Stanford on Sketchy Grad Students

Posted by at 1:40AM

I have an important declaration to make: I’m living a double life. Most who know me know as a senior, living out the final and most glorious of my college years. My status, however, as a coterminal student also makes me something else: a graduate student. And any Stanford student should know what other qualities that entails. Creepy. Sketchy.

At Stanford, I have always been aware of the potential sighting of the creepy grad student. So engrained is this notion that I feel like I have known so since birth and can recite the typical warnings given to all incoming freshmen. At FMOTQ, be careful who you kiss. Beware those who might befriend you around your academic department. And if it truly becomes necessary to hook up with your TA, cut and run when the curve swings your way.

Imagine my shock when I learned that this creepy grad student stereotype doesn’t exist at all colleges. When explained my concern about my new status, incoming master’s students from Cal and Caltech denied subscribing to such a stigma at their alma maters. Fact-checking with Google reveals only a handful of references to descriptors. One is the loneliest Facebook group I have ever seen, and another was written for the Daily (in all fairness, though, one result seriously is creepy). Wanting to rid myself of this dilemma, I discussed this topic with peers and determined a few detrimental factors in undergrad-grad student relations at Stanford.

First, many grad students live on-campus, well inside the Stanford Bubble. At other schools, off-campus housing for all students allows for greater separation of social space, but when grad students in Rains live across the street from freshmen in Wilbur, the communities mingle in strange ways. To thwart general party-crashing, undergrads branded grad students with the “sketchy” label to make them undesirable.

Second, undergrads largely don’t deal with grad students. An acquaintance pointed out that at Caltech, all students worked side-by-side in research so often that differences were harder to see. Although Stanford has a reputation for undergraduate research, we also have direct access to faculty and often work with grad students primarily filling the role of mentors, not exact equals. Although one might become friendly with TAs, they don’t become friends.

Third, and I think most importantly, undergrads see themselves in grad students, and that scares the stuffing out of them to the point of dislike. Humor me while I offer up my characterization of a typical Stanford undergrad; I promise this is relevant.

You’re brilliant and talented. You were captain or president of at least one club or team in high school and scored over 2200 on your SAT. At Stanford, you have developed a deep passion for some academic field or social cause. You’re still involved with at least one extra-curricular activity and are reading this between meetings. You enjoy learning. You delight in late night conversations about foreign policy, Firefly, or family values. You don’t like to, but would absolutely pull an all-nighter to finish a problem set or paper. In other words, you’re a huge nerd. But wait: there’s more.

You also enjoy watching football on the weekends. You drink maybe once a week and party often enough. You have a disdain for Ivy League schools (mostly out of pity). You enjoy the outdoors and wear t-shirt and shorts in all climates, scoffing at sweaters tied around the shoulders. You will dance to Gaga while dismissing the existence of any work load. You would rather not mention matriculation at Stanford. You regularly discuss drama, hookups, and the latest episode of “Jersey Shore” or “Gossip Girls.” In other words, you’re a closet nerd.

Grad students are huge nerds, and Stanford undergrads desperately don’t want to be like that. In an effort to distinguish ourselves from our clearly dorkier, preppier east-coast counterparts, we insist that we’re smart but too busy bathing in the California sun to do anything about it. We’re just too cool for that.

But maybe we’re worried we’re not. We can geek out about Chemistry or Classics as much as anyone, but we would rather not seem so similar to the grad students. We’re too cool for that. In our insecurity, we claim an artificial divide between us and them. They came to Stanford because of the great learning environment. We came to Stanford because we had fun at Admit Weekend (but secretly enjoyed meeting equally sociable but perceptive peers). They spent all of their time in the lab. We spend all of our time playing IM sports outside (except when you can’t field a team because there are midterms). So we shamelessly call grad students sketchy and party on without them.

In any case, I think I’m safe for this year. This really is my senior year. My 5th is more questionable, but you can’t rob me of my primary status and the accompanying lifestyle. In a year, I’ll re-evaluate and trick myself into thinking that I can keep my undergrad cool. Until then, I’ll scoff at the grad community welcome and avoid associating with any of them. I mean, they are creepy, right?

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5 Responses to “Stanford on Sketchy Grad Students”

  1. Michael says:

    I though you were going to say something insightful…but again, just a typical STANFORD undergrad.

  2. John says:

    I agree with Michael, I’m actually an undergrad spending a lot of time with grad students. I like them better than the spoiled undergrad bunch I’m supposed to belong too.

  3. Amy says:

    “Grad students are huge nerds…” — seriously? staggering insights here on TUSB. Give it a rest and quit acting so scared of your late 20s. What we are, primarily, is older than you, and grateful not to be an undergrad anymore! There’s a lot to look forward to in further education and professional life. Making friends with the occasional grad student just might help you broaden your horizons or lead to more informed choices when you finish those four tarnished (oops, I meant golden) years at Stanford.

  4. Gina Nelson says:

    Hi Crabby Responders,

    Stereotypes are are a caricature of something real. There are differences between undergrads and grads but they are ones of development and not essence. If you want to consider an even more challenging comparison, consider the difference between adolescents and ” grown ups”, something you will all hopefully become. BTW recent research indicates we humans are adolescent well into our 20s; This means you, undergrads and grads.

    I am a 50 year old alumna who has kept my fitness and long hair. I am blessed with that nonspecific Stanford mixed race look. I have also maintained my native Californian vernacular and my old Stanford sweats : ). As a result, when I come to visit my son, a senior undergrad, ( and soon-to be coterm student !) I get mistaken -wooho0- for an undergrad. When I was at my 25th reunion, and walking through Tressider by myself in jogging attire as I have done so many times before, I saw a young man with a map who looked lost. I asked him if he was looking for something. He said ” the med school.” He then proudly added, ” I’m a freshman in the med school. “. He began visiting with me. FInally he asked, ” Are you an undergrad ? I smiled, and said, “No, but I was a freshman in med school. ” He asked when. I replied ” Twenty -five years ago” . I smiled an gave him his directions, and told him I was there for the reunion and to see my son.

    Point is, despite my age, I feel the same. I know more, yes. I have had many more experiences, yes. My behavior is more structured, but it has the same flavor. As a physician, I have often heard my very elderly patients say the same thing. They say, ” Who is that old person in the mirror ? She doesn’t look like me. I feel the same as I did when I was 20. ” They then say, ” I suppose it is hard for you to believe. “. But I do.

    None of us will keep our youthfulness or even our health forever. What is important is to be our own essential selves, and not let age or status pigeonhole us. My preconceived notion of 50 is so unlike what I am that I have just thrown it out. So throw away your preconceived notions about undergrads and grads and experience the pure essence of some of the most interesting people on the planet, your fellow soon to be Stanford alumni.

  5. Anonymous Corporate-type ’05 says:

    Sorry, but grad students *are* sketchy. Why? Because you filter out a lot of the potentially financially successful members of a class (ie required to be socially adept!) and leave the rejects. Who is more likely to be fun to hang out with? A guy who’s going to be a grad student in a research lab or a guy who makes a few $MM (sometimes, but rarely, a lot more) before he’s 30? Sorry to say it, but the latter aren’t in grad school and that’s where the party goes on! This is the view from the other side of 25, so take it as you will.

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