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?