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.
Post Academic’s interview with Adam Ruben, PhD, comedian, and author of “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School” will start tomorrow, April 22. Yesterday we shared a video about how to deal with certain types of advisors, but we saved the best for last: Dealing with undergrads.
Most undergrads are decent sorts, but there’s always one, uh, let’s just say “memorable” undergrad in every class. Feel free to share memories of those unusual undergrads such as the ones who appear below:
Did you know there’s a book out there called “Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School”? Adam Ruben, who earned a PhD in molecular biology from Johns Hopkins University, has written a funny guide to applying and then actually earning your degree within a reasonable amount of time.
We had the opportunity to interview Adam, and we’ll be posting the interview as a two-part series starting this Thursday, April 22. Amidst all the jokes, he has some concrete advice that can keep you sane when you’re in school. Until then, here’s a video that provides a peek into the book’s advice: