Recently I went to one of the local poetry readings --- not because I thought there would be good local poetry (there wasn't) but because I wanted to see people before absolutely everybody scattered for the summer, and I am still, fitfully, trying to get on the good side of a certain clique of profs who are a bit of a boy's club. And I am soooo glad that there are postdocs here! I've said in the past it has been nice to have people to hang out and complain with who have no investment, really, in the department and are feeling culture shock. That way I can talk about the positive sides to the profs who have made a life here and not get them all defensive. Also this means I have people in the same academic "life stage" as me and I am not hanging out with the MA students.
Now, our MA students are nice, many of them more my age than just
out of undergrad, and are interesting people. However, they are not
really socialized to the profession. Or, any professional norms, really. I have
chatted with them in the faculty lounge and been sociable, but distant.
And I have wondered if I should expand my social network a bit and hang
out with them more regularly. Nope. My first instinct was right.
At this poetry reading (at the local hippie bar/music
venue/"coffee shop" that doesn't actually serve fresh coffee/oasis in
the wilderness --- you have heard me talk about its benefits and
drawbacks multiple times since I have been here), I listened, hung out
with a postdoc and her partner, and then afterwards drifted inside to
chat with a couple of the professors at the bar (these are English dept.
people, though I have been introduced to quite a few biology profs at
this bar. Dunno where the other departments go for a drink). One of the
MA students came up. This was a painful performance to watch, made ----
well, neither more nor less painful but rather infused with a sort of
inevitability and impending doom ---- by the fact that this MA student
earlier had asked my name and if I was a postdoc and then hit on me, and
then, after discovering that my fellow postdoc was not in fact an
undergrad (and thus only worth brushing off) but a postdoc, had hit on
her too, despite her wedding ring. There was much awkwardness involved.
The awkwardness continued, as I have already explained, with the same
sort of slow impending doom of watching the Titanic steam toward the
iceberg, as I watched this MA student alternately fawn on and insult
these professors, and just have no clue how to talk to adult colleagues
and sometime bosses. One should never expand on the crappy-ness of one's
MA program to some of the people running it. Complaining that it would
be better "of course, if you offered more grad classes" does not,
in fact, help your position. Nor does bragging about the (low-ranked) PhD programs
you were accepted into, while at the same time insulting entire fields
of literature (studied by a prof and a postdoc at the table) help you
dig out of the hole.
I don't know about what the profs were thinking,
but I was wondering a) what it would be like to teach an entire PhD
program of misfits and b) if this MA student would ever grow out of this
foot-in-mouth syndrome. I had this very blank, plastic smile plastered
on my face; I felt the most fake and Californian I ever have. But really,
I had to keep my teeth clenched so that "wow, are you always this much
of a dick?" didn't pop out of my mouth unexpectedly. I hoped that I came
off as slightly more collegial and mature by comparison.
Things got worse when the student started telling us in great
detail how drunk he was and purchased a pitcher for the table, telling
us that ________ was better quality than anything we had ordered.
"That is what I ordered," I said. "Here, top me off." The MA student
talked some more about how he was drunk. By this point the profs were
completely silent, almost frozen, and I was making bits of small talk with the other
postdoc and kind of listening with abject fascination and horror to the
monologue coming out of this guy's mouth. After dissing the company's
ability to hold alcohol and the quality of the dept. literary magazine,
which I guess he helped edit this spring, he asked if someone could
drive him home.
"Yeah I could drive you home," said one of the professors. "____
street? Yeah, I could --- that's not too far from my place." I asked
where that was (isn't it within walking distance?) and we all got off on a lively conversation about the
stupidness of the streets and navigation around here, and suddenly, when
we looked around, the MA student was gone.
"Where did he go? Has anyone seen ____? Hey, could --- someone should check the back, the bathrooms, see if he's passed out or something back there" said the professor. Nobody moved. The postdoc's partner reached out and emptied the last of the free pitcher into his glass.