Post Academic

An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, AGAIN

PhotobucketCary Tennis is becoming the go-to advice columnist for the grads. As usual, I want to ask the author of the letter, “Where is your advisor and why isn’t this person doing his or her job?” But I digress … it’s to Cary Tennis we must turn.

A week ago, the grad student in question wonders why the life of the mind isn’t thrilling her the way it used to:

I’m at a top-ranked graduate school, and I’ve been purring along, performing my graduate student duties, and feeling really good about myself and what I’m doing. Then my good friend and colleague quit a professorship that had taken over and ruined her life. Post-docs are now telling me that they have no job prospects and that they wish they had known earlier. The whole premise of my efforts has crumbled. I feel like I’ve been duped, but my advisor keeps acting like pursuing his profession is the only way to be happy. The more I think about it, the less and less I want to do this for a living.

…on the inside I feel like I’ve been hollowed out like a pumpkin.

I’ll bring my Sense & Sangria to the table. This letter is fascinating because it seems as if the student was happy in school, and if what he or she says is true, the student has a shot at a job because they’re attending a top-tier program. What brought on that “hollowed-out pumpkin” feeling seems to be … peer pressure, more than anything else. The person mentions the plight of her friends and colleagues first.

Advice after the jump! Advice-themed comic book cover from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Dear Advice-Seeker: That’s terrible for your friends, but just because your friends encountered bad situations doesn’t mean you will. And you might just be burnt out, which means you need to read the Post Academic Burnout series from the past few days. Now, nine times out of ten I will advocate bailing if you are unhappy, but I’m not going to deny anyone a dream, especially if the person is in a good situation and was actually happy at one point. This particular grad student had what seems to be (again, if the letter is accurate) a sudden change in heart.

In this case, I would advise the person to give it another semester and to take an analytical look at the job outlook. If people in the grad student’s field and from the grad student’s field have been getting jobs and the grad student is actually happy and not just in a rough patch, then why go? A more logical approach might work here rather than an emotional one.

The grad student did actually turn to his or her advisor. Alas, the advisor was unhelpful, which means the grad student needs to visit the advisor again or talk to another advisor. The purpose is to discuss job opportunities and just how likely it is that he or she will find a good job. It is the advisor’s responsibility to be honest about job prospects. And, if the student can’t find a decent advisor, then maybe it really is time to go …

2 Responses to 'An Academic Turns to an Advice Columnist, AGAIN'

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  1. Good advice…On my blog, I get a lot of first-year Ph.D.’s asking me for advice about whether they should drop-out. I wonder what year the student is in?

    While I obviously am more in the negative side of academia at my blog, I think people should really be careful about dropping out in the first or last year of their Ph.D.–as it might be, as you said, an emotional decision and not based on an evaluation of the job market.

    Have you read the Chronicle’s article “Master’s in English: Will Mow Lawns”? It talks about the need for grad students to be more vigilant about showing job placement numbers to their students. If this student had some hard data, it would make it easier for the grad student to make a decision of whether to stay or go (the article also mentions me–what a coincidence).

    Awesome post by one of the best post-grad blogs out there.

    James from
    (@selloutsoul on Twitter)

  2. Anthea said,

    Yes, this is good advice. Wait a while, perhaps find another advisor and see whether the intial angst is just a personality clash of sorts rather than anything else. Just don’t jump without some series refletion since one’s first year of a PhD programme isn’t easy…since it’s not just the work load, new colleauges, possibly new town etc but also a new mindset that one has to grasp and get to grips with.

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