On Graduate School

I liked college and graduate school, and I like them even more in retrospect since the behavior of some faculty at places I have been since has been so poor. Yet I have friends from college and even graduate school who use words like “trauma” and “gulag” to refer to our alma mater. I would never have said that and I suppose it means I am tough – something I have been told before and not understood, but which I understand now.

When I was in graduate school, many people were up in arms because in their view, the program did not “professionalize” us enough. This was not my experience or my view, in terms of gaining knowledge, practical savvy, information, and skills. Except that we, or at least I, did not learn to expect to be a professor, or to think of ourselves as future professors.

It was a given that one’s academic career would end with the Ph.D., since there were no jobs. It was perhaps for this reason that some of my advisors did not deem it necessary that one think of oneself as a professional or develop a research program one could take seriously. That is why I have a penchant for these issues now in graduate education.

This is perhaps the random fault of random people in my subfield, because I did learn to publish in graduate school. Taking course after required course outside my field of interest and writing competent seminar papers, the professors would say work on this, ask me questions if you need to, and send it off. I learned how to get things ready and publish them, but at the same time I was learning to continue to write for others, as another, not as myself.

My dissertation director did not think it expedient to consider what one really wanted to do and how one really wanted to define oneself. One should simply pick a topic in which one had some background and write something internally consistent. It did not matter whether this was well researched or not, because the point was not that one had an academic future but that one was running out of T.A. time. One needed to produce something readable which would take up a ream of paper and thus at least get one’s degree before retiring to one’s next career … or so was “practicality” presented to me.

This was years ago, when the in state students were not considered as bright as the imports with Ivy League B.A.’s and women were not expected to go on the job market in a serious way. It was at a large institution where many people really did get bogged down at the dissertation level and really did need to make a decision and get something done, and where the professors were overloaded with hordes of students – even graduate students came in hordes. These things, I think, explain the phenomenon, at least to a large extent. What do you think?


9 thoughts on “On Graduate School

  1. Similar feeling here — that there are no jobs.

    And I’m learning to write for others by collecting information and then relating it at a level of intelligence at a couple of notches down from anything that I’d be interested in reading — that is, unless I’m still figuring things out for myself at the time.

  2. Yes – according to my friend the medical student many people have intelligence but fewer have cognition and if one has cognition then one must translate oneself for those who don’t, but are still intelligent. This sounds very arrogant, I know, but it also sounds true.

    Note to self: this post needs editing: cut, for instance, the comment on poor quality of faculty, it’s mean. I’d edit it now but I’m in a machine whose only browser is Safari and it won’t let me in.

  3. Go ahead and cut the line about quality of faculty, I’ll cherish its memory. Of course they think the same about us.

    The line about intelligence and cognition is very good. I’ve just reacquainted with William Perry from my Human Development days; he provides an illuminating schema:


    The worry about arrogance is unavoidable, I’m afraid, once our democratic commitments come into contact with the obvious fact that like any other skill, thinking is something some people do better than others.

    I thought grad school was pretty much what I made it, and this is also my observation of the grievers among my own classmates and colleagues.

  4. Additional note to self and others:

    I cannot get into edit or to approve comments reliably on this machine, so it will take a few days for certain things to get done.

    I needed a memorial day post, on Winter Soldier, so instead I think I should do that as a flag day post.

  5. Yes – according to my friend the medical student many people have intelligence but fewer have cognition and if one has cognition then one must translate oneself for those who don’t, but are still intelligent.

    Yes. I have lately come to the conclusion that you can do this through reading something through for internal (logical) consistency. For instance, there are things that seem inconsistent, but are aspects of the contingency of life and history, and are really paradoxical rather then being contradictory. These things need to have extra explanation in order to render them clear in sense and meaning. Otherwise, people without the particular historical cognitions i have will think I am not making sense.

  6. Yes.

    And: there are more comments in moderation but I cannot get to them because I am in Safari.

  7. P.S. Note to self: the other thing, though, that is clear, is that I am as picky as I am about institutions and cities not just for the obvious reasons but because that is or would be what makes up for me not being in right field – social movements – ! – which I’d be interested in at any level and any place. You can do this from my discipline but only in some places / with some situations; that is where my discomfort comes from I do believe.

  8. (…although I still say the PhD had to come first and humanities sometime in my case.) Tonight I really feel as though I am jumping off into law as I had always threatened to do logically…

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