Scholars share horror stories

Fear and loathing in the academy

November 13, 2014

“I slowly entered the dimly lit seminar room. I didn’t notice before shutting the door behind me: NO COOKIES WERE LEFT.”

So reads the first tweet to use the #AcademicHorrorStories hashtag, sent by Amanda Yoho (@mandaYoho), a graduate student in the physics department at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. “The only thing left was tepid Folgers…and POWDERED CREAMER.” (For those in the dark, “Folgers” is a brand of coffee popular in North America.)

The hashtag appeared, unsurprisingly, a few days before Halloween, and prompted the scholarly Twitter community to start telling their own not-so-scary spooky stories.

Twitter user “Exclamation Snark” (@BadPhysics) also had coffee-related fears. “Walking back to the lecture. Cup in hand. Something nagging. A half caught glance. What did the wrapper say. ‘…Decaf’.”

“‘Get out!’ the editor screamed,” begins a tale penned by Robert McNees (@mcnees), assistant professor in the department of physics at Loyola University Chicago. “‘The negative peer review is coming from inside your dept!’” It wasn’t his only story.

His second tale featured a familiar scene for many in the scholarly world. “‘Don’t worry. Just relax.’ The head of her PhD committee smiled, lips curling back to reveal row after row of teeth.”

“Dr Magoo” (@drmagoo), who describes himself as a “physics teacher, sports fan…[and] geek”, conjured up a truly horrific image. “Softly at first, and then with growing intensity, an emeritus professor began to snore,” he tweeted.

Brian Wolven (@brianwolven) had fears of a different type. “Gasps came from all across the room as we realized the entire presentation was typeset in a fixed width Courier font,” he tweeted, clearly no fan of the much-maligned typeface.

The scary tale told by Professor Jaded (@ProfessorJaded) lived up to their Twitter name. “The Prof dismissed class early, hoping for an early lunch – when suddenly appeared Mr. ‘Let-Me-Tell-You-My-Life-Story’” was their idea of a horror story.

Presentations and conference talks were a popular source of anxiety. “Does anyone have that cable that lets me plug my laptop into the room’s audiovisual system. Anyone?” tweeted Andrew Robinson (@AndrewR_Physics), contract instructor in the department of physics at Carleton University, Ontario, while Linda Quirke (@LindaQuirke), associate professor in the Faculty of Arts at Wilfrid Laurier University, also in Ontario, recalled that terrifying moment when you find the “batteries on [the] clicker…DEAD”.

Ross Daniel Bullen (@BullenRoss), lecturer in English at the Ontario College of Art and Design (completing a trio of tales from the Canadian state), chipped in with: “The call for the academic job interview IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE. Just kidding, it’s not coming at all.”

Sean Bartz (@excitedstate), who describes himself as a “physics PhD seeking the Universe’s secrets inside a warped 5th dimension”, tweeted: “They found her, huddled in a corner, mumbling to imagined students, ‘It’s on the syllabus, it’s on the syllabus…’”, while Ms Yoho had one more story, which will doubtless strike fear into any academic who has ever presented a paper. “‘Are there any more questions?’ the moderator asks. ‘Yes, I have one. Well it’s more of a comment.’”

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