Out with a Bang: Exiting Grad School With Grace and/or Guts

If, like me, you’re quitting grad school after this semester, congratulations! I don’t know about you but I’m simultaneously freaked out by the end of my graduate life in a week, and extremely ready to move on. I’ve been thinking about the many ways one could end grad school on a high note.


Although I’m pretty sure my adviser and every prof I’ve had has moved on already, I want to leave a good impression just in case I need job references, so I’m sending them all generically gushing notes of gratitude, and some chocolates or other mementos. I think Edward Gorey’s The Unstrung Harp is a particularly fantastic parting gift for anyone you’re leaving behind in academia.

Mr. Earbass has rashly been skimming through the early chapters, which he had not looked at for months, and now sees The Unstrung Harp for what it is. Dreadful, dreadful, DREADFUL. He must be mad to go on enduring the unexquisite agony of writing when it all turns out drivel. Mad. Why didn’t he become a spy? How does one become one? He will burn the manuscript. Why is there no fire? Why aren’t there the makings of one? How did he get in the unused room on the third floor?

Burn This Mother DOWN!

If you’re bitter, angry, and don’t give a crap about anyone you leave behind, then a prank is in high order. End of semester buildings are like ghost towns, leaving you ample opportunity to set up any number of outstanding revenge scenarios on advisers, professors, office mates, and other grad school sheep. What’s something disgusting or hilarious that you could stick under the door of someone’s locked office? What could you tack up among the clever comics and activism posters on the doors in your hallway (how about a bunch of Romney 2012 stickers)? A standard office prank or Animal House-style scheme could offer hilarious gratification, even if you don’t get to witness it.

Heck, with all that free time you have now that you aren’t writing a ton of seminar papers, you can concoct an even more diabolical plan. No one can better satirize academia than one of its own embittered members, so feel free to rub your hands with glee and start making shit up.

Create a fake email account, website, journal or anthology and send excited invitations exhorting faculty or grad students to participate. Shower them with praise for their groundbreaking work in the field of masculinity studies or Trans-Atlanticism and beg them to contribute to a career-changing collection.

Punk your program’s own publication or in-house conference with some made-up BS to lampoon the academic love affair with jargon and half-baked ideas, a la the Sokal Affair.

Send the department secretary an exciting update about your thrilling career that is completely false, and have it published in the alumni newsletter. (This may require an identity change!)

My husband was denied PhD candidacy by his graduate program, something that had previously been unheard of (he was the start of a new trend). It was horrible. His parting shot was a series of fake graduate course advertisements posted around the English department:

Image Credit: Brian Whitehead

Image Credit: Brian Whitehead

We got a kick out of reactions from his peers, and someone even emailed the fake address he created and expressed admiration for the humor and design.

Great Escape

Invent a reason to escape before the axe falls and leave town with a stack of essays to grade on the plane. Submit your grades online and quickly update facebook with photos of yourself parasailing and drinking margaritas on the beach (fake ‘em if you have to) while your peers are in the doldrums of grading and final paper submissions. (Even better: don’t fake it, really do it: blow the last of your loan money on an elaborate trip to somewhere, anywhere. I’m driving to Tulsa with my kids: it’s not exactly Cabo, but it’ll do.)

Raid The Office Supply Cabinet

Hey, who says you don’t need a lifetime supply of post-its, rubber bands, and binder clips?? Everyone needs stacks of legal pads, no matter how lowly their post-grad school clerking position is. I love this quotation about office supply filching from Mike Daisey’s aggressively brilliant 21 Dog Years:

Let’s be clear: everyone filches some supplies. When you are a cube jockey it’s the safest form of rebellion. I’d find myself acting out passive-aggressive impulses by bringing home pieces of my workplace and depriving my enemies of the same. Well, Mr. Hotpants Lawyer thinks he is going to yell at me because his focaccia is dry? Oh, he’s got a world of hurt coming – I am so going to open a can of whupass on this sorry sonofabitch, a can of whupass I like to call, “I Ain’t Got No Dry-Erase Pens.” I know he doesn’t have them, because I’ve got every last one here in my backpack. I’m rich!… Oh, they laughed at me when I said a temp could rule the world – now, look at the heights from which I mock you and know despair! Despair! I will bury you! It’s at this point in the fantasy that I take off my shoe and bang it on the table until they take it away.

If you think that the situation of graduate students isn’t analogous to exploited and demeaned temporary labor in the free market, you are part of the problem. For the rest of you – filch away, my friends.

What’s your grad school exit strategy?

4 responses to “Out with a Bang: Exiting Grad School With Grace and/or Guts

  1. There were a LOT of people, including myself, who were way beyond amused by Brian’s “fake” course announcements. They blended in seamlessly on the departmental bulletin boards, likely due to the ridiculousness of his announcements lining up with the ridiculousness of the departmental offerings. How to tell the difference? The courses you actually wanted to take were the ones Brian imagined. Also, the department completely shafted him in the worst way due to the machinations of one of the evilest professors ever. The stories are endless and all shocking, yet boring. I’m preparing for my own version of the original shafting this fall! Yay! Go U of I English! Sexy BACK-STAB! Or Front stab?

  2. The posters are fucking hilarious… what a great parting shot!

    Now I’ve got something to look forward to. Maybe I’ll advertise a CFP requesting socioeconomic discourses about Victorian era commodes? oh wait, I actually got an email invite for a talk about that once. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a joke.

    I’ve got the thinking cap on though!

  3. Pingback: Google Diaries: We know you quit grad school. | mama nervosa

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