Post Academic

Academics Breeding *WITH* Academics, the People You’ll Meet

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on June 22, 2010
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This is the last entry in our series on “Academics Breeding *WITH* Academics”, and we’re describing some of the kinds of people you’ll meet there.  We’ve touched on grad school personality types before here and here, but we’re being more specific about how the relate to grad school mating rituals.  These personality profiles explain a little why it’s not always so easy for academics to get together with one another–and why not many folks who aren’t aspiring professional nerds can put up with them!

"Speed dating annonce" by Jean-noël Lafargue (Free Art license)

Late Bloomers: This category is probably where many–if not most–academic lifers fall under.  I look at it this way: As the pool of people gets smaller in grad school, those of us who were eccentrically bookish in high school and college get promoted up the coolness rankings.  (Unless you are essentially nerdy, which can be breathtaking and awe-inspring itself.)  In grad school, where we’re taught to specialize in our own isolated interests and ephemera, being too into weird, quirky stuff can be a strength and an admirable quality, and not the shoulder-shrugging badge of weirdness it might be to the general population.  It’s easy and natural for academics to find those aspects appealing in their peers, especially when it’s hard to identify them anywhere else. And it’s all-too-exciting when you find out that you might share the same research interests or extracurricular activities.

More on the Late Bloomer and other grad school singles you might meet…

But it’s when you throw a bunch of late bloomers into post-grad courtship rituals that things get awkward.  Many of us weren’t that popular, so the shift up in our coolness factor in the closed circuit of a grad program leads to a lot of mixed signals and unintentional passive aggression.  When the shy become cool and in-demand because there’s just a popularity vacuum to be filled, everyone’s roles can get confused and self-consciousness can become a neurosis.  That, or the shy popular–intentionally or unintentionally–overplay his/her hand and wreaks havoc on the fragile ego-system of the grad school community.

The Academic Matchmaker: That’s why you need the academic matchmaker to get people on the same page and maintain social order.  You know who I’m talking about, someone who’s friendly–maybe too friendly and socially adjusted to the outside world to be an academic–and who somehow soaks up info about all sorts of people in the department, then passes it on discreetly to you as if you were the only person s/he would tell this to.  So there’s also a good chance that the academic matchmaker also has the best professional gossip, too.  In any case, you probably have to be predisposed to doing this sort of thing, but it would be great practice for networking, since academic romance might as well be a subset of academic shop-talking.

Actually, I myself have been put into this role a few times (shh…don’t tell my friends!) to varying success, which, I guess, means that you don’t actually have to be very friendly or a particularly good networker to be a matchmaker!  In these cases, this kind of amateur matchmaking all but guarantees academics breeding with academics–and within a very small social circle–because I just don’t know a lot of people beyond a limited sphere.

The Lech: Not to be sexist, but all the leches I’ve met have been men.  However, they come in all shapes and sizes, whether they’re old academic hangers-on or young too-cool-for-grad-school hipsters or–perhaps the most suspicious–sensitive men.  They also have all sorts of go-to moves, from the casual coffeehouse chit-chat they’ve been lurking for to semi-date lecture invites to cold-called offerings of unsolicited advice.  They vary in proficiency based a lot on the demeanor and subtlety of the suitor, although no amount of game or nuance can help The Lech who has gained a bad rep.  Sometimes, that’s too bad even, because a lot of grad student Leches aren’t real-world lotharios, but actually kind-hearted folks who are just a little too eager and too anxious.

Unfortunately, there are variations of the lech who are much more unseemly, namely the tenured faculty member who puts the moves on grad students.  I suppose there’s nothing actually illegal about it and everyone is an adult and I guess it’s only one example of academics breeding with academics and yada yada, but it can be a little sketchy however you slice it.  What’s worse is that this kind of behavior also trickles down, when the sweet-but-misguided grad student lech exhausts his peer prospects and starts to dip into the undergrad pool.  At that point, you’re no longer talking about academics and academics.

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