Monday, February 16, 2015

Murky Mary from Middletown Sends In Some Misery.

I am not a professor, I'm not even an adjunct or TA, so I hope my misery is still valid enough for you all. Anyhow, I've been a longtime lurker as an undergrad and now a graduate student. I've stalked you all from RYS to College Misery to Beaker Ben's thing back to College Misery. I'm not as creepy as I sound.

I am currently attending an Ivy-league school that isn't in the ivy league per se, but is consistently Top 10 ranked. If I sound braggy, I'm not. Because I hate my fucking school. Yes, I hate these smug, snowflakey fucktards I am stuck with for another year. Lemme 'splain:

I'm just another hard luck story. I made a shit storm of my early 20s, got sober (10 years thus far) and now I'm straddling my early 30s. After 5 years of rebuilding my life and working, I went to a state school as a returning adult student for undergrad with a middling rep; had an awesome time; did great; had some great profs; made great friends. All is well.

Well of course Illustrious Ivy U. has been on my radar since I was young. I never thought it would be possible to get in, I always thought I'd be too much of a fuck up, et al. et al. I applied with great recs, lots of pertinent work experience, good GPA. Lo and behold, I got in. It was an awesome and serendipitous and disgustingly maudlin moment, and I wish the movie ended there.

I started in October. I'm in a fairly liberal and outspoken school which centers on social work and policy. The school I am in at Illustrious U. is a great one; well organized, lots of awesome and brilliant profs. Really rigorous and I'm getting my ass handed to me, I work PT and have a practicum and also full-time classes. It's a different world from State U. That's okay though.

It's the goddamn students. I admit, they are super-hard working. They are really smart. They more than deserve to be here, and they would probably be your dream students. They are the complete opposite of the lazy jackasses you complain about. The other side of the coin is hellish too, however.

However, I feel like I'm in a movie parody. The overly-heady and theoretical thinking; the easily-offended personalities with skin as thin as plastic wrap; the "right-to-learn entitlement" (i.e. if a professor doesn't teach them exactly what they think they should be learning, they tear him/her apart outside of class - "ugh, the gall of him. It's obvious he didn't even prepare a new PowerPoint for our class! He probably used the same one last year!"); the never-ending discussion of white guilt and privilege from over-privileged Long Island transplanted kids. Everything is a personal affront, everything is sexist, everything is patriarchal, everything is marginalized, everybody needs to "have a voice," so much so, they they drown everybody else the fuck out. i am constantly having to catch myself from rolling my eyes, saying something inflammatory, or just raging out.

Do you all know what I'm talking about? Help me. I was really looking forward to grad school, and the student pop here just sucks.


  1. I was at a similar quasi-Ivy, so I know well that ferocious sense of entitlement. If you're feeling masochistic and want a guaranteed vomit, try reading Ayn Rand and discussing it with these douchebags. The Great Gatsby is shorter and better, of course: notice how Mitt Romney's 47% speech was seemingly lifted from it. If it's any consolation, many of your fellow students' attitudes are caused by how keenly aware they are that the middle class is losing its grip. Chances are good that many of them will go on to well-paid careers in making the 99% miserable. Isn't THAT a pleasant thought?

  2. It seems to me that some of what you're experiencing may stem from your fellow students not being as developed as you are. You have several years on them in terms of real-world smarts, whereas many of them are simply on a trajectory uninterupted from K through 12 through grade 16 and then beyond. They lack your more refined perspective, thus they tend to treat all things as a Very Big Deal.

    What they're doing has some parallels to the Pride stage in the Cass Identity Model, in that while they're becoming more aware of -- and coming to terms with -- how their privilege has set them apart from some segments of society, they are overempathasizing with those segments. After a bit more public symbolic rending of their clothes, they'll perhaps get it all synthesized.

    They are trying, in multiple senses of that phrase. You can maybe preserve some sanity by forgiving them. Meantime, bring your tales here. I do enjoy a good eyeroll, and if I do it at work, I risk offending a colleague or student, so I need to get my fill here.

  3. This type of environment would drive me crazy. It's not so much that their positions are wrong (they probably aren't, on the whole); it's the communing based on them, the complete alignment of political positions, to the point that if anyone dares utter a minor challenge they're all ready to react in unison, and basically exclude the challenger from their midst. Does that sound about right?

    I have no direct experience (although a certain amount of "worshiping the same gods" happens even in math), but you should probably assume the same atmosphere projects outward to the academic job networks in your field. So (assuming your plan is to stay in academia) you are probably busy identifying the people in the field who think along lines similar to yours, at least in the micro-area you're doing your thesis in. For all the lip service paid to being an "independent thinker", when push comes to shove people tend to hire those who are "certified" by association with the same gurus, institutions and ideas as themselves.

  4. The tone policing in this comment thread is problematic.

    I only understand about 50% of what I just said but it sounds pretty good, right? They are earnest but they are likely very sensitive to being exposed for having a shallow understanding of these issues. As long as you sound as concerned or more concerned than they are, you can fake it. If you're planning to get a job in academia, being able to fake this stuff is really useful.

    1. I should add that you can't fake it around professors. Most of them have pretty good bullshit meters that are well-calibrated based on hours of grading poorly written (but earnest!) student essays. If your asks you, "Perhaps you would care to expand upon that point?" and you don't know what you are talking about, just stop digging.

      As Frod said, keep us informed about your misery. We enjoy and appreciate a well-informed student's perspective.

    2. I find my interest piqued by the idea that this thread has demonstrated tone policing. Could you please expand upon that point?

      Oh, and ;-)

    3. Um, err, I gotta get to my next class. Bye!

  5. Mary writes:

    I appreciate receiving all the feedback thus far on my thread. I'm sure I'll be back to report again soon -- it's nice to receive some positive feedback. It should be clarified that I'm not looking for a position in academia; it is solely a professional master's program. Thanks!

  6. Welcome, Mary! I too was a longtime lurker. Following Beaker Ben's line of thought, your professors probably also well aware and weary of the thin-skinned, angsty gradflakes. When they get to know you as the hard-working, mature, genuine person that you are, they will find you refreshing.

    Unfortunately for those in recovery (and congratulations on that), a major way profs get to know grad students as people, at least in my discipline, is in groups at a nearby bar on Fridays. If that setting isn't an option for you, then consider showing up at various campus cultural events like plays, lectures, concerts and art openings. Even if you don't run into profs in your program, you might meet grad students from other programs who may end up as a better social and support group than your immediately local pop.

    And take heart in the fact that you'll probably have to share classroom space with your cohort only for this year. Soon you'll be working independently on your thesis project, and you'll run into them sporadically and mercifully briefly.

  7. Your pain is real and you have our heartfelt sympathy.

    The best way of dealing with this is to just start laughing. Out loud. At them. And not explain yourself.

    Besides being good for the soul, it wounds them deeply. Perhaps more than anything else, they require validation. Don't give it. Unless they can make your life hell... in which case just let them see you laughing quietly afterward.

  8. It's a syndrome I call "gradstudentitis." I've rarely seen it among professors. It's the ceaseless application of critical theory to every goddamned thing. I suspect it's because they're so immersed in it. I was at a conference a few years ago, and I ended up at the mixer near a group of grad students who were talking about theory. One of them was going on at length about Delouse [HA! I wrote Deleuze, but autocorrect fixed it], and I said "Yeah. But you do know, that's all bullshit, right?" It was not the right thing to say, but fortunately, I found a table filled with linguists, and they know how to party.

  9. "....fortunately, I found a table filled with linguists, and they know how to party."

    how cunning of you, PC!

  10. Welcome, Mary! Others (especially Ogre and Ben) have diagnosed the origins of your misery (which is, indeed, very real) quite well, I think. While I hate the term "political correctness," which arose during the last round of the culture wars (also not my favorite term, but it serves a purpose), we do, indeed, seem to be in a moment of increasing, um, maybe ideological rigidity is the best term? I suspect this is the sort of thing that waxes and wanes in various sorts of intellectual/philosophical/ideological communities (it certainly does in religious ones, which are probably the original models for this kind of thing). I also suspect that tendencies toward rigidity are brought about by fear and anxiety and various sorts of divisions, and we've got plenty of that going on right now (one could even posit that your classmates are among the 1%, or at least the 10%, feeling the rumblings of change, and trying to position themselves, at least in their own minds, as a "good 10%er").

    As far as surviving goes, yes, keep coming here (and tell us all about your misery; it's always interesting to hear how things look from a perceptive student's side), and yes, as Profs G and C suggest, seek out the kindred spirits, other misfits, or at least those who seem to be having a bit of fun. Even if you're not going to do a thesis, Peter K's advice is also good: some sort of independent study, or even research-assistant type position (which might cut down on your commuting hours, if not your work hours), might put you in closer touch with faculty, who seem to be more on your level. Maybe one of them needs help making cosmetic/topical updates to hir powerpoints, to keep them "relevant"?