Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grad School in the Humanities


And Think! When it comes to pursuing graduate studies in the humanities, many people are saying "just don't go!"

This past weekend at UNCG's annual Writing into the Profession graduate student conference I had the opportunity to speak to a group of prospective ph.d. students in English. These were bright and engaging students who have completed or are completing their m.a. degrees and wanted to find out more about taking the next step in their grad school careers. I opened by discussing the gloom and doom scenario of too many ph.d.s and not enough jobs, and by showing them the series of articles written by Thomas Benton for The Chronicle of Higher Education, one of which I've linked above.

But the reason I start with the bad news is not to discourage people who want to pursue the ph.d., although some might argue that's exactly what I should be doing. Instead, my goal is simply to make sure that we all know what we're getting ourselves into. I told them that if they were anything like me, then this is the only thing they could possibly see themselves doing, and that, if there is nothing else for them, the least they can do is educate themselves as to the reality of the marketplace.

Unlike many students (although I don't understand who's advising students in such a way that they are surprised all over the job wikis as to the terrible state of the market), I've known from the jump the tough state of the humanities in higher education...and there was still nothing else I could see myself doing. The truth of the matter is that as difficult as it is to get a ph.d., a doctoral degree is IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER a guaranteed ticket to a job as a tenured professor at the university of your choice, or really any university. The stakes continue to get higher, and the standards continue to rise.

I guess my take-away point is that if academia is the only path for you, be sure you have a good sense of the troubles, pitfalls, and difficulties of the profession, just as much as you familiarize yourself with the awesome benefits.

[sorry for the late post this week. I'm looking for some new topics to post about. Anyone out there have something in particular they'd like to get some other perspectives on?]

5 comments:

  1. Hi, Matt! I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on sifting (slogging?) through a large archive on a big canonical figure, whether it's a theorist, author, etc. (e.g. Rushdie, in my case). I would like to think that there are some practical ways to get at scholarship relevant to my project, but perhaps I don't want to accept the fact that I really do need to read everything written by him and about him. Any advice is welcome as is advice on more general strategies/tricks for balancing researching and writing. Thanks!

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  2. Dr. Young used to say this even stronger: he would urge us NOT to go into PhD work unless we absolutely had to. He conceded that I was probably one of the unfortunate types who had to go on, but it was good to keep in mind that there is a difference between being smart/hard-working and being suited for the strange world of academia.

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  3. And that world of academia is constantly changing! As I work through my materials for a job search I keep running across new parts of the process (such as universities moving to online dossier services) that even jr. faculty say are they did not encounter.

    When I hear the constant complaints about the travails of grad school I can't help but think to myself, "well it's certainly not for everyone. so if you're going to complain so much and hate it so much, why not try something else and make more room for those who can't help but do this?!"

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