Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Video About Applying to Grad School in the Humanities

I had this exact same conversation with an adviser when I was an undergrad hoping to do a PhD in Hispanic Studies. Just like the vile, burnt-out prof in the video, she tried to ridicule my plans and make me give up on my professional plans. I met this same person the year after I got my PhD. She knew about my impressive record of publications and tried sucking up to me like crazy.

It's scary to me that this kind of envious, failed academics keep discouraging bright young students from pursuing an academic career simply because they are terrified of the competition.

I discovered this video here. The accompanying post qualifies the aspiring grad student (who even looks like me in the video) as "a dumb, naive, and stupidly idealistic idiot." This, in my experience, is unfair and wrong. It is precisely this kind of steely determination where you know what you want and go for it, irrespective of how much discouragement and insults senior faculty members heap on you, that gets one into a great tenure-track position where one can do exactly what the woman in the video is hoping to do. Learning to say "Thank you, professor, you have been most helpful" in response to all kinds of offensive statements is also an important skill for a grad student to have.

P.S. You know what I just realized? I think the young woman in the video is autistic. What some of the people who viewed the video saw as robotic, mechanical and repetitive looks like an autistic's tendency to concentrate on their goal to the exclusion of everything else. That's why I identify with this character so much. I'm sure whe will be a great academic.


zunguzungu said...

You made me look at this video differently, thanks. I feel like I would like this video a lot more if it was clearer that the professor was not a reliable purveyor of wisdom; in some ways, the video's problem is that it wants to have it both ways: on the one hand, she's *right* about so many things, and much more knowledgeable than the student. And on the other, she's vindictive and petty. But the "rightness" sort of makes her vindictiveness/pettiness seem to disappear, if that makes sense (makes it scan as "realistic" instead of mean, bitter, cruel, etc).

V said...

Asking somebody who does not know you for recommendation is still weird...

Clarissa said...

Welcome back to the blog, my friend! :-)

Pagan Topologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pagan Topologist said...

[Correcting my spelling. Sorry]

This kind of thing is awfully common, sadly. I have colleagues who consider it to be part of their job to discourage young aspiring mathematicians so they don't take up the time of people in the profession unless they are really good. The argument is that students who are sufficiently talented and determined will not be swayed by the discouragement and that those who are swayed are better off.

I am horrified by this, but it happens a lot.

eric said...

I was lucky in that most of my professor when I was an undergrad were extremely supportive. One even offered to write a letter of rec before I asked! But being bright is no predictor of success in grad school. After my grad program was disbanded and I discovered that I disliked teaching (actually, I kinda' sucked), I became a librarian and never looked back.

Anonymous said...

I interpreted this as a sci-fi story. Notice how the student and the professor look and sound very much alike? The idealistic young student is actually speaking to her older self, who has traveled back from a bleak future in an attempt to change her own history. The stereotypical ironic twist is that the young student will pick an academic career path precisely because she feels challenged by the old, burned-out professor.

Clarissa said...

Anonymous: this is a very profound analysis. Something tells me you are a grad student in the Humanities, too. :-)

Anonymous said...

i gotta be honest - as someone who went straight into grad school and was *highly* ENcouraged by my professors, I wish they had told me to wait. I dropped out with a M.A. and M.Phil after 5 years, best decision of my life but I can't help thinking that some honest discouragement re: going straight to grad school would have had me on a path to getting a PhD!

I gotta admit...when one of my favorite students sent me a letter and a piece of chocolate telling me she would not have gotten into yale's phd program without my heart sank! And Yale, no less. 85% chance I either helped create an egocentric asshole or a very very miserable person.


Anonymous said...

But is it true...that upon completion of a PHD in 17th Century German Poetry, you will find yourself teaching at a community college in Fairbanks, Alaska?

Clarissa said...

Not necessarily. Even if you do, this is a career that presupposes a lot of moving around, so it will probably be only temporary.

Z said...

I could actually have used this advice.

I got:

Do you realize you might not get a job at all?

Me: Yes, then I'll go into something not academic; I am interested in the eucation.

Do you realize it is publish or perish?

Me: Yes, I am research oriented, that is fine.

Do you realize this is an industrial complex moving toward the business model?

Me: Yes, it is unfortunate, but it is still the industry I choose.

Do you realize you may have to deal with the snows of Madison, Ann Arbor, or Princeton?

Me: I do, and I am ready.

Better advice would have been to point out that I might end up in places I would have rejected out of hand as places to study, due to the non urban environments. In high school, the counselors said: Berkeley, UCLA, NYU, Columbia, etc., because I am so mega urban. They were right. I think this advice - will you be able to live in a place where your personality fits in - still applies no matter how old you get.

Anonymous said...

Or actually, to correct above: I don't really mean the non urban environments, I mean the not really intellectual ones, and so on.

I still like this professor's advice better than the advice I got because it is more realistic and to the point.

Some of the advice I got really was out of fear/envy: a la "You will not be able to do it." I actually thought this was objective, at the time: I was assessed as one who would barely make it, and I planned my life based on that idea. I could make it, but it would be barely. Only recently have I come to realize that that line of reasoning was just a scare tactic!!!