by a severe chill. You don’t want your anonymously published fanfiction falling into the wrong hands. Trust me.
5. You will occasionally burst into tears for no apparent reason. This is normal, and as long as you have item number 3 on your grocery list staples near to hand, you will get past the moment.

Note: the above is presented as much for entertainment as edification. Evidence that these are universal truths applying to all graduate students remains inconclusive. All facts should be taken with a grain of salt…plus a slice of lime and a shot of tequila.

Related Posts:
Never Give Up on Your Dissertation, for It is Crunchy and Goes Well with Ketchup
“Are You Still Dating that What’s-his-Name?”: and Other Awkward Holiday Part conversation Killers


  1. Haha, I am a graduate student and what you said is mostly truth. Please stop by my blog to read funny stories in my graduate school.

  2. Melanie said

    Thank you for the laugh – although I know you really weren’t joking (well not much anyway!) Oh how I can relate to just about everything on your list. Most nights I actually do get six hours of sleep, but just barely (and I’m not writing a dissertation – yet). I sometimes survive on peanut butter sandwiches or protein shakes. Oh and coffee – I drink it way too much and it’s starting to have opposite the intended effect on me. Instead of keeping me up, I’d swear it makes me more sleepy. I’m in he middle of a major lit review and keeping my eyes pried open with toothpicks may be my next option since coffee is beginning to fail me!

    • poetprodigy7 said

      Glad you could relate. I think a lot of people can 🙂

    • poetprodigy7 said

      Yes, it’s all true, though I said it largely with tongue firmly in cheek. 🙂

      On 2/20/12, Francesca M. Marinaro wrote: > Glad you could relate. I think a lot of people can 🙂 > >

  3. Got a chuckle out of your 5 facts because they are so true!

    • poetprodigy7 said

      Yep, they sure are! 🙂

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