"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Friday, January 13, 2012

WTF Has Graduate School Come To?

Literally, just as I was about to begin a post about the "band camp" adventure I am about to embark upon this weekend (you'll have to wait for that!), Random Guy wanders purposefully into the office here at Think Tank and, without saying hello or introducing himself or anything, walks over to our wall of publications and starts looking through them.

Me: "Excuse me. Hi there. Can we help you with something?"

Random Guy: "This is Think Tank, isn't it? I am doing some research and someone told me you had some publications that would be useful."

Me, looking over at Coworker with mild puzzlement, "Yes, this is Think Tank. What is the subject of your research? Perhaps we can help you find what you're looking for."

Random Guy: "I'm a master's student, and I'm writing a paper for a graduate course I'm taking on Policy X. Somebody told me you guys had done some work on Policy X."

To myself, I am wondering if Random Guy has tried the library yet. Or, if that's too much trouble, a simple Google search? A Google search of Policy X would have brought up Think Tank pieces, as would, more directly, a search of Think Tank's very own website. I stifle something resembling a laugh and clear my throat.

Random Guy, rifling through our materials, clearly not finding what he's looking for: "Did you say something?"

Me: "Excuse me ... I don't think we have any of our publications on Policy X out on the shelves at this time. Have you been to our website?"

Coworker: "You know, we do more work on Policy Y at this office, which is why there's nothing on Policy X on the shelves, but recent Ph.D. is right. If you go to our website and search Policy X, you'll find a number of publications that will be of interest."

Random Guy, scribbling furiously on a notepad: "OK, thanks. Where do I find your website?"

Me, stifling something caught in my throat again, something large: "Ahhhem, you'll find us at www.ThinkTank.org."

Random Guy: "Oh, OK. Thanks. Are there any particular publications you recommend? Or authors?"

At this point, I remain polite but do not even try to disguise my mystification at Random Guy's approach to graduate level "research." What, am I supposed to do it for him?

Me: "Well, there's Supreme Expert on Policy X. He's done some work for Think Tank. You'll find his work on our site, but he also has his own site with more materials on Policy X, which you can find if you Google his name."

Random Guy stops scribbling and looks at me blankly.

Me, spelling it out for him: "That is, his name is spelled S U P R E M E   E X P E R T   O N  P O L I C Y  X."

Random Guy scribbles that down and then asks: "Do you have any general information about Think Tank? Any pamphlets that describe what you do?"

Me, picking up one such item from the shelf right in front of Random Guy: "Yes, here you are. This tells all about Think Tank and the work we do, and there's more information on our website, too."

Random Guy, heading for the door: "Thanks ... "

Me: "Good luck with your paper!"

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Was Random Guy actually a graduate student? I hope not. Given our proximity to street traffic, neighborhood oddballs, and the occasional policy nutjob who wanders in, Random Guy's clueless strangeness is far from the strangest behavior I've witnessed from a visitor. That prize goes to Barefoot Mumbling Guy, who was convinced the baristas at Starbucks down the block wanted to give him AIDS and wanted to use our phone to let his brother know. (You betcha that warranted some Lysol!) And, likewise, people that know who we are will sometimes stop by to say hello and tell us they think we're doing a good job. Sometimes they ask for publications, too, usually more general things we always keep around.

*     *     *     *     *

So, yes, I really do hope Random Guy was just some random guy who wanted to know more about Policy X, had heard something about Think Tank, and simply wasn't that educated or otherwise familiar with ordinary research methods but thought we'd respect him more if he said he was "doing graduate research." Because ... really? You know as well as I do that graduate school isn't a meritocracy anymore, not anymore than academe itself, but we would like to believe there are at least SOME standards, no?


  1. If some of the seniors I know are any indication, I believe it was a MA student. I've always found there is a big leap on critical thinking skills required between BA and grad school(and some cannot make that leap).

  2. Jeez, that's depressing. Not that there's a leap -- that's to be expected -- but those who cannot make the leap shouldn't be in grad school.