Sunday, September 19, 2010

PhD Vanity

I read a couple of blog posts making fun of recent PhDs who put up all their diplomas on their office walls, sign their customs declaration as a 'Doctor' and have the automatic signature in their e-mails say Dr. XYZ. Of course, doing these things is silly, vain and obnoxious. But come one, people, is it so hard to understand?

Can't a person be permitted this tiny little spot of vanity after suffering through years of graduate penury, explotation by the university, contempt and abuse at the hands of senior faculty, insults from the thesis director, being told that every single word you have ever published is garbage and crap, your writing is horrible, terrible, awful, dreadful gobbledy-gook, going through several 9-month-long job searches, feeling like a total nobody at the MLA convention in your leaky shoes and the only decent business suit that you maxed out yet another credit card to buy while your well-off potential employers who have chosen to conduct inerviews in the most expensive hotel you have ever seen and where you can't afford even a stupid cup of coffee make fun of you and humiliate you? Can't a person be allowed to hang on their walls a couple of diplomas if it makes them feel good about of themselves after getting 92 letters of rejection in their first year of looking for a job and 77 in the second?

After killing themselves to deliver a great class and a great presentation during a campus visit only to discover that the job had been promised to somebody's friend or spouse all along?

After being pawed and salivated over by a vile old professor for years and being terrified to say anything because he has the power to destroy your career?

After being asked by a professor to do them small house-cleaning or baby-sitting "favors" and being terrified of the consequences when you refuse?

After being accused by an old and respected male academic at your very first international congress of having had your talk written for you by your (male) thesis adviser (the obvious suggestion being that you are sleeping with him)?

After having a male grad school colleague interrupt your presentation with "We all know, Clarissa, that compared to a man, a woman is a lack and an absence"?

After having the rest of your male grad school colleagues (except you, Oli, you are a star) spreading the most vicious gossip about all the male and female faculty members you supposedly slept with to get your perfect grades?

After moving four times in two years between different countries and states on no money whatsoever?

After seeing your mother cry and say for the gazillionth time, "Why on earth did you have to choose this idiotic academic career instead of having a real job like all normal people, like all my friends' kids who can now start  helping out their parents?" and having nothing at all to respond because all she says is true?

After learning that in every intellectual discussion where male colleagues are present you have to learn to scream at the top of your lungs and actually punch them or restrain them physically to get yourself heard?

After breaking up with yet another guy who is intimidated and driven to impotence by your incapacity to pretend that his uninformed arguments are, in fact, logical and convincing?

After hearing I don't even know how many times, "You really want me to believe that you are doing a PhD at Yale? Ha ha ha. How much have you had to drink?"

After realizing that your Slavic last name makes you next to unemployable in the field of Hispanic Studies, no matter how fantastic your credentials are?

After discovering that at the age of 31 you will have to get your much younger sister to feed your for the next week because you have absolutely no money to pay for groceries and even though you received a great job offer you have to refuse it because you are too honest not to honor the agreement you entered into with your grad school?

After realizing at the same ripe age of 31 that you can't afford to take a bus in the city of Montreal because the bus fare is $2.50 and you don't even have that puny amount? And being too humiliated to confess this shameful mendacity to anybody because it makes you look too pathetic.

I didn't put up any of my diplomas on my office walls for the simple reason that office walls in my buildings are covered with some weird metal sheeting. I have no idea what kind of genius thought it a good idea to turn professor's offices into a bunker, but there you have it. I do, however, have the automatic signature in my university e-mail say Dr. "Clarissa." And when I got my first tenure-track job, I put a label "Dr. Clarissa X" on the door of my house. I know how ridiculous that makes me sound, but after everything I just shared with you about my grad school experiences, this little act of vindication made me feel so good that I refuse to feel bad about it.


Serena said...

It makes perfect sense to me and I do not have a PhD. You worked for it. You earned it. It's as simple as that.

Anyone who would judge a PhD recipient negatively by a display of their honors or takes issue with it, likely has self-esteem issues and judge themselves by their lack thereof. Therefore the display makes them feel inadequate.

Anonymous said...

It is neither vain nor silly to do those things. It is devaluing the PhD to deny those who earned it their title of Doctor.

I don't hesitate to put MY title (RN) after my name, and that's just a 2 year degree.


sarcozona said...

I've heard a lot of (usually young men) making fun of women who insist on being referred to as Dr. X in the classroom or who've hung their credentials on a wall.

It makes me so angry because, like your experience shows, it's really hard to get a PhD, and being a woman makes it so much more challenging in some ways.

Richard said...

Well a PhD held by a man or a woman represents a good deal of emotional as well as intellectual expenditure. Yet really doesn’t who you are count for just as much in the end? I have known holders of PhDs who were brilliant, innovative, and broadly competent far from their primary field of expertise. I have also known PhD holders who were border line halfwits lucky to have jobs at fourth rate universities. There also the legion of phonies who use a PhD to legitimatize their half backed ideas and opinions (Dr. Phil comes to mind, Clarissa’s favorite psychologist).

Catherine X said...

This post made my day Clarissa - everything you said is the absolute truth.
The world of academia is no joke - and it is wise not to poke jokes at PHD's considering all the stuff mentioned in your post - Great going, keep these coming please.

Clarissa said...

Thank you for coming by, Catherine. I hope this post doesn't put you off grad school in the very first semester of your PhD studies. :-)

Catherine said...

Clarissa, this post was morally and emotionally very strengthening - you summarized what I am in for, so there will not be any surprises. I was reading the post and telling myself that it cant possibly get any worse than this. So, your post actually made me feel better that I am not the only one in this "business of so-called insanity" - and everything you wrote was just fantastic. This is undoubtedly my favorite post - I relate to it on every single count..LOL.

Justin said...

I had that discussion with my parents quite a while ago, and it still re-occurs once in a while.

I mean, it is just a bit mental to go to school for 6+ years, spend two years on the job market, and then maybe get a job.

I'd be making more money now if I had become a respiratory therapist, but I don't know if I would be as happy.

The only other recurrent thought I had while reading your post was that if you went to Yale for your PhD and still took two years on the market, I'll be 55 before I get a job.

Clarissa said...

Gosh, I'm one of the few lucky ones to get a tenure-track position. Many people in my cohort got nothing. Not even a sad campus visit.

But we are in a tricky field - literary criticism - so I'm sure it's not as bad in many other fields.

The effort of going through grad school is absolutely worth it, especially for an autistic who wouldn't be able to deal very well with a 9 to 5 job 5 days a week 50 weeks a year.

I just wish somebody took the trouble of preparing us for the job market and told us how to go through the process. If I were to start a new job search today, I would do everything differently.

sarcozona said...

I'd love to read about your job search and what you learned from it if you ever feel like writing about it.

Clarissa said...

Done! Part one is here:

Anonymous said...

Well where I studied everyone knew that professors had phds and nobody confused professors with instructors or lecturers. It wasn't necessary to remind people of one's PhD. Here, though, people assume (unless they know you) that if you're a woman then you're an undergraduate, a secretary, or at best an instructor.
So I use Dr. and Ph.D. all the time, if I want people to know realize I have or deserve the authority I need to get my job done.

Anonymous said...

100% of CFAs use CFA in the title because "it's an important part of the brand". I don't see why Ph.D. can't be used that way, too.

Judith Sierra-Rivera said...

You go, girl!!!