Eat your broccoli: an informal and unsystematic treatise of undergrad vs postgrad life

Almost one year on from starting my Masters program, I've been blessed to form a circle of friends blended with postgrad and undergrad students. Observing undergrads in the bubble of their study rooms, I sometimes reflect -- because the rooms are walled by glass, and this is a lot of hair to fuss with; but then I reflect on when I was at their point in the academic journey.

Have you ever thought, “I wish I could go back to school with what I know now”?

Being a postgraduate is a lot like fulfilling that fantasy.

Usually people think of this because they want to go back and ace all that assessment, but consider it holistically for a moment. Pursuing a research project has different objectives from when I was a coursework-driven undergrad. I have no desire to relive the days of sloughing through assembly language all-nighters or waiting out awkwardly silent English tutorials, but I recognise now that was a necessary hazing.

Last semester, I was a teaching assistant. Our students went through weeks of testing new technologies and techniques. They may not use a lot of these for a long time, if ever again. They may find some of what they learned saves them from certain dead ends. Who knows with complete certainty what will work best for them until they try it?

We called this the “eat your broccoli” stage.

Coming back as a postgraduate is like looking back on those days when people force-fed you all kinds of vegetables of knowledge. We all ate our broccoli: subject matter, study techniques, tool, tricks, and survival tips.

So, now you’re a postgraduate, and you see the broccoli from the salad. You know how to make a freaking amazing salad. You know what you like and what makes you retch. Let us compare.

In the days before broccoli: You spend 80% of your days amusing yourself with things on the internet or raising your game in Tekken. You regularly check in with friends to see who else hasn’t started the assignment yet and high-five each other over take-away.

In the days after broccoli: If you’re not working, you still spend 80% of your days amusing yourself, but you’ve now expanded beyond the internet. You’ve taken up the gym. You like to cook. Maybe you invest in having a clean house. There are so many parts to being an adult that involve paperwork, and you can’t neglect them. Your procrastination game is so en pointe that when you procrastinate, you’re still being productive. You commiserate with friends over the fact that you all treat your project schedule like a pirate treats the pirate code. You regularly recharge with coffee to cure your three-thirty-itis before powering through eight hours of work in thirty minutes.


In the days before broccoli: You make a lot of excuses.

In the days after broccoli: You make less excuses and more apologies.


In the days before broccoli: You don’t understand people who join debating teams for fun, and that Masters student who keeps stopping the class to ask questions is the bane of your existence.

In the days after broccoli: You have become that annoying Masters student, and you regret nothing. A three hour discussion on what-the-fuck-ever your fellow students are studying, from the field you have no experience in, sounds like an afternoon well spent. You look forward to data collection because it entails going into strangers’ offices and saying, “Fight me” (not really, do not conduct your research like that; have some respect, you monster).


In the days before broccoli: Your chosen superpower would be super-sonic flight so you could travel the world for free.

In the days after broccoli: Your superpower would be reading at the speed of light so you could get through all of this research.


In the days before broccoli: Sleep is for the weak.

In the days after broccoli: The idea of a full night’s uninterrupted sleep makes you weak in the knees.


In the days before broccoli: YOLO.

In the days after broccoli: JOMO.


In the days before broccoli: “We are never doing that again.”

In the days after broccoli: You, in fact, never do that thing again.


In the days before broccoli: You wonder what everyone else is snorting that they have enough energy to be in a sports league after a full day of classes. None of you are actually taking drugs, but the idea that their success is illicitly fueled makes you feel better about the idea that C’s make degrees.

In the days after broccoli: You’re not gung-ho (organised) enough to join a social league, but you prioritise morning walks or gym time because you’ve realised you need to take care of this body that houses the mind that is going to get you your degree. You aim for A’s, but you never forget those C’s that got you that degree.


In the days before broccoli: You attend class in the clothes you slept in, because – you’re awake and you showed up, what more do they want from you?

In the days after broccoli: You attend class, and you even showered today. Society thanks you.


In the days before broccoli: Coffee suddenly tastes good.

In the days after broccoli: Wow, the coffee has improved since you were an undergrad.


In the days before broccoli: It is entirely normal rocking up to a final hung-over.

In the days after broccoli: You do not have final exams, but you do have exhibitions and examinations by panel, and the only thing you’re drunk on is a lack of sleep.


In the days before broccoli: You heckle your teachers because it gives you life.

In the days after broccoli: You are the teacher and you put those hecklers in their place. With love. Amateurs.


The moral of this story is that if Mario can eat (magic) mushrooms just to crush a turtle, you can eat some non-toxic broccoli to level up and get through this degree. Eat. Fight. Win. Share.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of comparative nutrition, and the author acknowledges that not all postgraduates will relate to these parallels, as the author is still a twelve-year-old figuring out a regular sleep schedule.