Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How is a grad student like a governess?

When Chris asked me to contribute to the blog he suggested grad school as something I could post about, along with legal history, which even a man on a galloping horse would have noticed is my go-to subject.

Maybe this is so because there is no downside to legal history. The same cannot be said of grad student life. Or should I say 'life'?

I shouldn't whine. Being a grad student is awesome in many ways. It's what I wanted, and still want. And after all, how else would I have all these interesting tidbits and links to share on this blog? But there is a darker side to it. And lots of black humour to prove it. One of my favourite sites for a rueful smile is Jeff Noakes' site. Jeff is a Canadian Historian (yay) from Carleton. But the humour is cross-disciplinary and transnational. Most of it will appeal to Humanities and Social Science types. Like this:

Graduate School Barbie
comes in two forms: Delusional Master's Barbie (tm) and Ph.D. Masochist Barbie
Every Graduate School Barbie comes with these fun filled features guaranteed to delight and entertain for hours: Grad School Barbie comes out of the box with a big grin on her face that turns into a frown after 2 weeks or her first advisor meeting (whichever comes first). She also has adorable black circles under her delightfully bloodshot eyes.
Comes with two outfits: a grubby pair of blue jeans and 5 year old gap T-shirt, and a floppy pair of gray sweatpants with a matching "Go S***w Yourself" T-shirt. Grad School Barbie talks! Just press the button on her left hand and hear her say such upbeat grad school phrases like, "Yes, Professor, It'll be done by tomorrow", "I'd love to rewrite" and "Why didn't I just get a job, I could have been making $40,000 a year by now if I had just started working with a Bachelor's. But noooooo, Mom and Dad wanted a masters degree, I wish somebody would drop a bomb on the school so that I'd have an excuse to stop working on my degree that's sucking every last drop of life force out of my withered and degraded excuse for a soul..." (9V lithium batteries sold separately)
Grad School Barbie is anatomically correct to teach kids about the exciting changes that come with pursuing a higher education. Removable panels on Barbie's head and torso allow you to watch as her cerebellum fries to a crispy brown, her heart race 150 beats per minute, and her stomach lining gradually dissolve into nothing. Deluxe Barbie comes with specially designed eye ducts. Just add a little water, and watch Grad School Barbie burst into tears at random intervals. Fun for the whole family!
Other accessories include:
Grad School Barbie's Fun Fridge (tm) Well stocked with microwave popcorn, Coca-Cola, Healthy Choice Bologna (99% fat free!),and a small bottle of Mattel Brand Rum (tm).
Grad School Barbie's Medicine Cabinet comes in Fabulous (pepto-bismal) pink and contains Barbie sized bottles of Advil, St. Johns Wort, Zantac, and your choice of three fun anti-anxiety drugs! (Barbie Medicine Cabinet not available without a prescription).
Grad School Barbie's Computer Workstation. Comes with miniature obsolete PC (in pink of course), rickety desk, and over a dozen miniature Mountain Dew cans to decorate your workstation with (Mountain Dew deposit not included in price. Tech support sold separately).
And Grad School Barbie is not alone! Order now and you'll get two of Barbie's great friends! GRADUATE ADVISOR KEN, Barbie's mentor and advisor in her quest for knowledge, higher education and decreased self esteem.
Grad Advisor Ken (tm) comes with a supply of red pens and a permanent frown. Press the button to hear Grad Advisor Ken deliver such wisdom to Barbie as "I need an update on your progress," "I don't think you're ready to defend yet", and "This
is no where near ready for publication."
Buy 3 or more dolls, and you can have Barbie's Thesis Committee! (Palm Pilot and tenure sold separately.)
REAL JOB SKIPPER, When Barbie needs to talk, she knows that she can always
count on her good friend Real Job Skipper (tm), who got a job after getting her bachelor degree. Press the button to hear Real Job Skipper say, "Sometimes I wish I went for my masters degree" and "Work is so hard! I had to work a half an hour of overtime!" Real Job Skipper's Work Wardrobe and Savings account sold separately.
WARNING: Do not place Grad Student Barbie and Real Job Skipper too close to each other, as there have been several cases of children leaving the room and coming back to find Barbie's hands mysteriously fused to Skipper's
Now back to the question: How a governess is like a grad student? It's is not much of a riddle. Certainly not in the category of "how is a raven like a writing desk?"

A governess, at least of the Victorian archetypal variety as per a 2001 monograph by Kathryn Hughes (the cover image of which graces the beginning of this post) was notoriously neither upstairs nor downstairs. She was over-educated and underpaid. Those who are the protaganists of romantic novels had happy denouements (though count me as one who thinks Jane Eyre could have done better.)

As for graduate students, they have not been the subject of as many fictional treatments. One definitely worth a read is Rebecca Goldstein's The Mind-Body Problem. Plenty of downside (the protagonist marries an academic star professor, her own Mr Rochester, and misery ensues). But funny all the same.

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