During my research year in Germany, I came across a number of epic statues around the city, and they spoke to me. Below is the story of graduate school as depicted by the sculptors of old Europe.
IN THE BEGINNING:
This depicts your undergraduate advisor, guiding the young, naive, and still idealistic version of yourself to the hallowed grad school applications.
THE FIRST SEMESTER:
You enter the arena that first, exciting fall semester, and are armed with the basic history-grad student essentials: historiography, the latest edition of the Chicago/Turabian manual, cheap alcohol, and a diminishing sense of self-worth. If you’re lucky, a more advanced warrior (otherwise known as “ABD student”) will take you under his or her wing and help shield you from some of the pressure of the academic battlefield: conference deadlines, seminar presentations, nagging undergrad students, and absentee advisors.
IN THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH:
Woe unto you: You enter your readings/qualifying exams year with determination, only to emerge as a shell of your former self 9-12 months later, barely clinging to an ABD status and letting all other accomplishments and pride fall to the ground. Exhausted and with your soul crushed, you begin to wonder why flipping burgers or sleeping under a bridge is such a bad thing. Luckily, the angel known as Jack Daniels is there to lift your spirits and give you the motivation (delusion?) to carry on.
Supported by research grants, significant others, friends, family, and more whiskey, and armed with the spear of bitter determination, you finally slay the dissertation beast that has ruled every waking moment of your life for the past decade. Having been safely sheltered inside the confines of the Ivory Tower during the entire duration of your epic quest, your doctoral committee signs off on your dissertation and you pass your defense. At long last, you receive validation of your life’s purpose!
GLORY ON HIGH:
You can finally sheathe your sword, for you are done. Now that you are [far too] old and wise – symbolized by an awesome, manly beard – Academia places the honor of three little letters behind your name. (The actual ceremony involving hoods, cloaks and funny hats sounds just as fantastical as this statue is epic). Now you are free to face the world as a revered Doctor of Philosophy, free to lead some other innocent soul to grad school applications.