Grad school as Neverland


Originally published in the Toronto Star on September 6, 2005.  Fourth year, and the storied “real world”, of which I have heard much, looms dismally large. Now the chill winds of September, and a young undergraduate’s thoughts at last turn lightly to thoughts of school. School…and beyond.  “You won’t be able to leave everything to the last minute in the REAL WORLD,” warn parents, employers, career counsellor types, gloomily. Sometimes they are angry, as you will glean from my strategically placed exclamation marks. “Fire and brimstone! That wouldn’t go down very well in the REAL WORLD!”  Indeed. But if this isn’t the real world, then it must be a fake world.

I’ve no objection. Deep in the dappled and drowsy fake world, sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears. Here in the fake world, the air is sweet, the sleeps are long and, theoretically speaking, I can fly. I am by no means desirous of being drafted into the exacting canker sore that is the “REAL WORLD”. All hail Neverland.

Historically, the best place to avoid the draft is graduate school. What follows is a brief bit of propaganda – the seven wonders of graduate school.

 

1. Time

Waking up at 8 A.M. is for nerds. Rise at 10, mon confreres. Or, if that please you not, rise at 11. And if your dreams were especially luxurious, rise not at all. The world is your oyster, if you could afford oysters, which you almost certainly cannot on your graduate student salary. But seriously, folks, to pen one’s own schedule is an excellent thing – work proceeds at a pace and arrangement more suited to the whims of erratic Chappelle’s Show reruns. When it proceeds at all, that is.

 

2. Application

Is your grade point average somewhat less than 99.9%? Fear not. Left everything to the last minute? No bother. No MCAT, no LSAT, no GMAT, and in Canada, no GRE. No coma-inducing hours at the local hospital pretending that volunteering in a geriatric ward “was a very rewarding experience that forever changed my life”. No grinding through two soulless years of “work experience” in a woebegone effort to lie one’s way into an equally soulless MBA. Just one simple application. O kind grad school. O merciful and benevolent grad school.

 

3. OSAP

Ah, the spent glory of graduation day. Sorted, we sweat academically into our rental robes, soon to part, but together for the last time at Convocation Hall, or, at York, the crushing humiliation of the Convocation Tent. But soft! What is it – that low-frequency rattle? Mother, why does everything shake so violently? That, Virginia, was the simultaneous detonation of 10,000 OSAP bombs. Yes, precisely six months after the pomp and circumstance, life as a government ward ends. Life as a loathsome bankrupt begins. Unless, of course, you go to grad school! Attending graduate school (or any kind of school, for that matter) enables one to extend one’s interest-free OSAP status until completion of one’s program. And guess what, in graduate school, you can take forever if you want to! Heck, they encourage it!

 

4. Moola

They pay you. In money, not in kicks. They make you teach to earn your bread, but the cash is cold, as hard and glittering as diamonds. Teaching isn’t so bad either, especially if you oh-hell-with-it and give everyone an A. Rewarding poor work with good grades is also desirable because it stirs up fake love and affection in one’s students, and fake love is the most savoury brand of love in this fake world.

 

5. Conferences!

This last ought to be printed not in ink, but in gold splash. O, lovely, reimbursable seaside holiday! O, serendipitous retreat! Conferences are scrumptious. The sempiternity of snack breaks is as manna from heaven to the gluttonous graduate student. For a few brief days, our ratty hovels are but a distant remembrance, and we slumber the sleep of the blessed in white fluffy hotels, where the beds make themselves as if by magic and the maids hate us. One typically has to create a boring poster or talk to gain admission, but that is small beans for a climb up a Grade A beanstalk.

 

6. Self-Satisfied Smarminess

As a graduate student, you shall ponder. You shall make Discoveries and Pronouncements, and admire your own sheer genius. As an artsie grad, you shall invent words such as “gyno-toporific” and say things like “Spiffing, old boy, absolutely spiffing”. As a science grad, you shall wear the white lab coat of greatness and say things like “I cracked the dilithium crystal, and there’s antimatter leaking everywhere! I canna’ do it, Cap’n! I haven’t got the power!” As a math grad, you shall sit around trying to divine the biggest number possible and tell hilarious jokes like “92342351 is a prime number”. Sounding smart: it’s all about the jargon. Grad school gives you that power.

 

7. Knowledge, Truth and Beauty

That too, my friends. That too.

 

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