One of the pleasures of being married to a novelist is that I get to help out with the research sometimes. One of the books that Emily is working on now concerns a couple of disenchanted Classics professors. So one of the things we've been thinking about is what could be the most boring possible title for a prospective book manuscript, the attempted completion of which is so tedious and devoid of meaning that the professor in question is sometimes moved to tears. Right now we're toying with Funerary Inscriptions of the Transapline, Part III: The Constantian Inheritance. To be fair, this probably won't survive scrutiny by colleagues of mine who actually know something about life in imperial Rome. But it's a fun game even if you are not a specialist.
Another task is to think about behavioral archetypes of staff, administrators, faculty, and students. Usually writers just kind of set up their characters and then see what happens, but it can be helpful ahead of time to think in broad (and unfair!) terms about the kinds of people who populate a given milieu. Of course, once the instances of these archetypes are set up and going, then if you are really listening to the muse each fictional person's individuality will shine through in ways that problematize any course-grained set of archetypes. But it can help to start with such a picture.
- Golden Child: Fairly early in the first year of a matriculating class, a non-trivial percentage of the faculty will come to the consensus that this guy (due to sexism, it's always a guy) is markedly better than the other members of your cohort. And you will all know it, both from the faculty behavior and from the casualness which the golden child evinces when he refers to them by first name. Prognosis: The problem is, you just can't tell that much about how a person is going to evolve over the next five to seven years, much less during a whole career, based on his set of achievements as a twenty-two year old. If the golden child doesn't wash out in the first year, transfer to a better school, or suffer a mental breakdown during qualifying exams, he will get his degree and then almost certainly not live up to the expectations of the faculty. As a result of internalizing these expectations, later in life he will conceive of himself as a failure, even if he has tenure and a 2-2 load.
- Libertarian: Nobody will be able to figure out what's really going on with this guy, especially if he's not a Randroid (we all know what's going on with them). Is likely to, even as a graduate student, be slurping the drippings from one or more conservative think tank slash gravy trains in a way that might lead to greasiness with departmental funds later on. Prognosis: Slightly more likely than non-libertarians to be successful as academia rewards monomaniacs of all stripes.
- Evangelical: Found Plantinga absolutely liberating as an undergraduate at a small Christian liberal arts college and found he was good at philosophy in the process. Maybe, but probably hasn't, given up on the idea that the Bible is literally true. In either case, you are likely to see him walking across the quad with a just-checked-out-from-the-library DVD of the Ken Burns' jazz documentary in his hands. At some point in the semester he will lean forward and say, "You know, jazz really is American classical music" and you will be overcome with love for the poor bastard. Prognosis: Can go one of two ways. If all goes as it should, his religious background ended up giving him a big stake in philosophical debates and (whether or not he rejects aspects of this background) he has minor superpowers as a result. If it does not go as it should he has divorced his religious self from his philosophical self. Such people are scarily able to pick and defend a thesis merely because it's likely to get published. It doesn't matter, because the religious stuff which is outside of the space of reasons is the important stuff anyhow.
- Drunky McDrunk Pants: Will, perhaps multiple times, pee on your couch after a belligerent evening of insulting faculty and throwing up on the lawn. Prognosis: Always remember that if he could do well enough in undergraduate to get into a PhD program while being this soused, then he's almost certainly much smarter and has much more on the ball than you. If he doesn't have a breakdown, suffer liver failure, or get murdered buying drugs he will be the most successful person in your cohort.
- Arty McFarty: For some reason, in Philosophy, Arty McFarty is almost always a musician: classical, jazz, rock, edm, or some combination thereof. Not too much bluegrass. Very rarely a theatre or dance nerd. Almost never painting or the plastic arts. The early Nietzsche would say that this means that philosophy is Dionysian as opposed to Apollonian. The early Nietzsche would be wrong. Prognosis: Pretty good, for basically the same reason as McDrunk Pants' are good, unless of course McFarty insists either on being in a rock band or starting an improve theatre troup while still in grad school. Put that shit off until after you have tenure (at which point you are no longer numerically identical to your graduate school self and probably don't care that you don't make art anyhow).
- Aliterate: Most Americans can read but don't. English graduate students do read but can't (because of their training). Philosophers are supposed to both be able to read and actually do so. But at this person's apartment there are no books other than some of the textbooks that have been saved from undergrad, almost certainly a small liberal arts college. Prognosis: Not good, but not because of the aliteracy. It's rather that doing well at his SLAAC didn't prepare him at all for doing well at a research institution. If he or she does somehow make it through the Ph.D program will probably be good at doing just what's needed to get a job and tenure. Most of his colleagues won't read novels either.
- Delusional: This guy (sorry, again it's always a guy) will do some combination of: lighting inappropriate things on fire, reporting faculty members to the Drug Enforcement Agency, destroying the faculty member's house he is sitting for the summer, stealing mail from the TA room boxes, calling you up at 4:00 AM claiming to have reconciled quantum physics and relativity theory, preparing a dossier of all of your social media comments and sending that to the FBI (as well as the department chair, the dean, and the university president), briefly convince you that the Jewish Mafia of San Fransisco is after him, etc. etc. etc. Prognosis: Campuswide restraining order.
- Anxious/Depressed: Might sheepishly ask you to accommodate some bizarre neurosis such as a fear of bubble gum. Might hyperventilate during class presentations. If on happy pills will likely say inappropriate things at odd times. If not on happy pills might, in a pact of mutual self-medication, become best friends with Drunky McDrunk Pants (who he can't really keep up with). During depressive periods things like answering e-mails and basic personal hygiene will suffer. Prognosis: Will get tenure, have two children, and write blog posts about what to expect in graduate school.
- Married, With Children: Will freak you out a bit because you're not a parent. Your parents are parents. These colleagues are like your parents! Prognosis: Will invariably succeed in getting the PhD and probably a job. This is inexplicable, since having young children is basically like taking on another 40 hour a week job with no remuneration. But it's a fact.
- Married, Without Children: Income of spouse usually makes this person's life materially better than everyone else in the cohort. Prognosis: Bad, much worse than non-married and much, much worse than married with children. Weirdly, most spouses aren't that jazzed about eighty hour weeks and you going to departmental crap every weekend.
- Dress Horse: In continental philosophy there are actually lots of heterosexual male versions of this. Go to SPEP. It's nice. For some reason analytic philosophy is too disgustingly slovenly for it to happen. Prognosis: Inversely proportional to propensity to go clubbing.
- Whinger1, The Department: Every conversation devolves into a complainy festival about how badly the graduate students are being treated by various faculty members. Even if everything s/he says is true, it gets very old. Prognosis: Not great, but O.K.
- Whinger2, Other Grad, Students: Every conversation devolves into condescendingly insulting other graduate students. This person is just as boring as the first type of complainer, but vastly more destructive. Prognosis: In general, bad. Would do much better to (as with Arty McFarty, after tenure) passive-aggressively complain about graduate student archetypes.
Well, there you have it and you're welcome. I think that every single PhD student I've known fits into one or more of these categories, and moreover that they are projectable in the philosophy of science sense of that term.