Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Shift in Thinking and Behavior

I realized today just how differently graduate students think and behave compared with undergraduates and schoolchildren. I found the differences both interesting and amusing. Here are just a few differences that I noted:

1. Reaction to delays and cancellations. Schoolchildren and undergraduates generally respond to snow days or two-hour delays in the same fashion: "Hurray! No school!" They whoop, they cheer, and then they have a marvelous, often lazy day. Graduate students (the majority of them) respond to this situation in this way: "NO NO NO!!!!! Don't you DARE cancel school after all those sleepless nights I spent reading all these books and writing this paper! I WILL present this material today!" Snow days are not bright beacons of happiness to graduate students; rather, they are an insult heaped upon the injury of hours upon hours of research. Rather than celebrate, the typical grad student responds to cancellations and delays by using the time to read more, or to rewrite their latest paper again.

2. Relationship with sleep. Undergraduates sleep through classes, sleep in and skip classes, and sleep rather than study (okay, most seniors don't, but the majority of the underclassmen do). Schoolchildren, likewise, value sleep over study. To a graduate student, sleep (and, in fact, most bodily functions), is more like taking time get an oil change - it's a hindrance that must occasionally be given in to, but it gets put off as much as possible. There are various maxims that the other grad students and I gaily toss about: "Sleep is for sissies!" "You can sleep when you die!" "Read more, sleep less." As a result, the undergraduates are a well-rested, laughing bunch with a desire for parties and socialization, whereas we grads are a bunch of gaunt, pale creatures with bags under our eyes who go about discussing authors and experts as though they were our significant others.

3. Relationship with research. Undergraduates and schoolchildren use encyclopedias, dictionaries, and (shudder) Wikipedia, and consider that to be sufficient research. Occasionally they may visit a library and use a few books (some may even use a sizable stack of books). Not so with graduates! We occasionally darken the door of a library, but usually only to pick up our inter-library loans (books we have asked much bigger libraries to send to our nearest library for our use). Generally, we are hunkered down in front of computers, devouring as much as we can from our primary sources of nourishment: JSTOR, ProQuest, ebrary, Google Scholar, Netlibrary . . . dictionaries and encyclopedias are but a fond memory. If we're not hunkered in front of a computer, we're sneezing in dusty archives, reading primary sources that most people don't even know exist. We deal with sources that must be translated, tracking down out-of-print books, and trying to decipher rare manuscripts.

I write this not to make schoolchildren or undergraduates look bad, but to highlight the difference in thinking and behavior that happens to a person once they reach the higher echelons of education. Also, it is a good explanation for why schoolchildren and undergraduates are so much better looking and healthier than graduate students - they live to live, we live to research. Sometimes I miss the good ole days!


Erin said...

Could not have said it any better myself. I do have to say, as well, that I ENJOY research, study, and reading immensly in grad school. Rubbing shoulders with professionals and fellow students gets me giddy and happy, and I'm thrilled again to be studying my field. I got so sick of reading broad, generalized knowledge textbooks through undergrad and sitting through classes in which not even half the class cared.

Stephanie said...

I concur, Erin. On the whole, I honestly do love grad school. Being with people who share my love for history is terrific, and the discussions we get into are so stimulating that I hate it when it's time for class to end. Although some of the reading is tedious (I have one prof who, sadly, seems to have picked books based mainly on the amount of controversy that they ignited), most of it is fascinating. I just think that it's unfair that grad students only get 24 hours in a day - I think that days should magically expand in 40 hours for grad students! Oh, and I do miss sleep.

"Passage—immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins! Away, O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers—haul out—shake out every sail!
Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not grovell’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere brutes?
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Sail forth! steer for the deep waters only!
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me;
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go, And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!"

~Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"