Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

More Wednesday Links

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Instead of agreeing with graduate students that what they learn in seven years of intense study is of no earthly use outside of academia (do we really think that what we do is so useless?), we need to articulate forcefully that doctoral education serves social purposes beyond university walls. Look, I love the sentiment, but all the same it seems clear to me that seven (plus) years of intense study are pretty obviously of no earthly use outside a career in academia. That’s not at all to say that what we do is useless, or that graduate programs should shrink, or anything like that—just that graduate school is preparation for a career in academia, not self-enrichment, and certainly not worthwhile preparation for any other sort of career.

* No dystopia left behind: “The next wave of standardized testing is here, measuring your kids in art, music, and phys ed.”

Detroit’s Unemployment Rate Is Nearly 50%, According to the Detroit News.

Last week, in the corners of the Internet devoted to outer space, things started to get a little, well, hot. Voyager 1, the man-made object farthest away from Earth, was encountering a sharp uptick in the number of a certain kind of energetic particles around it. Had the spacecraft become the first human creation to “officially” leave the solar system?

 * And Slate is ready for both Peak Water and Peak Soil: When farmland is scarce, will we all eat roots and tubers? Enjoy your century!

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  1. Co-sign on the first thing. Might write a post going something like this: “Stop for a minute, oh senior professors, and think about what happens when you tell graduate students to both work SUPER HARD to prepare yourselves for the minute specifications of the academic job market — because only the top 2% have a prayer, etc — and also remember to prepare for a job doing something completely different in case you won’t make it! Now pat your head and rub your tummy! Dance, monkey, dance!”


    June 13, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    • I definitely endorse your post-in-progress. I’ve been rereading some of the “classic” don’t-go-to-grad-school posts lately and I’ve actually been wondering about one of yours from a ways back, where you write rather eloquently to a prospective student:

      I’m not going to tell you to re-consider other options, but you will find that the further along someone is in a PhD program, the more pessimistic they are likely to be about it. Basically, my spiel is that a PhD program can be a wonderful experience, but it will also warp your brain in ways that you will spend much time trying to control, it can leave you stranded at the end, and will definitely require all sorts of painful personal and familial sacrifices over the long run (I’ve developed serious sleeping disorders from the experience, and every grad student fucks up their back eventually; no one tells you this, but it’s a nice illustration of the kind of toll it takes on you). And as you certainly know, to call the job market “bad” is laughably inadequate; the very, very best are competing against the very, very best for the handful of jobs that exist, and even before you get to that point, it can be a life characterized by anxiety and uncertainty. It really needs to be something you feel yourself called to do, and something you feel like you can do well.

      If it is, those sacrifices can be worth it. They were for me, I think, even though I’m entering the period where the trade-offs are most stark and the benefits seem slim compensation at best. And I’ve even had an unusually good experience in many ways; Berkeley English is a very good place to do a PhD because the faculty culture is basically humane (characterized by a sort of benevolent negligence, but mostly in a good way). Yet there are also programs that grind you into sausage, and when there’s so little payoff at the end, you need to go somewhere where the life you’ll have there is actually the thing you want (not a stepping stone). Grad school is the thing itself; you might get a job at the end of it, but if you want to do it because you want to be a professor, you’re setting yourself up. You have to want to be a grad student, and to be aware of what that entails.

      I remember being really struck by this at the time and thinking, yes, that’s how you have to think of grad school if you want to remain sane. But now I feel much less certain: if grad school is “the thing itself” I’m really not sure it’s worth the investment of time and tears for very many actually existing people. I think we really ought to fight rather harder to save the academy from neoliberalism, not just find excuses to keep doing what we’re doing regardless.


      June 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm

      • I think the deeper you get into the pit of despair that is late graduate school, the more salient this point becomes. Fun fact: I sent that email to a prospective student named Jane Hu, better known as the great @hujane.


        June 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm

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