MV Choices: Postgraditis

Postgraditis is more than making good grades or feeling smart.

Many people may perform well on tests in school or even make firsts during their undergraduate degrees, but postgraditis is when you choose a topic and obsessively study it until you know more about it than everyone else. Postgraditis, and its more severe form PhDitis, is a chronic condition that affects a small percentage of the population. Though rare, it is a serious and acute disease with lasting side effects.

Some people still think that postgraditis is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Postgraditis can seriously affect the well being and relationships of those diagnosed with the condition. It can affect eating habits, sleep patterns, and can interfere with one’s social life, leading to loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Postgraditis can take many forms. It can range from those who develop a tendency to collect plant samples, take the opportunity to experiment with lasers, have a fixation on numbers, or even more dangerous flights of philosophical fancy. Those vulnerable to this disease must be aware of the symptoms in order to increase the chances of an early diagnosis.

The symptoms of postgraditis can be complex and vary widely between people. But as a general rule, if you have postgraditis, you swing between feelings of idealism, self-importance, and generally feeling ‘on top of the world’ and feeling stressed, anxious, and like you no longer time have time for extracurricular things you used to enjoy.

If you think you or a loved one might be suffering from postgraditis, consider the following questions:

  • Are you looking at graduate programmes or are already enrolled in a graduate programme at a university?
  • Do you make more than one trip to the library per day?
  • Do you have more than 100 books on or around your desk?
  • Do you find yourself contorting yourself on the floor in stretching exercises or yoga poses recommended by your physiotherapist?
  • Do you frequently eat more than one meal in your office?
  • Do you find yourself referring to your office or lab as ‘home’?
  • Do you use words such as ‘sign’ and ‘signifier’ during dinner conversations (and know what they mean)?
  • Do you spend an inordinate amount of time on Wikipedia or becoming intimately familiar with the inner workings of the BBC or The Guardian websites?

If you answered yes to two or more of the above questions, you might have a case of postgraditis. However, there are many other symptoms of postgraditis and you’re unlikely to have every one listed above.

There is no single cause of postgraditis.

You can develop it for different reasons. However, studies show that those with undergraduate degrees are more likely to develop this condition.

If you have postgraditis or PhDitis it is important to talk to your local academic advisor.

There are no physical tests for postgraditis. The main way in which your academic advisor will tell if you have postgraditis is by asking you lots of questions about your educational history and how the way you are feeling is affecting you mentally. Try to be as open as you can with your academic advisor. Describing your symptoms and how they are affecting you will really help your academic advisor understand if you have postgraditis and how severe it is.

Living with postgraditis may be difficult, but also can be very rewarding.

Not all of the consequences of postgraditis and PhDitis are bad. In many cases it can lead to a sense of purpose, a new prefix to your name, or even a career. Many people make long-lasting friendships during this time and even meet their life-partner. Postgraditis is not a life-threatening disease and often goes away after 1-10 years.

There are some key steps you can take to help your recovery from postgraditis.

  • Eat well. It is important to maintain a healthy diet while coping with postgraditis. Research suggests that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, monitoring your alcohol intake, and including a regular amount of cake is essential to surviving postgraditis in good health.
  • Get regular sleep. The organ most affected by postgraditis is your brain. Your brain needs regular times to recharge, which is best done while you are asleep. However, too much sleep can lead to lethargy and distraction, so it is important to find a balance that best works for you.
  • Exercise. It has been shown that being physically active lifts your mood and can reduce stress and anxiety. Exercise can also improve your self-esteem. Taking a short walk after lunch can also reduce the tension that comes from staring at a computer screen or bending over books for most of the morning.
  • Find other people with postgraditis. In order to fight loneliness and isolation, it is important to make friends and find ways to be social. Many universities have support groups for those with postgraditis, called ‘forums’ or ‘societies’.
  • Be organised. Keep a diary and keep good notes. This will be essential when you find that you need to remember something you read from three or four years ago. The more organised you are the easier your recovery will be.
  • Meet regularly with your academic advisor. Your academic advisor is there to help you. This can be a fruitful and rewarding relationship. In the rare case where your assigned academic advisor is unhelpful, absent, or too busy, find someone to be an unofficial mentor to help you during your recovery.
  • Do your work. Once you are diagnosed with postgraditis, often the recommended course of recovery is to finish your degree. Remain diligent and keep working. Remember: The only person responsible for a full recovery is you.

Postgraditis does not appear in children and rarely in people under the age of twenty-one.

Ladies of letters

I fear that our house is quickly becoming the Penguin House:

Not only do we have a poster of Penguin Books hanging in our sitting room; courtesy of Ros’s box of 100 Penguin Postcards (I want one, too!), each of the rooms in our house now has a particular book: Plats du jour (or Foreign Food) by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd, Dangerous Curves by Peter Cheyney, Civilization by Clive Bell, Mantrap by Sinclair Lewis, and Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans. They were put up with a tremendous amount of irony…

It’s Monday

After cutting my finger open with the cheese grater, setting off the fire alarm and running around in a frenzy trying to find something long enough to reach the ceiling to turn it off, melting the only scraper we have, getting olive oil on my jeans — let alone the reappearance of the kitchen poltergeist — I finally got my dinner of chicken parmesan. The sheer amount of times I exclaimed, ‘Heavens!’ this evening would be enough to catch any angel’s attention.

It’s Monday.

I was going to call my parents tonight, but once they read this post, I think they’ll understand why I might call them later this week instead.

I want a new cheese grater for NaNoWriMo Eve. And a mallet.

Sleep tight…

If ever I have children, I will teach them to never make their beds. I got over a stomach bug only to get the dreaded summer cold only to get a sore throat and bed bugs. Upon informing my landlords, one of whom is an entomologist, we caught one of these accursed creatures to have its identity verified. My mattress, etc., has been hoovered within an inch of its life and I am borrowing a set of very pink sheets because all of mine are in the wash.

Which leads me to my next point: the only thing to do with said sheets, once they are out of the washer, is to hang them outside. With a forecast of rain. Yet another reason this country needs to recognize that tumble dryers are the way of the future.

Meanwhile, my throat hurts and I look like I thought dancing with mosquitoes, or sleeping in a fire ant hill, was a brilliant idea. I’m tired and everything else right now is at an impasse—I do not need a break so much as a breakthrough.

At least I survived the first one hundred pages of The Name of the Rose. Maybe now my penance is complete and God will forgive me for laughing in church.

Mixed messages

I eat a couple of Dove dark chocolates after I take one of my injections—equal parts bribe, reward and consolation—and these chocolates are well-known for their ‘inspirational’ messages inside the wrapper. Granted, after an injection I’m in a sour mood (hence the need for one), and so I am decidedly Not Amused.

Tonight’s messages?

‘Do a little more each day than you think you possibly can.’

‘Find little ways to make part of your day like a day off.’

Thanks Dove, for encouraging my guilt/discipline complex.

Mindbenders

The weekend had not been kind to my arthritis, thus, I spent most of yesterday in bed willing the pain killers to work (alas, I left the really good ones in Scotland), but I did, like a Victorian invalid, make a circuit around the back garden and even walked as far as the elementary school playground in order to get some fresh air and stretch my legs a bit. My brain half-thinks it’s summer: it isn’t dark until 7 PM and I can wear short sleeves outside. Where on earth am I? Oh yes, South Texas. Where tomorrow the high will be 72 F/22 C.

The hairdresser at Supercuts asked if I was in high school. ‘Ah, no, I’m a graduate student.’ But somewhere between my answer and her next question I ended up being a college student at San Angelo State. I realised this mix-up too late to pull out gracefully; while I dug in my memories for Danielle’s stories from college, she fortunately did not ask any follow-up questions. The ability to ask a follow-up question seems to have become the lost art of conversation. I do not claim any proficiency myself, but I do appreciate finding a good conversationalist (except, of course, in situations such as the above).

And now, what you have all been waiting for with bated breath, the assessment of Neuromancer by William Gibson. The critic quoted on the front cover claims it is a ‘A mindbender of a read’, and it certainly is… strange. Neuromancer is the novel that created cyberpunk, a subgenre in sci-fi. Instead of dealing with outerspace, aliens and robots, cyberpunk is about the insides of computers and AI programs (but not robots, necessarily). For those unfamiliar with the cyberpunk genre but do watch movies, think of The Matrix. The creators of The Matrix have to have read Neuromancer: there are so many references that came directly from this book, even Zion.

It has been said that I read as a writer, and this is true. So while I can step back and appreciate that Gibson was pioneering a new genre, that no one really knew how computers worked when he wrote it in the early-1980’s, I do hold mostly criticisms. Gibson was repetitive, repeating character attributes beyond the point the reader should have remembered already. The narrator, who was presumably the main character, Case, frequently used vocabulary that Case would not have known; Case was not an academic, if anything, in the world Gibson created, Case had little formal education at all. Picking up some obscure vocabulary I can understand in the programming world, but not to the extent that Neuromancer had. The dialogue was choppy, with characters calling each other by name every other sentence even if there was no one else present. (Really, how often do you say the name of the person you are talking to? Think about it.) A final quibble on word choice: half-way through the novel, Case started using a curse word he hadn’t used before. I’m neurotic that I notice things like this, but I do, and it bothers me. The author should be consistent, or at least, have a reason for being inconsistent.

Kelly said that Neuromancer may have been expanded from a short story; if this is so, then it could explain some of the plot issues. The driving force for the plot—the question of ‘who, or what, is Wintermute?’—isn’t introduced until 70 pages in, so the first third of the novel seems episodic and irrelevant. Also, as I mentioned earlier, it was written in the early-1980’s, and it felt like it. It really is unfortunate when novels can be dated—not in the sense that one can place the general time period by the tone, but when the novel’s relevance is hindered by it being locked into a specific decade. Also, he didn’t ‘solve’ anything with the ending: the character passed out, and in the next chapter we find out that the AI’s took care of everything, and now the characters involved are all exonerated and rich. I don’t care for deus ex machina endings, myself.

Neuromancer does deserve to stay on The Literary Cat’s list of Essential Science Fiction, even if I didn’t like it very much. I appreciated reading it, despite not caring for any of the characters or the setting, and that the main reason I kept reading was to find out who/what Wintermute was. Oh, and I found out that the band Straylight Run got their name from this book. So there you have it.

The irony

How is it that PHD Comics seem to know when I am working on visa applications? Last time, when my visa application was denied*, Tajel was having a similar problem. This time, just when I am about to send my visa extension application off, there is this:

phd102609sWith Part Two here, in which Jorge Cham is deported for not being a “real” doctor.

Also, today the Royal Mail postal workers are on strike. Good thing I didn’t put my application in the mail today after all…

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* Because I didn’t include the so-crucial letter from Sallie Mae that I didn’t know existed until the day I was about to send off my visa appeal. I am duly paranoid this time.