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The Pros and Cons of Grad School


As I prepare to graduate with my Masters in philosophy this coming Friday, I am reminded of a recent image:

Last week at about 8 AM, I was in the library doing a final proofread of my thesis, coming down off a three day no-sleep/adderall/caffeine-infused bender. I heard a banging sound from behind and I turned, and here is this mangy grad student with bags under his eyes, trying to shove a container of Folgers coffee into his locker. But he has too many books and Tupperware containers of rotting food, so he bangs at his locker for a while, then sighs and walks away.

This image contains for me the essence of why I like grad school in the humanities, and why I loathe it. On the up-side, one gets to zap himself with caffeine and soak up great literature all day. Where else but grad school can one get money just to read books by great philosophers? On the downside, you end up doing weird things like getting a “locker” at the library. And, there’s something dismal about spending all your time reading and writing things that no one else cares about. As a professor told me once: “Ben, the secret of writing a good academic work is making sure no-one wants to read it.”

With that said, here are some pros and cons of grad school:

Con: Getting graded. Getting graded sucks, especially when it’s done by insecure faculty members who talk a lot a lot of bullshit, as in this classic scene from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. There’s nothing authentic about sucking up to your philosophy professor in order to get a good grade. But, in grad school, getting a teaching position and navigating university politics in order to get tenure all depend upon professors personally approving of what you write and what you say. If you’re thinking of being a professor, remember that you have about 15 years—from entering grad school to finally getting a tenured teaching position—of “grading” ahead of you.

Pro: Set your own schedule. Since school is nothing like a 9 to 5, and especially since skipping class is more accepted for grad students than for undergrads, you can do whatever you want, just as long as the work gets done. Want to fly to NYC for half the week, party it up and crash at a buddy’s place, then pull a 3-day bender and get a term paper in? There’s nothing stopping you.

Con: Lame conversations. Sometimes you just want to watch Game 3 of the NBA finals without a bloke talking in your ear about “the postmodern condition of late capitalism.” But it’s pretty hard here at U. Chicago. I just wanna be like “Bro, keep your sesquipedalian drivel to yourself.” By the way, as my buddy Snake and I have reflected on, it’s hilarious when you’re having a serious conversation with bullshitters to, at some point, lean back and put your hands behind your head and say, “Well…we all know gender is a social construction.” Try it. It is hilarious. The next time a bloke uses a six-syllable word, lean back and sigh knowingly and say, “Well…we all know gender is a social construction.”

Pro: Coffee. I’ve developed a caffeine addiction since starting my Masters program. Coffee tastes really good and all grad students drink it. “We’re bored…what should we do?…Oh yeah, let’s go get coffee!”

Con: Money. An entering PhD Student in Philosophy or English Literature at U. Chicago gets a $19,000 stipend. This stinks, if you think about it in terms of a salary. Fortunately, there are always lots of masturbatory “colloquiums” and “conferences” and “panels” going on at universities, which equals free food for the scavengers.

Pro: Betties. College campuses consolidate a cornucopia of betties all in one place. By the way, I’m starting to find younger girls—late teens, early twenties—attractive just because they are young. I used to be down with MILFs (still am), but now that I’m starting to get over the hill in my late age of 24, I can’t help but appreciate the plump young breasts of a 21 year old, as they press against her tight Kappa Kappa Gamma sweater, like juicy melons…like little beh-beh oranges…fresh, succulent, golden youth. What’s that, Fitzgerald? “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Con: Getting sucked into your laptop. My laptop (the one I’m writing this on right now), snakes out of my hands like a new body part. Since there’s a lot of bureaucracy at grad schools, and since most of it takes place via email, I feel the constant need to fritter away at my laptop. When my Gmail inbox is empty, I look mindlessly at espn.com, edition.cnn.com, and youporn.com, but only after I’ve exhausted the plethora of ingenious material on gradspot.com. Especially since college campuses have free Wi-Fi, it’s way too easy to combat boredom by reading useless crap on the internet. Why go out on a date with a girl when you can just Facebook chat?

Pro: Reading great literature. More than anything, in the past year here at U. Chicago I’ve passed my eyes over many beautiful lines, like these from my man James Joyce:

From the final lines of a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

From the final lines of Ulysses: “…and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

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