The Cult of Grad School

This semester I’m taking a fascinating History of Science course titled “The History of Brainwashing and Mind Control,” with Prof. Rebecca Lemov. Though it’s not particularly in my area of study, we’ve been discussing Soviet brainwashing (Stalin’s show trials, anyone?) and Communist POW techniques (the Chinese claimed to have their brainwashing science based on Pavlovian-style experiments).

This week the topic was destructive cults. How they can be defined, what they do, why they’re harmful and how they manipulate people. Some of the obvious destructive cults we discussed were the Moonies, Hare Krishna, etc. However, our fabulous guest speaker, Steve Hassan,, shared his model for determining a cult based on four types of group control: behavior, information, thoughts and emotions. He calls it the BITE model. Along this vein, I’d like to make a facetious argument for graduate school as a cult.

Behavior Control:

  • Grad school regulates the physical reality by determining with whom I associate, how much sleep I am able to have, my financial dependence, and limits my time to spend on leisure and entertainment.
  • There are rigid rules and regulations.
  • I need to ask permission for major decisions (adviser meetings).

Information Control:

  • Access to non-cult (read: non-Academia) sources of information minimized or discouraged.
  • Extensive use of cult (Academia) generated information and propaganda (journals, newsletters, magazines, etc.)

Thought Control:

  • Use of “loaded” language or “buzz words”
  • No alternative belief systems viewed as legitimate, good, useful (the scientific method IS the answer).
  • Chanting (we literally chanted “Problem, hypothesis, procedure, data, conclusion” for 10 minutes in a KSG class this semester).

Emotional Control:

  • If there are problems, it is always the individual’s fault.
  • Excessive use of identity guilt: the individual is not living up to their potential.
  • Excessive use of fear: fear of being shunned by the group.
  • Extremes of emotional highs and lows.

So there you go… I think I’m in a cult!!! Only kidding, these are exaggerations and there are some other aspects that go into classifying a cult, but it did make me think about how whatever group you’re involved in probably has some manipulating elements at work!


About stenicopla

russia! photography! exploring! SCUBA! ice water swimming! vegetarianism! vladivostok!
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