Pavlov’s Graduate Students

Not to be overdramatic, but To be completely overdramatic, I have a truly overwhelming amount of reading to do.  Now, as an undergraduate, the phrase “I have so much reading” was bandied around quite a bit.  Being a student at Oxford, though, gives me new perspective on what “so much reading” means. Take heed, ye readers from Princeton.

Oh, Dr Gooptu, you are such a laugh.
Oh, Dr Gooptu, you are such a laugh.

Last week, for one of my four classes, I was given a five page long reading list.  Uninspired by one of this weeks’ lectures, I did a quick count, which revealed that one of my professors thought it was reasonable to assign 57 books and 23 articles – for a grand total of 17685 pages – to wade through in a week’s time.  If only I could read 105 pages an hour for seven days straight!

My tragi-comic reading list is only one part of the reason why I haven’t been my usual overly-wordy self the past week.*  There’s also the matter of weekly stats and economics problem sets, as well as the term finale research methods presentation.  I have an economics test on Wednesday, an essay due for my first ever tutorial with my thesis advisor a few hours afterward, and looming qualification examinations in a few weeks time.  Add on ridiculous reading lists four times over and an assessed term essay, and it’s been a painfully long succession of fourteen hour, blogless days.

The fact that these looming deadlines have pushed me – and most of my department – to a state of near mental breakdown seems a little ridiculous given that none of this actually counts for anything. As my statistics class teacher warned us when he sent out our final take home exam, “Remember – this counts for up to 0% of your final grade, so get started early.”  About 90% of my grade for my degree will be determined by my thesis – due in April 2011 – and my final exams – which I take a month later.  So why am I not already sitting on a beach on the Mediterranean, again?

Here’s my explanation, the product of fifteen minutes of self-absorbed reflection: graduate students are like Pavlov’s dogs.  As undergraduates, we were trained that when a professor gave us an assignment, we should drop whatever we were doing, spend a few nights in study, and emerge, exhausted, with a paper/thesis/exam.  Our incentive was a good grade at the other end, which was enough to drive any overachiever rabid.  Grad school is the exact same, except the incentive of grades is taken away.  Our professors throw us non-sensical amounts of work, and we actually try to do it all, because we don’t know any better and the idea of simply not turning something in is beyond us.  We’re still salivating, but there’s no biscuit.

Unless, of course, you count knowledge, which is still pretty cool.  I wish that I had time to read all seventeen-thousand pages, because I genuinely love learning about India’s caste system, East Asia’s economic performance, and African politics, just for its own sake.  But there are definitely moments when I wish I could break out of this reflexive must-work mindset and go enjoy the sunshine.

*There’s also the matter of me breaking my computer, a catastrophe that required such a fantastic combination of stupidity and bad luck that I will have to withold further information to protect the guilty (me).

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Jukebox: Fugazi – Waiting Room

One thought on “Pavlov’s Graduate Students

  1. Obviously, I’m not an overachiever. But seriously, why not skim the articles on the topics you’re interested in, skim very lightly the others for potential interest, and laugh at the concept? Come on, man – you sounded like you were doing so much better than this!!

    That said, I’ve been drinking for seven or eight hours. (It’s my spring break, and I haven’t left for Cali yet.) Also, I just completed my signature assignment for my ASU course, but I have less respect for that than my high school classes (which were more rigourous, to spell British).

    Love you!

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