Simpsons on Grad Students


Recently the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy has increased the length of its PhD programme to 4 years. Previously the PhD only required three years, though this commonly spilled over to 3.5 years. Additionally, typical UK undergraduate degrees are 3 years–though there appear to be options for fourth year honours degrees.

By comparison, US undergraduate degrees are also 4 years long and the typical length of a theoretical physics PhD at UC Berkeley is 5.5 years, with a comparable number for Stanford. (Princeton is strictly 4.) In addition, there are always stories of that grad student who has been in grad school for 7+ years. (For what it’s worth, Americans catch up a bit due to the exciting English tradition of gap years.)

A few other differences: UK graduate students are meant to focus on research. US grad students are typically expected to spend a year (or two) completing coursework and teaching discussion sections to support themselves in addition to research and scrounging for free food. (This last bit is something that CMS students seem to be either too well fed or too civilised to take part in.)

Anyway, while my colleagues in the states have been taking exams* I’ve been burning some time watching old episodes of The Simpsons. I’ve stumbled on a couple of relevant gems that may be of interest:

From The Simpsons season 16 episode 20.

Bart: I was so bored I cut the pony tail off the guy sitting in front of us. Look at me, I’m a grad student! I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year!

Marge: Bart, don’t make fun of grad students, they just made a terrible life choice.

From an unknown episode.

Professor: No food for you grad students till you grade 3000 papers!

Update: apparently someone else had the exact same idea I did! Just a couple of weeks ago, too. And it’s another first year grad student blog. Just so that these posts are different, I’ll throw in one more clip that always finds its way to the incoming Stanford undergraduate class:

*-Good luck on exams to DJ, Chris, and Dan in Santa Barbara… but not to Josh (who may have found his sugar mama) or to Dan/Naresh in Cornell (whose stipends carry ridiculously more purchasing power in the only school that’s colder than where I am).

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