Saturday, June 24, 2017

Alain de Botton on academia

From the podcast Design Matters. Alain de Botton explains why he left a doctoral program in philosophy:

“Like many young people with a kind of cultural and aesthetic interest, I imagined that academia was going to be nirvana, because, you know, these guys were going to pay you to do the stuff that was lovely to do anyway — reading books, writing, et cetera. And then I quickly realized that really there was a mass deception going on, and that academia had collectively got together to try and make this supposedly lovely thing as unpleasant as possible, simply because they had a massive problem of oversubscription. So the only way to deal with oversubscription is to make you jump through so many hoops and make those hoops so unpleasant that only the most determined survive.”
I remember as an undergraduate hearing my professor Jim Doyle observe that it wasn’t the smart students who went on to graduate school; it was the persistent ones. At the time I wasn’t smart enough to understand what he meant, nor was I persistent enough to ask him to explain.

[My transcription.]

comments: 3

Geo-B said...

In every role in life, in every job, every career, there are obstacles, and the ones who continue are the persistent. The professors are the ones who persisted in that line,the doctors are the ones who persisted in medicine, the plumbers are the ones who went through all the work, to learn how to do the job correctly, up to code. Perhaps the smart ones are those who feel they don't quite fit the role, so they find some other job to pursue. Once they succeed, are they no longer the smart ones, but the persistent in their role?

In academia, we are constantly having to follow rules put forward by non-teachers (such as state higher education commissions, made up of lawyers and businessmen). Doctors and plumbers share this, as do tile setters.

Michael Leddy said...

Yes to everything you say, George. What I think is helpful in his comments is his recognition that grad school (at least as it now exists) is not a pleasure-world of reading and writing, that in many ways it’s the opposite of fun.

Geo-B said...

When I was a senior in English at Northwestern (around 1970 or 71), they held a meeting for students who were thinking of going to graduate school. A young professor with a nasally voice and an affected British accent was in charge and said, " Don't--ahem--go to graduate school just because you like to read books." I was puzzled by that (why else?), and continue being puzzled 47 years later.