Post Academic


Some more annoying personalities you will meet in grad school programs

Posted in Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on March 12, 2010
Tags: , ,

Since Caroline’s earlier post was such a big hit, I wanted to get in on the fun and identify a few other common grad student personality types to add to her list.  You can read whatever meaning into “more” you want, whether as “some more” or “more annoying,” depending on what you can tolerate and can’t.

6. The Networking Name Dropper

Kind of a hybrid between The Disciple, The One-Upper, and The Gossip.  Like The Disciple (just more fickle) in his idolatry of the latest, greatest theorist.  Like The One-Upper in that he will explain why your favorite theorist pales in influence and significance to said latest, greatest theorist, if only because he has met the latter at some conference where your paper wasn’t accepted.  Like The Gossip in that he will tell you all about it.

Annoyance Level: Depends on how much you enjoy inside baseball.  At the very least, you might find out some interesting stories that might encourage you to indulge your inner Gossip.

Danger Level: Low.  He’s just not that into you.

How to Handle: Just let him find someone more interesting and more networking-worthy to talk to, which might not take too long.  He’s probably just as eager to stop talking to you as you are him, if only for different reasons.

7. The Passive Aggressor

Academia is full of very nice people, some of them maybe too nice.  The Passive Aggressor wants to be your friend and probably is, so you might not notice when low-maintenance go-with-the-flow guy becomes high-maintenance drama-king who justifies it by feeling bad about it.  What’s worse is that The Passive Aggressor Grad Student can grow up and become The Passive Aggressor Professor, whose obsessive conflict avoidance and shilly-shallying might actually eff things up for someone.

Annoyance Level: Varies.  But when you find fault with someone who tries hard to be faultless (and might be faultless), you’re probably pretty annoyed.

Danger Level: Sneaky high.  You probably won’t notice you’ve been embroiled in a friendship with baggage until you’ve actually invested in it and it’s too late.  Before you know it, The Passive Aggressor might have turned you into The Downer.

How to Handle: After a while, you’ve gotta figure out the cycle and break it.  Or else, try to out passive aggressive them until they can’t put up with you.

8. The Perpetual Grad Student

If grad programs gave out Letter Jackets, this guy would be wearing one (along with whatever was in fashion when he started grad school that has long been out-of-date).  He’s the late-bloomer version of the big-man-on-campus, who spends too much time on the department listserv in flame wars or giving too much unsolicited advice to the new batch of students.  (On the other hand, pot might be meeting kettle here, considering that Post Academic might just be a glorified version of such a hypothetical listserv.)

Annoyance Level: Low.  The one thing about The Perpetual Grad Student is that he is usually very earnest and idealistic.  Unless he’s The Creepy Perpetual Grad Student who stays in school to hit on the new grad students and the undergrads he teaches.

Danger Level: Not high–so long as you don’t become him!

How to Handle: Try to find things to talk about that aren’t related to school and department politics.  Anyone so obsessed with grad school is probably obsessed with something else.

As Caroline wrote earlier, a lot of these personality quirks are fostered by the culture of grad school and, in many ways, out of anyone’s personal control.  Indeed, in the spirit of full disclosure and semi-self-awareness, I’ve probably gone through phases where at least some aspects of all these types have applied to me in varying degrees during the grad school process, arriving now at some combo of The Downer (who wouldn’t be after being on this crappy academic job market) and The Perpetual Grad Student.  And you can probably find something good in most of these personality types, since being idealistic, overly persistent, too nice, and overachieving aren’t necessarily bad things in the right context.  They’re just not as fun to write and snark about!

Students at Victoria College, 1910, William James (not that William James), Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Your image of letter jackets and Perpetual Grad Students has me thinking of Danny Zuko in Grease, wearing a letter jacket. Only in this case he would be toting around a copy of Foucault. (For some reason, Travolta and Foucault seem to be a good fit.)


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