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5 Annoying Personalities You Will Meet in Grad School Programs, and How to Cope With Them

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on March 11, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionBoth in and out of the ivory tower, you will meet people you don’t like, and you will have to get along with them or learn to avoid them. Here’s how to handle certain personality types:

1. The Disciple

The Disciple is a workaholic in disguise. Even at parties, no matter how much you liquor her up, she will still keep chanting the mantra of her chosen theoretical bent.

Annoyance Level: High. Do you really want to talk about Barthes all night long?

Danger Level: Low, unless you’re around when she finally has a nervous breakdown.

How to Handle: The annoyance level is high because her chanting will drive you nuts. However, if you change the subject tactfully and successfully, you might find a fun person underneath the work obsession.

2. The Downer

If the Disciple’s mantra is “Foucault, Foucault, Foucault” or “Lacan, Lacan, Lacan,” the Downer’s mantra is “my mentor sucks,” “my students suck,” and “this party sucks.” Oh, yeah, and everything sucks.

Annoyance Level: Low. Who doesn’t love a good pity party? Frighteningly enough, many of the Downer’s complaints are legitimate.

Danger Level: Medium. When you wake up from your pity party, the problem that caused the party will still exist.

How to Handle: With the isolation that comes with the ivory tower, every grad student has the potential to become the Downer. Introduce the individual to sunlight, suggest possible solutions to his problems, and remind him that the world will not stop spinning if he doesn’t get a tenure-track job.

3. The One-Upper

When someone says, “Oh, you got an A? Yes, he gives everyone A’s. I got an A-plus,” you try not to punch the person in the face.

Annoyance Level: High. A talented one-upper can diminish all your accomplishments with a single chunk of snark.

Danger Level: Believe it or not, low. A One-Upper just likes to make you feel bad, but if you ask her to prove she’s better than you, she will chicken out. That A+ she’s talking about is cover for a few B’s. Guaranteed.

How to Handle: Don’t even try to fathom this person’s insecurities. Comfort yourself with the fact that she will eventually get put in her place. Suggest therapy if you’re feeling bold and can find an exit quickly.

4. The Gossip

The most entertaining person in the department, bar none! After talking to the Disciple, the Downer, or the One-Upper, the Gossip will seem like an oasis since the Gossip actually smiles and laughs.

Annoyance Level: Low. As long as you aren’t the subject of the gossip.

Danger Level: High. Especially if you are the subject of the gossip.

How to Handle: Be nice to the Gossip so she doesn’t take anything out on you, and don’t reveal any information in exchange for a juicy tidbit. And keep your voice low. You don’t want anyone else to hear your yakking.

5. The Drama Queen

The Drama Queen can be male or female. Like the Gossip, this person is charismatic and might seem fun at first. Professors and grad students alike adore him. He charms (or sleeps) his way into everything instead of working hard like everyone else.

Annoyance Level: Off the charts if you’re the only person to see through the charade or if the Drama Queen is banging your advisor.

Danger Level: Double that. A bad reputation is the very least you could catch from this person.

How to Handle: Avoid at all costs. Do not get caught in the spider’s web. The Drama Queen may go far, but hold your envy in check, and don’t waste your energy envying him. A Drama Queen doesn’t have any substance to back up his style, and he has a long way to fall.

Anyone in academia has a few of these personality characteristics. Downers and gossips in particular lurk within, always waiting to emerge at your next social gathering. (For the record, I am one-half Disciple and one-half Downer.) By learning how to tame these tigers, you will be ahead of the game when it comes to professionalizing yourself and preparing for the tough terrain of job applications and interviews. You’ll encounter these personalities over and over in the future, but coping with them is a critical job skill.

Michelle et Christine avec des amis, Paris 1972, Francois Mativet. Image public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.

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5 Responses to '5 Annoying Personalities You Will Meet in Grad School Programs, and How to Cope With Them'

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  1. Kerry said,

    I feel like I was always a bit of a downer… apologies to my former classmates 😉

  2. Jane said,

    Great posts, Caroline and Arnold! What about the “schmoozer,” the one who is always trying to get on the good side of professors, who will look around your shoulder to see if there’s someone more worthwhile to talk to… Wonderful blog; I’ll be reading it regularly!

    • Arnold Pan said,

      “The Schmoozer” is a good one, probably a more all-inclusive less-picky version of “The Networking Name Dropper” from my addendum to Caroline’s post. But we are definitely thinking of the same thing–and maybe even of the same guy who probably inspired the type!

  3. Mackie Blanton said,

    Hmmm. Were bloggers once Academy gossips? Are they still gossips? Hmmmm. I need to take your advice and be nice, since you always leave me with a chuckle. I thoroughly enjoy your insights, even though they suggest baggage of negative past experiences. It would be refreshing if you trotted out your own very personal projections/transferences. Now, that would be a realistic teaching/learning experience for us all.

    I AM WHAT MY DEEP, DRIVING DESIRE IS.

    AS MY DESIRE IS, SO IS MY WILL.

    AS MY WILL IS, SO IS MY DEED.

    AS MY DEED IS, SO IS MY DESTINY.

    The Gossip

    The most entertaining person in the department, bar none! After talking to the Disciple, the Downer, or the One-Upper, the Gossip will seem like an oasis since the Gossip actually smiles and laughs.

    Annoyance Level: Low. As long as you aren’t the subject of the gossip.

    Danger Level: High. Especially if you are the subject of the gossip.

    How to Handle: Be nice to the Gossip so she doesn’t take anything out on you, and don’t reveal any information in exchange for a juicy tidbit. And keep your voice low. You don’t want anyone else to hear your yakking.

  4. Damion Doan said,

    The Republican Governors in just about every state appears to be making significant slashes to the higher education investment at state educational facilities and that means college tuition hikes so just how are my supposed to find the money for tuitions today?


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