The Long Haul

Why were folks a bit grumpy in grad school? At least, this is how I remember it. A department sans graduate students is downright peachy. This has nothing to do with the individual personalities and everything to do with individuals not being stressed to the gills about a million things. Graduate students in the Humanities deal with a lot of crap–that’s a vague descriptor, but trying to describe some of the complicated issues a graduate student might face would make most folks’ eyes glaze over.

Patricia Cohen, in “The Long-Haul Degree” in the New York Times, explains some of the problems, including the “more than nine years” on average to complete a degree, dissertating, “patching together a mix of grants and wages for helping teach undergraduate courses–a job that eats into research time,” and ultimately facing a bad job market with an increased number of adjunct positions and a receding amount of tenure-track plus benefits type jobs. So, back to the cause of grad school mania, malaise, or grumpiness. Patricia Cohen writes,

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard and another longtime critic of the Ph.D. production process, notes: “Lives are warped because of the length and uncertainty of the doctoral education process.” In his new book, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” he writes, “Put in less personal terms, there is a huge social inefficiency in taking people of high intelligence and devoting resources to training them in programs that half will never complete and for jobs that most will not get.”

I like Menand’s phrases “lives are warped” and “social inefficiency.” Cohen highlights problems with the system of financing, the proposal of broadening research options for degree candidates, and the changing job market. This is a must read for anyone who is currently in, has been in, or is planning to enroll in a graduate program in the Humanities.

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2 thoughts on “The Long Haul”

  1. I can identify with Menand when he says, “There is a huge social inefficiency in taking people of high intelligence and devoting resources to training them in programs that half will never complete and for jobs that most will not get.”

    After a couple of years in Ph.D. program, either teaching on an assistantship or adjunct teaching, you just start to question whether or not the end justifies the means. In this failing economy, it’s absurd to know that you will endure the $100K college loan debt, all of the comps, and the writing and defending of dissertation for a hooding ceremony and 50K/year (in Georgia). That is, if you’re one of the lucky ones.

    So, I’m at the point where I’m way beyond cynical and green with envy at law school and medical school graduates whose degrees, torturously hard work, and debt all amount to something in the end.

    1. I hear ya, Sonya. But this is where I assure myself I’m pursuing a vocation, not a profession. Of course, if I run into any dire economic troubles I might begin to kick myself for all the hours spent daydreaming and working on the ‘next great american novel.’

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