So William Pannapacker/Thomas H. Benton has created another Xtranormal video describing the tragicomedy that is the Ph.D. process in the humanities, this time capturing the awkward interactions between grad chair and prospective grad student. In our latest episode, Pannapacker’s grad chair authority figure is back, but, as apropos of academia, our heroine from the original vid has long been chewed up and spit out by the system, replaced by new blood/fresh meat in the form of an incoming grad student. And it’s good timing for the new YouTube, too, considering how grad school admissions decisions are around the corner. I know it’s just because the computerized characters are necessarily glitchy, but the virtual cartoon people really capture the eerie nervousness and anxiety of mentor-student relationships, which is only accentuated by the spacey neo-muzak in the background. Enjoy!
The feel-bad hit of the academic job application season “So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities” has spawned its own subgenre, including the not-as-funny, not-as-well-received, longer-winded retort “Yes, I Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities” as well as other discipline-specific narratives for poli sci, law school, philosophy, and film. But best yet is the sequel to the original created by none other than the patron saint of sites like ours, Thomas H. Benton/William Pannapacker. His version revisits the earnest would-be grad student nine years down the line, scraping by as an adjunct and more than willing to do so. As he describes his clip, “Our intrepid young English major finally completes her doctoral degree, and is appropriately rewarded.” The scary thing about the humorous video is that grad students of this generation have already internalized much of what seems so horrific about the job market so that very little of it seems over the top. We can’t embed XtraNormal videos on WordPress, but go over to the Chronicle Brainstorm page to see “So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities: 9 Years Later” for yourself.
Recently, much digital ink has been spilled over the fate of the university and, particularly, the humanities. Connected to those larger structural concerns are the fates of graduate students, be they recent Ph.D.s or soon-to-be Ph.D.s or prospective students, during a time when budgets are bad, morale is low, and job prospects are even worse. After all the posts we’ve devoted to these topics here, I thought it would be good to offer a list of things that have been floated to help grad students. What follows is a summary of the accumulated wisdom gathered from a number of sources (OK, they’re all from columns from the Chronicle of Higher Ed) we’ve been following that put some concrete–if not easily achievable–suggestions on the table for universities, grad programs, faculty, and students alike.
William Pannapacker, aka Thomas H Benton, aka the advice columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
1. Don’t go to grad school in the first place!
“It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource. For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river. If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault. It will make you feel ashamed, and you will probably just disappear, convinced it’s right rather than that the game was rigged from the beginning.” (from “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”, 1/30/2009)
2. If you do go, know that grad school is a trap that’s based on a lie of the love for learning
“Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way. It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon “the life of the mind.” That’s why most graduate programs resist reducing the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and networks that could enable them to do anything but join the ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any responsibility.” (from “The Big Lie of the ‘Life of the Mind’”, 2/8/2010)
3. If you’re still thinking about going, get all the info you can about admissions, student aid, teaching, time to degree, attrition, job placement (from “Making a Reasonable Choice”, April 18, 2010)
More wisdom, after the jump…