Q: Best portrayal of a graduate student in fiction?

question-mark.jpgWhen you think about it, graduate students should be great material for fiction.

Here are folks that are dropping everything in pursuit of knowledge (think “Razor’s Edge”); often living in abject poverty, willingly, for long periods toward achieving some higher goal (think “Ghandi“), well into the age when their friends are earning an honest living (think “Wall Street“).

Yet as I wrack my brain I can think of only a handful of depictions–in books or film–of the grad student life (concept album, anyone?). And most of these are bad, bad, bad.

But there is at least one that is good, good, good. My vote for the best portrayal of a graduate student ever. And the guy’s a field biologist no less!

Here’s your chance to set me straight, by the way. In the comments, tell me about your favorite fictional graduate student. Or, if you’re having as much trouble as I am, tell me a film that might as well be about grad school. In other words, just change the name of the workplace, switch the Muzak to Radiohead, and, presto, grad school!

OK, my vote for the best, most accurate portray of a grad student, below the fold.

Richard Dreyfuss in JawsClaro que si!

It must be Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper in Jaws, the marine biologist who very nearly went “All But Dissertation” as he dealt with a ravenous, hypertrophied great white shark and a ravenous, hypertrophied, Robert Shaw.

Dreyfuss’s Hooper had everything.


  • He could drink like a sailor
  • He was charming and neurotic and fanatical
  • He had a “feeling for his organism”
  • He was a problem-solver (letting Roy Scheider blow up the shark)
  • The guy had his own boat. He could secure funding!

Matt Hooper. A professor’s dream.


11 Responses to Q: Best portrayal of a graduate student in fiction?

  1. Tina says:

    Peter Saarsgard as Clyde Martin in Kinsey is not too shabby.

  2. meg says:

    Both good choices. I’d also suggest the grad student in Jane Smiley’s *Moo* (it’s been a long time since I read it, and I’ve forgotten his name). An ag student, but he might as well be in mo-bio or psych.

  3. Scott says:

    Any member of Team Zissou in The Life Aquatic.

  4. Lesley says:

    What about Adam Appleby in David Lodge’s “The British Museum is Falling Down”?

  5. Matt says:

    Val Kilmer’s “Chris Knight” in Real Genius

  6. Dennis says:

    Nick Cage’s character in “JFK.” It’s like he’s writing a group research paper (and then ultimately fails!).

  7. […] and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Oklahoma) posted a fun entry yesterday asking “Who is the Best Portrayal of a Graduate Student in Fiction?” Though the introductory description of a graduate student goes a bit far (the comparison to […]

  8. I think the kid in *Moo* is an undergrad, actually.

    My vote is for the main character in Byatt’s _Obsession_. She totally nails that pathetic liminality you feel when you have no money and aren’t really sure where this whole degree thing will take you. It’s through a British lens, though.

  9. Mark says:

    A bit dated… the character of James Hart in the film, “The Paper Chase”

  10. Sarah says:

    How weird: just the other day I was thinking about how scientists are portrayed in film and ran across this: http://www.rps.psu.edu/jan98/filmfest.html

    He looks at how grad students are portrayed in film and describes three categories:
    – grad student as a lab rat (slave to his adviser’s research)
    – grad student as a loner
    – grad student as team member (think the OU students in “Twister”)

    Last semester my labmates and I saw a midnight showing of “Re-Animator” and we all thought the main characters were much closer to grad students (albeit creepy, creepy grad students) than med students. They were question-driven, after all.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think Jeremiah Stafford in Carl Djerassi’s book “Cantor’s dilemma” is a good portrayal of a gradstudent / postdoc in the rarefied and vicious world of Nobel class research.


    Of course it’s kind of cheating, as Djerassi himself comes from that world.

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