Legos were my favorite toy as a kid. I had a 5-gallon tub of pieces that I slowly accumulated over birthdays and other holidays. When I went to college, I reluctantly had to hand off my tub to my younger cousins. I figured that was the end of Legos for me.
I hit some rough patches in graduate school when I felt burnt out. It seemed like I’d forgotten how to take a break to recharge myself. I would waste time on my computer watching videos, and by end the day, I would feel neither productive nor refreshed.
Suffering from writer’s block, the grad student stares at a screen as empty as his hopes and dreams.
At those times, when I was looking for a pure distraction, I found myself thinking about Legos repeatedly. So once in 2013 and once last year, I went out to a Lego store and bought two large sets, larger than anything I had as a kid. Each time, I felt like I was living some sort of childhood dream — my mind would have exploded at age 12 if I had sets as large and expensive as these. They were a lot of fun to build, and I realized that Legos were still one thing that I really could enjoy without feeling guilty about work.
Once I finished building the second set, I remembered that my favorite part of playing with Legos was breaking everything apart and creating my own things. I now had more than 5,000 pieces from the two sets, so there was a lot that I could do. The first thing I randomly built was a small bathroom. I draped a small minifigure over the toilet to make it look like the figure was retching into the toilet, just because I thought it made for an amusing image.
Updating an old friend in the city about his life, the grad student hears himself say the word “still” a disconcerting number of times.
I wanted to create more things, but I wasn’t sure what to do next. I looked at my small bathroom creation and thought it might be interesting to come up with a story of why and how this minifigure ended up clinging to a toilet. Perhaps because I was in my own head, I decided I would create a short series of pictures where the figure was a graduate student who had a terrible meeting with his advisor. I worked backward to create the four images that ended up coming before it. Once I looped back to the bathroom scene, I was having too much fun. I realized that graduate school offered a lot of ideas for posts, so I decided to keep going.
Perusing the latest journal issue, the grad student comes across an article that is uncomfortably similar to his dissertation.
When I started making these Lego scenes, I only put them up on my personal Facebook account for friends. After a few were posted, some friends suggested that I also put them up on other social media platforms. I had no idea that they suddenly would take off after a couple months of posting. I truly didn’t expect any large number of people to see these posts, much less react so positively to them. (Editor’s note: Lego Grad Student now has more than 9,000 followers on Twitter.)
I first made these as a dark joke to myself (and I fully admit I have a dark sense of humor), but it was remarkable to hear people say that the posts really resonated with them. That was never my intent, but I am glad that these posts can help people feel like they’re not alone.
Listening to a professor’s remarks, the grad student learns that “three small points” means “three missiles designed to obliterate your work and self-worth.”
Feeling no less confined after coming to a spacious coffee shop, the grad student confronts the reality that his work is his prison.