First, a random observation. Those who have been with this blog since the get go will remember that one of my key methods of determining the elite from the slobs is the correct pronunciation of Pago Pago. Today at the Writing Center, I felt even more appreciation for my intellectual breeding. Because you know you're better than others when you can correctly pronounce words like "hegemonic," "apartheid," "Borges," "Proust," and "nuclear." You just feel better about yourself and your worth as a person in relation to the worth of other people.
This is also a great feeling when you realize you feel that way about your relationship to your lecturer, who spent the entire class restating the same things you yourself said in your guest lecture the week before. To quote another WC colleague, "Wow, I'm so much better than you."
Speaking of, I gave a guest lecture last Thursday (my fourth here at UW). As my topic dealt with art and politics (specifically classical music), I managed to open with a clip of a famous conductor playing Beethoven for Hitler's birthday, and I spent the last ten minutes of the lecture with Brahms' 2nd Symphony (2nd Movement) playing underneath me. Every so often, I would stop and conduct. According to one of my fellow TAs, the key moment was when I stopped mid-lecture, told the class to "Wait for it...", and then conducted the giant upsurge of the strings (around the 2:20 mark if you know the movement). Yes, I was kind of a media whore. And yes, I was showing off. But these poor kids have suffered so much this semester that I felt it was in order.
Ok, on to the main topic of this post. Recently, one of the MA students told me that, without the grueling agony of the MA test, there was confusion as to how the rest of the graduate student population would judge their new peers as equals. Without the rigors of testing, how would we know that these newcomers (infidels in the halls of our ivory tower, if you will) were up to snuff?
To be fair, anyone seeing how hard these folk are working themselves with end of the semester papers should inherently know that they're worthy of attention and grudging respect (or that they have no lives and work far too hard). But this hesitation has been echoed by many a newcomer that I've talked with, so I feel we as a collective must explore options for inducting the new generation into our elite brand of snobbery. As such, I have comprised a list of possible methods.
1. Deathmatch: We pit the MAs against each other in a three day Battle Royale. The survivors receive a Masters and pass on to the next stage of the program.
2. Random selection: A committee of PhD students (or Council of Elders, if you will) randomly chooses whom we wish to advance and whom we wish to shun. We would offer no logic or reasoning for these choices. This would cull their spirits and make them constantly curry favor.
3. Prison-method: We seek out the smartest of the MAs. We then beat the hell out of this person in front of all the others. This will strike an ungodly fear in the hearts of the others, who will always respect our authority and never seek to oust us.
4. The Quest: At the start of the year, every MA is assigned a mentor. To conclude the MA year, the Mentor shall assign an epic quest for the mentee to complete. Successful return leads to a degree. (Quests could range from "Bring me a soda" to "Here's half of a medallion. Somewhere in the world is a man with the other half. He shall lead the way to the treasure of the Incas. Find me this treasure.")
5. The MA Test (Alcoholic Form): Each MA will be plied with questions fundamental to the understanding of the literary arts. For every correct answer, you do a shot. For every incorrect answer, you do two shots. Those who both pass the test and avoid a hospital stay will receive the degree. This method also helps build the alcohol tolerance crucial to the continued pursuit of a PhD.
6. The "Shovel My Drive" Test: It snows a lot. Sure would be nice if someone shoveled my drive.
7. The Out-Write Test: Candidates are placed in front of a computer. Given a prompt, they must proceed to write more pages than me in an hour's time.
8. The Kobayashi Maru Test: A test to be determined which is impossible to pass without cheating. Measures ingenuity, and lets us laugh at people who keep "trying" to win. Bonus points for anyone who breaks down and yells "Khaaaaaaannnnnn!" as the test concludes.
Other suggestions? Something that might incorporate racing bears on the frozen surface of Lake Mendota? Skydiving off of Helen C.? Other thoughts?
And as a last note, every dissertator should be friends with several MA students. You never realize just how good you have it until you don't have to frantically write four seminar papers. (Good luck, you paper writers out there!)