happy hour

Things I Miss about Grad School

Grad school wasn’t merely a place for me to foster bad habits. There were parts of it I enjoyed at the time, and parts of it that I still miss. These aren’t the only ones, but they’re the ones I’m thinking about as the last few people head back to school for the year.

Lame Academic Jokes

I still make them, mind you, but mostly in my head. One of the perks (and consequences) of hanging out with people who are deeply immersed in a subject is that you share a deep and ridiculous well of obscure information. I mean, fauxbourdon. It’s a thing, an actual thing (and it’s kind of cool, and I could explain why, but—okay, okay…). There are counterpoint jokes. The critical theory jokes get even better.

All of them, though, are stuff and nonsense to those people who lack your esoteric knowledge. I’m prone to making over-referential jokes anyway (the kind that are only funny if you know Shakespeare and early 90s white-washed hip-hop). I got away with a lot more of them when I was in grad school.

University Libraries

I love libraries. I really like the public library in the town where I now live. It’s just not the same as a university library. It’s especially not the same as a subject-area library. I spent a lot of hours in the music library working, listening, stumbling across oddities in foreign languages. To be a graduate student in the humanities is to love books (and sometimes to hate them). It is to spend most of your waking hours with an open book in easy reach, and usually with a dozen more close by.

It’s also recall fights and discovering faculty overrides are keeping you from getting the one source you need to write the paper that’s due in 36 hours. (Related: the fun of asking every grad student and faculty member in your department if they recalled the book/if they have the book already.) I miss those, too, but only a little.

Friday Afternoon Happy Hour

Many of the classes at my doctoral institution were set up with two 90-minute lectures (taught by the professor) combined with a 45-minute “breakout session” of 20-25 students. TAs ran those sessions, which were invariably on Fridays. Some of us had back to back sections, others had gaps, an unlucky few had sessions that ran well into the afternoon. By and large, though, most of us were done with teaching by 3. (On the musicology side, most of us were done by noon.) We’d futz around with research or library errands we’d put off or hang out in the office watching cat videos. (Life of the mind, y’all!) By 3:30 or 4, though, we’d hit a critical mass of “done” and walk over to one of the bars just off the West Bank campus.

The particular bar changed over the years, but that didn’t matter much because there were plenty to choose from. We adopted the ones that had the best beer lists. (Those got pretty good as the years passed.) It was best in the spring, when we could sit outside. There is nothing like sitting outside with your friends on a sunny May afternoon after a long day of teaching. We’d spent the week working, and we’d spend the weekend working too—that’s how grad school goes. That hour or two on Friday afternoons became the weekend, an island of mellow amidst the riptides and chop of the grad school grind. I haven’t found anything quite like it.