With the economy the way it is and the job market grim, people are more and more often putting off leaving the ivory tower and turning to higher education-master's and PHd degrees that they may or may not need to get a job in their chosen field. Admission is difficult, but once you're in, you're in for the long haul. And you may see a few people like these...
The "How the hell did you get here?"
So imagine this. You aced those GREs, got great grades in undergrad, and made it into the graduate program of your choice. You're sitting in a study group for advanced neuroscience, fresh in your first year of grad school. You and your study group members are discussing topics you never would have dreamed of in undergrad, at a level of sophistication unique to those who choose to study the subject at high levels.
Conversation stops. A new question must be posed, so you all can review your material.
The person in your study group who's been quiet up till now speaks up. "Guys? What's a brain?"
Congrats, you've found the person about whom you will wonder for years.
The "how the hell did you get here," person is someone who seems to know nothing about the subject they chose to pursue graduate studies in. They're the ones slowing down the class with questions covered in the 101 class you took back in college. Sometimes they were a person who majored in a different field and switched. Sometimes they got in due to family connections or opted to pay their way through grad school on their own. Maybe they went to a kind of crappy college, but excelled and made it in to grad school. Other times? They're an idiot who lucked out. Either way, they will make you feel like perhaps the program you got into wasn't as selective and prestigious as you had hoped.
There are two trajectories for the how the hell did you get here person-they either drop out after a few years, or they end up finding their niche and sticking around, inexplicably passing test after test despite apparently knowing nothing about the material during the study session the night before. If they do stick around, you will sometimes find yourself discussing your subject with them, establishing rapport, maybe coming up with a few new research ideas.
And then they'll stun you with another display of ignorance, even after all this time. You will never stop wondering about them.
Grad school is far, far more flexible than a "real" job. There are usually no strict 9-5 hours, and it is very self motivating. You work at your own pace, meeting a few milestones along the way.
The slacker takes advantage of this to the nth degree. He'll be the one sauntering in to lab at 12pm every day, eating lunch, and leaving at 3. He's typically in the 6th or 7th year of an on average 4 year program. He doesn't care, though-you don't get paid much in grad school, so he's just enjoying the flexibility while he can and refusing to work more hours than makes sense for the pay.
This person is also the one who will take personal calls while you're trying to analyze data. They're usually a nice person, but they have no ambition beyond simply existing. They'll still be there when you graduate, too, showing up just to congratulate you and then disappearing again.
This is the type of graduate student who everyone hates. They are the ones who are convinced that by virtue of entering graduate school, they are in the top 1% of human beings on the planet. They talk down to everyone, other students included, and argue with professors. They are the types to get convinced that they are always right, that their chosen field is the best and most difficult field anyone could ever study. When they don't get grants, they blame the reviewers, not themselves.
This person is usually someone who did extremely well in a very easy school before entering graduate school, and is usually one of those who entered grad school right out of undergrad. Unlike the "how the hell did you get here person" they know some things-but they assume they know a lot more, and will never ask for help.
They usually quickly learn how naive they are when they start failing classes or when their advisor tells them to do something they don't actually have the training for. Some people take the shock well, and recover-others drop out.
This is the opposite of the brain. They talk about knowing their stuff, but that's because they do know their stuff. Rather than talk down to everyone, they helps them out, using years of graduate teaching experience to actually effectively teach the material. The star is either a genius, someone who really, truly loves the field they're in, or both-either way, they are good at what they do.
You typically either hate them or love them. If you hate them, its because they make you look bad, the advisor loves them and ignores you, or because they're in your field and come up with all the good ideas first. Usually its all of the above.
If you love them, its because they are always there to help you out, and because they usually are an extremely nice person. They don't try to shove their perfection in your face-whether you love them or hate them is more a reflection on you.
The Awkward One
This is the student you never really talk to-the one who enters the lab when you leave for the day, not making eye contact. They're often researching something not quite related to what the rest of the lab does, or writing a paper on something so obscure within your field that you've never heard of it. When asked, they don't give much information. They typically revel in the part of research you find the most boring-so if you prefer writing papers, they're the ones desperate to figure out the most efficient way to program a new data analysis method, or vice versa.
The awkward ones usually don't go out of their way to help others in the lab-so if you're running a human subject or trying to get a rat to run down that last maze, and they're the only other one in the room? They won't offer help. You'll have to ask. Your talents and theirs often don't match, and they don't see a need to be close with you or you with them.
This is a person the same year as you, maybe one year ahead if you're challenging yourself. You've watched them as they progressed, and they've watched you. You meet your milestones at the same time, publish papers at the same time, and maybe even work under the same supervisor.
You've found your rival.
This person can be a friend, but is usually an acquaintance. You work on the same project or very similar projects, and every conversation eventually ends up about how much progress they've made, or what they're going to do when they graduate, or, of course, when they think they're going to graduate. If you are running subjects, you compare subject numbers, and might even share the subject pool. You can't let yourself get too far behind, but they won't either.
The rivalry is not heated, and there's no hard feelings. It usually just serves to push you both to work hard, and can even be supportive-but the rivalry is definitely there. If you're in a large program, you might even end up with more than one rival-but if any drop out, you haven't won. You just have to find others.