Today was my first day of the semester attending lecture as a TA. This will be the fourth time I’ve taught discussion for this introductory biology course, and it’s always an adventure. The class is huge, and growing by the year. Walking into the lecture hall today, it was already chock full of pre-meds with a GPA blood lust and sophomores already exemplifying their title.
I was lucky enough to sit down right in front of a choice specimen. This lad was a classic cocksure Bro, providing almost unceasing commentary to his companion as the course faculty and coordinators made their introductory remarks. It seems that he had taken the first half of this two-semester biology sequence last Fall, and was helping to… orient… his friend, apparently one of those rogue students who join up only for part two. As one of the lecture faculty stood up front reviewing course policies, the speaker – let’s call him The Scientist, since he has clearly already absorbed so much delicate wisdom from his first fifteen weeks of biology education – the Scientist distilled this nugget of insight for his friend:
“The thing you’ll learn pretty quick about this course is that the people who run it SUCK.”
Eloquently put, sir. I’m sure you speak with all the unbiased authority and carefully considered interpretation with which your scientific training has equipped you.
And, like any good researcher, he did provide evidence to support his claims:
“That guy – he sends the most annoying emails. They all end in ‘cheers’. What the hell does that even mean?”
Now, I had to furrow my brown at that one. Given that “Cheers” is frequently uttered when consuming alcohol, may easily be listened to on YouTube, and is clearly disambiguated on Wikipedia – all contexts and sources with which I’m sure our erudite Scientist is quite familiar – I struggled to believe his confusion. Though perhaps in his complexity I misunderstood him.
Or perhaps he was merely employing what the social linguists call “sarcasm.” For his remarks soon began to stray from the “informative” to the “entertaining”. For instance, when the lecturer remarked on surprising genetic evidence that suggests early humans and Neanderthals interbred, our Lab-Tech-in-Motley snorted, nudged his friend and said,
“Oh right, like HE’S never had sex in a cave!”
Indeed. And so it was that the witty ripostes from just behind my head turned from summative remarks about course dynamics to insightful suggestions about human behavioral ecology. Obviously invoking echoic rhetoric for dramatic effect, the Scientist later remarked in response to a coordinator’s plea for lecture-hall civility,
“Hahaha, like he’s never jerked off in class. This is a joke.”
Surprised by that one? It’s not a behavior I’ve ever documented. We’ll have to trust the Scientist’s own meticulous notes on such practices in indigenous undergraduate lecture halls.
I certainly did not have a chance to inquire further. Because not long after that remark, it was time to introduce the teaching assistants. And one by one, they each stood up and said their name and their section, gave a wave to the room and sat back down. I was the last to stand up – and it was well worth the wait. The look of horror plastered over the face of the next great mind of our generation as I identified myself as a discussion TA was well worth it. As I sat down I turned to smile at him. His poor friend looked mortified.
The last remark I heard him make as I turned back around to my notes was a hushed, disgruntled, “Next time we shouldn’t sit so close to the TAs…”
Cheers, I’ll drink to that.