GSBS: a gradgrind game

4+ players

Required equipment: one die, something to time with, and either paper and pen or a computer to type on.

Goal: To become the last grad student standing, and thereby the next Advisor.


  1. Pick one player as Advisor for a round, and all others become her or his Students. (Note: if one player is a faculty member, that faculty member cannot be the first Advisor.)
  2. Each Student proposes a dissertation title in the form of “The [noun] of (optional article) [noun].”
  3. Advisor “suggests” changes to the dissertation topic by inserting adjectives before the nouns, so that each title becomes “The [adjective] [noun] of (optional article) [adjective] [noun].” The adjectives should be chosen either to be completely irrelevant to the topic or heavily theoretical jargon. English dissertation titles could thus have adjectives related to biochemistry/nanotechnology or the worst of poststructuralist jargon. If pressed for imagination, one can always insert “puppyhood” as the first adjective and “pants” as the second. Or “kleptomanic” and “kludgy.” You get the idea. The suggestions are NOT optional; if you are a Student, you just have to deal with the “revised” dissertation title. It’s good for you; your Advisor knows best.
  4. Advisor creates a six-by-two table. One column should be common types of questions asked graduate students: what are your findings, what are the limitations of your research, what are you doing next, what about [specific topic] and your dissertation, how does it tie into real-world or teaching concerns, why should we care about your topic, etc. The other column should be a random collection of topics, with the only requirement that the topics have NOTHING to do with any dissertation topic. Advisor puts this table where it can be seen by all Students as well as herself/himself.
  5. Finally, Advisor should write down some wildcard topics that should not be shared with Students.

Play proceeds in rounds, with (at least) one Student dropping out at the end of each round. Each Student takes turns in a round, with the following steps of an individual turn:

  1. Student rolls the die twice (or rolls two dice, as long as the dice have different appearances). The first die roll tells the Advisor which type of question to ask. The second die roll tells the Advisor what the topic is to connect to it. Because the six-by-two table is visible to all, a Student can see what the Advisor is about to ask… unless the total of both rolls is seven.
  2. If the two dice rolls sum to seven, Advisor adds a second topic (thus the suggestion for the wildcard list kept privately). This topic will be a total surprise until the question is asked.
  3. Advisor asks the question.
  4. The Student has to answer the question IMMEDIATELY and completely fill the designated length of an answer for the round. Round 1 = 15 seconds, round 2 = 30 seconds, round 3 = 45 seconds, etc. If the Student stops talking before the round length and another Student can finish the answer, the Student is immediately dismissed for failing to have a complete answer.
  5. At the end of the answer, all other players should hoot and holler and otherwise make noise, tease, etc.

At the end of a round, Advisor dismisses one Student. If all Students filled the designated length of the answer, then the Advisor should pick the Student with the worst answer (e.g., not answering the question or not addressing one topic) but has the complete dictatorial authority to be capricious and dismiss a Student for any reason whatsoever. If at least one Student was dismissed during the round for failing to have a complete answer (see Step 4 of a turn above), then Advisor does not dismiss another Student. (Yes, more than one Student can be dismissed for failing to have a complete answer.)

The last Student standing becomes the next Advisor.

If you play this game, please comment below and help improve the game by answering the following questions:

  1. How many players were in this game?
  2. How long did it take?
  3. Best parts?
  4. Weakest parts?
  5. Suggestions for change?


1 comment

  1. dorn

    Yes, I suppose you could make a drinking game out of this with dismissals replaced by requirements to take a sip. Please wait until after the day’s sessions before trying that variant…

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