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(Piled Higher & Deeper
) is a webcomic by Jorge Cham that has been running since 1997
The characters are a bunch of graduate students at Stanford University. They obsess about ever getting their theses completed, struggle to make ends meet with their meager stipends, wonder why life is passing them by, and slack off while their supervisors aren't looking.
The main characters are:Cecilia
An engineering grad and Only Sane Man
of the bunch who just recently came to crushing realization that she is, in fact, a geek. Almost always seen in the same bright red shirt. Prof. Jones is her adviser.Mike SlackenernyThe Slacker
, who has been at grad school longer than any other character. He has a surprising amount of luck in his quest to obtain free food, though this has not endeared him to the faculty. The only one who actually graduated. Now a post-doc. Prof. Smith was his adviser.Tajel
A humanities- er, Social Science
student, she is constantly finding causes to rally protests. A Granola Girl
and proud of it. Prof. Rivera is her adviser.????The unnamed protagonist.
Has an older brother (who Mike knows) and a younger sister named Dee. Sees grad school as a good way to postpone the real world. Wonders why nobody ever uses his name. Prof. Smith is his adviser.Professor Smith
A Sadist Teacher
whose past accomplishments are spoken of in whispers by grad students.
Wears a mix of Cool Shades
, Scary Shiny Glasses
, and Opaque Nerd Glasses
Contains examples of:
- The Ace: The "Golden Boy".
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Publish and/or Perish!
- Alien Lunch: Possibly ramen.
- All Issues Are Political Issues: Tajel often does this.
- Art Evolution: Obviously, considering the sheer length of time its been running. Still, just compare the art change over the years. Still, just look at the difference between the first strip and a recent one.
- Bait-and-Switch Comparison: Occupy Wall Street.
- Bald of Evil: Prof. Smith (and most of his colleagues); comes with a ...
- Big Eater: Dee, the main character's younger sister.
- Brick Joke: The protagonist's travel reimbursement form, which shows up again over a year later.
- Call Back: Mike teaches the protagonist how to distract with graphs, which unfortunately doesn't work too well for him. Mike himself does it over a year later, with more success.
- Class Reunion: Cecilia goes to her 10-year high school reunion in this story arc.
- Cue the Flying Pigs: Here. Also, Hell Freezes Over. Guess what just happened.
- Defictionalization: Drawing comics about students who procrastinate endlessly has resulted in Jorge Cham hitting the lecture circuit with a conference on procrastination. As a result, many other real-life universities (beyond Stanford) and real life grad students make cameos.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Tajel sometimes, as part of her Granola Girl personality.
- Dull Surprise: Prof. Smith apparently. Also true of his film persona.
- Eating Lunch Alone: Doing it at the campus cafeteria makes Cecilia feel unbearably self-conscious.
- Education Through Pyrotechnics: The machines used for experimental research frequently blow up in people's faces.
- Failure Is the Only Option: To keep going, the series needs the characters to remain grad students, meaning they have to postpone the completion of their respective theses indefinitely. Ultimately averted with Mike, who does complete his own thesis after years of procrastination, but stays anyway as a member of the teaching staff.
- As the main character put it in a press conference in 2003, "Basically, if Mike graduates, we're all out of a job..."
- Flanderization: Tajel. At first, Tajel demonstrates all sorts of semi-stereotypical things, such as camping out at the mall after Thanksgiving to take advantage of Black Friday sales. This changed soon enough, of course...
- Fun with Acronyms: Of course, the strip title (though that itself is an old joke). And this strip has a how-to guide!
- Granola Girl: Tajel.
- Heavy Sleeper: The main character, Mike Slackenerny, and increasingly Dee.
- Heroic BSOD: Literally.
- I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me: Cecilia with her secret high school crush. She finds out ten years later that he had noticed her all right.
- In Vino Veritas: Played with. The shy and reclusive Cecilia turns into the Life of the Party not because of drunkenness, but from a chocolate high.
- Limited Wardrobe: Probably justified considering how cash-strapped the characters are. In any case, they are almost always depicted in the same outfits.
- Meganekko: Dee. Cecilia also used to be one in high school and her undergrad years.
- Meaningful Name: The resident Ridiculous Procrastinator is creatively named Mike Slackenerny.
- Mood Whiplash: Tales from the Road - MD Anderson Cancer Center. It starts off as a typical lighthearted 'Tales From The Road', then in the last section, turns into depressing stories about cancer, ending with a former grad student who was diagnosed thanking him for making them laugh, with the reply "I guess we all do what we can."
- Monochrome Casting: Averted. The main character is Asian/Hispanic, Tajel is non-American and has an East Indian mother, and Prof. Khumalo is African.
- The Movie: Yes, there is one.
- Mysterious Past / Shrouded in Myth: Smith's past is the obsession of grad students.
- Nerd Glasses: The main character.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: No one is studying to become physicians.
- Truth in Television: In this strip the author recounts a time when he was detained by British border agents on the grounds that he didn't qualify as an academic visitor.
Jorge Cham: "But I have a Ph.D.! I'm giving lectures at universities! I have a Ph.D.!"
Border Agent: "Sorry. The rules say doctors are allowed in, but you're not a real doctor, are you?"
- No Name Given: The main character of the strip is never referred to by name. Jorge uses him to depict himself in his "Tales from the Road", where he visits other universities. In the movie, his name is revealed to be Winston.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: Faced by Mike when submitting his thesis (he has to come back because the layout isn't in perfect conformity with university rules), by Tajel when applying for a visa, and by the main character when trying to get reimbursed for travel.
- Percussive Maintenance: For the cutting-edge lab equipment
- Right in Front of Me: Upon meeting Khumalo, Tajel starts chatting him up without realizing that he's her new professor.
- Running Gag: π/2
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Prof. Smith
- Shout-Out: I see post-docs!
- The Slacker: While several characters are slackers to some extent, Mike Slackenerny stands head and shoulders above the rest in this regard. An eternal student, he's the PHD answer to Doonesbury's Zonker Harris.
- Spit Take: Cecilia pulls one on purpose here.
- Starving Student: Basically the entire cast.
- Status Quo Is God: Lampshaded. The characters like to point out to freshmen that they were already in university when the latter were middle-schoolers.
- Still Got It: Prof. Smith when he finds out he can still take a nap balanced on a chair, as he used to do as a grad student.
- Take That: This strip pokes fun at TV shows that get the science wrong. This strip does the same to movies that also get the science wrong.
- Terse Talker: One of the signs that you really screwed up. The other is...
- Walking Techbane: Prof. Smith, shown as an example of how this trope works in this strip.
- Wedding Day: Tajel and Khumalo's wedding.
- Write Who You Know: The author is himself a Stanford alumnus and former graduate student (he spent grad school turning bugs into cyborgs).