Post Academic

Don’t Be the Van Wilder of Your Grad Program

Posted in Housekeeping,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on May 12, 2010
Tags: , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionI recently met a PhD student from a large, well-respected program. He stands a good chance of getting a job, and I asked him what his program was like. He said that the program has started pushing people harder to finish on time.

While there are definite financial benefits to lingering in a grad program, which Arnold has mentioned, grad students can gauge the health of a program not only by how many people get jobs but also by how quickly people get done. Shorter time-to-degree indicates the following:

1. Advisors that help move you along.
2. Enough financial support so you can focus on your research and finish the dissertation.
3. Respect for the future, not to mention the sanity, of grad students.

More after the jump! Image from the 1909 Tyee (yearbook of the University of Washington), public domain, Wikimedia Commons.


Collected wisdom: 12 ways to save the lives of grad students (with poll)

"Wisdom Emblem" by George Wither (from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

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…


What to look for: Perspectives for prospectives’ campus visits

Prospective grad students get to be jetsetters this time of year, visiting programs all around the country that have accepted them.  Congratulations to them–you really deserve to be wined-and-dined a bit, after all the hard work and anxiety of the last few months!  With the benefit of hindsight and experience (both as the woo-ed and the woo-ers), we wanted to provide a few (hopefully) helpful pieces of unsolicited advice on what to look out for when you prospectives are trying to make sense of your visits, since the whole process can be wearying and daunting.

Please jump in with any questions, prospectives!  And, for those of us on the other side, feel free to offer more unsolicited advice–as well as any funny stories you have, in the comments section below.

1. Don’t feel intimidated: There are a bunch of scary and scary smart people you’ll be meeting in the few but very action-packed days of your campus visit, from (obviously) the faculty to the grad students to your fellow prospectives.  You’ll naturally be in awe of the faculty, particularly the big names who probably got you to apply to the school in the first place, and you’ll probably stay that way through a good part of grad school.  But you’ll also come to realize that they’re living, breathing people behind the voluminous CVs, important books, and glamour-shot dept website JPEGs.  The sooner you come to this realization, the easier your grad school future will be, since these are the folks you’ll be taking your classes with and asking for advice.