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How to Radicalize Graduate Students

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C. The HPT Meeting. Around the Pentagon, HPT stands for “high-payoff target,” and that’s exactly what you’re aiming for, so use this tactic sparingly. Here, HPT is a mnemonic you can use to plan meetings with overconfident graduate students.

A few days after a friendly interaction (drinks at a reception, a chat in the hall about good news on the publishing front, or some similar light conversation), casually request a meeting with your student to check up on his progress. Be sure to say something personal in the e-mail to maximize the sense of informality (“I was glad to hear that your cat’s surgery was successful!”).

Meeting set, the HPT agenda proceeds as follows: (1) Humiliate the student immediately by asking an exam-style question tangential to his area of knowledge. After he stumbles through an answer, inform him that he is devastatingly wrong (for proper affect management, imagine he’s just farted audibly while speaking). As he tilts toward the abyss of his self- doubt, (2) patronizingly offer an olive branch to help him out—a task useful to your own research that also happens to be the only thing capable of saving him from his overwhelming wrongness. You’ll either get a domesticated free research assistant or he’ll resist, declaring that that is not what his project is about at all. If the latter occurs, (3) bring out the threats: “It will be very hard for your thesis to gain my approval if this is not accounted for.” As fear enters your student’s eyes, open the door, extend your best wishes to the cat, and tell him you’ll look forward to seeing how his work progresses. If you’re not naturally coldhearted, the HPT meeting might shake you up a little, but keep in mind that as you’re sipping your evening pinot, your student might be getting in touch with his inner Wobbly at the bar down the street.

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