So by now we’ve all read (or at least have heard about) the latest screed against going to graduate school to do a PhD. This has led to the inevitable rebukes, rebuttals, and calls to arms. You should read all of these pieces that I’ve linked to because it does reflect the complexity of the issue that is deciding to go to graduate school, particularly in the humanities.
Look, I made my “name” back at the old blog talking about all of my frustrations, financial and otherwise, that I had (and still have) with higher education. And, really, these issues haven’t gone away. I could repost these and other posts every year at around the same time and they would still be just as relevant. This isn’t because my writing is so timeless, but because the issues keep coming up, like clockwork, every single year.
Which is both interesting on an intellectual level and depressing on an emotional level. Interesting, because of the timing, like clockwork, of these pieces. It seems that when late March/early April rolls around, the hiring season has past, and a fresh crop of students are deciding what to do about their graduate school acceptance it triggers something visceral in many of us, particularly those who have been, yet again, unsuccessful on the academic job market, struggling to make ends meet as adjuncts, or simply discouraged and/or despondent over the state of higher education (particularly public higher education).
Every year, there is a new crop of disillusioned and jaded ABD or adjunct PhDs who have been made to feel like failures through the internalization of the myth of the meritocracy in higher education, or the lie that the only way to be successful is by getting a tenure-track job. The heroic narratives of self-sacrifice and greater-good don’t help pay back student loans, the “hard work will eventually pay off” advice rings hollow, and there is nothing left but despair and the ability to use language. So we write.
And it is depressing because it keeps happening. We write, and nothing changes. We keep churning out PhD students who hope to become professors, willing to adjunct because they think it will help and because “it’s not about the money.” Higher education still won’t increase the number of tenure-track positions. It’s getting better insofar as there are more and more resources available to PhDs looking for employment outside of academia or within academia but not on the tenure-track. But those services often cost money, or at least take time, resources that most adjuncts don’t have. And there stubbornly and persistently continues to be a very real disconnect between what graduate school teaches us versus what these services offer us.
I was where Rebecca Schuman was a little over three years ago when I started blogging. I was angry and bitter and disillusioned and feeling lonely and isolated (ok, I might be projecting a little, but bear with me). I recognized the tone and content of her piece, having written similar pieces myself on my blog, just with a much smaller audience, particularly at the beginning. And, on her personal blog, as Schuman tried to work through the backlash, I recognized the same types of criticism I have received and continue to receive.
So I reached out. She is friends with one of my colleagues and I tried to connect on facebook. You’re on Twitter, I wrote, then reach out and connect with the larger community of academics, alt-academics, recovering academics, and everyone in between (which, looking at her timeline, she seems to be doing). There is bitterness, there is anger, but there is hope. And this is coming from me. There is hope.
There is hope for us as individuals, but I don’t have much hope anymore for academia as an institution. I’m not going to stop writing or fighting in what little way I can, but I fear that the reason the cycle of “Don’t go to grad school” pieces ends is because the option to go or not is no longer there.