Post Academic

Hoarders, Academic Edition–Part 2: Paper Everywhere!

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on April 7, 2010
Tags: , ,

We’re continuing to pick through our grad school hoarding today by sorting through all the paper that’s left behind from too many years of schooling, dissertation writing, and teaching.  Here’s a sampling of the stacks of paper and file boxes scattered all over my office and the garage:


1. Student papers: For some reason, pretty much none of my students ask for their final exams and papers back after the end of the term.  As a result, I have ended up storing many quarters of student work at home, since I have no office as a lecturer and there’s usually a period of time that papers must be kept.  Of course, it’s easy to forget just when the statute of limitations runs out, although, logically speaking, no student who doesn’t care enough about her/his work to pick it up in the first place will demand it to dispute a grade, right?  After teaching hundreds of students, I think there has only been one case where I had to go back to my records, and that was my decision to go after a student who I discovered after the quarter that s/he had plagiarized another student.

Bonus hoarding happens when I have to decide whether to keep the nice folders and odd bits of office supplies that the more conscientious students turn in their papers with.  I don’t think I’ve ever re-used student stationery, but, then again, it seems like such a waste just to throw it away.

More clutter below the jump…

2. Grad school, college, (even) high school essays: Unlike the modern-day student, I’m an old-school throwback who not only dutifully collected all my work, but have kept it with me all these years.  The grad school papers, I’ve told myself, make sense to hold onto, because you never know what might come in handy to develop into further research projects.  Of course, it’s not like anything I wrote in my first 2 years in grad school should ever see the light of day again, even if a merciful and supportive professor mentioned that some essay on cultural studies could be publishable.  But really, do I need to keep response papers on Sidney and DuBos, or my effort to do an ethnographic study of used clothing retailers in Orange County?

All this goes double for the college papers I’ve found in random bags and magazine holders.  Sure, I’m proud of writing a senior thesis and it makes sense to keep a Kinko’s-bound copy of it, OK?  And maybe I can trace my decision to go into academia to a few papers from freshman year, where the generous chaired prof overruled a persnicketty grad student and gave me an A for a paper on Foucault and Thomas Mann, so shouldn’t I keep that paper too?  Even if you grant me those papers, these old, ink-jet printed essays really don’t do anything for me these days, except trigger my allergies.  Don’t get me started on those old high school Latin papers that memorialized my first foray into lit crit through a mastery of chiasmus and synchysis.  In my head, it seems acceptable to keep these mementoes, but committing this to blog makes me seem totally crazy.  As I’ve learned from watching hoarding shows, I guess recognition is an important step in solving the problem!

3. Excuses for recycling: I also have reams and reams of old drafts, be they from my dissertation or conference papers or article submissions, that I reuse as printer paper for whatever it is that I still print up these days.  I tell myself that it’s a good idea to recycle and not waste, which I really do think it is.  But at some point, these stacks begin to outnumber their actual usefulness, since it’s not like I can send out anything official when the backside is covered in cross-outs and indecipherable scrawls.  Another thing I learned from the hoarding shows is that usefulness is always a good excuse for piling up crap, even stuff you don’t want.

4. The detritus of the past: I suppose all the stuff I’ve already mentioned would fall under here, but this category really describes random stuff that has been accumulated that is mostly unclassified.  They include–but are not limited to–old grad school applications (complete, even, with the old promotional material sent out by the programs!), random cards and correspondence (you know, back when people wrote letters), and newspaper and magazine clippings (which I’ve kept in case I ever wanted to compile all my freelancing work).  Part of keeping the stuff is sentimental and part of it is paranoia, since I always get nervous throwing away anything that was once official due to an annoying identity fraud situation–I’ve broken at least 2 paper shredders getting rid of old bills and statements!  Paranoia must rank high up on the irrational reasonings for hoarding.

You’d think that having everything digital now would make all this better, since everything can be stored on my computer or in an inbox, instead of in giant stacks of paper.  You’re probably right, but I also have many gigs of virtual clutter, whether it’s the 4000+ unread messages in my soon-to-disappear .edu account or the physical manifestation of digital waste in at least a few old computers that I haven’t gotten rid of yet.  We’ll tackle digital hoarding next time, for which I know that Caroline has plenty of tips to deal with!

Image of forklift by Friedrich Gahlback from the German Federal Project on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

“Wooden Trash Container” by Freaky from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under Creative Commons

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