Grad School? Really?

Discussion sections started for the course in which I'm one of the TAs last week. This one looks really good - all but two or three of the kids are history majors, many with a European history focus, and they seemed pretty together during our discussion. Somehow, in the course of the introduction ("Name, major, and any connections you have to France and/or French history! You in the stupid coat! You're first!")* I had occasion to ask how many of them were planning on going to graduate school at some point.

21 out of the 22 kids that were there think they're going to graduate school. What. The. Fuck.

There's something about this particular university, the UC to the SC, that seems to inspire every undergraduate to think he or she is a budding academic. None of them have any idea of what grad school actually entails, nor how to get into a decent program, and least of all why anyone should want to be a grad student.

In the ensuing chat I had with K, she pointed out that most undergrads who like school and think they're good at it think that "really liking history (or lit, or philosophy, or break dancing, or whatever)" is enough of a reason to want to pursue a doctorate in it. And it's totally NOT, guys.

Therefor! In an explosion of creative procrastination, I wrote a document I intend to distribute to undergrads I work with who claim they want to go to grad school. If any fellow grads feel like wasting a few minutes looking over it, feel free to give me suggestions on modifications/additions/deletions in the comments or via e-mail.

So here it is: so you want to go to grad school.

* I didn't really make fun of their clothes. Oh how I wanted to, though.


noncoupable said...

I love it! It should be distributed to all. There should be some additional line in there about self-fulfillment,as related to the "I love this shit" section. Also, perhaps something about flexible time. I'm able to run in the day light even when it gets dark early.

noncoupable said...

Oh yes, and dating a fellow academic has been much easier for me than non-academics. I'm not saying it's sane or recommended, but it does help when it comes to explaining why I need to spend all day reading a book about the conquest of an ethnic minority in Japan in the 18th century.

Kelly said...

So Freakin' Awesome.

Under Letters of Recommendation: (NOT adjunct, lecturer, or TA)

Under Other Concerns:
, reading 300 - 400+ pages a week, per seminar.

FOSCO said...

You have written an absolutely essential document.

I have been interested too in what makes undergrads think they want to go to grad school. I have some thoughts:

1. At this UC school, grad students are probably the only really cosmopolitan people that undergrads get to interact with on a regular basis (all of their classmates are from SoCal or Marin County and interaction with professors is daunting). So of course they admire us.

2. Most of us have either really love what we're doing OR have to convince ourselves publicly that we really love what we're doing (or some of both). Undergrads see this enthusiasm and assume that grad school is fun.

3. Most grad students maintain a lifestyle that, publicly, looks more fun than it is. They see us out at the bars. They see us taking trips to interesting places for conferences. We often live in interesting parts of interesting cities (like Oakland?) and go to interesting concerts, readings, etc.

4. What the undergrads never see:
--3 AM anxiety attacks.
--calling my dad to beg for money to pay my car insurance (even though I am in my 30s).
--re-reading one Derrida or Spivak article 6-8 times until I have some basic comprehension.

Dolce Vita said...

I agree: this is great! (I plan to keep a copy for distribution down the road). My only comment is that there is no reason not to make graduate school out to be more bleak than you already have. You know, reiterate that even with a funding package you have to get more money somehow (loans loom large here) and that even if you survive the high attrition rate, there are fewer and fewer jobs available (History News Network offered some really depressing stories on suspended hires for this year and how the number of new Ph.D.s - just for this year - exceeded the number of jobs available).

(I had some other comments about graduate school, more generally, but I'm too tired to offer them right now.) I hope some of your students find this eye-opening; it offers good advice.

Rachel said...

i think that's brilliant. I am pretty sure I went to grad school for all of the wrong reasons - so it's good that I got out before investing in a Ph.D program. Half the people I work with hate their jobs so much they want to go to grad school. I just sigh and nod my head sagely. If anything, grad school gave me a reason to feel superior to my fellow office drones. :)

thetravellor said...

Fantastic idea! I think the majority of your points apply to grad students in international relations, public policy & economics and even to law school (albeit to a lesser degree). The only point that I would make is when considering programs/areas of study, the relative merits of a Masters vs. a PhD should be considered. In some instances a Masters is cheaper and will do fine as a qualification, while in others a Masters degree is completely worthless (e.g. Economics).

Also - I totally agree that time off between undergrad & grad is beyond worth. Working for a year (especially for those fortunate enough not to have had to work in college) is a learning opportunity in its own right and should be mandatory...

That's my two cents worth...

Chica said...

Are you considering UCSC a decent school in your argument? Just wondering....
And not all students in the humanities are poor. I have made about 30 a year. And outside California that is good money.

kungfuramone said...

Yes, UCSC is definitely a decent school; more than decent, even. I make much more now as a TA in the UC system, but the cost of living in Santa Cruz is such that the lifestyle is exactly the same as it was in Oregon, earning less than half as much.