On the Other Side of the Fence

Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Your GSI But Were Too Afraid to Ask

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Listen up, Cal people. There's this strange, secretive sect that has infiltrated your campus-it is 10,000 strong, so nearly one in three people you pass on campus is a member. They have a hidden agenda and truly run the school, all the while letting undergrads believe Cal is theirs.

We are graduate students. You know, the people you forget about until that uncontrollable outrage wells up inside you when, somehow, a dorky grad student gives you a B+ instead of the A you so richly deserve.

They are the people who work for nearly nothing for five-plus years so that you can out-earn them in your first year out of school.

They are the people the university actually believes drives the reputation of the institution. I know you're told this place is all about the undergrads, but who's going to school for free?

They are your teachers, and they're often grumpy and truly weird. I don't have to tell you that.

So I'm here to release all of the secrets of our cabal. After extensive research (and by that I mean creating made-up questions for me to answer), I have assembled important FAQs about this creature, who only becomes visible to you in the graduate student instructor role:

Q: Do GSIs compare notes on their students?

A: No, no, we would never step over that line and share information about undergrads. Only if there is a particularly loony one that we need to warn our friends about. Or if we want to have a good laugh about the latest example of illiteracy at Berkeley. We need a little entertainment in our sad lives, too. And, of course, we might need to share information to compile our Black List of Grade Grubbers. You know, those students likely to argue with you over the half-point you took off for an actual wrong answer to an exam question. We know who you are.

Q: Why do some GSIs seem to not care when they teach?

A: Believe me, we care. We care so much that we wring our hands in anguish over every terrible blue book, every unintelligible paper, every botched problem set. "What am I doing wrong as a teacher," we mournfully cry in our cramped cubicles, "that these kids are somehow getting dumber over time?" Seriously, most of us do our best with what we're given, which sometimes isn't a whole lot. And we desperately want to see you succeed. The GSIs who really don't care about teaching find another way to make money in grad school, like selling bumper stickers on Telegraph or substituting tree-sitters. The ones who are there in the trenches with you are probably there because they want to be.

Q: How can I best suck up to my GSI to get a good grade?

A: Like anybody, we like people who do our jobs for us. This means that if you can manage to bring something besides your hangover and a blank expression to section, you're halfway there. To go the rest of the way, raise your hand once in a while and show genuine interest in the material. Oh, and don't ask what will be covered on the test. I've lost a few fillings grinding my teeth over that one.

Q: Aren't most GSIs just like me? Didn't they just graduate one or two years ago? What do they know that I don't?

A: We aren't like you at all, actually. It's not that we know more than you (but we usually do), it's that we can fake it really well if we don't. While it's true that there are some very young grad students out there, take pity on them, because by entering grad school they have just had their social lives surgically removed.

Q: How can I ask my GSI out on a date?

A: You can't. Please don't. Major no-no. Are you trying to get us fired? Let me say it another way: We're not going there, ever. Just wait until the class is over, OK? And then check your GSI's driver's license, because your baby-faced GSI might be closer in age to your dad than you.

OK, fire away. I need more questions or comments e-mailed to me on the GSI-student relationship, and I need them from you, the huddled masses of undergrads. I can promise only unvarnished truth.

Tags: GSI

Josh Green is a UC Berkeley GSI. Reply to [email protected]

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