Monday, June 03, 2013

Dissertation Pasta-gate

So a visiting prof at NYU, at the intersection of business and psychology and so not someone I'd ever heard of, tweeted the following: "Dear obese PhD applicants: if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation #truth". This tweet has caused the internet to explode. It's unclear to me whether he meant applicants to the University of New Mexico, where he's otherwise a professor, or to NYU, although it's a safe bet he wants slender grad students nationwide.

In any case, I join the chorus: what the what? What is this man even talking about? It's offensive, yes, "fat-shaming," sure, and no doubt upsetting to many heavier academics. It probably does necessitate a bit of a dig into dude's role in admitting students - are ones he OK'd especially svelte?

It's problematic, then, but it's also bizarre. What would one thing have to do with the other? It's not like writing a dissertation is some kind of athletic feat for which physical condition would be relevant, and then there could be some kind of conversation about whether or not it's fat-shaming to suggest that those who weigh 600-plus pounds are unlikely to win triathlons. (I'm so far from doing so myself that I don't have any idea how those who win them are built.) It's not like PhD students are some caste akin to supermodels, known for our ability to meet narrow aesthetic specifications. To write a dissertation is to sit on your couch in your pajamas. There's no particular size requirement for that.

Anyway, a NYMag commenter has the winning response:

Technically, he isn't fat-shaming. Being on the Atkins Diet on a grad student salary in NY requires not only willpower, but the ability to create a budget and possibly write grant applications so as to fund your steak and salmon-filet habit.
Indeed. What's grad school without pasta? Without bagels, ramen, or rice? And pizza! And free bread and cheese at receptions! Grad students who stopped eating carbs would stop eating, and stop dissertating as well.


Petey said...

"This tweet has caused the internet to explode."

Stop the fat-shaming already!

Anonymous said...

re: dissertating as sitting on the couch in pajamas

I decided not to go to grad school, so I can't say whether or not this is true, but at my departmental graduating ceremony (Classics), they warned us that a continued pursuit of the life of the mind would be accompanied by the cultivation of some "serious Sitzfleich"!

caryatis said...

Um, you fail to mention this is an evolutionary psychology professor. Not a coincidence.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


It does seem likely. Then again, the presumed alternative - an office job that pays enough to allow you to order in when staying at work till 10pm - might be worse. And teaching, assuming you stand when you teach, is almost athletic, or so I told myself when I stopped jogging the semester I was teaching.


Good point.

Sigivald said...

Hell, he said "stop eating carbs", not "be skinny".

I guess that means if you're reasonably-sized (or even only slightly maybe overweight a little), but still eat carbs at all, you're Not Ready For Grad School.

This sort of thing makes me glad I never even considered a graduate degree.