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Graduate School Terminology

A satirical account of what it's like to be in graduate school in your 20s.


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Kevin Erazo

3 years ago | 2 min read

For Those Unfamiliar with the Struggles of Graduate Life.

Advances in medicine and public health have extended the average human lifespan well beyond its naturally intended limit.

What, you might wonder, have people done with all this surplus of life? Individually, nothing spectacular, but collectively there’s been a general lengthening of the stages of life. The most conspicuous and anxious stage-lengtheners are a group referred to as graduate students.

For the most part, after securing a college degree, the average twenty-something will go on to procure a job, build relationships, travel, and explore. Higher education, however, provides a seductive alternative to the traditional path that appeals primarily to the unduly neurotic.

The differences between the lives of graduate students and their peers make communication across the academic bubble challenging. In order to demystify life in higher education, I’m providing a dictionary of sorts for some common terms that plague every discussion about graduate school.

The differences between the average twenty-something and its graduate school counterpart aren’t very noticeable when the discussion is primarily about everyday work:

Once we surpass the drudgery of work routines, we begin to discern some greater contrasts between those in “industry” and those avoiding said industries. As it turns out, avoiding all industries is a sure way to avoid all income, so we find these contrasts when the conversation turns to the topic of wages and expenses:

Clearly, one of the shortcomings of pursuing a graduate degree is the low return in the short term. Long term returns seem to be equally elusive unless you finally decide to go into tech or management consulting.

Neither of these lucrative fields generally require graduate degrees so their popularity among sixth year graduate students is slightly amusing.

Finally, differences sharpen when we explore what is arguably the most important part of life: relationships.

Whether they be with oneself or with others, platonic or romantic, social or professional, it is in the field of personal relationships that we find the most glaring deviations between graduate students and their less academically inclined counterparts:

Evidently, love is hard when you’re trying to work on your dissertation research. It’s even harder when you’re doing everything to avoid said work or avoid writing about said work in the unlikely event that it’s already been done — presumably by a younger graduate student.

Hopefully this provides a useful primer for deciphering the struggles of graduate students. These are complex and unique individuals who chose to become experts in academic minutia at the expense of other significant life needs.

This is why it’s best to go into finance or, even better, find a rich husband — dealing with disagreeable wealthy older men is easier when done one-on-one at home rather than in the form of your writing committee.

Psssst. If you enjoyed this piece, check out the other two in this set of comedic essays: Siblings: A Scientific Study and Gay Aphantasia.

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