Friday, April 5, 2013

Rebecca Schuman on graduate study

Rebecca Schuman: “After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job — and if you go to graduate school, neither will you”: Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor (Slate).

Schuman’s narrative reminds me of the tale told in Chapter Sixteen of The Grapes of Wrath: “You goin’ out there — oh, Christ!” The tale’s anonymous, ragged teller is the man who’s been: he’s been to California, he’s seen what’s there, and he’s heading back home to starve. Nothing he says can persuade the Joads to turn around: they have nothing to go back to. Perhaps Rebecca Schuman’s account of grad school though will persuade some aspirant undergraduates to rethink their lives’ trajectories. There are, as Schuman concedes, jobs, but the odds are against you, whoever you are.

I remember being told as a prospective doctoral student that “There are, of course, no jobs.” I nodded and thought, “Well, I’ll somehow get one.” Delusional, yes? Back then the odds were about fifty-fifty, and I was lucky. Today, the odds are worse.

comments: 4

Geo-B said...

Yea, and if you become a poet, you won't make a living at it, and if you become a painter you won't be rich, and if you go into acting, you won't be Natalie Portman. You find a way to do your work, and you live your life.

Elaine said...

And then, after a couple of years, you are considered 'a stale PhD' and the prospects grow still more dismal. Older professors are not retiring. Schools are cutting costs by using adjunct profs--no benefits, no raises, no future. It truly is heartbreaking for students who hoped for a career in academe. Our daughter originally hoped to teach at the college level; we were vastly relieved when she took a job in research (truly where her talents lay.)

normann said...

Ms. Schuman's lament has the whiff of unrequited love. But better to be a bitter jilted paramour than an abused spouse, going from adjunctship to adjunctship and being played for a sap. Sadder but wiser has lots to recommend it.

I also have the feeling that if Ms. Schuman had been one of the "lucky" ones, she would have despaired about having her work evaluated by people who know virtually nothing about it (aided and abetted by colleagues who cater to this mindset), so that her screed would instead be about the injustice of student evaluations. In any case, it's clear that she has made it to anger and is likely to skip bargaining ("maybe if I do this...") and go right to depression ("How could I have wasted half of my life?") before reaching the acceptance stage. Only then, when she stops feeling sorry for herself, will she be ready to consider all her options without feeling that she has to keep looking back. I know. And I have no regrets.

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.