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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.
Contains examples of:
- The Ace: The "Golden Boy".
- Added Alliterative Appeal: Publish and/or Perish!
- Alien Lunch: Possibly ramen.
- 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 latter.
- 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.
- 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.
- Everything's Better with Chocolate: Cecilia is seriously addicted to the stuff. She even carries around cocoa syrup in a hip flask.
- 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.
- 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...
- Freud Was Right: I refuse to believe that the line break in the middle of "encephalic" in this strip (in the part about "The Campus Tower") was anything other than deliberate.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Nameless: 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.
- Nerd Glasses: The main character.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: No one is studying to become physicians.
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?"
*He actually said this.
- 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.
- And now this strip at channels that claim to be focused on science.
- 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.
- White-Haired Pretty Girl: Mariko, a minor recurring character and a former Japanese exchange grad student who quit her PHD to start her own company.
- Write Who You Know: The author is himself a Stanford alumnus and former graduate student (he spent grad school turning bugs into cyborgs).