Gunner, Savvy, Slacker: Pros and Cons

So in the last post I introduced you to the three academic breeds of Harvard student.  Now let’s delve a little deeper into the pros and cons of each:

The Gunner

The Gunner is hardcore.  Even as a freshman, she knows what she’s going to be when she grows up.  She already knows which grad school she’s going to, which companies to apply to, and which summer jobs to land to beef up her resume to max impressiveness.  She’s got her eye on the Rhodes, the Marshall, the Fiske, the DeJersey, the Detur, Harvard Med School/Law School, and the Presidency of the United States — or if that doesn’t work out, a spot on the Supreme Court.

Pros: Successful Gunners usually do very well and end up ruling the world or at least part of it.  They have distinguished themselves even in the rarefied atmosphere of Harvard, and are consequently in major demand in the world.  They do win the crazy fellowships which puts them in league with the likes Bill Clinton and Nobel Prize-winning scientists.  Gunners have doors open to them that most of us don’t even know about and get lucrative job offers thrown at them unsolicited.  Most of my friends who were in that category (and didn’t crash) are in good shape: hotshot professors at top universities (Harvard, HLS, Stanford, Yale), successful VCs, kicking ass and taking names.

Cons: The Gunner lifestyle is not necessarily a balanced one — ‘workaholic’ is neither a compliment nor a path to healthy living.  They can miss out on a lot of personal growth that happens during college on a social level — when else are you going to learn to interact with your peers?

Some of them are so preposterously talented that they just cruise through their work and never stress out.  And a small minority of them succeed over and over again.  However, part of being human is to stumble occasionally.  And because of their sky-high expectations, they put undue pressure on themselves.  As a result, what would constitute a major victory for a mere mortal — an A- in a tough class, or getting into the #3 law school in the US — constitutes crushing defeat for them.  This is why a lot of Slackers are actually former Gunners: one slip, and heavy disillusionment sets in, with a subsequent change in worldview and lifestyle.  They are susceptible to stress-related diseases.

Socially, because of their singleminded attention to achievement at all cost, the Gunners tend not to be masters of human relations.  When you have little experience in the realm of love, one bad breakup is all it takes to turn your world upside down.  Lots of Slackers are former Gunners who got dumped by The Love of Their Lives (aka their first real quasi-adult relationship) and just couldn’t handle the consequences.  Also, as buddies, they may not be a whole lot of fun to hang out with.  Two of my best friends were bona fide Gunners, and every time I’d call them on a Saturday night to go party, they’d turn me down: “Nah man, I’ve got some work to do.”  How about the other 6 nights of the week — why cantcha just do it then?  Drove me up the wall.

The Slacker

The Slacker is mellow.  She has figured out that you can get a B in almost any class at Harvard without straining yourself, and she’s cool with that.  The Slacker has found greater joy in the company of her peers and her extracurriculars than she does in schoolwork, so she spends her time on those instead. She picks courses based on how easy they are, how late they meet in the day (after 11am = bonus), and how skippable class is.

Pros: Just ’cause she’s not an academic ace doesn’t mean he’s not up to anything productive.  The Slacker is often socially adept, forging lifelong friendships that hold her in good stead for the long haul while the Gunners are slaving away in labs and libraries.  The Slacker also has a ton of fun, since she’s treating Harvard like it’s actually college.

Cons: Slackers can miss out on one of the most amazing opportunities of a lifetime — namely, to learn stuff at Harvard.  I mean, people — this is your education, for godssakes.  It’s like winning the lottery, then casually forgetting to cash in the ticket.  So let’s not miss out on the main show here.  And if that’s not compelling enough reason, consider: at $40k a year, a total of 8 courses per year and an average of 25 class meetings per course, each class you skip is about 200 bucks down the tube.  Explain that away to your funding agency (aka mom and dad).

Also, because of the merely mediocre grades they get, they sometimes shut themselves out of the best jobs and grad schools out there — things they could have attained with a little bit more effort.

Also, a quick observation: for whatever reason, I knew a lot more male slackers than female Slackers at Harvard.  If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it’s a 3:1 ratio.  In any case, I’m keeping the female pronoun throughout this article for consistency, in spite of the apparent shortage of girl Slackers.

The Savvy

Ah yes, the Savvy.  This is a Harvard student in the know.  What does she know?  Well, first of all she knows her priorities: learn stuff, get decent grades, forge meaningful relationships, set herself up for success in the future while having the time of her life.  She also knows that it’s more important to work smart than it is to merely work hard.  So she uses her considerable brainpower not just to study hard, but also to figure out the most efficient way to perform well.  She juggles her responsibilities with aplomb and seemingly effortless grace — what the Japanese would call shibumi, what the Italians would call sprezzatura.

Pros: The Savvy gets Gunner-level grades without the stress or the austerity measures that a true Gunner imposes upon herself.  As a result of her efficiency, she also eats well, sleeps well, gets enough exercise and has fun with her friends.  She may even have time for a meaningful romantic relationship or two.  She has learned how to have balance in her life, setting her up for a happy, healthy, successful life after graduation and far beyond.  She basically gets to have her cake and eat it too.

Cons: The Savvy may pass up some of the top, top distinctions that Harvard has to offer (e.g. graduating magna instead of summa, writing a Hoopes-worthy thesis) in the name of a more balanced lifestyle, but even that need not be the case.  Can’t think of any other downside really.

Anyway, that’s an overview of the three kinds of academic beast at Harvard.  Read it and see where you find yourself in it.  Obviously, I’m a little biased towards the Savvy lifestyle, although people from all three realms have grown up to do just fine in the end.  If this is the what, then the HUGS live program and CD is where we talk a little more about the how.  Stay tuned, and throw me your questions and comments below.


Ali B

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