what the grad student of today sounds like, and reflections on "higher" education

So as some of you may know I transcribe videos on the side for some extra cash. It’s fabulous because I can do it from 5pm to midnight or at 4 in the morning or whenever I have time.

And I get checks mailed to me from UVic, which kind of feels like payback in a way. Like if I just do 4000 more hours of video they’ll have paid me back for my tuition and I WIN somehow.

It’s also neat because I get paid depending on my efficiency. It’s all up to me. The pay is a set amount per-video-hour, not by how long it takes me to transcribe the video, so if I piss around or don’t really pay attention I might make like 8 bucks an hour. But if I really put my mind to it and try typing while they’re talking and only pausing it when things get too crazy I can make like 15 bucks an hour. It’s kind of a fun challenge.

Doing this type of transcription really causes me to pay attention to the way people speak.

It’s tough, not only because every single person seems to have a crazy accent for some reason (hello french-Canadian man with a major stutter! and mumbling Spanish guy!) but also because people really really talk around in circles. Unless they’re focused on a task, I’ve found in these videos that the people will just blather out words like there’s no tomorrow, with no distinguishable point.

Especially the highly educated ones.

And since starting this second job, I’ve been paying more attention to people in my own life. It seems like the more academic training somebody has had, the more they do this. It’s like they’ve lost their ability to speak succinctly.

Here’s an example, copied and pasted straight from the last transcription I did:

(remember, this is a grad student, or maybe even post-grad)

(to get the full effect, don’t scan it, read it out loud. seriously try it. it’s insane)

And I’m just wondering, because like I mean as we’re looking at this…th-this transcription, beforehand we uh obviously have some kind of…we would assume some kind of claim. So can you demonst…can you create a claim and demonstrate how I … and demonstrate how connections exist in this transcript and how they suppor-and how how we can use them to support

Well…uh to uh t-to support … to be used for as evidence to support the claim. Because like to me I want to infer that he’s using basically i-like using basically like uncomfortable words and so on demonstrates that to me like I want I want to right now infer that he’s not quite comfortable and as I read down it’s about dreaming and you know meditative states and it’s uh almost to me like I’m inferring that he’s u..that he’s not a hundred percent sure but that’s just because of my personal experience, I’ve g…like I know people who are very very certain about what they’re talking about and those words…mean that I’m avoiding listening to them or um they’re very succinct about what they are talking about.

But do you see what I mean? Like I’m trying to infer, trying to make sense out of this without having a claim to demonstrate where the anal-where the evidence is linking into it.S-similarly there are a number of constraints for us because we don’t…I don’t have…

Etcetera.

I was kind of talking about this with somebody the other day, how people with an education don’t necessarily have any intelligence. And sometimes it’s quite the opposite.

A 20-something girl talked down to me the other day (outside of school), assuming I didn’t know what an ellipsis is.

“sorry,” she said, “I’m an English major”

Yeah, of course you are, because nobody else would be pretentious enough to even use the word in the context it was given.

I learned through taking linguistics that one needs to use multiple linguistic strategies to get them through the day. You wouldn’t talk to your grandma the same way you talk to your best friend, right? The same goes for talking to the general public using words like “therefore” or … oh, I don’t know, “ellipsis”. Unless you’re certain that your interlocutor will know what the hell you’re talking about, it’s just showing off.

I know plenty of gigantic words. My favorite coffee mug is this one:

I mean, we’re talking extreme word-nerdism up in here. But in my everyday life, like when I go grab a coffee you don’t hear me using these words. There is a time and a place

And yeah, it’s fun to practice and it’s fun to feel like you’re in on something that not everybody knows, but unfortunately what comes with studying such a specialized skill is the danger of becoming a pretentious twit. There are very few places in life to which you can apply your literary analysis skills or your … I don’t know, close-reading-of-poetry skills. (ugh)

This is why “higher education” seems so useless to most people…the usefulness is so abstract.

Because it’s not always about “getting a high-paying job”.

But then what is it all about? Why do people do it?

I really feel like I’m never going to be a linguist or a … I don’t know, Spanish teacher or whatever, but I did learn a lot over these years: how to meet a deadline, how to have an open mind to new theories, how to think outside the box…how to appreciate art (but really I still hate most poetry no matter how “groundbreaking” it was), how to spot a pretentious twit…

Actually working in a tattoo shop and being a student at the same time has really opened my eyes to what makes a person think they’re “cool” or “smart” and I feel like I can really see through a lot of the crap people put out there. University is useful and of course it’s almost necessary today just to get jobs in many fields, but I guess the point of all this has already been covered by the idiom:

You can’t judge a book by it’s cover.

Don’t be fooled by big words or gigantic mohawks and patchy punk pants. They really say nothing about the person’s character.

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