If you've ever been a graduate student, you know the meaning of the verb "to suffer." So you tend to look kindly on anyone who is still pursuing a higher degree.
Margaretta Rothenberg put in several years of post-graduate torture. So when her phone rang the other day, she gladly agreed to take part in a survey that a graduate student said she wanted to administer. The person on the other end of the line identified herself as Sue, gave her last name and said she was a master's degree candidate in psychology from the University of Maryland.
"We had been going for about 15 minutes," recalled Margaretta, "and it was a pretty good survey, the sort of thing that you'd expect to find in a reputable graduate school.
"Then she asked me a question about my sexual practices. I told her I wouldn't answer that question. Then she asked me another question, also about sex. I said, 'What kind of survey is this, anyway?' And then she hung up."
Margaretta did, too -- but only long enough to get a dial tone and call the Maryland psychology department. When she explained to a secretary what had just happened, the secretary called out, obviously to someone else in the office:
"Hey, it's another 'Sue call.' "
Indeed, "Sue calls" have been arriving at the Maryland psychology office for months. But no one there has ever met, seen or conversed with a living human by the name she gave.
Department chairman Irwin Goldstein said he has received between five and 10 "Sue calls" in recent weeks. But "she is not connected with our department," Goldstein said. Bill Tash, associate dean for graduate research, added that all telephone surveys by graduate students must be preauthorized by a three-person committee. "No 'Sue' study was authorized," Tash said.
As weird as this one sounds, it apparently isn't that unusual, at Maryland or any other campus.
Goldstein said "two or three" similar episodes have arisen during his three years as department chairman. Last year, added Tash, a Maryland graduate student recruited volunteers to strip and jump into a swimming pool so he could measure their true body weights. "He had no authorization, either," Tash deadpanned.
Could there be such a 'Sue' in some other department at Maryland? Researcher Wendy Melillo checked, and found that a woman of the same name from Laurel had entered as a freshman in 1977.
"My last semester there was two and a half years ago," said The Real Sue, when Wendy found her on the phone. "I was a student in the Department of Education. I don't know anything about any study. I can't believe they are using my name for it."
"Sue was very pleasant to talk to and found the whole thing rather funny," says Wendy. But Margaretta Rothenberg -- and an increasingly large stable of others -- don't. Hard to blame them.