Post Academic

No One Describes Grad Student Life More Accurately Than The Onion

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on October 9, 2010
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I recently came across this delightful tidbit from “The Onion.” As usual, the satire captures the truth better than any straightforward report:

A routine toothbrushing turned into a profound exercise in nightmarish, existential horror Monday, when poverty-stricken Columbia University graduate student Marc Edelstein, 24, came across “the most gigantic cockroach this side of Gregor Samsa” in the bathroom of his one-room, walk-up efficiency.

Another quotation describes the grad-school condition in general:

“Every day, I can’t believe I am living in that apartment. The humiliations society forces me to undergo, just to get my stupid Ph.D, defy all rational, intellectual thought.

What’s the worst you had to go through to achieve your graduate degree? Please share in the comments. I left before I could look the cockroach in the eye, so to speak, but I remember several long nights of part-time catering. When the tips for slinging mashed potatoes and BBQ sauce paid better than my job as a TA, I really started wondering if the universe wasn’t playing a joke on me.

7 Responses to 'No One Describes Grad Student Life More Accurately Than The Onion'

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  1. Michael said,

    I currently live in an apartment with a 30 yr old dishwasher that leaks, single-paned windows that let EVERYTHING in, and a fence that is falling down. Lately, I have introduced mouse traps–seemingly successfully–to deal with other “occupants” that refuse to pay rent.

    All this so I can get some letters after my name. What a waste.

  2. Hmmmm. having a $1150 monthly stipend and then encouraged to go across the country to give papers at conferences with a generous 800 dollar travel allowance (in what universe can you fly, eat, and sleep across the country for 800?), ending the trip with my credit card paying for my scholarly ambitions. And then there is Christmas. It is very nice to be an adult whose monthly budget from their fellowship after rent and food left about 100 dollars for wiggle room. Christmas presents for family were slim. But the worst moment, I think, was when one of my long term friends came to visit. When he invited me out for dinner and drinks, I remember being disappointed because my funding didn’t account for things like “fun with friends.” You shouldn’t have to be stressed out financially when a friend invites you out for a 40 dollar meal once in a blue moon.

  3. Do non-financial humiliations count? Because my worst moment was when I agreed to wear a tight t-shirt into a meeting because it was well known that the prof giving the qualifying exam was a lech — we got him to remove a bunch of authors from the exam, but at what price?

  4. You bet it counts! Argh. That might be even worse because, when people go to grad school, they expect to be poor. They’ve braced for it. But when women go to grad school (or maybe it was just me), I expected reason rather than tight T-shirts to rule the day. I guess it was good for me to lose the idealism, but academia had the same issues that I thought I was avoiding when I chose to go right into grad school instead of the Hamster World. In a weird way, those issues stood out even more in the academic environment.

  5. Eliza said,

    How about having to take out a MASSIVE student loan from the government in order to get a PhD and survive month to month? For me that wins, hands down. I still haven’t recovered from the stupidity of it all.

    • Right there with ya! In the beginning our grad program paid us under 10k per school year, with no guarantees for the summer. Even the most frugal of my cohort didn’t escape without debt. DUH.

  6. James said,

    I hear WorstProfEver–the way that your funding runs out right when the term ends just makes grad students get desperate jobs after school. I remember having my last fellowship cheque already spent at the beginning of the month and then having about 10 or so days to find a job.

    I am still at that dead-beat job.

    You can read more about that at

    This is a great blog by the way and we need more like it. Keep ya heads up!

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