Competition and Graduate School – Or, How Grad School is Like the Hunger Games

This semester I’ve been thinking a lot about competition and grad school. Every time I submit an application for an internship, job, or dissertation funding, I am aware of the fact that I am going up against many other students, all of us competing for a limited number of prizes. Graduate school, I’ve decided, is like the Hunger Games.

(Did you know Suzanne Collins graduated from IU? Maybe that's where she got her inspiration. Nah, just kidding!)

If you’re objecting already, hear me out! No, graduate students are not engaged in a fight to the death, but we are fighting for our academic careers: vying for this or that fellowship, struggling to win the attention of Dr. So-and-So, waging an uphill battle against the referees who review papers for publication. Our competitors in all of this are our fellow students, and they want the prize just as badly. For the most part, they are nice, innocent, and hardworking (Rue) but occasionally they can be ruthless jerks like those people from District 1. And just to complete the analogy, let’s say that the library (or lab) represents the arena. Recommendation letters and bits of helpful wisdom from our advisors = gifts from sponsors (obviously).

Graduate school can definitely take on a competitive atmosphere, but since I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, I want to point out another parallel between the Hunger Games and grad school. The people who win in the end are those who figure out how to work together.

I’m happy to say that the cooperative atmosphere in my department overshadows the competitive one. People are quick to alert each other about potential opportunities, and they are happy to share ideas and collaborate. Three times in the past year I’ve applied for the same grants that other students have their eyes on. Instead of hiding our work from each other, everyone has read each other’s applications and offered ongoing advice and support. In the end, we will all benefit from the experience – much more than if we had tried to tackle this particular battle alone. We’re like Katniss and Peeta! (minus the smooching)

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I hope you put down the academic articles for a few hours this summer and indulge in the Hunger Games.