Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to “defeat” the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.
Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.
Q: Are the snakes big?
A: We have lots of different snakes. The quality of your work determines which snake you will fight. The better your thesis is, the smaller the snake will be.
Q: Does my thesis adviser pick the snake?
A: No. Your adviser just tells the guy who picks the snakes how good your thesis was.
Q: What does it mean if I get a small snake that is also very strong?
A: Snake-picking is not an exact science. The size of the snake is the main factor. The snake may be very strong, or it may be very weak. It may be of Asian, African, or South American origin. It may constrict its victims and then swallow them whole, or it may use venom to blind and/or paralyze its prey. You shouldn’t read too much into these other characteristics. Although if you get a poisonous snake, it often means that there was a problem with the formatting of your bibliography.
Q: When and where do I fight the snake? Does the school have some kind of pit or arena for snake fights?
A: You fight the snake in the room you have reserved for your defense. The fight generally starts after you have finished answering questions about your thesis. However, the snake will be lurking in the room the whole time and it can strike at any point. If the snake attacks prematurely it’s obviously better to defeat it and get back to the rest of your defense as quickly as possible.
Q: Would someone who wrote a bad thesis and defeated a large snake get the same grade as someone who wrote a good thesis and defeated a small snake?
Q: So then couldn’t you just fight a snake in lieu of actually writing a thesis?
A: Technically, yes. But in that case the snake would be very big. Very big, indeed.
Q: Could the snake kill me?
A: That almost never happens. But if you’re worried, just make sure that you write a good thesis.
Q: Why do I have to do this?
A: Snake fighting is one of the great traditions of higher education. It may seem somewhat antiquated and silly, like the robes we wear at graduation, but fighting a snake is an important part of the history and culture of every reputable university. Almost everyone with an advanced degree has gone through this process. Notable figures such as John Foster Dulles, Philip Roth, and Doris Kearns Goodwin (to name but a few) have all had to defeat at least one snake in single combat.
Q: This whole snake thing is just a metaphor, right?
A: I assure you, the snakes are very real.
“A few months back, I was asked to participate in a debate on the topic of whether men should have to pay on dates. (I was “the feminist.”) It turned out that the male debater and I didn’t really disagree much on that topic. I said that, generally, whoever asks the other person out pays for that date, and then at some point couples generally transition into sharing costs in whatever way works for them. He was actually pretty happy to pay for first dates; he just wanted women to say thank you and to not use him. I had no problem with that.
I think he said that women should offer to pay half, knowing they’ll probably be turned down. I said, well, sometimes — but what if the other person invited you someplace really expensive? What if you agreed to a date with the guy and he spent an hour saying crazy racist shit to you and you felt like you couldn’t escape? This is what led to our real disagreement.
The male debater felt strongly that if a woman wasn’t interested in a second date, she should say so on the spot. If the man says, “Let’s do this again sometime,” the woman shouldn’t say, “Sure, great,” and then back out later. I said that that was a nice ideal, but that he should keep in mind that most women spent most of their lives living in low-level fear of physical aggression from men. I think about avoiding rape (or other violence) every time I walk home from the subway, every time there’s an unexpected knock at the door, and certainly every time I piss off an unhinged man. So, if I were on a date with a man who I felt was unbalanced, creepy, overly aggressive, or possibly violent, and he asked if I wanted to “do this again sometime,” I would say whatever I felt would avoid conflict. And then I would leave, wait awhile, and hope that letting him down politely a few days later would avoid his finding me and turning my skin into an overcoat.
The male debater was furious that I had even brought this up. He felt that the threat of violence against women was irrelevant, and that I was playing some kind of “rape card” as a debate trick. He got angrier and angrier as we argued. I also got angrier and angrier, although I worked hard to keep speaking in a calm and considered way. He was shouting and cutting me off when I tried to speak. I pointed out that the debater himself was displaying exactly the sort of behavior that would make me very uncomfortable on a date. THAT made him livid.
He then called me “passive-aggressive.”
I was genuinely taken aback. “Actually,” I said, “I call this ‘behaving myself.’” It’s a lot of work to stay calm when you’re just as furious as the other person, and that other person is shouting at you. I felt that I was acting like a grownup — at some emotional cost to myself — and I wanted credit, not insults, for being able to speak in a normal tone of voice when I was having to explain things like, “We can’t tell who the rapists are before they turn violent, so sometimes we have to be cautious with men who do not intend to harm us.””—
Asking about how qualified someone is in academia always brings to mind how a hairdresser discovered how Roman hairstyles were done when many thought the portrait…
This is so interesting. I’m a trained historian, although my PhD is modern history, and her research is incredible. When you come down to it, in the UK, although not in the USA, getting a PhD in history or archeology means you’ve done an extended piece of research that tells us something that nobody knew before, or argues for a new interpretation of existing evidence. Janet Stephens has definitely done that. In fact, I’m pretty sure that she could write this up into a thesis and be awarded a doctorate.
Anyway, now I’m going to keep watching all her youtube videos and feel smug because apparently a hairstyle I frequently wear was worn by Cleopatra.