Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Best Grad School Memory

Oh, I've been such a downer. Seriously.

So here, I'd like to share with you one of my favorite grad school memories. Technically, it didn't take place "in" grad school, but it did happen (frequently) during those years, and it involved a fellow grad student.

No, not that.

It was grocery shopping.

When I was in grad school, a major part of “fun outings” for my best friend and I would be our weekly grocery shopping trip. The joint trips started out, I think, because I didn't have a car and she did. And we both needed to eat at least now and then. And because taking classes & TA duties took up our days, these trips usually happened late at night, around 9 or 10. We started out at Big Discount Grocery, but eventually upscaled now and then to Target (which had a big grocery section in Collegeville). And since we couldn’t afford many other kinds of outings, it was a way to get out of the apartment and spend some time together, all while accomplishing a necessary errand. But the fact that we always went down every damn aisle sort of tells you that these were not just functional errand trips.

I should mention here that my friend and I were (and often continue to be) complete goofballs. So these shopping trips included:
  • running jokes that were funny only to us
  • contests at the checkout to see who could think of a historical event closest to the date represented by the four-digit number on her final checkout receipt. Rules allowed us to substitute a "1" for the first digit or drop it altogether. (My friend tended to win this one)
  • a seasonal improvisational joust where, at the holidays, we would make up songs about the products we were buying, set to Christmas carols, trying to trade off lines back and forth without a pause. The lyrics had to be product-relevant, have internal logic, as well as rhyme and scan properly. (This one was my forté.)
  • a mutual prank where we tried to sneak highly improbable products into the other's shopping cart to see if the other would get all the way to checkout before noticing.
  • and once, during the Olympics: my friend did several cartwheels in the aisle (she may have even yelled "And she sticks the landing!", but my memory on that part of it is fuzzy), which was fortunately empty at around 10 p.m.
That's my best grad school memory.

Your turn.


Professor Heidt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juliette said...

Our PG forum, which is still running without me (which is a good thing, though sad for me). Hours of fun, grat friends and incredibly helpful career-wise.

Charles said...

I suppose my favorite specific memory that falls under the "Grad School" file rather than the more general "Late Twenties and Early Thirties" file would be the annual barbeque that a senior professor had at his house out in the countryside.

Of the grad students, he just invited his students and TAs. The rest of the guests were just the friends of his and his wife (mainly but not entirely faculty) plus his kids, a few of their kids. The house was a not terribly flashy single-story place with a big yard surrounded by trees.

Th hour's drive from the city was a chance to enjoy the road with one of my best grad school friends, one of the host professor's students. Then for a couple sunny hours of a late June Sunday, we would drink beer, eat burgers, and play wiffle ball. You'd see a Pulitzer Prize winner engaging a spirited, half-laughing debate over whether he was safe with another faculty member's daughter. An Americanist grad student might end up having a long, involved conversation about politics with a Europeanist that she had previously only glimpsed once. All we had in common the fact that this brilliant and sometimes feisty older guy liked us all. (His favorite part of the day seemed to be parking himself in a lawn chair and offering color commentary on the wiffle ball action.)

Though I had wonderful mentors other than the host professor, I didn't leave grad school with many warm, fuzzy feelings about the History Department: it was a secretive hierarchical place where one Grad Chair in particular and a few others went out of their way to humiliate and marginalize some grad students.

But those barbeques reminded me that there was a better, broader community outside of the department politics, and gave me some faith that even if I landed in a problematic department (which, knock on wood, I don't think I did), events like this might still exist.

squadratomagico said...

My best grad school memories are of the frequent dinners and receptions my mentor used to have at her apartment. She felt it was important to foster a sense of intellectual community, and used to host events at her home rather frequently; I used to think of it as her "salon." Whenever a scholar in our field came to give a talk, she would have a small reception where we could speak with him or her in a more intimate setting; she frequently had groups of grad students, other profs, and sometimes undergrads. doing honors' projects, over to her home to mingle at dinners; and when colleagues with whom she was friendly had books came out, she likewise would host receptions for them. In hindsight, I'm amazed she had the energy for all that; but they are certainly among my fondest memories.

That, and one other thing: when doing my first year of research for my diss., I used to go down to an extra, off-campus storage facility for the library. I was going through a large series of volumed of edited documents, one by one. Then I discovered that the photocopier in the room did not require a card or cash: it was free. Like a true, red-blooded American, poverty-stricken graduate student, I photocopied about 1000 pages of those volumes for free. And I *still* use them.

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

When I was working on my PhD, I couldn't turn off my creative writing impulses. So I started a graduate student creative writing group that thrived for three years. Each year, we put together a literary journal that I edited, formatted, printed, etc., and we sold it in our department for, like, five bucks. All the proceeds went to our graduate student counsel in the department. When I had to move to the west coast due to my husband's job, another writer tried to keep the group going, but unfortunately, it fizzled out. Still, our group meetings, talking about writing, and putting together that journal were really some of the best times of my PhD experience.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

You'd see a Pulitzer Prize winner engaging a spirited, half-laughing debate over whether he was safe with another faculty member's daughter.

Aww. Isn't that cute?

Historiann said...

Yeah, why would a "Pulitzer Prize winner" be unsafe with someone's child? I don't get it. Was the daughter a teenage homocidal maniac, or a psychotic and violent 7 year old, or a baby with a chainsaw? Does she have rage against the Pulitzer Prize and all of its winners?

I suppose it says a lot that I can't really think of one good grad school memory, let alone a "best" one. I'm so glad you had a good time in grad school, Notorious, if only in the grocery store!

Charles said...

Ummm...I thought it was clear that "safe" was in the wiffle ball game. And that more broadly, the scene was about seeing an aloof department star suddenly demystified as acting like a normal guy.

Bardiac said...

One: I have a particular memory of a kindness my mentor did me, doing an independent study to help me learn to read poetry. And I remember especially, one day when we were working on the first stanza of the FQ, his hands moving as he explained a point. He had lovely, graceful hands to go along with his lovely, graceful personality.

I also remember with great happiness having discussions with various people: with my mentor about race and gender. I learned so much. And with my peers, most of whom were really fine people, and amazingly generous with their ideas. And when I especially needed it, some of them more than amazingly generous in helping me get through the aftermath of eye surgery.

It's easy to hate the bad things that happened in grad school, but I'm actually feeling pretty good for these good things. Thanks.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Understood, Charles. Seems like it's an antecedent issue -- at first I read it just like CPP & Historiann did.

Charles said...

Yeah, the mix-up is both funny and unfortunately suggestive. I was a little sad to see that no one else had happy grad school memories to share...

Anonymous said...

You may not remember this, but I remember you calling me from the place where you went to grad school to tell me that you'd FINALLY found sushi in said town. But ... it was at Target.

As I recall, I recommended that you give up on that crazy idea of grad school and return to your city of origin at once. Failing that, though, skipping Target sushi seemed like the best option, although I understood your dilemma at the time.

I trust Grit City does better in the sushi department.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Grit city *does* do better -- as anyone who ever visited me there (::ahem!::) would know.

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