Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Advanced Symptoms of Advanced Degrees 

This article courtesy of this week's Chronicle of Higher Education was just too good not to reproduce here:

Advanced Symptoms of Advanced Degrees


It is hardly news that graduate students are often not the happiest of campers. Only recently, however, have scientists, psychologists, and discourse pathologists come to appreciate and diagnose the full range of maladies afflicting the graduate-student population. Now the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Graduate Students (DSMGS-1), the first book ever dedicated specifically to disorders of those pursuing advanced degrees, promises relief to this long-suffering population. An excerpt follows:

Global Irony Syndrome (GIS)
Indications: GIS is an affective disorder most commonly characterized by the following symptoms: an erosion of belief in Enlightenment values; snideness toward the concepts of truth, objectivity, and universal ethical codes; cynicism about the two-party system and the wealth-leveling effects of global capitalism; an ironic stance toward all physical laws and reality itself. The onset of GIS is often signaled in the sufferer by the replacement of easygoing laughter with sarcastic smirks, and by the refusal to debate any issue except through indirection, punning, and sneering banter.

Prevalence: GIS has been largely concentrated in humanities departments, with occasional outbreaks in the "softer" social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, government, and politics.

Treatment: Intensive viewing of It's a Wonderful Life has proved salutary. Failing that, a semester's leave spent in a hard-labor camp of a despotic regime is effective in more than 75 percent of reported cases.

Hyper-Theory Disorder (HTD)
Indications: HTD is a cognitive disorder distinguished by an increasingly abstract frame of mind. Sufferers gradually lose the ability to speak in a manner unmediated by poststructuralist theory. In extreme cases, sufferers come to view all aspects of popular culture (e.g., SpongeBob reruns, Oprah, the National Football League) through the filter of Heideggerian metaphysics or Lacanian psychoanalysis. HTD is often misdiagnosed as Tunnel Visionitis (TV), a similar, though etiologically distinct, malady marked by a gradually escalating inability to communicate with anyone -- including friends, family, spouses, and domestic pets -- who does not share all of one's theoretical presuppositions.

Prevalence: HTD is endemic to literature departments. TV, by contrast, is rampant throughout all disciplines, often hitting the natural sciences hardest.

Treatment: Complete abstinence from all French and German texts remains a controversial treatment for HTD. Until further therapeutic remedies have been discovered, a travel advisory for Continental Europe has been issued to all humanities students.

Sycophancy-Authority Malady (SAM)
Indications: SAM is considered a speech pathology increasingly common among advanced graduate students. It is marked by a tendency to speak in flattering, fawning, ingratiating, and even idolatrous terms to persons in positions of authority such as full professors, conference organizers, and powerful department secretaries. Oddly, sufferers of SAM, when conversing privately, tend to speak of these authorities in only the most derisive, disdainful, and even violent terms. (This syndrome is not to be confused with Manic Mentor Mimesis; see below.)

Prevalence: Cases of SAM have been reported in most graduate centers, though serious outbreaks tend to be concentrated in the lobbies, conference rooms, and bars of hotels hosting annual meetings of professional associations at which job interviewing is taking place.

Treatment: Tenure-track appointments were once considered effective in curing SAM, but recent studies challenge that conclusion. Those studies also suggest that tenure itself provides less relief than previously assumed. Researchers now believe that retirement constitutes the only fully effective treatment for this complex and poorly understood malady.

Manic Mentor Mimesis (MMM)
Indications: The disease, difficult to diagnose in its earliest stages, first manifests itself in the sufferer's subtle mimicry of an adviser's hand gestures. Gradually, the mimetic tendencies deepen and spread to include head movements and distinctive eye rolls of the adviser, as well as slouches, gaits, and even, if opportunity presents itself, dancing styles. As MMM becomes more systemic, tones of voice, sighs, vocal tics, and even idiosyncratic expectorations come to be included within the ambit of imitation. In its final and most humiliating stages, sufferers find themselves mimicking the dress of their advisers and adopting their hair styles. Typically, Acute Adornment Ataxia then sets in as the sufferer finds movement restricted by all the laser pens, cellphones, soda cans, backpacks, and assorted pedagogical props used by the adviser.

Prevalence: MMM is especially prevalent in departments, such as philosophy and mathematics, with high concentrations of eccentric faculty members.

Treatment: Extreme ridicule from peers outside academe, such as siblings and attractive baristas, has been known to abate the condition.

Terminal Graduate Paralysis (TGP)
Indications: This chronic, debilitating, and sometimes fatal condition represents the most serious and widespread of the many behavioral disorders facing the graduate-student population. Symptoms often appear in the fourth year of graduate study, though this can vary from discipline to discipline.

Early signs are typically mild and therefore easily overlooked or ignored. These often include a subtle shift in media-consumption habits, from National Public Radio to South Park, and from professional journals to extreme-makeover television. More serious symptoms include compulsive retitling of the dissertation; a pathological overinvestment of time in TA-ing; a tendency to misplace routinely or otherwise lose or obliterate thousands of hours of work as a result of alleged computer failures (clinicians investigating these mishaps frequently find suspiciously mutilated hard drives). Advanced symptoms include substantially impaired performance on all cognitive tasks; hyperanxiety and night sweats; bibliophobia; comma-shifting mania; and a marked adviser-avoidance response. At its most extreme, sufferers display a deer-in-the-headlights appearance; epistemological aphasia (the conviction that one no longer knows anything); morbid feelings of lack of self-worth often accompanied by paranoiac delusions of victimization; a deepening of syntactic torpidity (the loss of the ability to write clearly, simply, and, ultimately, at all); a resurgence of teenage acne; even renewed thumb-sucking and bed-wetting. Failure to File (F2F) represents a particularly heartbreaking, and dimly understood, form of TGP, in which the sufferer mysteriously disappears on the eve of filing the completed dissertation, or otherwise inexplicably decides to "tighten" the argument.

Prevalence: Cases of TGP have been reported in every state and in every graduate department. The Morningside Heights district of Manhattan has produced rates suggesting a veritable epidemic that is matched only by certain areas in Berkeley, Calif.

Treatment: In its advanced stages, TGP is considered untreatable. For early-stage sufferers, long walks in open farmland accompanied by a complete termination of parental financial support has proved effective. Application to law school has also been known to offer relief.

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