An Academic Wednesday: Was Your Graduate Program Bad For Your Health?

In graduate school, we were once visited by a former co-T.A. who was now faculty elsewhere. She said, “Enjoy these days — they are the best of your lives!” I took this comment as the sort of formulaic thing Old Bambis have to say to Young Bambis, and left it at that.

Many years later, I would remember that distant afternoon and understand what my colleague had said.

Around the same time the Emeritus Professor opined that I was “in a fancy professional training program.” I took this comment as laconically as I had the comment from the woman just mentioned and thus, once again, missed the point.

A third comment from the era that I understood still less was from another student, who referred to us all as the “walking wounded.” He meant, or so I thought, that we were in our program despite knowing that we would not get jobs.

I did not see myself as joining the ranks of the walking wounded until later.

Many people left our program along the way and I thought of them as having the maturity, material resources and foresight necessary to make other choices. But it seems that another way of seeing them is as casualties.

Our graduate program was known for exhausting people, and for discouraging them. When you add that to the way in which it produced dead and wounded, you can see that it may have been a bad graduate program.

Another student in that program had a husband who pointed out that we were like members of an elite military corps. I understood his point then, but it seems increasingly accurate now.


9 thoughts on “An Academic Wednesday: Was Your Graduate Program Bad For Your Health?

  1. I hate to describe them as casualties. It almost implies that there is something wrong with people who discover they cannot or do not want to get a Ph.D. Which is just not true. It’s not for everyone and that is fine.

    I guess if your graduate program crushes people, that is one thing, but if they just decided they didn’t want to do it – well, more power to them.

    I’m a little touchy about this having worked in student services and known many students who are wonderful people but our Ph.D. program just did not work for them; and also, having a friend here in my program who has decided to leave with a masters because she just does not want to continue. Some people have said things to her that implied they think of her as less than, or that this is a failure, or that they worry she will be unhappy. I’m like – she doesn’t want to continue in the program. Why the hell should she?

    Of course it helps that she’s completely brilliant and will land on her feet no matter what.

    But even so. If someone doesn’t want to. Why should they?

  2. O good. Also — graduate school was good for me, although I knew at the time one was not supposed to like it. And I saw when finished that it had taught me more skillz than I had realized.

    Now, 30 minutes later, I am back to thinking about the tenure system and the death of shared governance. Historiann reposted from IHE about changes to the tenure system at Brown. I’ll put the link to the original piece here:

  3. P.S. Human — re your friend. It’s worse when you try to quit being a professor — people really want you to stay and will exert pressure! It seems that since jobs and tenure are hard to get, it is traitorous not to take them if one gets them. I’m used to this now and not surprised, but I still think the mentality is odd.

  4. Mad skillz! Grad school has taught me skills and changed the whole way I think. It’s also changed everything I want. I thought I’d be immune to that because I was on the lookout for it. But no.

    Still I’m happy to be here for now, despite the dark clouds on the horizon, and we shall see what happens.

  5. My experience of meeting walking wounded, dead, and so on started in facultydom, not in graduate schooldom. It seems they’re happy with walking wounded and dead, but not with people who walk away (relatively) unscathed. I *still* think graduate school was/is good, for all sorts of reasons.

    Dark clouds on horizon, I think you might be in a good field for doubletracking in terms of career plans: academia *or* something related, depending on what comes up.

  6. Yeah.. that was my original plan. Now I want academia so bad. Grad school has changed me. I could just get over that.

    I’m thinking backup plans to jump ship and move programs if the clouds turn into a storm, though. The problem may get really bad in a really short time.

    Or maybe not. I hope not. I’m a little prone to apocalyptic thinking and my worries do not always materialize, fortunately!

  7. Maybe the problem, if it gets bad, will also get solved somehow.

    Interesting how fast grad school has changed your goals!!!

  8. It is odd — I didn’t want academia until I got a professor job I didn’t consider academic. Then I knew.

    The earlier glimmering was when I was studying abroad in a non top tier graduate program. I was horrified at the quality and transferred within country. That should have been a sign!


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