Exclusives: Raising Kate
PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Secret Lives of
Rumor has it that if you prepped at Exeter or have robber-baron
lineage, the Housing Department will put you in Forbes. Although
it's a hike from campus, each room has a private bathroom. More
important, Forbes not only has the best brunch of the residential
colleges, but also the best view. You can look out over the golf
course and see Cleveland Tower in the distance, and if it's raining,
everything is misty and spooky. If you want to kill a couple of
hours on a Saturday morning, Forbes is the place to do it.
Last Saturday I walked to Forbes, where I ate brunch with four
men. This, in and of itself, was an extraordinary occurrence, because
I usually eat Saturday brunch alone. And, in the event that I do
consume my Belgian waffle and hot chocolate in the midst of glorious
masculine company, it's generally because the masculine company
in question is involved in some sort of fraternity initiation. As
was the case a month ago, when I ate brunch with Batman, Robin,
and, somewhat inexplicably, Richard Nixon. But that's another story.
Saturday brunch was significant because I ate with graduate students.
And here at Princeton, that doesn't happen much.
I sat with Spiro, a grad student in my Arabic class. We were soon
joined by three of his friends: Ravi, Mike, and Max. Spiro, Ravi,
and Mike know each other from the House Committee, an elected board
of graduate students on which they serve. Spiro is the facilities
chair, which means that he gets to collect the quarters from all
the washers and dryers in the grad college. Ravi is in charge of
the Coffee House. His responsibilities include cleaning the coffee
filter and charging his colleagues exorbitant amounts of money for
stale pastries. I'm not sure exactly what Mike does, but his is
a paid position with a term limit, so it might be important. Max's
relationship to the other three was unclear. He had just returned
from Germany, and didn't have a lot to say.
What follows is insight into the secret lives of graduate students.
That is, as much insight as a Saturday brunch can provide.
"I am going to be a TA next semester," Spiro said proudly.
"For a course called Math Alive. Have you heard of it?"
Undergraduates commonly refer to Math Alive as Math for Plants.
It is the course of last resort for nonscience, nonengineering majors
seeking to fulfill the quantitative reasoning requirement. Rumor
has it that Math Alive used to be listed in the course offerings
as Math Alive!, and that the exclamation point was removed in order
to give the class some sort of legitimacy. But Math Alive has no
legitimacy. I can say this because I am enrolled in a quantitative
reasoning course that is only slightly less shameful. It's called
Astrophysics 203: The Universe, and word has it that you have to
identify the Big Dipper for the midterm.
I told Spiro all this, but he didn't seem to care. His friend
Mike thought it was pretty funny.
"Math for Plants," he said. "That's a good one."
Something about the way Mike chuckled gave me the impression that
he knew a lot more about thermodynamics and multivariable calculus
than I did.
"What are you studying, Mike?" I asked him.
Mike told me that he was studying electrical engineering. I didn't
even know that there were graduate programs in engineering. I guess
I had always figured that after four years of linear algebra, physics,
and materials chemistry, you'd be able to go right out and build
a bridge. Hell, judging from the way the Missouri State Highway
Department works, you could get a degree in comparative literature,
and they'd still let you build a bridge.
Graduate Students vs. Undergraduates
"There is a common perception," Spiro said. "That
graduate students think that undergraduates are stupid. And that
undergraduates think that grad students are, well, nerds."
This is true. Graduate students really think that undergraduates
are stupid, and undergraduates really think that grad students are
nerds. We also think that they shower infrequently, make bad clothing
choices, and are all spies, but that's beside the point.
Personally, I think that the bad blood between graduate students
and undergrads is the fault of the Orange Key tour guides. I mean,
all those people do is lie to prospective students. "This is
not Harvard," they say. "Princeton is undergraduate oriented.
You'll have real professors teaching your classes, not teaching
assistants." What they don't tell you is that the precept,
the most critical component of your class, will be taught by a graduate
student. Unless you're in the politics department, in which case
it may be taught by a sleazy 20-something from Merrill Lynch. So
it's not surprising that undergrads feel a little cheated when they
realize that they'll be learning about supply and demand curves
from Ljupco-from-Macedonia, rather than from Paul Krugman. It's
just unfortunate that they take their frustration out on the entire
graduate population. Then again, it's not fair that the grad students
monopolize the choicest studying spots in Firestone.
Who would have thought? Graduate students are snobs when it comes
to eating clubs.
"What eating club are you going to join, Kate?" Spiro
asked me. Ravi and Mike leaned in closer. Even Max looked interested.
"Uh, I don't really know," I said. "Terrace? Maybe
Cloister? I have a couple of weeks to decide."
"Ivy," Spiro said authoritatively. "You should
Ravi and Mike nodded. They had heard of Ivy, too. I resisted the
impulse to tell them that if I were really Ivy material, I wouldn't
be eating brunch with a bunch of grad students. And, that if I were
really Ivy material, I would have done something when Spiro took
an unauthorized sample of my waffle. Instead, I asked Spiro if he
had ever been inside Ivy.
"Oh yes," Spiro said. "It is very nice. I have
also visited T.I. and Terrace. I did not like T.I., but maybe that
was just because everything was covered in beer."
"From what I understand, it's usually that way," I said.
"I did not like Terrace," he continued. "It was
as if everyone on the campus who is not straight was gathered there."
"Sexually straight or ideologically straight?" I asked
"Both," he sniffed.
You can reach Kate Swearengen