Just pretend like there’s a fire: the postgraduate mentality

At UCT they have special computer rooms for Humanities’ Postgraduate Students. At UKZN computer rooms were called lans, here they are called labs. Mixing them up is a no-no. You reveal that you’re not actually from UCT and that you did your undergraduate degree at another university. It’s like that scene in Inglourious Basterds where the English officer’s identity is revealed because he signals for three drinks with his three middle fingers. Germans signal with their thumb, index and middle finger.

The equivalent of saying lab at UCT

 Heaven forbid they find out you are from UKZN. Then you get asked “how did you find it there?” or ”aren’t you so happy to be at a proper university now?”. Alternatively they just snigger. You get used to it.  

But calling them labs isn’t enough. They have also been bestowed with the titled Knowledge Commons. Newly renovated and stocked with shiny computers and comfy, ergonomically designed chairs they are a perfect place to study. One long wall is wallpapered – floor to ceiling – with a picture of a lush green forest. Instead of the sound of tweeting birds, the air is filled with the frantic typing of postgrad students with deadlines.  

On Wednesday that sound was pierced when a continuous blaring alarm sounded. Students raised their heads and searched for an explanation and when none was offered they returned to their work. The Knowledge Common’s Monitor announced in a manner befitting his title that it was a fire alarm and we had to evacuate the building.  

“Is it a firm alarm or a fire drill?” An American student drawled from the back. 

The Knowledge Common’s Monitor announced that it was a fire drill. No need to panic then! Postgrads you see are pardoned from life’s more mundane activities – social lives and regular exercise included. When the Knowledge Common’s Monitor realised that no faux evacuation was imminent he started trying to herd everyone out 

“Just imagine there’s a fire!” he cried opening the doors and motioning for some sort of mass exodus. He wildly swung his arms around trying to elicit some sort of response from the group. He was really getting into his imagining.   

A collective groan sounded as people realised that they weren’t going to be able to escape the fire drill. So, as they imagined there was a fire, they calmly shuffled all their papers together, safely removed their USB drives from the computers and headed out. We may not have much respect personal safetly but as Postgrads we have the utmost respect for safely removing our flash sticks. 

Ten minutes later we were allowed to enter the previously imagined engulfed building and resume our work. Frantic typing once again filled the air and all was well in the Humanities Postgraduate Knowledge Commons.

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