Here at Princeton, nobody seems more mysterious than graduate students. They are half as many in number, and they live far from main campus, so their lives easily become fodder for myths. “It’s a completely different mental landscape as a graduate student, which I think contributes to the idea that graduate students are misunderstood,” said David Selim Sayers GS, a sixth-year graduate student in the Near Eastern Studies department.
As a result, over the years undergraduates have formed many stereotypes about the elusive graduate student, most of which cannot be further from the truth. Since residential graduate students live on-campus and experience both graduate and undergraduate life, we interviewed a handful of them to find out their impressions of myths undergraduates believe about them and why they’re not true.
Myth One: The Street and the D-Bar are the only social scenes.
Actually, graduate students rarely go to the Street. “A lot of graduate students don’t go because they think it’ll be awkward ... and they’re probably right,” said Sean Edington GS, a fourth-year graduate student in the chemistry department and a Butler College RGS. “There’s often a change that comes over people when they realize they’re talking to graduate students.” Instead, graduate students seeking a party scene visit the D-Bar, a bar area beneath Pyne Tower in the basement of the Graduate College.
However, even the D-Bar isn’t the center of the social scene. “It’s a meeting place for a lot of graduate students, but nowhere near the majority,” Edington said. For fun, graduate students usually take advantage of their cars, apartments and adulthood to hit up restaurants and bars on Nassau Street, host barbeques in their homes or go out of town. Many who leave campus end up visiting Philadelphia and New York to explore areas outside of the Orange Bubble.
“One of my favorite memories was a perfect fall afternoon where my fiancé and I ate lunch on Nassau Street, had hot chocolate and cider from Halo Pub and watched a soccer game at the stadium,” Edington said.
Myth Two: Graduate students are “creepy,” don’t have social skills and refuse to do anything outside of research and academics.
“Although those types of people can definitely exist, there are a lot of graduate students who are very involved in things outside of lab and really put time into their teaching,” Edington said.
Graduate students fill the whole spectrum on this issue. “The fact is that, just like undergraduates, graduate students come in all types, especially vis-a-vis the issue of ‘life-work balance.’ Some graduate students may forgo other interests to stay in the library or lab, while others maintain involvement with a vast array of interests, pastimes, extracurriculars and events,” said David K. Lennington GS, a graduate student in the English department and a Wilson College RGS.
Other graduate students find the stereotype of the “perpetually tired, overworked graduate student” humorous. “I believe that the sketchy graduate student stereotype is a nice artificial creation to hide the true workings of graduate student life. Nobody really knows about how much fun we have — it’s our best-kept secret. I always get a kick out of it,” said Jonathan D. Glassman, a third-year student in the civil and environmental engineering department who is also a Wilson College RGS. “Of course, being a graduate student is a lot of work, but it’s still so much fun being in school and being paid to learn what you want to learn. It’s such an awesome life, and I can’t think of a better place to be.”
Graduate students also do far more than just research. For Glassman, a typical day is waking up at 6:30 a.m., swimming at Dillon Gymnasium, doing research work, attending French class in the late afternoon, eating dinner at Wilson with undergraduates and then attending events or study breaks in the evening.
Myth Three: Graduate students don’t really get involved in undergraduate life.
Though the clubs and organizations on campus consist of mostly undergraduates, there are many graduate students who also participate in them. There are graduate students in the wind ensemble, on sports teams and in other extracurricular activities. For example, as a graduate student in the engineering department, Glassman co-leads a design team for Engineers Without Borders and works alongside many of his ’zees in Wilson. “I really enjoy interacting with the undergraduates. They’re always intellectually on their game,” Glassman said.
In addition, grad students who work as residential graduate students are heavily involved in undergraduate social life. They have a lot more to their job than just living in residential colleges. Sayers, an RGS in Wilson College, hosts a film series called “The Films of Takashi Miike” as a fun study break for students. Glassman planned a trip to Valley Shepherd Creamery with a group of undergrads. They went on a tour of a dairy farm and bought cheese to bring back for a “wine and cheese” study break — with sparkling grape juice for the undergrads, of course. This past week, the Wilson RGSs also planned a reverse trick-or-treat study break, in which they visited all the rooms in Wilson and gave students goody bags filled with candy and treats. “All of our ideas are largely motivated by our own personal interests and what we think would be an exciting thing to share with students,” Glassman said.
Residential graduate students also help out with academic guidance. When it comes to choosing classes or dealing with stress, they are there for personal and emotional support. “I have met a lot of students majoring in chemistry who considered going to graduate school. I gave them advice on how to approach graduate school and how to make their decisions,” Edington said.
For the most part, though, graduate students do not consciously think about their stereotypes. “Most of us go through our days not thinking much about whether what we do perpetuates any stereotypes about graduate students or not,” said Matt Trujillo GS, a fourth-year graduate student in the psychology department and an RGS in Rockefeller College. “Ironically, I feel that this, acting in a way that is true to ourselves and not dictated by what we think undergraduates perceive us as being, is the best way for graduate students to debunk the myths.”
“People, undergraduate and graduate students alike, appreciate individuals who are authentic and genuine to themselves,” Trujillo added.