I’m always being told that I know far too much. It’s true, the more secrets people have and the more you know about them, the harder it is for them to dispose of you, or hold too much over your head. So for sake of full disclosure, and to ensure that nothing can be lauded over me when we come back, I shall come clean on two things that have happened since arriving in Dublin (so wah-wah Doc, no blackmailing power for you).
After the bad flights and lack of sleep over the previous 26 hours, we really didn’t think we’d be doing much of anything on our first night in Dublin. Well, I didn’t at least. And then somehow, at dinner, an entire bottle of Chardonnay disappeared, and we felt the need to find some traditional Irish music to help everything digest. Lucky for us, there’s a pub right next door to our hotel; and they have traditional Irish music (actually, it was just an Irish guy singing songs from contemporary Irish bands, but I disgress).
Anyway, we decided that since we are in Ireland, and that neither of us have ever tasted Guinness we were going to order a couple of drinks and a pint of Guinness. Luckily, Guinness is really cheap because it is the most vile concoction I’ve ever put in my mouth (and I emphasise the coc here). The problem was, we couldn’t work out how to dispose of the ghastly black stuff without arousing suspicion, and possibly causing an international incident.
Being the sound-minded, brilliant and inventive person that she is, the doctor thought that if we headed outside with our drinks, have a quick chat, and
leave forget the goo outside, that nobody would notice and we could avoid offending the locals. There was just one problem. His name was George. He was the bouncer. And he saw the offending message which we were sending back to South Africa, moaning about how awful Guinness is. He took the glass from us and said that if we’re going to be so rude about Ireland, he’ll bring us something better. He did. It was red. It was little. And it was good!
It’s how I ended up with the pin below. George said it was for the Children’s Hospital. The doctor said it was a con. I said okay George, you’re right (because postgrads never listen to their supers) and handed over five euros and a kiss on the cheek and he gave me his pin. The doctor now says I’ve been initiated into some underground IRA unit. I think she’s just jealous because no-one offered her a pin into a secret Irish society.
Unfortunately, she got her own back the next morning. We decided to do a tour of the city and then head to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells (if you don’t know what that is, click the link!). As per normal, I took the lead and started navigating through the streets of Dublin. All the while being told that I was going in the wrong direction. I pointed out that I had never gotten us lost before, I remembered were things were in an airport I’d only been to once, and that certain touring academics have tendencies to wander off and end up in dodgy bars. I knew where I was going.
And so we arrived, at Christchurch Catherdral. It wasn’t Trinity College, but I got us to the church; on time to hear the bells toll four o’clock. Actually, I had no idea where I was going and like a true academic, I just wandered aimlessly with a more slightly less aimless supervisor in tow. So yes, I got us lost. My supervisor knew the way and got us home.
But, we did amble for three hours through Dublin to get home and found that while we’d been out, somebody had erected a giant spike in the middle of the street in front of our hotel. Apparently, it’d actually been erected a few years ago, but we didn’t see it the day before. So either there really are leprechauns with mischief and magic, or the Irish have invented invisibility cloaking, because trust me, there is NO WAY that both of us would have missed a 120 metre high phallic light pole.
Anybody who told you that getting a PhD was about hard grafting, reading vast volumes of work and writing up your findings in a couple hundred pages was lying. Getting a PhD goes far beyond that. I’ve promised that one day I’ll write an entire book detailing the things that I’ve had to endure while being a grad student. Today, however, is not that day; instead, it’s the best advice I can give anybody who thinks that becoming a grad student is a good idea, and how to get out as quickly as you can.
1. Assing Around
It may sound absurd, but hear me out. Being a grad student generally involves taking some time to work as a grad assistant, or grad ass, as I like to say (with the emphasis on ass). You’re at the bottom of the food chain in the academic environment, which means that you are responsible for the ass-end of things, and the general mopping up of any shit that goes down. And I mean that quite literally. I’ve actually been made to dispose of scat left by the building’s feline colony (I have my suspicions that it’s actually students leaving a warning to various lecturers about their teaching styles, but I try not to rock the boat and keep my mouth shut). Anyway, you should prepare to be treated like an ass. You’re a necessary evil to make people’s lives easier, but something that most don’t like to deal with. The quicker you learn that, the faster you can impress your supervisor who will speed up the process of reading your work to irrigate the department, so to speak.
2. Learn how to reference
This might seem like an obvious tip, but I don’t mean learn how to reference for your thesis. I mean, learn how to reference using every style that you can lay your hands on. Why? Because referencing is a time-consuming banality of academics. The chances are when your wise and supremely talented superior submits an article for publication they are far too busy contemplating existentialism and the meaning of life to worry about such menial chores, so you, as the ass, will be entrusted to put their reference lists together. And God help you if the article is rejected because of bad referencing. You will spend an extra six months waiting for your draft to come back because you cocked up, and your supreme leader has to take time away from your thesis to fix your incompetence.
3. Learn how to use Google
Again, this many seem obvious, but when you are putting together that reference list the chances are, that in their ultimate wisdom, your supreme ruler will have forgotten to include one or two references, page numbers, journal details or the like to test your abilities. It’s up to you, like a super smooth 1920s detective, to work out where the information came from and fill in the blanks. Being able to find missing references is an art, especially when you are looking for a page number of a quote from a book that’s been out of print for the last 50 years. Being able to do this fast, and correctly, will prove to your supervisor that you are worthy of a few extra minutes of their time. Remember, every minute you save your supervisor, is an extra minute they can dedicate to your thesis.
4. Be able to define a ‘thingie’
If you’ve ever watch The Devil Wears Prada, you might remember the scene where Miranda tells Andy to book that restaurant that she likes with the guy whose name was on the piece of paper that she had in her hand last week (or something to that effect at least). Now combine this vagueness with the more stereotypical vagueness of an academic and you come out with the following conversation:
Supervisor: What did I do with that thingie from two days ago.
Me: It’s on your desk under the book on phenomenology.
Supervisor: No that’s the other thingie. I’m talking about the one with the thing that has the thing on the thing with a thing.
Me: Oh that! Here you go.
I’m that good. And sometimes, if I’ve been really good, I even get a thank you and a whole two minutes to discuss my latest theoretical idea.
5. Be observant
Always pay attention. You will be asked to find lost books, envelopes, passports and of course, thingies. Like a wild game hunter, you need to know your surroundings and be able to notice when something’s amiss. That’s the difference between an average grad ass and a super grade A ass. Your ability to notice and remember where you see things can make it seem like you’re super-human, with awesome psychic powers or x-ray vision, and nobody wants to mess with a superhero. If you are able to locate random missplaced essentials with seemingly no effort, your supervisor will speed up the process. Either because they fear what you may do with your super powers if you turn to the dark side, or because there are only so many times that their egos can be upstaged by a know-it-all grad student. Either way, you’ll get out fast.
And if all else fails, threaten to write a book 🙂