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5 annoying statements or questions for graduate students

This is more or less my addendum to this graphic I discovered…

If you are looking to make a graduate student angry in some way, try making one of these statements or asking one of these questions below. These are not meant as an encouragement of tormenting graduate students but are meant to point out the ridiculous conversations that grad students must always go through. All of these are pulled from my own experience so if you have something you would like to add (based on your experience) then post it in the comments below.

5. “… you have a lot of education…” usually mentioned during an argument.

This statement came rushing form a friend (former) of mine during a conversation about… most likely politics, religion, life, etc. (Fill in whatever topic that people most likely want to talk about, but hate to hear about). In the midst of what could only be described as “casual arguing,” he/she said, “I think your ideas are interesting… like… you have a lot of education… you know? I just want to really look into this and figure it out…” BAM! This was a clever way of receiving both a compliment and an insult! At one point it seems like a compliment with the person acknowledging that you are in fact educated to an admirable degree, but your ideas are not worthy of respect since you have just been sitting in classrooms the entire time. This is a typical comment from someone who doesn’t quite understand what graduate school is about, or the reasons why someone would go through this torture, which brings me to number 2…

4. “Man, you are going to be making bank when you get your Ph.D.”

Two problems. One, most likely a person graduating with a Ph.D. will move on into research and/or teaching, hopefully at a decent enough university/college that will pay them what they are worth. Unfortunately, just like with most education-based jobs in the U.S., Ph.D. salaries, usually, are not what you’d expect. According to National Averages, the average starting assistant professor (excluding highly technical careers – engineering, biotechnology, medical) salary is at the most $67K – if you’ve proven yourself worthy enough. Two, most problems with this statement is the assumption that you are getting a post-grad degree for the money. Although people in MBA programs might be, the majority of graduate students are not. So why the hell would anyone want to do this to themselves? A number of reasons come to mind – the ability to discover something new, to become an “expert” or “authority” in a particular field of study, respect (big one here), scholarly contribution (a way of giving back to the world), and countless others. So no, most of us are not expecting huge salary “bumps.”

3. “Why the hell would you want to study that?” (usually associated with severe looks of confusion)

I get this one most often. For most of us we are looking to discover something new, in an attempt to contribute to the academic world. Therefore, it’s necessary for us to study something that seems “obscure.” In my field, geography and middle east studies, I get this most often because most people (in the U.S.) have a rough understanding (being kind here) of the Middle East. This question is usually followed by other insulting questions like, “Wouldn’t you rather spend time studying something else?” (or in my case “wouldn’t rather study another region?”), or “Why don’t you just go work for the government or something?” These just continue adding insult to injury because apparently your choice of study (that you must have some passion about in order to make it through) isn’t good enough for them.

2. “Don’t you have to write just a dissertation or something?” optional equivalent statement – “I could probably do that – it’s not too hard.”

Yes, we have to write a dissertation “or something,” and no, you probably couldn’t do it. Here’s the thing… I don’t go to you and tell you that I can do your job, easily go through the hard work that you did (assuming that you work for a living), and imply that anyone could do it. Sure, if you are of decent academic character, you could probably get into a decent graduate school program (depending on test scores, grades, writing capability, and references from respectable academics who thought you were a good student, good writer, good researcher, and all around awesome). The problem is you think that once your in you just write a bunch of pages about something random, but it’s SO much more than that. See the post on here titled “Why grad school is harder than you think…”

1. “Is that what your professors told you?” also usually during an argument…

This one is by FAR the most annoying since it cuts you off at your authoritative knees during any discussion. The problem here is that this makes sense to someone who is in their freshman or sophomore year, but this is a ridiculous question to someone who is conducting their own research, studying their own material, and being challenged to form their own conclusions on a near daily basis. On average a graduate student reads 4-10 journal articles and 2-3 books per week just to get by. (Of course this applies mainly to those students in the social, literal, or cultural sciences/arts.) At this point one can safely assume that the graduate student has progressed beyond simple regurgitations of professors and has begun to form their own conclusions.

Honorable mention: “How’s your dissertation coming?” OR “When are you planning to be finished?”

Both of these equally insulting questions are going to most likely be responded to with pure anger. Anyone who is in a grad school program knows that the looming cloud of “dissertation,” “thesis,” or “completion date” is always on your mind. It doesn’t help to constantly be reminded of it by friends or family. For reasons that are difficult to explain, which is why this didn’t make the top five, is that this will always be a sore subject with grad students. This is not because they are procrastinating (some are) but rather because it’s a mountain a complicated-ness that the questioner would never understand.

Much of this list pertains to my experiences in the social sciences, so it may be a bit jaded/biased. I hope you can forgive but also appreciate where I (we) are coming from when it comes to general misunderstandings about grad school – especially Ph.D. programs.

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