Friday, February 12, 2010

Rethinking Grad School Advice

Thanks to T.E. I've just found Escape the Ivory Tower and its compelling post about our responsibilities for advising grad school in the humanities. This is an old topic around the blogosophere, with too many posts to list-and-link. It's also one I've been hesitant to join.

Part of the reason that I have been hesitant to join is that had I gotten this kind of reality check advice, I might not have pursued this path, one that I do find extraordinarily rewarding in a way that I personally cannot imagine experiencing in many other life paths. Yes, I'm in a fair amount of debt, and yes it took three tries on the job market to land a good TT job, but in many ways, the "life of the mind" is something I associate quite closely with the job and the way I work.

Still, the scenario gets worse and worse, and I am slowly coming to understand that the job market is significantly worse right now than it was even five years ago when I was last out. I really do wonder how to give advice, knowing that the advice that this line of thinking would have me give would have very likely led to a somewhat (or even extremely) less satisfying career and work/life exchange than I currently enjoy, and might therefore do the same for certain students whom I might advise.

Still, I'll be sending those students this link as a reality check, and would be interested to hear of other links (please do send them on) that I might compile.


Tom said...

It will be the death of our profession when we no longer train a new generation of scholars and teachers to succeed us. Advising students that succeeding us may be difficult, challenging, and hard is certainly appropriate. But never should we discourage an entire generation from even trying.

I tell those few who ask my opinion to get the PhD if they want to do it because they love to learn; I discourage them if they think the life of a professor sounds easy or fun--though I agree it can be rewarding.

Jenny said...

At this point I would be happy with a slightly less fulfilling job that was full time and came with health care. I am using myself as a cautionary tale for my masters students. Big fun.

Sisyphus said...

I get to tell my students that it's too bad they can't get classes for next quarter, because I wasn't offered any teaching and I would love to have a paycheck.

I'm pretty sure that none of my smart and motivated students are thinking seriously about grad school, partly because of little things I'll drop. I think a big problem is when people who have these types of permanent jobs advise their students not to go because of the difficulties. It just doesn't make the same kind of impact.

I really appreciated her site and the honesty of the postings in it. I wish that there were more of those types of blogs out there to balance the "survivor" bias that comes when only the people who have made it through all the hoops are talking about the profession.

Horace said...

Tom, I do see your point, and I do know a handful of undergraduate students here who would (and perhaps will) make very good career academics.

But I do wonder whether my responsibility when I give advice is to the profession, or to the students, because for every gutted-it-out story that ends up on the tenure stream, there are stories like Jenny's and Sisyphus', which feature both very strong work (and I've read both of their work) and insufficient opportunity.