Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: "Graduate Students Are the Worst"

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Graduate Students Are the Worst"

    Today, looking for a certain article on graduate student life, I entered the words "graduate students" into my Google search bar. As I typed g-r-a-d-u-a-t-e- -s, the Google instant results feature displayed its predictions, and to my surprise, first on the list after "graduate students" was the clause "graduate students are the worst." I laughed, and then showed it to my husband, and he laughed. Curious, he told me to click on it, and we discovered, for the first time, 30 Rock's 2008 clip that declared graduate students the worst people of all time.


    The clip is four years old, and has about half a million views on Youtube, but I had honestly never seen it or heard about it before today. (Not a faithful 30 Rock viewer, even though I think the show is great.) When Liz and Jack exchange the comment simultaneously like it is an accepted fact, it made me laugh, for sure, but why? Liz and Jack's joke is funny not just because it is at the expense of graduate students but also because they are using the stereotype of grad students to make themselves feel better about their own shady, semi-despicable actions and incompetency. But why grad students and not, say, 7th graders, or lawyers, or the guys who compete on the Bachelorette?
   Consider now this quick compilation clip from The Simpsons:
Okay.... so, does everyone hate graduate students? Are grad students the worst?
    After I did a quick search, I found that the clip and others like it have been commented on by bloggers and commentators before. Mike Spry's essay shares the same title, "Graduate Students are the Worst," so I thought I would read his op-ed through for a few more laughs. But Spry's essay goes beyond the self-deprecation and self-preservation of functional graduate school humor and delivers a sharp criticism of what graduate education has become, and what it turns its students (including himself) into. "Grad students aren't bad people," he says, just "humorless," reductive, useless, self-absorbed people. In other words, "the worst."
    Spry's essay comes from a place of experience -- and not a positive one. Clearly, he has found fulfillment in other environments in life that he never found in or as a result of graduate school. But what do writers of 30 Rock and The Simpsons mean by their jokes?
    For me, I see these TV jokes as an extension of the self-deprecating line of humor that graduate students themselves have created as a means of pre-emptive self-preservation. (Think of "Piled Higher and Deeper" comics, "When In Academia" tumblr, and the famous xtra normal cartoon "So you want to get a PHD in the Humanities.") What do you guys think of Liz Lemon's joke? How has "grad school humor" affected you? Does it alleviate anxieties and give us affirmation of community sharing in some of the same experiences?  Does the self-deprecation provide us with a means of self-defense? Does it secretly hurt our feelings?

3 comments:

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  2. Liza, Your truly wonderful post raises two really important issues: How the non-graduate world perceives graduate students and how graduate students handle those perceptions. The latter question is complex because the way we handle those questions is bound up with the way the world perceives us--and I think we all feel that the "outside" world doesn't fully "get" what we're doing or why we're doing it. The examples you cite focus on the negative aspects--I'm sure you couldn't find any positive ones. What's missing from all that is the pleasure of learning: imagine if Bart Simpson or Alec Baldwin waxed about that. No one, including grad students, would believe them. And that's partly because we're all so caught up with the goal: finish the diss, get a job, make money so we don't have to eat bird seed anymore. I see it as being a larger problem in this country, where we don't focus on the present and the process or the pleasure. We don't bring that focus or enjoyment of knowledge to our undergraduate classes, either (do we know how?) because we're constantly getting messages to focus on survival and the future.

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  3. Thanks for your thoughtful response!! Hahaha: bird seed! It's true though, what you said about it being symptomatic of the larger cultural issue in America: not focusing on the process or pleasure, only the end goal.
    Thanks for reading and for reflecting!! Your responses always seem to help crystallize my own thoughts and add fresh views to the table!! :)

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