Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Playing the Waiting Game, Part 1

Observe, an exercise in attempting restraint.

I have the sweetest coworker. She is smiley and friendly, and once made me a cup of tea when I was feeling unwell. She is a marshmallow Peep personified. Every day she asks me how I'm doing and utters those terrifying words, "So...what have you heard from those schools your applied to?".

She is genuinely interested and means well. She is seriously aiding my descent into madness.

A fellow applicant proposed that after your apply to graduate school you should have the option of living in a cave for the next 2-3 months or going Survivor-style on some remote island. I countered that the application packet should have arrived with Xanax. The bottom line is, none of us know anything, and some of us are pretty close to losing it. I mean, my friend would rather roast rats for food than wait any longer. That isn't good.

So when I respond to my coworker, "No, nothing yet," she cheerily replies, "Oh, don't you worry, I bet you'll get in everywhere!". This is the nicest of the mandatory comments, since Option B often sounds a lot like, "Oh, yeah, well, this year is going to be bad because of increased applicants/lack of funding/the massive waitlist/that antelope incident".

The key to surviving conversations with Over-Interested Parties and their Alternative Inflated/Deflated Responses is to try to keep yourself distracted the rest of the time so you only have to think about this exchange for a few moments per day. I aspire to one day be able to answer her, "Huh? Applications? Oh yeah, those things!". So I bring you, 5 ways to keep your sanity and pass the time.

1. Bubble Shooter

This computer game will absolutely help you pass many, many hours in a fun and painless way. All you will be thinking about is how to obliterate all those colorful bubbles.

2. Volunteer

I pet cats and throw Frisbees for dogs once a week. It is quite wonderful. Good for them, good for my blood pressure -- everybody wins!

3. Law and Order

It is on all day, every day and whever you require distraction, Lennie Briscoe and Jack McCoy can deliver. Doink Doink!

4. Read Pages out of the Dictionary

The dictionary is long, absorbing, will amend and augment your abiility to use abnormal or affecting words in an amazing manner. It also improves your talents at alliteration, and every so often you come across a doozy like agonistarch (a coach) or aspectabund (having an expressive face).

5. Bake

I once brought cupcakes to my historiography class and it was great. Worst case scenario here, you're going insane, but you've got cookies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not Recommended

Every so often I suppose I should actually drop some helpful information in here. For those contemplating the application process, please enjoy an outline of the many months it took to procure recommendations, and plan accordingly.

August: Bliss.

Mood: Blissful.

September: Decided to apply to graduate school. Freaked out that I didn’t have enough professors to write letters. Flooded any and all office hours.

Mood: Manic

Began scoping out referees. Had long conversations about my field, interests, background, career plans, etc. Got so good at this that I could repeat all relevant information in under 4 minutes. Formally requested letters. Made a pretty chart with all mailing addresses and deadlines to aid referees in their quest.

Mood: Shockingly Calm

November: One month from first deadlines. Hardcore old-school referee insisted on typing each letter on a typewriter; advised him to start soon. Online application program to upload recommendations crashed; spent hours emailing graduate coordinator for help. Referee misspelled my unspellable last name; spent hours emailing graduate coordinator to correct the problem. Found renewed appreciation for graduate coordinators.

Mood: A Little Nuts

December: Deadlines arrived. Everyone was sick with the flu. Referees waited until the Robitussin phase has passed to write letters (widely considered the correct move). Spent many hours being told that letters can arrive past the deadline without believing it.

Mood: Inconsolable

January: Compulsively checked application status websites. Recommendations were missing. Tracked down referees in a state of panic, new letters were sent. [Note: This will always happen on a weekend when there is no one to talk to at the prospective department.]

Mood: Utterly Impatient

One day I’ll have the time to sit around and ponder what those letters of recommendation actually entail. But now I’m too busy reloading these admission status pages.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What Grad Students Can Learn from Convicts

As a graduate student, I was slow to discover the benefits of low-involvement, reliably hysterical entertainment. All that changed the night I heard my roommate utter, “Hey, do you like prison shows?”.

The “prison show” in question is “LOCKUP”, a documentary series produced by MSNBC. Crews spend several months filming inside the prisons, conducting interviews with inmates and correctional staff, and editing thematic pieces with titles like “Prison Love” and “Hell in a Cell”. While I must commend MSNBC for this quality program, it appears that the editors and interviewers have an appreciation for hilarity, because they’ve managed to locate and showcase what must be the most entertaining convicts on the face of the planet.

Especially choice was last Saturday’s “New Mexico: Extended Stay” episode entitled “Fight or Flight”, which highlighted inmate Chris Shiverdecker, a diminutive convict whose tiny hands enable him to slip his handcuffs and cause a major headache for New Mexico prison staff.

Let’s meet Mr. Shiverdecker now:

Shiverdecker spends his time in prison growing his hair for Locks of Love and creating innovative shanks, in what he hopes will create a karmic balance. He reports that when people think of him, they think of “somebody like Macgyver because [Shiverdecker] stabbed someone with Jolly Ranchers”. That’s right, people, Jolly Ranchers, a bizarre feat that earned him a reputation as a troublemaker and ended all other inmates’ hard candy privileges forever.

Because of Shiverdecker’s fights and flights, prison officials spend a lot of their time trying to convince him to demonstrate to rookie officers how he slips his cuffs and share his tactics for creating weapons out of anything under the sun. Shiverdecker’s reasons for refusing to participate in this training seminar mostly have to do with illuminating the differences between prison and kindergarten playgrounds. But when you “go away at ten-and-a-half for grand theft auto”, you probably have little else to compare prison to.

The clip of the episode alone is highly amusing:

I can guarantee that this show will both make you laugh and instill you with a conscious desire to avoid prison at all costs. Not that the educational element will be lacking during this hour of your week. For instance, I never knew Jolly Ranchers could kill you, and without LOCKUP, I probably never would have.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meat and Greet

Welcome one and all.

This is the time of year when graduate students really lose it.

Potential graduate students have submitted all necessary forms and have now entered the Eternal Waiting Period, which lasts from December or January into April or beyond. Current graduate students are writing theses, bibliographies, project proposals, and fulfilling any number of obligations/jumping through hoops in hopes of clawing their way to the end of another semester. And a special group of people fall into both of these categories. I feel your pain.

In mid-January, any graduate student who tells you they aren't crazy has most likely not yet realized their insanity. This is a defense mechanism. Do not challenge it.

Everyone knows (or soon will) that breaks in graduate school are really a sham. "Breaks" mean "more time to work"! Hence, the need for some cheer. If the holidays blew by you with only a lump of coal and a looming deadline remaining, perhaps some of the results of my graduate-level procrastination will prove worthwhile.

Instant Smile for the Day: Go to Amazon. Set the search function to "Toys and Games". Then type in "Meat". The list of products that emerges from the combination are amazing. Especially amusing are the Variety Meats Pencil Toppers. Let's go to the close-up.
Oh my yes. I am grateful to Amazon.com for this image, which continues to blow my mind and inspire me to begin Christmas shopping for next year immediately. Alternatively, they might make a nice gift for recommenders, advisers, meat enthusiasts in the cohort. After hours spent buying textbooks online, this has the potential to make your day. And there's a lot more where that came from.