Every educational career is punctuated by educators feeling it their duty to scare the living poop out of you.

My fifth grade teacher told us about the horrors of middle school, while attempting to drill those pesky parts of speech for the 879th time. They’ll expect you to work harder, she said. They’ll think you remember everything you have learned until then, she said. We freaked out all over ourselves at the very prospect of being losers with no friends and the worst fate we could imagine: chronic hanging boogars. In order to commit to middle-school success, many took drastic measures. We bought our first academic planner. (Mine were always decorated with some sort of sticker and/or colored duct tape. Be jealous of my organizational cuteness!)

I organize stuff

My eighth grade teacher took an entire day to teach the values of note taking. Apparently if we did not master our own system of bullet points and outline formatting, we would certainly fail out of school… and eventually life (dying I guess?). I spent months making keys for all my notebooks to know that a triangle meant vocabulary and a shaded box meant history. But DON’T mistake an unshaded box for history, that meant “fun fact.” (I liked those a lot.) Failure was not an option! I would not meet death because I was a lazy note taker!

icon crazy

If every scary thing every teacher said were true, we’d all have died of coronaries at the beginning of every year. It’s always a pleasant realization when you get to the next step, and you realize the scare-tactics worked. You’re totally prepared to take on the new challenges of middle school, high school, or a college career. Things change, and stress is always present. You may not like it, but you’ve got this. Bring on the next step!

Then there is graduate school.

Graduate School is not required. It’s EXTRA school… a place where masochistic crazies go to hang out. And your teachers are no longer the only people throwing out the scare tactics. Have you watched a movie recently? Any movie that involves law school, med school, PhD programs… that’s some scary times, dude. There’s a particularly scary scene in the otherwise cute and fluffy movie Legally Blonde when a professor asks a student to stake another student’s life on an answer. WHO DOES THAT? And then there’s A Beautiful Mind. Graduate School actually makes you the insane kind of crazy. Not the enjoy-working-long-hours-and-try-to-fix-the-world kind of crazy… like hardcore seeing other people and making up trippy side stories kind of crazy.

Mass media, your teachers, even your momma is telling you that you are not ready for the craziness that is existence in graduate school! So you are terrified the whole time you fill out applications, interview, and visit. You are terrified when you buy books and notebooks and number 2 pencils (they still use those blasted things in graduate school). And then it begins, each moment bringing new realizations… staggering realizations…

First you know you aren’t ready. All the horror stories are true. On my first day, I had a professor ask a question. I answered it quickly, impressed with my background and the fact I could remember such things.

Is that a true statement

only truth from now on



they actually do that

Next, it clicks. The amount of work you put into a single day has literally altered your chemical make up. I wrote an honors thesis at The University. It took a year and a half to put together a cohesive argument and write enough to defend. It was 40 pages long, and it was the longest paper I had ever written. At The Grad School I wrote 40 pages a week, sometimes 15 pages in a night, all semester. I couldn’t do that before! My brain is actually a different thing.

who are you?

Then the idiom “come hell or high water” finally makes sense. No really. I spent all of Hurricane Sandy reading for a class. I read something like 130 pages on different kinds of movement in sentences. I was faced with mother nature’s scare-tactics, and they were NOTHING compared to that of my professor.

But the most important realization for some is that for all the crazy, the difficult, and the stupid amounts of work… some people LOVE IT! (I do.) That’s when you know you’ve arrived! And the coolest thing of all the cool things: Now I get to be the person scaring the poop out of people.



Filed under The Grad School

2 responses to “Scare-Tactics

  1. Lena Cialdella

    I admire you for jumping into grad school right away. It’s taken me a while to get a handle on this whole undergrad process and to be driven enough to be perfect (I cried for a few hours when I realized I was literally 3 points, not percentage points, but 3 points away from an A). And while I could never comprehend your graduate career of language, I admire you a lot for doing it. I also am not pressuring myself for graduate studies yet mostly in part because I haven’t decided on what it would be. And the minor detail that my brain would instantly disintegrate and pour out of every orifice of my skull.

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