Pathology Report: Graduate School
Graduate school is an infectious pathogen first identified in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Despite advances in modern medicine it remains a problem striking, in 2004, as much as 10% of the population at one time or another. While it has never reached epidemic proportions it can be reasonably regarded as endemic to the United States.
Graduate School is contracted, like most other infectious agents, from others who are carriers of the disorder. These carriers typically come in two forms. The first form are early-stage cases who have recently contracted graduate school (typically <1 year). These individuals are often excitable, talkative, and capable of spreading the disorder to uninfected individuals through speech, leading to speculation that the infectious agent is airborne. The second carrier type is an individual who has been infected with graduate school but has survived the infection passing into a stage when symptoms are no longer apparent (A stage VIII case; see section 3.8 for details). Much like chicken pox, once an individual has overcome a bout of graduate school they usually aquire an immunity preventing any further bouts. Unlike chicken pox, however, individuals in this "immune" state remain carriers and can, though relatively infrequently, produce new infections. There is some debate that a third carrier may exist- that graduate school may form some sort of "spore" that can remain dormant in musty places like books and libraries. These spores can apparently remain viable for an undetermined period and directly infect those who spend a great deal of time in such locations. This last carrier is, however, still much in dispute.
The at-risk population for graduate school is primarily well-educated individuals aged 20-24. It is not unknown, however, for individuals as old as 50 who have not previously contracted the disorder to come down with graduate school, though it remains a predominantly young adult disease. Most victims are middle to upper class in family background (though this is by no means a certainty) and are often in otherwise excellent health. One unusual aspect of the disorder is that while domestic U.S. cases are declining foreign cases seem to be on the rise. As the U.S. remains one of the primary treatment centers for graduate school many of these foreign cases ultimately travel to the United States.
As graduate school produces a wide variety of symptoms over a period of years the symptomology is divided into subsections according to the stage of the disease. Note that there is considerable variability in the order in which stages are reached and, as such, this is a somewhat idealized progression.
3.1: <6 months (Stage I: Infection Stage)
Individuals in the infection stage are often restless and anxiety prone. Their cognition tends to be limited, focussing on standardized testing and obsessively reviewing notes and study guides. Individuals in this stage may seek treatment at Kaplan or Princeton Review clinics, although there is little verifiable evidence that such clinics have any beneficial effect. Panic attacks may emerge in this stage and the patient may become well-known to first responders such as faculty advisors or Bursar's Office employees. Family and friends may notice sudden changes in eating and sleeping habits.
3.2: >6 months <1 year (Stage II: Confirmation Stage)
Infected individuals who do not defeat the infection within 6 months are most likely on the way to a full-blown case. If a case passes through the infection stage the patient will temporarily experience a sense of elation and a feeling of well-being. These will often lead them to move long distances, sometimes to new countries, settle into a new home, and develop new acquaintences. At this point the disorder seems exciting and is often enjoyable for the patient, thus complicating treatment immensely. Associates may notice that individuals in this stage appear more egotistical than they did previously and some develop a preference for unnecessarily large words during common speech.
3.3: 1 year to 3 years (Stage III: Masters Stage)
Cases between 1 and 3 years show a sudden crash from the elation of Stage II graduate school. At this point sleeping habits are almost certainly disrupted- most patients begin losing sleep and, in many cases, may average as little as four hours a night. Infected individuals begin to once more obsess about specific reading materials, often pouring over them at inappropriate moments. Even during leisure time, sufferers are likely to bring along these materials or to experience feelings of guilt or anxiety for their temporary failure to make use of them. At this point most individuals suffering from graduate school are sequestered in isolation wards operated by previous infectees who are now immune. Once in such wards the degree of contact those suffering from graduate school have with non-sufferers is greatly curtailed. This likely has positive public health consequences as it limits the likelihood of an epidemic, although it may worsen existing cases by infecting and reinfecting the sufferers with new mutant strains of graduate school. This stage usually terminates at the 3 to 4 year mark following a characteristic period of feverish reading and writing on a highly focussed subject. Many graduate school sufferers defeat the disorder at the end of stage III.
3.4: 3 years to 4 years (Stage IV: Examination Stage)
Stage IV graduate school is similar in symptomology to stage III. Sleeping habits often become less disrupted, though average nightly sleep likely will not rise above 5 hours a night. Anxiety and feelings of fear or worthlessness tend to decrease at this stage, apparently as a result of the relief produced by the end of the obsessive writing characteristic of late Stage III cases. Stage IV individuals continue to read obsessively, though usually on a wider array of subjects. Often the works required will be difficult to locate and pursued aggressively. In some cases those infected with graduate school may collaborate on obtaining these materials and, in other cases, compete. Interestingly, not all sufferers of graduate school pursue the same material, though all are equally obsessed. This stage terminates with a series of episodes where the infected sequester themselves in a room at the isolation ward and feverishly expel the material gleaned from their reading onto paper or into a computer file. Some treatment centers also engage in a form of verbal therapy intended to draw this material out more fully- much like lancing a boil.
3.5: 4 years to 5 years (Stage V: Lethargy Stage)
Cases of graduate school that pass stage IV often enter a period of lethargy. While some reading and writing behaviors persist, they often proceed at a much less feverish pace. Individuals in this stage often appear listless, uninterested in outside stimuli, and anomic. Some observers may mistake this stage for a decrease in symptoms preceding the return of health but, unfortunately, this is almost always not the case. This period is, instead, simply a temporary lull in the overall disorder. In rare cases this stage may last more than a year without either developing into Stage VI graduate school or a return to wellness. In this case an intervention may be required to move the sufferer out of Stage V. Clinical strategies for this include talk therapy ('pep talks'), shock therapy ('funding cuts'), and behavior modification ('RA work').
3.6: >5 years (Stage VI: Dissertation Stage)
Individuals in the dissertation stage resume many of the symptoms noted in stage III. Reading and writing becomes feverish again- often at an intensified level- and becomes even more tightly focussed. Those at this advanced stage often become irritable, intolerant of others (especially earlier stage graduate school victims), and return to irregular sleeping and eating habits. They may construct "dens" composed of old coffee mugs, empty food containers, mountains of books or periodicals, and a computer. Disturbing these dens can provoke sufferers to fly into a rage. Often considerable time will be spent with experimental apparatus. Anxiety levels are often at an all-time high in stage VI graduate school- sometimes as an unfortunate by-product of the clinical strategies employed to end stage V.
3.7: 7+ years (Stage VII: Terminal Stage)
Finally, a case lasting 7 years or more frequently becomes terminal. At this stage anxiety levels remain high, sleeping and eating habits remain disrupted, and obsessive reading/writing remains present. Additionally, feelings of depression, hopelessness, or low self-worth may set in. While graduate school itself is rarely fatal those who remain in terminal stage graduate school may become prone to self-injurious behavior, provoking the common refrain of those in this state: "Either I'm going to finish my degree this year, or I'm just going to kill myself." Fortunately, most individuals do not end their own lives but this final acute stage of graduate school can be extremely unpleasant both for the sufferer and those around them.
3.8: End of Symptoms (Stage VIII: Doctoral Stage)
Those who survive stage VII will pass into the post-infection Doctoral Stage. At this point the symptoms abate and the sufferer may lead a relatively normal life, although their long fight will leave them unable to carry on normal conversations or enjoy television programs or popular media that most other people find appealing. While those in Stage VIII may become respected members of their communities the "scars" of graduate school remain. In many cases these individuals take positions at isolation wards for graduate school sufferers, using their near immunity to their advantage.
There is no known treatment for graduate school. At present the only options are supportive care that helps to keep the patient as comfortable as possible while the disorder follows its course.
Efforts at prevention have been largely unsuccessful. Wide dissemination of information regarding the horrors of graduate school was thought to be a useful strategy but, on closer analysis, appears to have the opposite effect. At present the factors that best predict a decrease in new cases of graduate school appear to be a strong economy, followed closely by Republican presidential administrations. Relatively little interest has been shown by pharmaceutical companies in treating graduate school both due to the relatively small number of acute sufferers and its tendency to clear up naturally.
Graduate school is a disorder that is clearly in need of additional epidemiological research but is unlikely to pose a serious threat to the public health in the near future. Isolation and supportive care are recommended until such time as an effective treatment becomes available.