Grad School Musical

February 5, 2008 | 2 books mentioned 4 3 min read

Continuing in the vein of the unwritten parrot dissertation, I share with you another great unwritten (even less written and conceived than Parrots, Pirates, and Prostheses): my screenplay about grad school life in the humanities. Well, about grad students in an English department, to be exact, because that’s all I know. For the masses of high-school movies and TV shows (10 Things I Hate About You, Bring It On, Get Over It, Heathers, Sugar and Spice, The History Boys, American Pie, Virgin Suicides, My So-Called Life, Dead Poets’ Society, School Ties, Freaks and Geeks, Aliens in America, Napoleon Dynamite, Pretty Persuasion, The O.C...), there are fewer about college (The Harvard Man, Legally Blonde, With Honors, Aubergine Espagnol, Rules of Attraction, Undeclared, Love Story, Brideshead Revisited, Old School, The Dreamers, Animal House, Sorority Boys), and virtually none about graduate school. In fact, the only one I can think of is Laurel Canyon, which concerns a grad student (Kate Beckinsale) and her medical resident husband (Christian Bale) once they have left the groves of academe. It’s quite good but it deals more with the grad student as a genre of (repressed) person rather than exploring such creatures in their native habitat. The Emma Thompson movie Wit has a few grad school flashbacks and gets more at the tone I’d be going for, but it is hardly a movie about grad school. So, unless I am very much mistaken, the graduate student is a species that has been under-represented in cinema.

Thus far in my efforts to amend this cultural oversight, I have, alas, only made up a long-list for the soundtrack. But the beauty of this list is that it can also serve as a primer or litmus test for those contemplating a Ph.D.: Ask yourself, “Do I want this to be the soundtrack of my life?” (Oh, I kid you not.)

  • Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Muddy Waters
  • Oxford Comma, Vampire Weekend
  • Ask Me Anything, The Strokes (“I’ve got nothing to say…”)
  • Where Is My Mind?, The Pixies
  • Get Me Away from Here, I’m Dying, Belle & Sebastian
  • Venus In Furs, The Velvet Underground (“taste the whip,” indeed: What would graduate school be – and who would go – without masochism?)
  • Hate, Cat Power (“But the ones who didn’t make it/The ones who couldn’t take it/So glad they made it out alive…”)
  • Poems, Tricky/Nearly God
  • Good Things, Sleater-Kinney (“Will it make me sick today?”)
  • I Am A Rock, Simon & Garfunkel
  • Elephant Gun, Beirut (“If I was young I’d flee this town…”)
  • Jack-Ass, Beck
  • Offend In Every Way, The White Stripes
  • You’re No Good, Bob Dylan
  • Cruel, Calexico
  • There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, The Smiths (oh, the longing for socialization)
  • Dumb, Nirvana (a heavy-handed choice, however, imposter syndrome is not to be underestimated: “I’m not like them, but I can pretend…”)
  • You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl), The White Stripes (lest you think the boys club vibe has been banished from the academy)
  • History Song, The Good, The Bad, and The Queen (“If you don’t know it now, then you will do…”)
  • Las Cruces Jail, Two Gallants (“…born to fail/Nobody come for to go my bail…”)
  • Campus, Vampire Weekend (this not-so-desolating one will be used in some sort of pastoral idyll scene)
  • Furnace Room Lullaby, Neko Case (For the anxiety of influence: “I twisted you under and under to break you, I just couldn’t breathe with your throne on my chest”)
  • We’ve Been Had, The Walkmen
  • Stop Whispering, Radiohead (“And the feeling is, that there’s something wrong/ Cause you can’t find the words, and I can’t find the song”)
  • If I Could Talk I’d Tell You, The Lemonheads
  • Help Save the Youth of America, Billy Bragg
  • Time Bomb, Rancid
  • The Racing Rats, The Editors
  • This Job is Killing Me, The Walkmen
  • Under My Thumb, The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger is your principal adviser; you are “the squirming dog who’s just had her day”)
  • Shoot You Down, The Stone Roses (advisors again)
  • The Other Way, Weezer (and again)
  • The Boy With The Thorn in His Side, The Smiths
  • A Million Ways, OK Go (ah, klonopin and cruelty!)
  • Closer to Fine, Indigo Girls (“spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was free” …only four years?)
  • The Greatest, Cat Power
  • Holland, 1945, Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Fuzzy, Grant Lee Buffalo
  • Lost Cause, Beck
  • Save Me, Aimee Mann

Sound good?

is a staff writer for The Millions living in Virginia. She is a winner of the Virginia Quarterly's Young Reviewers Contest and has a doctorate from Stanford. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Times, In Character, VQR, Arts & Letters Daily, and The Daily Dish.


  1. In "How to make an American Quilt," isn't the Winona Ryder character writing her dissertation, and that's how all the stories come together?

  2. Ah, yes–and I believe that the whole dissertation blows away at the end of the movie and it kind of doesn't matter. I will add that to the list.

  3. Despite its cheesy title, the 1997 film Lovelife is centered around English and creative writing students and is worth a watch.

    Great soundtrack choices.

  4. If you want to go back a generation, you won't do better than Getting Straight. Elliott Gould wants to finish his master's while the rest of the campus is trying to have a revolution. The oral exam at the end is priceless.

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