One of the other graduate students must have been telling lies about Josef K. He knew he had been working hard, but one morning, he was called into Professor G.’s office. It was the first time he had spoken to his advisor in six months.
“K. I have reviewed your thesis, and I am afraid there is still much work left to be done,” said Professor G.
It was the same conclusion the professor had reached the year before, and the year before that. K. often wondered if perhaps he had become trapped in one of those time loops, like that movie Palm Springs.
“It’s already 467 pages long. What else is there to do?”
“The fact that you do not know what is left to do is proof of your unpreparedness. And, quite frankly, asking me to tell you is only hurting your case further.”
“Well can you at least answer the questions I emailed you?”
“No,” replied the professor. “But figure 3.7 on page 43 has a line width that is too thick, and the color makes me wish to vomit. I suggest you start by re-doing every experiment in that chapter.”
K. contemplated further protest, but knew it would be futile. Besides, he thought, I have a shit ton of problem sets I still need to grade.
Josef K. overflowed with excitement. Surely, presenting at such a prestigious national conference would finally earn his professor’s approval to graduate. K. sat down in the front row of the lecture hall, ready to take in Professor G’s keynote speech, and perhaps glean a few tricks for his own presentation later that day. As his advisor lithely bounced from slide to slide, K’s heart sank into his stomach.
He recognized this presentation.
So, I guess Professor G. did get my message asking for feedback two weeks ago, thought K.
He considered complaining to the ethics committee, but it would have been so pointless that, even if he had wanted to, the pointlessness would have made him unable. Instead, he slipped out of the room quietly, found the nearest restroom, and wept.
Josef K. sat at his desk, frantically typing an email, hoping to catch Professor G. before he realized K.’s mistake. “I sincerely apologize for the mixup, Professor. I accidentally sent you the August 2018 draft of my thesis, rather than the current one. Please forgive this horrendous error.”
As he was about press send, the familiar ding of an incoming email emanated from his laptop and reverberated throughout the room. “Just finished reading your thesis. It is a significant improvement over the previous version, and overall quite adequate. I think it’s time we move forward with your thesis defense.”
K. sighed with relief. But also… what the fuck? he thought to himself. Well, screw it, at least this means I won’t have to apply for another NSF grant.
“Mr. K, you are 30 minutes late to your own thesis defense. Do you not take the responsibilities of academia seriously?” said Professor S.
“I was never told the room number! I’ve been emailing the head of the department for weeks!”
“You mean to tell us you did not know the room number to your own thesis defense? What nonsense!” responded Professor B.
The other PhDs in the audience began to chuckle amongst themselves. K. knew there would be much gossip in the graduate students’ Slack channel that evening.
K.’s face burned red. It was only because of their own stupidity that the thesis committee was so sure of themselves, he thought. That, and tenure.
He wanted to curse at them, storm out of the room, and never set foot at U of X again. But alas, he reminded himself, he had spent 7 years and $90,000 per year of earning potential getting to this stage. Beyond a certain point there was no turning back, and that point had been reached 3 agonizing TA-ships ago. So K. swallowed his pride, apologized profusely, and began defending his work.
Several years had passed and Josef K. was sitting in his office skimming through last month’s Nature and eating a yogurt he’d found in the lab fridge labeled “Anthony M.” There was a knock at the door.
“Professor K., you wanted to see me?” said Megan R., a third-year PhD student whom Professor K. referred to simply as “The Girl.”
“Yes. Have a seat. Take a look at page 38 of your thesis. The color in figure 4.2 is all wrong. Totally wrong…”