Post Academic

Academics Breeding *WITH* Academics, Where the Magic Happens

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on June 15, 2010
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Last week, I came up with the only empirically proven thesis that academics breed with academics, following up on Caroline’s post testing whether the claim that academics breed academics was true.  Based on the very small sample sizes of our polls, my premise seems to hold (67% of academics did breed with other academics, though there are only 6 voters!), while responses to Caroline’s question seem to show that becoming an academic isn’t necessarily part of a family inheritance (only 20% of academics answering the poll are children of academics).  To expand a little more on my assertion that academics tend to breed with academics (at least in the humanities), I wanted to give you a peek into some of the situations and scenes where academic mating rituals happen, like the seminar room and the department party.  Of course, none of what I describe below has *ever* happened to me!  No, never…at least the creepy, stalker jr. parts!

The Seminar Room: Unless you’ve come to grad school already paired up, it’s likely the first time you’ll meet folks with similar interests and might appear vaguely attractive to you  at some point is in class.  Without the built-in social scene of a dorm to force you to meet others, the classroom might be the only place where you get to know people who aren’t your new random roommate–and when I say classroom, I don’t mean the ones where you’re teaching starry-eyed, easily impressionable undergrads!  So at the same time you’re sizing up who’s likely to be your intellectual competition offering jargony answers when the prof opens up her lecture for discussion, you might be keeping an eye out for someone with an appealing fashion sense, cool stationery, compatible books, or whatever floats your boat.  Of course, you probably glance past the more seasoned grad students, since they intimidate you, with that extra year of seminar papers under their belts.  And you also mentally cross off your list people who are interested in topics you have no idea about, particularly those freaky Medievalists or all those Renaissance types who remind you too much of high school and college overachievers.

More about the places where academic mating rituals take place, below

You want to keep things purely professional, but you end up sitting next to someone you’d like to know better, talking to them during the break, maybe walking back to the grad student complex with them.  I know, this sounds completely high school, but remember that some grad students are late bloomers who went to all-boys or all-girls schools, so you can’t blame them for making up for lost time!

The Department Party Scene: Not all the action (I don’t mean *that kind* of action) takes place around the seminar table.  Grad students might seem anti-social and self-absorbed most of the time, but they also love to throw parties.  It sounds like a stretch, but I’d bet grad students would make great party planners, since they know how to get by pretty well on less and are know-it-alls who try to impress others who are hard to impress.  Anyway, pretty much any holiday or non-achievement achievement is a good occasion for a grad school party and you’d be surprised how quickly your social schedule fills up once you get hooked up with the right circles.

It’s also a good place to do some surreptitious recon.  First, the grad student party gives you a chance to see people who are only on the periphery of your social set, since you don’t end up meeting every single person you’d like to know in class.  Second, it gives you a chance to see who the people you know know, and whether you have no chance with someone you like–which is likely someone that a lot of other people like too.

The academic parties I’ve been too all-but-confirm my thesis about academics breeding with academics in the negative: no one willingly talks to the outsider non-academic friends-of-friends or partners that somehow appear at the party.  It’s hard enough to talk to a grad type who’s not in your department or some other far-flung discipline, but it’s almost like speaking another language when you end up at the chips-and-dips table talking to the uninitiated.  The shop-talkers have probably passed them by to get good dept gossip, so you’re stuck talking with the non-academic, trying to remember that you have a life outside of school–don’t you?

Academic Conferences: I actually have no experience with the conference scene, because, again, I’m awful at networking, tend to spend my time at the conference finishing my paper, and actually want to catch up with friends in far away places I haven’t seen in a long time.  So I’ll just have to take it on people’s words that stuff happens at conferences–the closest I’ve been to a conference hookup was watching a very, very, very famous scholar stagger down the hallway with someone late, late at night on the floor I was staying on for MLA one year.  You can see why hook-ups happen, though, since it’s probably like a glorified seminar room + academic party, just with more, probably better-looking people and more opportunities once the musical chairs of your dept have all been taken.  Plus, you might also be on an expense account or travel fellowship money, so you don’t have to Trader Joe’s it here!

Hey, it looks like we’ve just created a weekly summer mini-series on this topic!  Come back next week for our next installment, the people you’ll meet along the way while heeding the academic mating call…

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