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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Column: Doctorate who?

Responses to my last column included “not as inappropriate as I expected” and “needs moar buttseks.” I’m going to ignore both of those comments (for now…) and write as per a suggestion I got from a reader earlier this spring. Today, my unconventional conventionalists, I bring you a Spotter’s Guide to Grad Students! A look at the weird and wonderful cast of characters you will meet on your journey toward your degree, whatever it may be.

The Prisoner — Caught in a bad project (Google that phrase, now!), this student rarely leaves the lab, venturing out only for seminars and their allotted caffeine ration. Some are enslaved by their advisor’s draconian work ethic. For others, their research funding and lust for life are linked and both ran out after their first winter quarter. High risk of dropping out and becoming happy, healthy and successful.

The Hipster — Grad student of lore and stereotype. Can often be seen reading poetry at the Beer Shoppe or TA-ing your “Bi-curious Malagasy Transcendentalism” class. Can be distinguished from hipster undergrads in that they actually have read Kerouac. You probably never heard of his/her thesis topic, but that’s okay because nobody will ever read it.

L’Étranger — Bane of intro science classes: the TA with the indecipherable accent. Depending on the culture of the home country, will spend all of their time either in lab working alone or in lab drinking with everyone. Values the UC Davis brand far more than you ever will. May also be a Prisoner, but willingly so because they know no alternative.

The Two-Body Problem — A pair of post-baccalaureates in a committed relationship, with or without metal finger bands. Equal in interest and IQ, they exude relationship success. Smooth sailing ahead as long as they both graduate at the same time and find a job in the same university, or at least the same state. Future three-body problem.

The Golden Boy/Girl — Hate to borrow a term from Ph.D. Comics, but it’s an apt descriptor. Constantly winning awards and fellowships, Golden Boy’s every exhalation is published in a high-impact-factor journal. Will do more in the three or four years it takes him to graduate than most academics do by the time they’re tenured. Also better than you at sports and has his own rock band and/or fragrance line.

The Sleeper — Never at seminars unless they are catered, the nocturnal Sleeper can’t be bothered to wake up early or maintain a reliable presence in labs. Can be seen wandering aimlessly at anyplace other than its cubicle. Easily lured with food, but can’t pay attention and digest at the same time.

The Humanist — Having graduated with a useless degree in a pointless subject and having no job prospects outside a Starbucks, the Humanist hopes to change their fortune by graduating with another useless degree in the same pointless subject and then be overqualified to work at Starbucks. Can and will use “post-structuralism,” “menstruation” and “Paul Revere” in the same thesis proposal/playbill/pickup line.

The Overgraduate — Indistinguishable from the undergraduates in habit if not in appearance. Still parties, drinks and does extracurricular activities as if they were still in college and didn’t have better things to do like research and aging. Will buy you beer, but you bring the snacks.

The Mountain — Fixed and unmoving, the Mountain has been in your lab for so long even the professor can’t remember. The Mountain is the rock on which the lab stands, for it’s the only one who still knows how to use the archaic and essential equipment that no one else ever trained on. Has elevated writer’s block into an art form. Legend has it the record holder’s thesis topic is the breeding of apterous porcines, and they won’t graduate until it’s done!

MATAN SHELOMI hopes he has represented/offended everyone equally, and can be reached at mshelomi@ucdavis.edu.


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