Graduate school

Here is the real problem with graduate school in the humanities. It isn’t new. I don’t know how old it is:

If you’re at an Ivy League, you might finish your program. If you do finish, you’ve got a terrific chance at getting a job.

If you’re not, whether or not you finish your dissertation or thesis on time will have FAR more to do with the quality of your teachers and the resources of your department than with you. If you do finish, whether or not you get a job within 1-3 years of graduating will have FAR more to do with the quality of your advisors and the resources of your department than with you.

History, Spanish, Comparative Literature, Anthropology, Archeology, Chinese, and English (to name a few) are programs separable not simply by their different academic journals and conferences, or hiring deadlines, or dissertation requirements, but instead that: some simply aren’t prioritized by the college; some departments have a Chair who hasn’t done anything for students in twenty years; some departments are too small for individual students to absorb and deflect the miserable experiences that we’ve all had with one professor or one class, etc. And at the end of the day, the department doesn’t really, not in an individually impactful way, become affected if its graduate students don’t matriculate or get work.

Unless it happens to be a good department.

And being a teacher or advisor in a good department means caring, picking up the slack, paying forward, mentoring energetically and with time that was never mentioned in your offer letter, working with and for your students REGARDLESS of the fact that you’re not paid any better or in line to get a promotion or given a nicer office with a newer computer.

The most regrettable, pervasive, and obvious problem with graduate school is similar to the biggest problem outside graduate school: people often won’t help each other or the group without incentive. We assume graduate school is different because graduate studies are supposed to belong to that area of life that is separate from the bottom line. And we therefore assume the problem must be the glut of students, the bad market, the reckless appeal of a life of ideas, and so on, ironically and i.e., the bottom line.

Graduate school isn’t JUST another consumer experience like any other. Rather, it is a consumer experience like any other.

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