Spell or Die!

If you are a grad student (I don’t pretend faculty read my blog) at a research-based university, it’s likely that you have heard the adage “Publish or die.” Well, the precept isn’t entirely true. After all, a “good” student will still be granted a PhD, published or not. The unpublished won’t be getting those top tier post-doc positions, but there are plenty of opportunities for a PhD student from a respectable university. What’s more detrimental for an aspiring doctoral student is the mastery of vocabulary, grammar, and spelling. Straight up, if you don’t get a reasonable score on the GRE (where over half the test is based on those factors), you die. Let’s face it, if your bachelors degree wasn’t in engineering, it amounts to shit.

I say you this — what the hell? If I was in charge of recruitment and acceptance for a graduate program, let’s say a neuroscience PhD program, I’d want the incoming students to have an exceptional understanding of …(get this)… neuroscience. Call me crazy. I would poll my faculty, and ask each of them to produce a list of 10 questions they’d want an incoming student to know. Then I would test potential students based on this pool of questions.

That’s just not how we roll here in the US. Esoteric vocabulary and impeccable grammar, that’s what separates grad students from undergraduates. Though, I’ve never quite understood the point of knowing a word that only 10 percent of aspiring graduate students know. Which means it is a word that nobody fuckin knows. But that’s how the GRE works. If everybody knew the word, then how can we tell if you’re smart!

Here’s the thing, devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression. Correct English is the slang of prigs who wrote history and essays. A man would be a fool if he couldn’t produce and understand words spelled more than one way. It’s a uniquely human phenomenon, the capacity to deduce meaning from cmopeltyl scarbmeled wrods as if spelling is a footnote to an afterthought. But as long as you can looks smart by stealing quotes, substitute big words, and watch those split infinitives, you will do alright my friend. All others will die.