It can be hard to manage the various responsibilities of a graduate student. Juggling research, coursework and the ever-receding possibility of a personal life can often leave you overwhelmed and short on time.
At some point in your graduate career you’ll probably cut corners and skip doing an assigned reading for a class, only to be singled out by the instructor and asked to contribute to that day’s discussion.
There are a number of common strategies people employ to conceal their lack of preparation. I’ve noted a few popular ones here to help you recognize the blunders of others – as well as cover your own tracks.
(This is a work of satire. The author in no way endorses attempts to deceive one’s instructors or colleagues. That said, accidents happen).
The Freud Fraud
(AKA the Marxist Misdirect AKA the Derrida Deceit)
“Reading this put me in mind of [x]. Has anyone read [x]? No? Good.”
Temporarily at a loss for words, this wily student covers his or her tracks by picking a single detail from the class discussion and drawing a connection to a different author or text.
The newly-invoked material is usually the special interest of the student who brought it up in the first place, meaning that no one else in the room is going to be able to catch him or her out in generalizing needlessly.
When you see panic in someone’s eyes as they mention their favourite author a half-dozen times in 3 sentences, they’re probably up to something.
Falls flat when: Someone else is a secret devotee of the student’s favourite author and disagrees with them, dooming the class to witness a jargon-laden debate.
“I’ll be sure to relate this passage to an anecdote about my wacky family.”
*typing* “This was originally published in 1899 and republished in 1909. So there’s that.”
The Internet has revolutionized scholarly practice and research, but it has also given people the ability to become an armchair expert on a subject in a matter of seconds.
The Wikiresearcher is in a constant search-frenzy, calling up pages on texts, authors, concepts and historical periods alike, ever-ready to parachute a piece of trivia into discussion.
Despite being frequently unproductive, this person’s contributions are never quite irrelevant, and they usually squeak by undetected.
Falls flat when: Someone asks them a specific question.
“How do we relate this to the ending? How do we relate this to the beginning? How do we relate-“
Assuming a philosophical pose, The Vaguester addresses open-ended questions to particular people, effectively playing ‘hot potato’ with the responsibility of actually making a definitive statement.
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A particularly masterful version of this ploy involves assuming an air of superiority, as if the answers to these questions are already obvious to the student in question.
Falls flat when: The student reaches maximum circularity and accidentally asks how we can connect something to itself.
“Mention the reading, but don’t dwell on it.”
“I agree with what’s been said.” / “I was just going to say that.”
The Hanger-On has a hard time participating in a classroom setting, because he or she is conveniently beaten to the statement-making punch by someone else in the room who sums up his or her thoughts perfectly.
A less-impressive version of this strategy involves agreeing with the last statement made by repeating it in its entirety.
Falls flat when: In a moment of over-zealous participation, he or she endorses opposing sides of a classroom discussion.
“If we think about Richard’s question in light of what Kathy has just said about Roberta’s point, I think it’s clear that…”
This is without a doubt the most difficult strategy to deploy in a classroom setting, with a correspondingly high reward.
Elegantly retracing the thread of the discussion so far, The Synthesizer arranges all of the pieces in a pleasing and apparently engaged statement, despite the fact that he or she has literally no idea what’s being discussed.
I like to think of The Synthesizer as a kind of academic triple-agent, because you’re never entirely sure you can trust them or what they bring to the table.
Falls flat when: The Synthesizer’s apparently-elegant conclusion is directly contradicted by factual details.
“This really reminded me of my own life. I mean-“
Personal anecdotes in class discussion should be rare, brief and relevant – though they never are.
You may recall this person from your undergraduate classes because of his or her tendency to supplement the syllabus with a healthy dose of info taken from his or her diary.
Not to be confused with people who do this in earnest, the Anecdote-From-Experiencer does this under the guise of making a relevant statement about the material under discussion.
Falls flat when: Doesn’t. Basically unassailable. Abandon ship.