Tuesday, April 26, 2011

E: Email-fail

When the head of the graduate division sends out an email to the other professors telling them to grade their grad students' seminar papers more harshly because they're handing out too many A's and B's, but the email is accidentally sent to all the grad students instead.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

H: Hideout

Every grad student has one. It's a place where you can hide from the world and work on your dissertation without the distraction of internet access. This hideout can be a desk on the second floor of the library, a monkish cubicle, a hole in a tree (from which you banished an angry squirrel), etc.

E: E-Anxiety

The overwhelming feeling a graduate student experiences when she has avoided her adviser for several months and anticipates that any minute, the "where's your chapter?" email will arrive in her inbox. This makes checking email all the more dreadful, but no less tempting to do at least 6-20 times a day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

O: Office hours

When your students have a paper due in two days:
  • they're lined up outside your door
  • they look like they're drinking in your suggestions
  • they bring in scraps of notes or random pieces of paper that they want you to look over
When your students don't have a paper due:
  • [sound of crickets chirping]

L: Library books

When you're writing your thesis/dissertation, you have about 500 of them sitting on your shelves, your floor, in your bathtub, on your dresser, and probably in your mailbox (basically, wherever they'll fit). The people at the circulation desk know you by name and they groan when they see you coming, since you'll probably be bringing them yet another ancient, musty book that you found aaalllllllll the way in the back on the ninth floor that no one's checked out for at least a hundred years. Because of that, the book won't have one of those nifty, modern barcode stickers on it, so the dude will have to hunt up some barcode stickers, enter all this info into the computer, and half an hour later, with twenty people in line behind you by now, you're free to go.

P: Photocopier

That god-forsaken piece of crap that you have to use to produce reams and reams of handouts that you give to your students, and which they promptly throw away. And what are these photocopiers--holdovers from the Stone Age? Why is it (you constantly ask yourself) that I've had to become an expert in taking apart these machines, fixing the problem (paper jam, etc.), and then putting them back together again? Why didn't I just become a mechanic or an engineer and get a well-paying job?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

P: Passive-Aggressive

You: "Any other questions, student?"
student: "I don't understand why I got a C on my portfolio. But whatever."
You: "Well, first of all, you didn't include the required cover letter."
student: [blank stare]
You: "And you didn't revise 2 out of the 3 essays."
student: [blank stare]
You: "And it was 3 years late."
student: "Well, I still don't understand why I got a C on my portfolio. But whatever."

P: Publication

They tell you that you need at least one publication on your CV/resume if you want to land a job. So you get your article "Giraffes, germs, and jazz: Random Keywords in Somme Arthur's Booke" accepted by the prestigious Journal of Literary Randomness. Then they say at a job meeting that all the prestigious universities require at least two publications. So you publish "Obscure Words Linked By a Tenuous Argument" in the even more prestigious Journal of Obscure 18th Century American Literary Randomness. And then your advisor tells you that without at least three publications, you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of landing a job. And so it continues. (And you don't land a job, by the way.)

Q: Questions

We've all gotten them--mostly from the relatives.
  • "Soooooo, you're still in school? Aren't you, like, too old for that?"
  • "When are you gonna get a real job?"
  • "What's your dissertation about, again?"
and the ever-popular
  • "When are you gonna be done with grad school?"
After a while, you just don't even bother answering anymore.

Sample sentence: Enough questions.

C: Coffee

What would you do without it--seriously? It fuels those brain cells of yours as you stare at the computer screen, trying to think up some absolutely brilliant conceptual arguments on which to hang your dissertation chapters. It adds an artificial spring to your step as you scale the eight flights of stairs to your department office because the elevator's broken. It gives you that je ne sais quoi that tells people "yes, I'm cool and mellow and intellectual." And it just tastes good. Thank god for coffee.

Sample sentence: Is this my tenth or twelfth cup of coffee today???

D: Defense

Means exactly what you think it means. You sit there, your thesis/dissertation proposal shaking in your shaking hands, darkness all around except for a single incandescent lightbulb hanging over your head. Your committee is gathered around you, barking so many questions so quickly that you don't even have time to answer. After ten hours, you are reduced to tears. And just as you're about to say, "fine, I knew this proposal sucked. I throw in the towel, this meeting's adjourned," they all sit back, the lights come on, one professor sips his coffee, and they all say, "uh, yeah, guess it's ok. You'll be changing it completely, anyway. Guess we'll pass her and give her the privilege of writing the thesis/dissertation. Anyone need more coffee?"

Sample sentence: "Defend yourself, grad student!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

R: Red Queen's Race

Doing more than possible to achieve an accepted position. A reference best enjoyed by those interested in the ways Victorian England helped to create the way our contemporary society understands the phenomenon of "childhood."

viz., in Lewis Carroll's Alice through the Looking-Glass, she meets the Red Queen. The Red Queen explains that she has to run as fast as possible just in order to remain in place. So, by extension, moving as quickly as possible/doing as much as possible just in order to not lose ground.

P: Philosophy

What Prof. Dujardin is trying to teach you. He sits in seminar and makes fist puppets, calling the right fist "Continental Philosophy" and the left fist "Anglo-American Philosophy" and has them argue with each other. He even gives them different voices. At one point, the right fist says, "Well, as we all know, what is, is not. And what is not, is." And you think to yourself, "man, that don't make no sense."

Sample sentence: How very Dujardin-philosophical of you.

U: Ulysses

Yeah- you know the one, by that dude Joyce. I wrote my seminar paper on the cat. You remember the cat, right? He appears in four scenes; he and Leopold Bloom have conversations...well, not exactly what we humans term "conversations," but Bloom would speak to the cat, and the cat would meow back (I swear- take out that old battered, tattered copy of Ulysses and look it up if you don't believe me. But I digress). Anyway, I wrote about the cat. The professor didn't like my paper. I thought it was the best paper I had ever written. Let's just say, I didn't do well in that class.

Sample sentence: Yeah, I read Ulysses. What was it about, you ask? Well, that's another story....

E: Elevator

Find me a place where more awkward professor - grad student conversations occur, and I'll sprout wings and fly.

Sample sentence: Just take the damn stairs. (Yeah, I know the word "elevator" isn't in that sentence. You got a problem with that?)

S: Soon

A state of being which extends infinitely, but which never actually occurs. Used to describe such phenomena as:

* the time at which students promise to submit makeup work
* the time at which your advisor promises to respond to your work
* the time at which that journal will tell you whether your piece has been accepted
* the time at which you promise both the above-referenced journal and your advisor you will submit work

One similar concept is that of "jam every other day," from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. Because jam was available "every other day," the White Queen promised Alice that while jam had been available yesterday, and would be available tomorrow, there was never jam today.

I: Icebreakers

(cue smarmy background music) "Ok everyone, let's all get in friendly pairs and chummily talk about our feelings and what we did this summer and how many soft fluffy pink pillows we have on our beds. Then, write down everything your partner said and we can all introduce each another, omitting no detail about the summer activities and fluffy pink pillows and happy drooliness, etc. etc. Then, let's all hug and feel comforted by the fact that we now understand each other's souls. Oh, and after that we'll tell you how to teach composition."

Sample sentence: If it's supposed to be an "icebreaker," then let's haul in some ice, dammit, and break it with pickaxes. That would relieve some stress.

D: Doodle

What your 18th century English Epistolary Novel and Restoration Drama professor does during class while all you gibbering grad students argue over a minor and quite obscure point in Clarissa or Pamela or Shamela or whatever.

Sample sentence: "His doodles are probably caricatures of us," the grad students think.

O: Orientation

Yes, it's that time of year again. Time to put on those fake smiles, mingle uncomfortably with professors and colleagues at the parties where if it weren't for the keg, all anyone would talk about is grad school. Remember to talk to the newbies who think that grad school will be so wonderful and want to know everything about the program. The only thing that keeps you from running full tilt through the window (you're on the 8th floor, remember!) is the fact that Prof. Lejardin is gonna give another one o' those long, windy, partially-incoherent-but-always-hilarious speeches of his. Thank God for him.

Sample sentence: I'm oriented just fine, thank you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

P: Peer Review

v. The system by which members of a conference's program committee get to advocate for their previous work in the field to be referenced in your paper through whining and vague threats (e.g., "I do not see how we can accept this paper if the authors have not even referenced the recent work by Schnitzel and Wakkofson.").

Origin: In medieval times, it was believed that peer review implied some correctness about the methodology and/or results in a conference paper. Such myths were readily dispelled by a thousand graduate students' accepted conference papers (generated by a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters) filled with, at best, poor science. More recently Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Disruption also showed the fallacy of said argument. None the less, a study recently published in the Journal of International Science Meme-ology (JISM) shows that 82% of mammalian subjects still accept peer review as a suitable method for weeding out "bad" science. (Note that this percentage was lower among whales as they are clearly smarter than the rest of us.)

Sample sentence: It doesn't matter that my thesis chapter is making a specious argument based entirely on irrelevant data -- it was published at a peer reviewed conference last year!

T: Teaching evaluation

Some samples:
  • "My TA sucked."
  • "She was nice, but the books she had us read sucked" [of course, the professor, not you, chose these books, but that's just by the way...].
  • "I'd rather jump into a steel trap than take a class with her again. It sucked."
  • "Nice TA. Sometimes had a bad attitude. Gives out too many D's. That sucks."

Sample sentence: Reading your teaching evaluations is like going on an episode of "This Is Your Life," only all the guests are people you hate and who hate you and all they do is bitch about you to your face.

D: Deconstruction

Presenting (an attempt at) a deconstructionist reading (ah hem):

The text: Mary had a little lamb, her fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, her lamb was sure to go.

The reading: So Mary had a "little" lamb, but in fact, the lamb was quite big in Mary's psycho-spiritual world, at least, since it followed her everywhere, becoming, as it were, a part of her socioeconomic psyche. And the fact that its "fleece" was "white as snow" suggests that this concept of whiteness and innocence was like a mantle that Mary wore wherever she went. The lamb's fleece was like the potential mantle that Mary would wear, would she remove the fleece from the lamb's body and turn it into a garment. But the fleece was not actually pure white or innocence, since it was "white as snow," which we all know gets quite grimy very quickly after it falls to the ground. Thus, Mary's little lamb represents both her spiritual innocence and her physical venality. Poor Mary.

Sample sentence: Deconstruct this.

J: Job Market

Think of it this way: you have a cage, with ten mice on the one side and one cheese cube on the other. The mice go after the cheese cube, but only a few mice get some pieces of cheese (little pieces, mind you). The rest get nothing. Nuff said.

Sample sentence: You're going on the job market again?!

Monday, April 11, 2011

T: Twilight Zone

That funny feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when:
  • you ask a reader on your committee to give you some feedback on draft 1 of a thesis chapter (January)
  • you hear from him not a word
  • you ask that reader for some feedback on draft 2 of that same chapter (April)
  • you hear from him not a word
  • you ask that reader for some feedback on draft 3 of that same chapter (July)
  • you hear from him not a word
  • you run into that reader in the hallway and he asks you why you haven't sent him any drafts to read yet. After all, it's that time of year, he's gonna have to write you a recommendation for the job market, he's gonna be reading your full thesis soon, it's time to get on the ball, now.
  • you imagine the terrible, terrible things you'd like to say to him some day
Sample sentence: Being a grad student is like living in the Twilight Zone. (but not in a good way, even though that was a good show. Sigh, you know what I mean...)

C: Conference (/paper)

  1. Submit hastily crafted one-paragraph abstract of a paper that took you a year to write and that your seminar professor hated but suggested you submit to this conference cause maybe somebody can help you make it better.
  2. Forget that you submitted that abstract.
  3. Receive a hastily written email informing you that your paper has been accepted to the 17th Annual Conference on Literary Randomness.
  4. Have an "oh crap" moment when you realize that you just gave yourself more work to do.
  5. Forget about the conference until a month before it starts.
  6. Spend $1.5 million dollars on plane ticket and hotel room.
  7. Cut ten pages out of your paper, tweak here and there, and it's ready to go.
  8. Attend the conference, present your paper, receive some feedback, listen to 20 other papers, 1 of which is actually interesting, and fly home.
  9. Wait until you have one foot in the grave for your reimbursement check from the English department.
Sample sentence: Remind me again why I went to that conference.

D: Dissertation

Let us go then, you and I,
when the evening is spread out against the sky
like a grad student etherised upon a table
because her dissertation has triumphed
and her brain has oozed out of her nostrils
and she can say nothing but "Eliot both accepts
and critiques the societal norms of the early twentieth century,
Eliot both accepts and critiques the societal norms of the
early twentieth century..."

Sample sentence: Dante would put the dissertation in the eighth level of hell.

S: Snark

When a student hands in a paper that doesn't answer the prompt but instead critiques and attacks it. She then has the cojones to ask you during office hours if she completed the assignment correctly. You say, actually, no, you snarky &^%$*, you didn't. Now rewrite it or I fail your ass.

Sample sentence: That student o' mine is snark personified.

F: Fear

What you feel for a few seconds when one of your students writes a paper on Hemingway and ends up arguing that women are like sharp axes that chop up men's guts. (True story. I swear).

Sample sentence: There is nothing to fear but the illiterate student him/herself.

C: Computer

To your students, it's a fun toy that they've grown up with, and they have no idea how to use it, apart from posting incriminating pictures of themselves on the internet and telling the world about every little thing they've ever done. Don't bother talking to them about email attachments or timestamps. In fact, don't even bother talking to them about email--that's so last decade, man.

Sample sentence: Yo, student, turn off that damn computer and pick up a freakin' book.

S: Secretary (aka Office Manager)

Now you be nice to her, y'hear? Bring her flowers and candy and a llama (or whatever) for her birthday and worship the ground she walks on.

Sample sentence: If I email the secretary one more time this week, I think she'll wring my neck.

E: Expectations

For some reason, you assume that when you enter grad school for literary studies, you'll be teaching literary studies classes. Instead, you find that most of the time, you're teaching composition. Who cares that you've never taught it (or even taken it) before, and that, oh look over there, there are a bunch of people who are actually in grad school for composition!

Sample sentence: Her expectations for grad school were too damn high.

D: Discussion Section

Where you sit around staring at your students and your students stare at you. You're supposed to be discussing something with them, but you've never been quite sure how you're supposed to connect the discussion section to lecture, or if you even should. In the meantime, you stare at one another.

Sample sentence: The last day of this discussion section will be the happiest day of my life.

T: Teaching Assignment Request Form

That white form that you always get in your department mailbox around the middle of the semester. It looks so very formal, and it politely asks you to check off the classes that you'd like to teach and the number of sections you can handle (physically and psychologically). You then hand it politely back to the secretary, who politely thanks you, and then when your back is turned, gently drops your request form into the shredder next to her desk.

Sample sentence: I wonder if anyone actually reads my teaching assignment request form.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

P: Penny

What you're paid as a TA.

Sample sentence: Wow, a whole penny.

J: Journal

That big black hole into which you send essay after essay, each of which was originally a seminar paper that you tweaked slightly.

Sample sentence: If only the Journal of Obscure Literary Randomness would accept my article on the ethics of the representation of giraffes in 18th century epistolary English novels...

P: Plagiarism

The paper your student just handed in.

Sample sentence: Uh, is it plagiarism if they don't know that copying and pasting from the internet is wrong????

C: Confusion

When a professor you've had for seminar in the past emails you asking where your mid-semester paper is and you're not even in his seminar this semester. For some reason, he thinks you are. But you convince him that you are not. After all, you would know.

Sample sentence: Oh, the confusion...

O: Office

Comes in two sizes: circus and cramped pit. Neither comes with windows. A place where you are supposed to do your "work." But what with students banging down your door for office hours (I hear you laughing sarcastically, reader!) and your office mates screaming out the latest posts on Facebook, it's kind of hard to get things done. Many grad students choose to eschew this rat hole and camp out in a coffee house, where at least there's good music and if you sit in the way way back behind that tall guy with the hat maybe your students won't be able to find you.

Sample sentence: When I'm in my office, I can't tell if it's night or day.

T: Theory

So the seminar was supposed to be about literary theory since, after all, the title was--wait, let me remember...--oh yes, "Literary Theory." But you wind up reading all kinds of random stuff, including short stories, fables, the incoherent ramblings of various French and German deconstructionists, etc. etc. And then--poof--one of those crazy deconstructionists up and dies and you wind up reading their ten magnum opi for the rest of the semester.

Sample sentence: Literary theory makes my brain want to run and hide.

R: RateMyProfessor.com

There aren't enough expletives in the English language to adequately describe this phenomenon, so I won't even try.

E: Email

That handy tool that enables your students to shoot off a nasty, ungrammatical, incoherent, misspelled missive that informs you that you are the worst instructor in the history of the universe and that you unfairly targeted them by giving them that most horrible of grades (a "B") when they so richly deserved an "A" did you even read their paper cuz it wuz gr8t and mom and dad thot it wuz really good and mom is an english teacher she shuld know

Sample sentence: "Yo, instructor, did u read my email cuz you never responded."

G: Grade

This can refer either to the grade a grad student TA gives to a student, or to a grade the grad student receives from her seminar professor. Both definitions also have several meanings. A "grade" in the student-TA relationship is a fraught thing, for while the student sees it as something he or she (or the parents) paid good monies for (i.e. it should be an "A"), the TA views it as an objective assessment of a student's work (in 99% of cases, the student's expectation and the TA's assessment do not agree). A "grade" in the grad-student--seminar-professor relationship is also a fraught thing, for the grad student is lucky to get the seminar paper back at all. If said grad student does receive the paper, the grade will usually be an empty "A" or "B," preceded by a whole string of sometimes harsh critical commentary.

Sample sentence: "This is the wrong grade, instructor. You should have given me an A."

F: Fun


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

T: Teaching Assistant

A harmless drudge (to shamelessly steal from the great Samuel Johnson). Hated by all, feared by none. Used by the professor as a grader, human shield (those students are so pesky), and repository of creative ideas. Seen by the students as a vindictive not-quite-professor who takes out all her bitterness and angst on her students by giving them D's on their papers just for the hell of it, laughing while she does it. The teaching assistant (TA) lives in a fantasy world where the dissertation writes itself, the students don't challenge their grades, and some day her teaching experience will land her a wonderful job as a tenure-track professor where she can order around her own TAs and laugh while she does it.

Sample sentence: "OMG, I hate my TA, she's so lame," said the student.

G: Graduate School

Akin to a malfunctioning holodeck. When the doors open, you're drawn inside by a beautiful but imaginary scene: prestige, glamour, respect, and job security. After a few minutes, though, the holodeck generator shorts out and that beautiful scene vanishes: all you're left with is drudgery, self-loathing, depression, and the feeling that you're trapped in a dungeon for a crime you didn't commit. A state of mind as well as a state of being.

Sample sentence: I went to graduate school for ten years and all I got was this lousy diploma.