Saturday, April 9, 2011

Consulting Services for Fellow Hispanists (And Other Colleagues in Humanities)

When you finally get your PhD and find that first professorial position, you feel elated and nearly ecstatic. Finally, you will be able to become a scholar in your own right and transform your field of knowledge. Then you discover that your graduate program taught you how to be a great grad student but left you with no knowledge whatsoever as to how to be an actual scholar. You know how to write a brilliant final essay for a grad course, but have no idea how to transform it into an article that a good journal will want to publish. There are now no course deadlines which used to help you organize your time, so you spend your free hours floundering in the sea of conflicting ideas as to what your next step should be. Articles you submit for publication are rejected with a few lines that give you no clue as to what is wrong with your article. Should it be reworked and submitted to another journal? If so, then how you should rework it? Or is it utterly hopeless and should be abandoned altogether? How do you go about transforming your brilliant doctoral dissertation into a book ready for publication?

So many young academics manage to find no answer to these questions and eventually give up on their dream of becoming research scholars altogether. A distance between being a fantastic grad student and becoming a real scholar is huge and we almost never receive any training on how to bridge that distance while we are in grad school.

Well, my friend, if you are in the field of Hispanic Studies, you are in luck. I have recently discovered that Jonathan Mayhew, a highly esteemed scholar in the field of Peninsular Literature, is starting a consulting business where he will offer a variety of invaluable services that will help young scholars to find out what they are doing wrong and improve. Here are some of the services that Jonathan offers:
Peer Review ($75). I will act as a peer reviewer for your unpublished article, giving you a full report (Humanities fields only). 
Evaluation of the Scholarly Base ($150). I will help you make an inventory of your scholarly base and identify areas of weakness. 
Prose X-Ray ($50). I will read three pages of your prose and tell you what you are doing wrong (Spanish or English). 
Poetry manuscript($200). I will read your book of poetry and give you suggestions for writing less crappy poems. 
Mentoring (variable price). I will design a mentoring plan for you for an agreed-upon price for a minimum of six months. 
Time management ($100). I will show you how to schedule your time so you can get three times more done. 
For the entire list of services and to read Jonathan's extremely helpful motivational blog go here.

The only reason why I'm promoting Jonathan's services on my blog is because I have tried them and now want to spread the joy. I asked Jonathan to look at the most recent article of mine. When he read it, he sent me a) a report on the article that he would have written had he been reviewing it for a scholarly journal and b) extremely useful comments on what was wrong with the article and helpful practical advice as to how the article could be improved.

Often, brilliant scholars make really crappy pedagogues and are completely useless as mentors. They word their criticisms of your writing in a way that makes you want to go jump off a cliff instead of making you want to improve. (To give an example, I was told once by an older scholar that the way I write in English puts me on the same level with people who are functionally illiterate. The 1,174 visits I had to this blog just today seem to contradict that statement.) There is another breed of scholars who only tell you how brilliant you are and how amazing everything you write is. Neither of these approaches is extremely helpful. Sadly, scholars who know how to offer incisive criticism of your research in a way that is both useful and respectful are hard to find. 

Jonathan offered some pretty harsh criticisms of my article. However, he did it in a respectful way that didn't hurt my feelings in the least. It was obvious from the comments that his only goal was to help me improve the piece. I haven't received such helpful comments on my writing in many years.

So if you are in need of helpful, productive criticism and valuable scholarly advice, consider using Jonathan's consulting services. Visit his blog for more details.


GMP said...

I am in a STEM field and it's interesting to learn about the many differences that exist between sciences/engineering and the humanities. For instance, training on how to write scholarly papers is an inherent part of PhD training in the sciences/engineering; we also often have postdoctoral appointments, where these skills (including also writing grants and some mentoring of junior people) are further honed. I suppose it has to do with the fact that in STEM PhD students publish together with their advisor and likely other collaborators (this is true in most STEM fields, but I don't think it is in math or all of computer science), so paper writing is a collaborative process through which the students learn how to do it properly (this is in the optimal case, of course; certainly there are advisors who are disinterested or those who just write all the papers themselves -- just care about papers being out, not that the student actually learns how to write).

In my very, very limited knowledge of how PhD training in the humanities works -- and please correct me -- it is my impression that you guys primarily write alone and that the PhD advisor has minimal input into how the dissertation looks. Could you tell me how, if at all, one gets feedback on one's writing (on the PhD or afterwards) that one doesn't necessarily have to pay for? Do you have to rely on the good will of peers? Many thanks!

Clarissa said...

First of all, I want to say that many readers came to my blog today via yours. THANK YOU, friend!

As to the topic at hand: please don't even remind me about grant proposals! I wish somebody had at least mentioned to me that grant proposals exist when I was in grad school. Now that I have to write them, I feel like a complete idiot. When I was writing my first grant proposal this year, I was lost. Thankfully, I have an amazing Chair and another amazing senior colleagues who helped me.

In the Humanities, we do write alone. If the thesis advisor has time and knows how to mentor, you might become lucky and get useful comments on how to write good graduate essays and a good dissertation. If you are not lucky, you will be told that you are "extremely stupid" and "only produce inane garbage". (I'm quoting verbatim some of the nicer things I have been told.)

When you graduate, however, you are completely on your own. There might be senior colleagues who would be willing to look at my writing for free. However, I don't want that. I'd feel very uncomfortable if a person spent their valuable time on me just as a favor.

Besides, if your mentor is an older male academic, all kinds of rumors are likely to appear. I used to have such a mentor (who did a lot for me and to whom I will be eternally grateful.) However, people saw an older (Hispanic) man helping a younger ('Russian') woman, and spread vile (completely untrue) rumors about it. Now, if anybody dares to suggest that there is something fishy about Jonathan helping me, I can honestly tell them that he is a businessman and I am his client.

Believe it or not, I once had a female mentor who was a heterosexual mother of three. People who saw her take an interest in my scholarship (which happened because I explored a topic she was very interested in!) also accused me of providing sexual favors to her in return.