Post Academic


Resources: LiveJournal’s “Applying to Grad School” Group

LiveJournal may not look like much, and it lets its users put in way too many distracting GIF animations, but don’t let the appearance fool you. It has some of the best communities on the Web, and one of them is the community “Applying to Grad School.” The group gives people a chance to vent, to get feedback on statements of purpose and get random tips about finding an apartment.

The fact that this group isn’t heavily moderated is a bonus, as many of the responses are candid, but not as harsh as what you might see in other online forums. A recent poster asked how to handle grad student anxiety, or the fear of being exposed as a fraud, and the comments in return would have bolstered anyone having doubts about his talent. Other questions are more straightforward, such as “Moving from Alaska to DC” and “Calling a program to see when they plan on sending decisions.”

The Grad Café also has similar forums, with equally helpful and supportive answers, but if you have a question and need it answered in a jiffy, consider posting it in both places to get as much advice as possible.

So You Want to Go to Grad School? [LiveJournal]

Interview With Adam Ruben, Author of Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Part 2

Yesterday, PhD, comedian, and recovering grad student Adam Ruben, author of “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School,” answered our questions about how grad students can stay sane in their programs. Today’s questions focus on what happens after the program, specifically on how Ruben got his book published and on why he decided not to become a professor after earning his degree.

1. Your bio says how popular your stand-up comedy classes were at Johns Hopkins. Did your advisors or your grad school peers ever catch your show? What did they think? Was anyone offended, and how did you get around it?

Some of my grad school friends did attend the final show for the stand-up comedy class I taught, but that show mostly consisted of performances from the students in the class, not me. For other on-campus shows that peers and advisors might see (though I don’t think my advisor ever saw a show), I made sure that the things I made fun of were more universal and didn’t pick on anyone in particular. For example, I talked about the difference between conceptions of science when you’re in grade school (You get to make a volcano out of baking soda and vinegar!) and in grad school (You move small amounts of liquid from one place to another) and why such a large percentage of the students’ lab reports included the sentence “Overall, this lab was a success” even though they didn’t understand anything in the lab. Actually, I’ve never really offended anyone with stand-up, though I did get a few angry letters when I edited the grad student newspaper and introduced columns like “Undergrads Say the Darndest Things.” Some people didn’t like that.

2. Obviously, you have made the move from academia to the working world. We were wondering a) how did you launch your stand-up career and b) how did you land a book contract?

I began doing stand-up in college, and I started performing in the real world when I started grad school. A couple of comedy clubs in Baltimore had open mic nights, and I’d perform there when I could–and I’d meet other comedians, and some of them told me about other clubs, and things kind of grew from there.

As for the book contract, I was writing some freelance pieces for National Lampoon, and one day they contacted all of their writers to see if any of them would be interested in submitting book proposals. I came up with the idea for this book, and I wrote up the proposal, and they promptly rejected it, since grad students weren’t exactly National Lampoon’s demographic. So since I had the proposal anyway, I started sending it to literary agents. The most common response I got was, “I love it! I don’t want it!” Apparently it’s not a good idea to try selling a book to people who are notoriously cash-strapped. But a couple were interested, and I signed with Laurie Abkemeier at Defiore & Co., and she sent the proposal around to publishers. The process began again, and I received lots of very polite rejections, all claiming that impoverished grad students won’t buy books. Broadway Books turned out to be interested, though, which was great news.

More after the jump! Image of Adam Ruben courtesy of Broadway Books/Crown Publishing. (more…)

Interview With Adam Ruben, Author of Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Graduate School: Part 1

Adam Ruben earned a PhD in molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University while enjoying a side career as a stand-up comic. The outcome of his career is not just his dissertation, but also the book “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School.” Adam took the time to answer our many questions. Read on for advice on the proper care and feeding of advisors, including how to handle professors when they are in a party mood:

1. You mention the dysfunctional relationship between advisor and grad student, especially when it is time to get dissertation approval. What is your advice on interacting with advisors or dealing with a bad advisor?

Some advisors will keep you from graduating because they relish the cheap labor, but for others, you’re simply not as high on their priority list as you think you are. Remember that advisors have a lot to worry about in addition to your potential dissertation approval, so the best thing you can do is to keep turning in work. It’s hard to argue with results when they’re written up and proactively dropped on your advisor’s desk.

2. Along those lines, when you’re looking for an advisor or trying to get a reference, how do you successfully suck up to a professor while retaining your dignity?

Remember that you cannot bribe your advisor, because your advisor is rich, and you’re poor. That crisp five-dollar bill doesn’t mean as much to your advisor as you think it will.

In general, sucking up to anyone means feigning awe at their very specific interests. With professors, you have the advantage of knowing exactly what those interests are. (“What a coincidence! I love the lymphatic system of the Florida Salt Marsh Vole, too!”)

“Retaining your dignity” implies that you began with dignity.

More after the jump! And don’t forget part 2 tomorrow, in which we discover what a nice comedian is doing in a place like grad school. Image of Ruben’s book cover courtesy of Broadway Books/Crown Publishing.
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Type “grad students” in a Google search…

Posted in Absurdities by Arnold Pan on April 17, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

…and one of the top autofill choices you’ll find is “grad students are the worst people.”  Just try it.  I came upon this when trying to–unsuccessfully–search for a column I read a while ago about how graduate students live socially conservative lives, despite their seemingly lefty politics and radically-oriented research interests.  What I discovered instead was “graduate students are the worst” and the 30 Rock clip where the quote came from, which led me to another video from The Simpsons.  It seems appropriate to end a week where we’ve devoted a lot of energy and posts to defending grad students from the way they’re viewed in the popular consciousness to see how they’re viewed in the popular consciousness.  We can take a joke, can’t we?

From 30 Rock–Wait until the end of the clip…

From The Simpsons–There are actually three funny little snippets…

The Utne Reader picks up on quotes from both these clips and adds some commentary under the splashy title “The Case Against Grad School”, but who needs to intellectualize the humor with a bunch of smarty pants explanation?  Uh-oh, better stop here before I go too far with my own.  Enjoy the TV!


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