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The Eleventh Commandment of Graduate School: Be Nice to People!


Claire Potter has her Ten Commandments of Graduate School, all of which I recommend highly.

Thou shalt not rack up unnecessary credit card debt. You may need to take out student loans to pay for things like shelter, food, medical care and a decent laptop computer. But don’t take out loans to pay for things you bought just to make yourself feel better. Try to make a budget for yourself that includes fun and going out to dinner with friends, but not all kinds of stuff you will end up throwing away when you have to move. And just because it’s a book doesn’t mean you need to own it. One of the great weaknesses of academics is buying books they never get around to reading.

Thou shalt not neglect thy dental or health care. Every tooth of mine that gets worked on in middle age became a problem in graduate school. I am totally serious about this.

Thou shalt find an excellent thrift store. You will gradually build yourself a wardrobe of professional clothes (ok, if you are like me, you will build a wardrobe of black tee shirts) and you needn’t buy anything new. Go to the swanky neighborhoods near your university and buy the really nice things other people discarded. If you don’t know how to shop, get someone to teach you.

Thou shalt not assume that merit systems are determinative. If there is anything I hate seeing on the Interwebz, it is people claiming that the person who got the job/fellowship/prize isn’t as smart or deserving or credentialed as they are. It’s the, “Gee I wrote four articles and have a book contract, and *that* person only wrote one article and a review essay” syndrome. I always wonder, Hmmm….maybe you didn’t get the job because the other person was nicer. #Everthinkathat? Academic success is not about racking up points and head to head competition. It’s about other people making choices that you have no control over. Do your best work, and then let it go.

Thou shalt have an excellent professional back-up plan. Tape this to your mirror. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to learn things that will give you options if that dream job — or any tenure stream job — does not materialize. Things digital, things foundation oriented, things administrative. Yes, the Ph.D. program is designed to educate you, but this is the moment to educate yourself.

Thou shalt become an excellent colleague. Be generous with the others in your cohort. Look for people’s good sides and try to ignore their annoying qualities. And if you must, be honest with someone, whether it’s a hygiene issue or something that is just getting on your nerves. Beginning any comment with, “Hey, it’s probably just me, but…..”

Thou shalt join thy professional organization. It is a false economy to be out of touch with what is going on in the larger world of your field (particularly if it’s not a terribly large world, like Scandinavian Studies or something.) While you are at it, keep educating yourself about academia in general by reading Inside Higher Ed, this publication (some of the best blogs are free, but a two year subscription is cheaper than a month of your cable bill), and academic blogs (particularly those in your field that will alert you to books long before the reviews appear in a journal.) There are many voices: listen to all of them, decide what you think and what you care about. Professionalize yourself. Even if you end up leaving academia, you will know why — and how to use your experience to do something that suits you better.

Thou shalt not suck up to thy mentors nor have sexual congress with them, nor shalt thou, when a TA, cross the line thyself. Need I elaborate? An excellent way to shred your career right at the beginning is to be part of a sexual harassment suit. Or a co-respondent in someone’s divorce. Here’s another hint: undergraduates and graduate TA’s are not “students” in the same way. Even if you are only a year or two older.

Thou shalt not gossip and spread hurtful calumny, nor write vituperative email, nor bcc when chastising others. Many of the ways you may have behaved on email as an undergraduate will erode your reputation as a graduate student. For example: telling tales out of school on the faculty or on other graduate students; expressing resentment and anger to an audience; or writing long, enraged emails that you copy to other people. Particularly in the latter case, that email may be out there forever. Don’t assume your university email is private either: make sure you have another account that only the NSA can get into.

Thou shalt use the word discourse sparingly; likewise neoliberalism, and other theoretical catchphrases designed to obscure that thou hast not fully thought through thine ideas. The best part of the first year in graduate school is immersing yourself in the theoretical tools of your discipline or interdisciplinary field. You will feel like a big, wonderful sponge. But, as the wise Carroll Smith-Rosenberg once said to me, “Wear your theory lightly, my dear.” Don’t sound smart: be smart. Intellectuals don’t want to have Michel Foucault, or Michael Warner, or Gayatri Spivak, or Anthony Appiah read back to them: they want to know what you think. Make sure you know, and learn to speak and write it in the most inviting way you can.

Thou shalt remember that this was supposed to be fun. If you aren’t having fun, it is essential to find out why. Seek out appropriate counsel.

Claire gets at my larger point in a few of her commandments, but if there’s one thing I would say to graduate students, it would be to be nice to other people. Be nice to your fellow grad students. Be nice to your professors. Be nice to the students in classes you TA for. Never ever ever do something like sabotage fellow students by running to the library and hiding their books (this may in fact be an urban legend, but for whatever reason graduate students in history at Chapel Hill were always accused of this to me. Who knows.) Don’t undermine fellow people. Don’t talk bad about your peers. Don’t complain that someone got funding and you didn’t. Even if your fellow graduate students aren’t very nice, why engage with this? Stay positive, which means being positive to other people. Your fellow graduate students shouldn’t be seen as competitors with you. Instead, express solidarity with them through your fellow class interests.

Even though, as Claire points out, academia is no meritocracy (I have my job because I am lucky, not because I am so much better than all these other people), at the end, if your work is better, you will have a better shot at jobs. Being a jerk isn’t going to make your work better. It’s going to make you a bitter mean person who no one will want as a colleague. That matters a lot because departments don’t want to hire people they won’t want to see in the halls and exchange pleasantries with. That might not be the case at the very tippy top elite schools, but at the vast majority of institutions, it is. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of three departments, each of which range from being cordial with each other to having a lot of true friendships. And I don’t think anyone in these departments would allow great research and brains to overcome an unpleasant personality.

In short, as with most of life, be nice.

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  • booferama

    Oh, and be nice to the office staff. Be very nice to the office staff.

    • Yes!!!

    • KLG

      Absolutely. I tell my graduate students:

      Be nice to everyone, especially the office staff.
      Don’t whine, ever.
      Keep gossip to a minimum.
      Work hard.
      Stay in your lane.

      Do these things and when you need something, you’ll get it. Otherwise, no help will be forthcoming. Ever.

    • Bill Murray

      This goes double for faculty

    • I agree. I think politeness and kindness are under-rated.

  • Hogan

    And just because it’s a book doesn’t mean you need to own it.

    What? That’s crazy talk.

    A professor once told me the basic question in any tenure decision is “Do I want to see this person at the mailbox every morning for the next twenty years?”

    • On that criterion, I’d vote against myself.

      • If you saw yourself at the mailbox every morning either you’ve had some good drugs or there’s an inappropriately positioned mirror.

  • Barry Freed

    Thou shalt not rack up unnecessary credit card debt. You may need to take out student loans to pay for things like shelter, food, medical care and a decent laptop computer.

    Say what now? This is really bad advice. For one thing, student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Kotsko has some much better advice:



    • Barry Freed

      Of course, your larger point is very well taken. And if you can’t be nice, at least try not to be an asshole.

    • Jordan

      Yeah, if you are doing that, you are probably at the wrong grad school.

  • Dave

    “….thou hast not fully thought through thine ideas”. Like ‘thine’ being the second-person intimate equivalent of ‘mine’….

    • I might argue that pointing that out is rather what graduate students should avoid.

    • oldster

      Wait, what’s the complaint? Dave, are you saying that “thine” is being used there contrary to the rules that governed it (back when it was current)?

      Because, so far as I know, “thou has not fully thought through thine ideas” displays a perfectly correct use of “thine.” What error do you see in it?

      • Lee Rudolph

        An interesting point, which I had never noticed before but which is extremely obvious to me now, is that in the original Ten Commandments (KJV), and—I would bet a shiny new shekel—probably generally “back when it was current”, thine is used instead of thy before a vowel. Thus, in the Fifth Commandment, those who shall “not do any work” on the Sabbath include “thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.”
        (The alternative generalization from this particular passage, that thine is used instead of thy before an animate, non-human noun, seems less likely.)

        Thou shalt be pedantic, and generous with the fruits of thy pedantry.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Thou shalt also remember thy lack of an Edit button, to keep thy blog comments from going out incomplete.

          “Thine ideas” fits with my (first) generalization.

        • Hogan

          Mine eyes have also seen the glory of “mine” used before words that start with vowels.

        • oldster

          Yup. See more here:


          But maybe Dave had some other complaint?

          • Dave

            But you’ll never know

  • Thou shalt not assume that merit systems are determinative. If there is anything I hate seeing on the Interwebz, it is people claiming that the person who got the job/fellowship/prize isn’t as smart or deserving or credentialed as they are. It’s the, “Gee I wrote four articles and have a book contract, and *that* person only wrote one article and a review essay” syndrome. I always wonder, Hmmm….maybe you didn’t get the job because the other person was nicer. #Everthinkathat?

    Hmm. If only there were an example of this nearby…better yet, someone we all knew who exemplified this phenomenon. Best would be if they repeated it time and time again in the comment section, perhaps coupled with wild broadsides at whole classes of people.

    If only…

    (I guess I’m violating the “be nice” bit :))

    • oldster

      A different way to think about this would be:

      niceness is meritorious!

      Measures of merit will and should measure niceness. If A has just as many publications (etc.) as B has, and in addition A is nice whereas B is a jerk, then A has more merit.

      Scholarship is a communal practice. Collegiality is a scholarly virtue. Assessments of merit will very often include assessments of niceness–and they should.

    • Oh, I’m sure we are going to hear from said individual soon.

      • You mean there is such a person ready to hand? What joy that person must bring to their fellow commenters. Too seldom does one have the opportunity to bask in the wisdom of superior scholar unjustly denied the fruits and just rewards of their painstaking intellectual labor.

        I wait with bated breath!

        • Hogan

          We’re approaching Peak Sarcasm here. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

          • Jordan

            But is this person humorless?

            • He has hollow eyeballs? That sounds terrible.

              • They make up for it with choler.

              • Jordan

                Only after ZRM has been through.

        • CD

          Both of you need to get over this.

  • More than a few people around here could stand to re-read the bit on “neoliberalism”. Sadly, more and more when I hear people complaining about it, it’s just evidence that they have not clearly thought through the issue. (That doesn’t mean that “neoliberaism”, whatever it is, is right, just that it’s become a sort of buzz-word at too many blogs, like “socialism” or “communism” at right-wing blogs, a way to substitute slogans for thought.)

    • Grad students could maybe give over some of their uses of “neoliberalism” to laypeople, so we can get to appear smarter and maybe even figure out what it means.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        my work-in-progress definition of ‘neoliberal’ is ‘a libertarian slightly too cool to be a Ron Paul follower’

  • Jordan

    “Never ever ever do something like sabotage fellow students by running to the library and hiding their books (this may in fact be an urban legend”

    Actually, I have heard from people who have heard from people that David Lewis got *extremely* angry at students in one of his grad seminars for doing exactly this.

    • I feel I would definitely be one of those students hiding books from David Lewis.

      • Jordan

        -1 in the language game to you, sir!

        • I think my best riposte would be a punch on the nose!

          • Lee Rudolph

            Dr. Wittgenstein, with a poker, in the common room.

          • Jordan

            Classic linguistic ersatz response. In some actual world, David Lewis is punching YOU on the nose.

            • Actuality is indexical, thus the only actual world (in our frame) is this one. David Lewis is manifestly not punching me in the nose in this world and will never do so being dead. Thus David Lewis is never punching ME on the nose.

              There may be a David Lewis counterpart punching some counterpart of me on my counterpart nose (which I like to think is prehensile) in some possible world. But that has nothing to do with me and I imagine counterpart Bijan is responding with a kick to the counterpart Lewis’ nuts.

              • ChrisTS

                Oh you kids.

                • I’m glad something stuck :)

                  Not something useful, but something nevertheless.

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  You can take some comfort that, in many possible worlds, it is somehow useful.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  HOWEVA, all possible worlds are inaccessible to us

                  Surely not all.

                • Jordan

                  I dunno, I bet the Lebesque measure over those possible worlds is zero :)

              • Jordan

                The counterpart relation is, while not identity, good enough to, uh, count. That is, it supports all the relevant counterfactuals. So there is a world where if you had made this comment with one insignificant alteration, you are being punched in the face by David Lewis. And close enough is good enough.

                Ok, that is about all I got.

                • I’ve no problem with the counterfactuals, i.e., that in some *possible* world, I am being punched in the face by David Lewis. It’s not all that nearby, but it’s ok.

                  However, the formulation “In some actual world” blah blah blah, really can only mean this one!

                  And really, if we’re Lewisian, other possible worlds are completely inaccessible to us. There’s no way my nose is going to be hurt. I’m sure this some guy in Iran and another one in Philly who resemble me in lots of ways and are being nose-punched….I’ma not looking for an ice pack :)

                • Jordan

                  Well, that was a pun on actual. Sure, it is not the actual world *for us*. But it is an actual world for zombie david lewis. Not for me or you. But for zombie david lewis and punched Bijan Parsia, it sure is!

                  Well, if you buy that insanity, anyways.

                  HOWEVA, all possible worlds are inaccessible to us, whether we are Lewisian or not. But we *should* care about possible alternatives to our actions. You don’t skip moral culpability just because you happened to be right.

                  So, by inescapable logic, we should care about those other possible worlds, and you should care that you got punched by David Lewis.

                • There’s no “an” actual possible world. Indexical! Just like there’s no “a me” for me, there’s just me. And “me” is different for you. In fact, “me” is you for you, but not for me even *for* you. Thus, the actual isn’t for the Zombie and *I’m* not the one getting punched. Yet. Until you find me.

                  And what culpability? *I’m* the one getting punched, if it’s me!

                • Jordan

                  Of course there is “a me.” There is the me that existed yesterday, the me that exists on saturday, the me that existed a year ago, and the me that exists right now. And that is just normal temporal indexicals.

                  Now *those* mes’ share an identity relation – I guess: I don’t really believe that – rather than a counterpart one. But still.

                  But that isn’t important. What is important is that Zombie David Lewis WILL FIND YOU. However, being a nice guy, he will presumably give some of your brains to zombie ronald mcdonald. Wait, that can’t be right.

                • Of course there is “a me.” There is the me that existed yesterday, the me that exists on saturday, the me that existed a year ago, and the me that exists right now. And that is just normal temporal indexicals.

                  Oh pish posh!

                  First off, “me” is not a *temporal* indexical. “Yesterday” and “now” are, but that hardly helps your case. “Me” succeeds in referring to the person uttering it at that moment, and that’s it! “The me” is nonsense which is best repaired as “I existed on Saturday” which refers to the now you and your persistence through time.

                  In any case, I’m not afraid of Zombie David Lewis: without living reflexes, his beard will prevent him from eating my brains.

                • Jordan

                  Ahaha, but we were talking about “a me” not just “me.” “Me” is indeed not a temporal indexical, but “a me” when time-indexed is. So … there.

                  However, I’m not sure that “the me” is nonsense. Once you bring in teletransportation cases, it gets murky. If we look to that great epic of our time, star trek: next generation, there is indeed a question of “the me” for will or thomas riker.

                  But whatever: Zombie David Lewis will still eat you. The beard will just cover up the blood splatter.

                  (OK, really, I’m running out of things here).

                • You branded yourself with a cigarette lighter…twice…but only once successfully!

                  I win in every possible world. And Zombie Lewis will be too busy laughing his various body parts off to chomp me!!!

                • Jordan

                  That is all … completely true.

    • oldster

      It does seem like kind of a self-defeating move, doesn’t it?

      Clever-clogs dominates that day’s seminar, show-boating because he has done the reading and know the answers. The other ten students say that they couldn’t read it because it had disappeared from the reserve shelf. Good move, Clever-clogs! The teacher will surely think better of you for this!

      • Jordan

        Well, if the person I heard it from heard it accurately from that other person, there was a clique that got the book and read it, and then hid it from the rest.

        So, on the face of it, almost half are hard workers, half are slackers, and one is an asshole.

    • FridayNext

      Isn’t this bit of advise a little dated in this age of Jstor and eBooks? I am currently ABD in history and there are very few books or journal articles, with a week’s warning just in case, I could not read in some form in time for class or quals or whatever.

      • If I assigned a book and someone brought it in an ebook version to a graduate seminar, I would not be happy.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Please expand on that; I don’t understand what would make you unhappy (unless you mean to imply that you’d assume the person was “doing the reading” right there, in real time).

        • Jordan

          Really? I always have paper copies, because I do way better with them. But a lot of my fellow grad students do it on their laptops or kindles or whatever. What is the reason against?

          • In my experience, people take far worse notes on ebooks and discussion lags because people don’t reference the material quickly enough, not to mention that page numbers don’t align.

            • Jordan

              Cool. Particularly about the page numbers not aligning, that actually does bog things down for us.

            • Well, you’d hate me then :) I’m moving more and more to eMaterial (which I did not think I’d do).

              Page numbers are a suck, and there’s no reason at all for it. You can mark up the page numbers easily.

              I feel pretty confident that I could keep up :) OTOH, I’m not doing as much close reading of prose per se anymore. I do wonder how my mental referencing using spatial proportions on a page would change and how’d that would affect my thinking.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              This is, in general, my biggest problem with e-books. Once page numbers always align and annotation becomes easier, I’m done with paper.

              • If you are reading PDFs and have at least an iPad Mini, then PDFHighlighter is pretty dreamy for annotation (at least for feedback; needs a bit of work for self notes).

          • wjts

            Anecdotally, I’ve heard of problems with things like Barnes and Noble’s e-textbook program not providing the promised edition or translation. Students may end up with a badly-dated public domain edition of the work. Formatting can also get really hinky in e-books in my experience.

            • Jordan

              Hmmm. I think my fellow grad students are just grabbing .pdfs, rather than actual e-book versions. And the actual online/e-book versions I have seen are pretty terrible about formatting or whatever. So, yeah.

        • Why not? Just out of curiosity.

        • FridayNext

          Then I hope you put that book on reserve in the library, therefore foiling the book hoarder, which do exist, btw, though I get the sense their numbers are dwindling.

          If eBook is the only edition I can find and afford, that is what I am using. Sorry it makes you unhappy, but you’ll get over your unhappiness faster than I will pay off my credit card debt buying hundreds of dollars of books every semester plus those needed for quals and other purposes. I save my credit card debt to cover healthcare expenses (commandment 2), joining professional organizations (commandment 6 which also includes attending conferences and presenting papers) and conducting research.

          Books for class are secondary at best. Sorry.

          • Actually, as a professor I wouldn’t really care what you thought about it. You’d have the regular book, period. It’s in the syllabus.

            • First, I don’t think this is great teaching. I think it’s ok to be unhappy and ok to make strong recommendations, but I think this sort of fiating tends to work out poorly.

              Second, I’m unclear how you would enforce it. Kick the student out? Give them a poorer grade (solely for using the eBook)? Personally, I think you’d lose (and rightly so) in a grievance hearing.

              Ban electronics? I guess you could do that…people certainly do, but if I came with my iPad mini with the wifi turned off and had the book and notetaker open, I think you’d have a hard time kicking me out.

              Third, you’d maybe lose to me, and definitely to a blind person, in an ADA dispute. (My arthritis makes handwriting difficult to painful and sometimes just holding a book is uncomfortable. I do much much better with electronics.)

              It’s like trying to enforce not buying a used or even outdated book. I don’t think there’s much you can do about it and if you overding on participation, that may not end well.

              • I simply ban all electronics from the classroom. It’s worked out pretty well. Obviously people with medical exceptions or university-approved exceptions are fine.

                • See, now you’ve rousted my cantankerous side!

                  *Lucky* for you that it’s not strong enough to make me come over/up there to RI and take a class with you!!!

                • Bill Murray

                  I too ban all electronic device use except using their tablet laptop for note taking otherwise you get too many people doing other homework, checking email and distracting those that want to pay attention

                • Exactly. I tell them that I’d be on Facebook too if I had my laptop out listening to a lecture. I understand well enough to ban them.

            • FridayNext

              My apologies for making my reply sound so personal to YOU. But there does come times when the correct edition of some books is just beyond my means or not available and I look for other solutions, and there are many that will save money and and still maximize my ability to have the exact tome required (Sadly, my local public library often had books the university library did not, and most grad students wouldn’t be caught dead there. Most even do ILL) Obviously, if a teacher commanded it I’d do it. But I have never had a professor do this and NOT taken steps to minimize costs such as putting multiple copies on reserve and NEVER assigning out of print books.

              • At the same time, I would never assign a book that was not in paperback and under $30.

                • ChrisTS

                  This is crucial. It is one thing to encourage/require use of hard texts – and there is lots of learning research to support this – and another to do so while assigning 100s of dollars worth of books.

                • There are simply not books crucial enough in history that you can’t replace them with something cheaper if the price is too high.

                • FridayNext

                  And for that I hope your students thank you. I have been assigned brand new books in hard back from scholarly presses which, as you know, can approach and exceed $100. This is fine if it is one Chem text for the whole semester (it isn’t really, but it is standard) but is quite another to make it one of a dozen or more books for a standard seminar.

                  Also, I’d like to go back to my original point. When I originally gotten my MA in the 1980’s book and journal hoarding was rampant. I don’t know if it was on purpose, but it was not uncommon to not be able to find most of the assigned articles on the shelves where they were supposed to be.Books can be checked out, but articles can’t leave the building. I don’t know whether it was from malice or stupidity, but someone was moving those bound volumes. Now with Jstor (and other sources), and eBooks (whether individual prof’s allow it or now, and online book buying, this type of nonsense is a thing of the past, more or less. In fact when one of my professors talked about how wide spread it was in his graduate program and I concurred, my classmates (half my age) looked at us like we were nuts. It never occurred to them that this would work and it wasn’t because they were too nice to stab a classmate in the back this way, but reading material just doesn’t have the physicality it once did, much like music, and it never occurred to them that there was a time when having a copy of a book or article meant someone else couldn’t have it (in some form.) I felt so old.

                • That does help.

                • ChrisTS

                  @Erik: Besides, there is SO much stuff on the web, via Jstor, etc.

                  I ask students to print everything out and share with them the research on engagement/retention via hard texts.

                • We are a book driven discipline. A graduate seminar based around articles alone would be less successful.

                • ChrisTS

                  Ah. PHL is certainly ‘book-driven’ to an extent, but most folks who get a big book out have done lots of articles. Also, of course, one can get one’s newest ideas out via articles far faster than via monographs.

            • Lurker

              This is one way of doing things. And in many cases the right way. For example, if the book is actually discussed and used in the teaching.

              However, when I was studying math as a minor, most professors assigned a book only as a formality: “This is a book that covers most of the syllabus, and if you continue study elsewhere, you can show the syllabus to the professor who may be interested in it. He will get a rough idea of the topics you should know. However, I will not refer to the assigned book a single time in the class and the exam will be based on my lectures, which will surely contain material that is not in the book. In fact, I’m following a Russian book, printed in Irkutsk in the 1970’s, which is out of print and which you can’t read, but I’m watering it down so that some of you might eventually pass this course.”

      • Jordan

        Well, see, David Lewis died like 12 years ago, unfortunately.

        But anyways, there definitely are older books that aren’t ebooks or whatever. One of my advisors kinda relishes putting in requests for some of those books when they are checked out, to make some other random type return it

        • Well, see, David Lewis died like 12 years ago, unfortunately.

          Damnit! Now I’ll NEVER FIND THAT BOOK!

          • Jordan

            Your counterpart will. So its all good.

    • Lee Rudolph

      That you “have heard from people who have heard from people” is, if anything, evidence that the supposed phenomenon is indeed an Urban Legend; “people who have heard from people” are called FOAFs (“friend of a friend”s) in the trade. (And of course sometimes an Urban Legend does “come true” somewhere.)

      • Jordan

        /thats the joke.

    • It always seemed to me interesting books in the social sciences were always missing. I don’t know if people were hiding them, or that the problem was these books were all on a floor with lots of locked offices and no obvious way to tell who’d snarfed something without filling out the requisite form.

      • Jordan

        That sucks. Books for me are often checked out (for a year, pretty much infinitely and easily renewable) but can be recalled without too much difficulty.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “It always seemed to me interesting books in the social sciences were always missing.”

        Perhaps they’re mythical.

        And those damn sneaky zoos are hiding all the really interesting animals, like hippogriffs and unicorns.

        • Lurker

          I’d especially recommend “De Tribus Impostoribus”. It’s reputed to be a really interesting book, co-authored by Fredrick Barbarossa and Voltaire. Unfortunately, my local library seems to lack a copy. :-)

  • David Hunt

    I have the vain hope that I’m not the only one who read “Be nice to people” and translated it into, “Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes!”

  • MAJeff

    Thou shalt not neglect thy dental or health care. Every tooth of mine that gets worked on in middle age became a problem in graduate school. I am totally serious about this.

    Oh, yes this. I’m coping with fillings falling out and teeth breaking due to all of this. (With no dental insurance or discount cards, though, this can be easier said than done, especially if there’s no dental school nearby.)

    • oldster

      Yeah, the hard part is that for most of us, grad school happened back when we were young, basically healthy, and felt immortal. Back then, I didn’t need to take any care of myself: I just stayed in good health cause I was young and stupid. I had a lot of debts and a lot of priorities and urgent problems, and health was among the very least things I worried about.

      Which is why I currently wear a partial plate for half my bottom jaw, and why my daily pill-intake looks like the ball-room at a MacDonald’s fun-house. Zillions of little brightly colored pills, and not a bit of recreation to be had from any of them.

      So, yeah: it’s good advice.

    • FridayNext

      I was able to do this rather well. But it cost me a small fortune in CC debt. I don’t know how you reconcile commandments 1 and 2 without assuming health coverage through your school or having parents willing to pay. A lot of schools have such coverage, but far from all and most of it doesn’t cover dental or eye care, which is what the majority of mine was.

      • MAJeff

        I learned you can get fillings for free if you’re willing to sit in for dental school student exams.

        • FridayNext

          We had that at our school, but you had to stand in lines of Bruce Springsteen tickets proportions and even then that was to be on a waiting list. If you wanted to be SURE you got work done, you had to go on your own. You could get cleanings at the local community college which had a dental hygienist school.

          But both the dental school and the hygienist school still charged money, though it was cheaper.

          • MAJeff

            Yeah, I got in the first time because a tooth just broke, and there was a wait, but probably a shorter wait because of the nature of the problem. Then, the student I got loved my cavities, and specifically asked to have me on the exams.

            • FridayNext

              Having interesting health problems is a two edged sword I suppose. In high school I was once used as a teaching specimen because my teeth have a rare, specific type of staining.

            • Manny Kant

              When I went to the dental school, they basically wanted to put fillings in pretty much everywhere. I got about halfway through what they wanted to do, in great pain and with increasing dubiousness. My parents generously offered to pay to let me see my childhood dentist, who immediately noted a) that half of the fillings they’d put in needed to be immediately replaced; and b) that none of the outstanding cavities they’d said I needed to get filled seemed to exist. I didn’t go there again after that.

              • DRILL BABY DRILL!

              • Lee Rudolph

                Was this perhaps Orly Taitz’s dental school?

  • I can do this in one Commandment:

    1. Play smart and nice.

    (Seriously, that thing about cheap clothes shopping? Where is she that students of any stripe have to be told not to shop at Neiman Markup? Of course, the bit about Swanky Neighborhoods near the university also made me think of Bloomington and College Park and snicker.)

    • snarkout

      College Park, at least, is a short trip on the Metro to expensive shopping; I don’t know where one would go at Indiana to try to buy a suit at a consignment shop.

  • burritoboy

    Not being an academic, I may be under-qualified to comment on this, but:

    (here I go, probably throwing away my claims to “niceness”)

    I do think we have to question what nice means a bit more. If there’s real competition over something desirable or real scarcity, people are going to manipulate niceness or play niceness games just as much as with any other measure. One could easily posit a situation where a senior faculty member is upset that the (pre-tenure) junior faculty member is exhibiting too much niceness to other juniors or students or other competing seniors, as opposed to preferential niceness to that individual senior faculty member (i.e., she did this [x] for Dr. P, but I’m so much superior and better and better published than Dr. P, I’m upset she didn’t do even more than [x] for me without me even having to ask.)

    It’s also not difficult to foresee that one act of niceness can preclude other acts of niceness, even if one would want to do every act of niceness. Simply the difficulty of being in two places at once, etc.

    On top of that, niceness, it seems to me, is EXTREMELY culturally encoded. For a historic example, we can recall that Eastern European Jews were sometimes discriminated against by German Jews within early and mid-twentieth century academia – when the difference between the two groups was partially due to the political oppression faced by Eastern European Jews (something German Jews were well aware of and in fact devoting substantial explicit resources to remedying). Or we can recall that a lot of people tend to look askance at Southern White Americans’ niceness when they compare Southern White’s manners to their often brutal and vicious political history.

  • nitangae

    Well, I have a few additions:

    12. You shall not demand an excessively high standard from your inferiors – for one thing, it will make you look like a prat. I mean, don’t gossip? Seriously! I am yet to meet a single academic who does not engage in his or her share of nasty gossip. I am going to have to check my Wesleyan contacts to make sure that Claire Potter is free of the gossip bug. I smell a rat.

    12b: I would add however – don’t be really nasty to people just because you think they are powerless and on the way down. Somewhat of a combination of the commandments not to suck up and not to be nasty, but I have encountered more than once graduate TAs who are horrible to their instructors because they heard from their prof that said instructor was a loser who was never going to finish his or her PhD. First of all, don’t do it because it is a evil thing to do, and second of all, don’t do it because you don’t know if they will continue to be on the way down.

    13. Don’t try to shut up the complaints of your inferiors with bullshit accusations like “you are failing because you are not a very nice person!” I mean, really, Dr. Potter! I will allow that, as Dr. Loomis says, most departments want a good colleague, above all. In fact, I am pretty sure that was a major reason why I got my current job. However, I should add that I think that I was usually nice to most people before I entered the job market, began to really flag in my ability to be bright and sunny after the third year of insecurity, became slightly friendlier once more when I got an impermanent job that I nevertheless loved and thought that I could probably keep, and am becoming much brighter now that I have a tenure-track job. Much though I agree that being a good colleague is extremely important, I hope that I will never so forget my years of tribulation that I start lecturing struggling PhDs on how they stop complaining and learn to be a less nasty person. Among other things, it is really hard to show what a wonderful person you are during a hotel interview.

    13b: However, speaking of hotel interviews and the living hell that is the AHA, be nice to fellow job seekers, and don’t bitterly inform other struggling job-seekers on how they will have a super easy time finding a job because they scandalously chose such an employable subject. First, because writing a PhD in East Asian history or whatever might not have been all that easy (so, was not really an easy way out), second, because the person might actually be having a bad time on the job market, and feel very very angry at your comment (did the person do an extremely difficult dissertation on, say, the medieval Uighur kingdom, involving numerous languages, and no Europeanist or Americanist can understand the research enough to even think of inviting him or her to an interview? Your bitter comment may not be appreciated by said person, who is wondering why he or she spend years learning Persian, Classical Chinese, Uighur, Sogdian and other languages, only to enjoy unemployment).

    • Lee Rudolph

      It’s one of those erotica/pornography/smut things: I indulge in insightful social commentary, you gossip, he spreads calumnies.

  • Warren Terra
  • LisaH

    I worry a bit about the imperative to “be nice,” and the ways that can harm women students in particular. “Be nice” often means shut the hell up. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable or personal, absolutely. But don’t eat shit, and make a point of taking a moment with anyone you fight with in class after that class meeting; make sure they know that you know that disagreement is an invitation to come out and play (another aspect of having fun). That applies up and down the hierarchy — though always, always know that department staff run the world and should be obeyed and joked with and treated like the important people they are. Because they are.

  • Steve

    I do worry that telling people to be nice is merely vague, unqualified, feel-good, repressive nonsense.

    When I think back on graduate school, niceness and niceties were not missing. Honesty was.

  • Vance Maverick

    36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

    37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

    38 This is the first and great commandment.

    39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    • 36 Advisor, which is the great deadline in the graduate handbook?

      37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt finish the Thesis thy Dissertaion with due haste, and with all appropriate care, and within four years.

      38 This is the first and great commandment.

      39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt extract a fair number of journal papers from it.

      40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets tenure track jobs.

      • Vance Maverick

        Those work too — but “love thy neighbor”, for some appropriately reserved value of “love”, was actually the common thread of many of the Radical’s commandments.

  • ChrisTS

    Sorry to have missed most of this (my 4 courses, 3 meetings totaling 5 hours, and an hysterical student clouded my otherwise fabulously easy academic life today).

    It is true that ‘nice’ is a very vague term. However, among philosophers, I have noted that the people who most want to worry the meaning out of it are the least likely to know how to be it. I think Potter hit the right notes for a lot of very clueless people who think that their exceptional research (etc.) entitles them to a job and that being an asshole is somehow their due. Admittedly, she is unlikely to persuade the clueless assholes.

  • ChrisTS

    A P.S.:

    Once you are on campus, remember that ‘the staff’ is not limited to your departmental secretary. The folks who work in the Physical Plant and have to readjust the thermostat in your office every new season are also staff. So are the people who trim the hedges, serve the food in the cafeteria, run the post office, etc.

    One of my most startling experiences came some years back when the PP guys added a baffle to the air vent that was blasting cold air on my head every day. As we joked and chatted, they told me they would not have done this for ‘all the faculty’ but were happy to do so for me because I always said ‘hello’ to them when we ran across each other. I couldn’t believe that other faculty apparently just ignored these guys’ existence. At a staff/faculty get-together, I mentioned it to the Assistant Registrar; she said, “Chris, you are one of about 10 faculty on this campus who ever says hello to me. I don’t think most of them know my name.”

    That is appalling.

  • I slept with undergrads as a TA and it was a bad idea.

    Then again, I did it far less frequently than more than one tenured member of the department.

    So it was kind of a drop in the bucket I guess. Being a PhD candidate (a failed one in my case) is pretty miserable. Why not enjoy a few parties?

    That said, student loans? Really? Don’t even consider going to graduate school unless you’re getting a full ride.

    So if a terminal MA is the best you can do, don’t do it. You’re a cash cow and everyone knows it. Not good.

  • And for people who are on the other side of the seminar table: Thou shalt not structure thy program to make observance of these commandments superhuman.

    Can the students not live on the stipends, TA earnings, whatever? Will simple economics demand credit card debt on top of student loans? That’s not the students’ fault; it’s a structural problem; fix it.

    Do students in your program not have adequate medical and dental insurance coverage? Fix that.

    Do you and your colleagues broadcast the idea that merit is determinative? Do you, collectively and/or individually, imply that a tenure-track job as a professor at a high-prestige university is the only desirable professional outcome? Cut it right out. Yesterday.

    Do you make graduate students compete for your time and attention? Stop that, too.

    Do your program and department depend on having more graduate students than can ever find jobs in the field? You are part of the problem.

    Does your department only function because of adjunct labor? You are the problem.

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