June 14, 2003

Graduate School Culture

And if I waved a magic wand and fixed all those problems, that would leave... oh, most of the people I went to school with. Some of them quit partway through, feeling like failures; some are still at it; some have gotten good academic jobs; some are still looking; some have left the academy. But an awful lot of them -- not necessarily the ones who haven't 'succeeded' in academia, either -- an awful lot of them spent or are spending much of grad school in a state of moderate-to-utter misery, convinced that at any moment the entire ivory tower might give voice: 'You are a dunce and have no business being here!' Actually, some of my cohort were convinced that that had already happened: they read a lack of funding or caring from their institution or their advisor as confirmation of their own fundamental intellectual inadequacy (rather than, oh, confirmation of the practical inadequacy of the institution or the advisor). And I don't believe that most of these smart, capable people with strong undergraduate records came into grad school with profound psychological problems. Something in the grad-school experience broke them, something I was just arrogant and just lucky enough to avoid.

-- Naomi Chana, Graduate School, by Victor Hugo

"If I could have one wish from the Academic-Reform Genie," writes Naomi Chana, "I'd ask that doctoral programs (especially, but not exclusively, in the humanities) impart a deep-rooted sense of intellectual self-confidence to all their students." As just about anyone who has gone through it can attest, graduate school is not good for one's self-esteem. This is a really thoughtful post, and the comments are also well worth reading (also see Chana's earlier Reformatio Universitatis).

Erin O'Connor has an interesting reply to Chana, in which she argues that "the feelings of insecurity, and the suspicion/creeping conviction that one is a fraud, are on some level very reasonable and accurate reactions to have to the academic humanities." I don't know that I agree with O'Connor's contention that the problem stems ultimately from "the corrosive relativism of the humanities" (though I'll admit that at the moment I can't come up with a better explanation; I suppose I would argue that there is a lack of a common framework that gives meaning or relevance to what we do or are supposed to do in the humanities). In any case, I do agree with her characterization of what's wrong with graduate school in the humanities: instead of "starting slowly" and acquiring "a deep knowledge" before beginning to make "one's own informed contributions to the field," in graduate school "one begins by learning grandiose maneuvers." This sounds like too many graduate seminars I attended, and I think it does encourage a good deal of posturing and fakery.

I have to say, outside of my own narrow specialization, much of the historical knowledge I possess I did not acquire in graduate school but rather through teaching: there's nothing like having to develop and then teach a course to force you to learn some of the basics, the mastery of which arguably should have been part of one's graduate studies.


Erin O'Connor posts excerpts from some of the email she received in response to her entry on academic fakery. She characterizes the response as "about evenly divided between anguished acknowledgement of the degradation of the humanities and cynical acceptance of that degradation as an inevitable and manipulable situation." Her readers' accounts of graduate school life are brutally frank and very revealing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 14, 2003 10:53 PM

there's nothing like having to develop and then teach a course to force you to learn some of the basics, the mastery of which arguably should have been part of one's graduate studies.

But isn't that what everyone is complaining about. The fact that graduate students are used as cheap labor for teaching. A paradox then. Grad students exploited as labor but actually nastering the material because of the exploitation. Of course then one wonders why take classes in graduate school?

Posted by: AccidentalAdmin at June 14, 2003 11:50 PM

True, but developing a course and being a section leader/grader (as most grad school teaching manifests as) are very different beasts, as I found when I had to develop my own courses.

As a TA, you can function at a fairly high level if you are good at taking notes during lecture and being ahead of the reading assigned to the undergraduates by your professor. In order to handle the whole thing from concept to final grade, by contrast, you need to have a very solid grasp of the topic to be covered -- including materials and ideas not directly incorporated into the class. Not only do you have to be able to lecture effectively on various topics within the course topic, you also need to think about themes, course structure, which books are boring essentials, which delightful but useless, and which few are gems which will both captivate students and represent the central interpretations of the topic, assignment design, etc. etc. If you're really interested in what you're doing, you may also examine theories of pedagogy and take workshops to enhance your ability to teach -- something not addressed in many graduate programs, let alone required as the mandatory curriculum.

The two levels of teaching are comparable in terms of grading (unless one is a professor with a class large enough to warrant graders) but everything else is significantly different. One of my professors once said that being a professor is as much like being a grad student as being a grad student is like being an undergrad; he was talking research and general responsibilities, but I think it holds for teaching as well.

Posted by: Rana at June 15, 2003 12:54 AM

I wonder how much of what Naomi describes can be chalked up to the imposter syndrome.

On a personal note, a lot of this post sounds like it was transcribed from the conversation I had with my fiancee today. She's finishing up a dissertation in the sciences, I have an MA in philosophy (and, at the moment, a well-paying, stable, occasionally interesting IT job) and I want to go back to graduate school. She's miserable and convinced that she's horrible at what she does--this, despite (because of?) the fact that she's at one of the top two programs in her field and already has a viable non-academic career in the works. She tells me that I'm nuts to want to go back, that it will break me, and that we'll be eating beans for the next five years, after which I'll be lucky to get another IT job, never mind a tenure-track position.

So, two questions. 1) Am I nuts? 2) What about those of you who have a real love for your field but decided to pursue it outside the academy? What have you done? Are you satisfied or is it a constant longing?

Posted by: ogged at June 15, 2003 01:55 AM

I disagree with O'Connor's remarks about the cause of graduate school malaise. Graduate students, from my experience, begin to develop an eidolon or imago into which they develop. In other words, they all start as imposters and gradually fill their gaps with knowledge. It's missing the point to blame this on the French or the Indians or Stanley Fish somehow. I would wager (and have heard) that the same type of posturing occurred in whatever golden age you like to think of; only the vocabulary has changed.

It takes a tremendous ego (among the many other things) to finish a PhD and become a professor, and the job market situation in the humanities has evolved the trait into peacockian proportions.

There's also the matter of information overload. Aspiring literary critics who want to be well-informed theoretically have to attempt to master at least two centuries' worth of abstruse Continental philosophy, which takes away from the reading time devoted to their historical period that previous generations of scholars may have had. The strain causes them to have only fragmentary knowledge of either, in some cases, and this does lead to more easily spotted instances of posturing and fakery, leading perhaps to an evolutionary arms race of increasing obscurantism vs. entrenched parochialism.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 15, 2003 02:39 AM

"I have an MA in philosophy (and, at the moment, a well-paying, stable, occasionally interesting IT job) and I want to go back to graduate school."

You have a well-paying job. You have an MA and, presumably, a deep engagement with philosopy. Why do you want to go to graduate school?!

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 15, 2003 08:58 AM

Chun, I generally agree with your points, but I'm not sure that having a strong ego and thinking one is insufficiently competent are necessarily exclusive traits. I know I am a stubborn cuss who thinks I know a lot more than other people -- but I am also needy and plagued by the sense that I could know and do so much more than I I do. (Perhaps a similar coupling leads to the fakery you describe -- unwillingness to admit ignorance stemming both from ego and a wish to hide one's less-than-competent self from critical peers.)

I'd also add that some of the "po-mo" style of approaching knowledge might aggravate long- present tendencies of academia -- not so much the matter of relativism, though, but the deconstructionist impulse (less that all truths are equal, than that there is no truth -- including the truth of the self).

Okay, that sounded a bit too pompously profound -- time to ring off!

Posted by: Rana at June 15, 2003 11:42 AM

Chief among my reasons is that a good academic life (tenure-track at a good school) still seems to me like the best life. And at this point, with several years of job experience, I think I may be in a position to go back to school and see if it works out. If it doesn't, I think I'll still be able to get a decent non-academic job.

Second, having a full-time job and a deep engagement with anything else is pretty hard to pull off. There is some work I'd really like to do and several years that I could devote to it sound like heaven.

There's also the matter of what seems important. Despite it's apparent irrelevance, I do believe philosophy is important and that a life devoted to it is more worthwhile than a life spent doing something else.

Finally, and this may be the real reason I and so many others wind up in grad school, academics are what I'm best at. Is it even possible to give up the thing you do extraordinarily well? My job is fine and I'm pretty good at it, but I'll never dazzle anyone (or myself).

I'm definitely worried that I'm doing something stupid. That's why my original comment was really a question. Is there a way to remain engaged outside the academy or have people found it to be either/or?

I'd be happy to hear that I'm wrong and deluded, in whole or in part.

Posted by: ogged at June 15, 2003 01:22 PM

Good heavens: I always feel like such a reverse failure whenever I read stories like those posted at Erin's site. How did I manage to miss all these horrors? Even at UC Irvine, which is probably the ne plus ultra of theory-intensive undergraduate programs, everybody started with Plato and Aristotle (not Foucault!) and the faculty were quite willing to be challenged on things like, oh, Baudrillard and Disneyland. (After all, UCI isn't all that far from Disneyland.) Introduction to theory at the University of Chicago consisted of such trendy authors as Plato, Aristotle, Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas, Pico della Mirandola, Origen, Sir Philip Sidney, Immanuel Kant...you get the picture.

Incidentally, my own graduate students, who are usually high school teachers working on their permanent certification, rarely had anything much in the way of exposure to literary theory as undergraduates. Of course, that could be a salient reminder that the programs on offer at top-ten or top-twenty colleges are not representative of anything in particular (something I do wish the NAS would occasionally deign to remember).

Posted by: Miriam at June 15, 2003 02:00 PM

This isn't quite what Ogged asked, but I've just spent a few minutes trying to think of anyone who contributes to philosophy, considered as a discipline, without having an academic job. Couldn't. Then I looked at the program for the last big convention I attended (last March's Pacific APA). Couldn't find any non-academics. Sometimes there are one or two people (out of the hundreds) listed as "independent scholars" -- although these too usually turn out to be PhDs from good programs -- but there were none so listed at that convention. All I could find was a hospital-affiliated psychiatrist presenting a paper at a "group meeting" (i.e. not the main program) and a Sun Microsystems person presenting at a symposium directly related to computers.

It's really sad. I don't know why one couldn't be engaged with current philosophy (including scholarly debates) without having a PhD. The peer-reviewing is anonymous, after all - both at journals and at the APA. I don't know how many, if any, try this route. But no one seems to succeed. I know of one well regarded philosopher who lives off a trust fund (and has a PhD and a university mailing address). But I guess that's not among your options.

The fact, alas, is that grad school, with its agony, really does teach you something, something it seems you can't otherwise learn. I'll not take a public stand on what that something is, or on its value.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 15, 2003 02:43 PM

One more thought on Ogged's question. (Though I understand that you weren't really asking the likes of me!)

Ogged writes: "My job is fine and I'm pretty good at it, but I'll never dazzle anyone (or myself)." There's a misconception here. (I'm sure Ogged knows this and just miswrote, but the point is worth making for others.) No professional philosopher ever dazzles any other professional philosopher. And the last person one is capable of dazzling is oneself. Ego-gratification simply does not figure among the rewards of pursuing this life. Ogged, if you were starting a PhD program in September, I'd say "Enjoy your last ten weeks of feeling competent -- you'll never feel that way again!"

I think there are nonetheless some very real rewards, and among them is the fact that you've entered a world in which no one ever praises anyone. No one praises anyone not because everyone is mean but because nothing could count as praise. Trying to praise someone, in my world, leads immediately to one of two results: the person loses respect for you, so the praise doesn't count, or the person mistrusts you, so the praise doesn't register.

The down-side to large-scale loss of self-esteem is easy to document, but this up-side is worth some thought too. (I don't deny that there are some clueless ego-monsters in the field, but they're in the minority and their cluelessness, or the hilarity of it, serves nicely to bond the rest of us.)

Posted by: Ted H. at June 15, 2003 03:23 PM

To clarify, when I wrote that it took a "tremendous ego," I meant "ego" in the sense of strong personality and self-confidence, not the "she has a big ego" sense (which is an admittedly scrupulous distinction).

Part of this necessary ego is the ability to resist conformist pressure from faculty. Some are interested, unconsciously or otherwise, in reproducing themselves; and unless the professor in question is well known enough that the student can make a career out of resolving his Oedipal conflict, doom results.

Posted by: Chun the Unavoidable at June 15, 2003 04:03 PM
"I don't know why one couldn't be engaged with current philosophy (including scholarly debates) without having a PhD. The peer-reviewing is anonymous, after all - both at journals and at the APA. I don't know how many, if any, try this route. But no one seems to succeed. "

Did people manage it thirty years ago? Because, by and large, day jobs outside academia have also gotten more all-consuming.

That might be part of the problem: that the leisure allowed academics, which is supposed to allow for reflection and research, was never measured out by how much time r. & r. "take". It seems both psychologically and economically plausible that the academic schedule is going to be proportionate to the usual employment schedule. The rising waves swamp all boats.

Posted by: clew at June 15, 2003 04:29 PM

I think there's also some gatekeeping on the publishing-and-conferencing end to be accounted for. With so much pressure on academics to publish and present, can an "independent scholar" make his/her voice heard at all?

I'm not postulating a conspiracy here, though I think something *could* be said about attention paid to credentials versus solid work and argumentation. I think it's a symptom of the general desperation -- we can't listen to outsiders; we have to make ourselves heard before we *become* outsiders ourselves!

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 15, 2003 04:36 PM

I concede that reviewing for journals is often less than genuinely anonymous. But reviewing for conferences usually is, at least at the colloquium level. (In philosophy, I mean.)

Ogged, why don't you submit a colloquium paper to next year's Central APA (which I expect will be in Chicago)? The deadline is (probably) September 1st. Get your boat launched!

Posted by: Ted H. at June 15, 2003 04:58 PM

It may vary with field, too. I can think of a few historians offhand who came into the profession through their own efforts rather than through academic credentialing and who have since gone on to make real names for themselves. However, they are the exception, and all that I know of accepted faculty positions with alacrity when offered. I am also all too aware of the mediocre work produced by the vast numbers of amateur historians who don't really understand that the field comprises more than a chronological narrative of past events, and can't even manage to get the details in those right.

Posted by: Rana at June 15, 2003 05:13 PM

Well, there *are* fields where "amateur" help is welcomed, even fostered. I wrote a paper for -- crud, one or another of my linguistics classes -- on Mayan glyph decipherment, a field *substantially* advanced by amateurs. Reading the proceedings from some of their conferences was one of the highlights of grad school. Genuinely sounds *fun*.

Just goes to show it can be done. If there's the will.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 15, 2003 05:22 PM

This will sound cynical, but it's not--or at least it's not my cynicism: in some fields, in a very real sense, what separates the independent scholar from the affiliated one is the lack of letterhead. That paper matters. It shouldn't, but it does. When an editor is being inundated with all manner of submissions, prestigious letterhead stands out. So does no letterhead at all--but in a different way. If academic departments often effectively outsource tenure decisions to university presses, so editors at journals and presses are not above outsourcing screening decisions to departments (or at least to their stationery).

Posted by: Erin O'Connor at June 15, 2003 05:34 PM

My impression is that Erin is right: letterhead matters. But I'm not even so concerned with making a mark in the field (or even, really, being heard). What I was wondering is if people are able, while supporting themselves in some non-academic way, to maintain an engagement with their discipline that is still satisfying.

As for your suggestion, Ted, about submitting a paper, I think it's a good one (though the APA would likely laugh my Heideggerian butt out of town--perhaps SPEP).

Posted by: ogged at June 15, 2003 05:55 PM

I'm supposed to be using letterhead for my cover letters? That never even occurred to me. (Not that mine would be terribly impressive... Still, I thought letterhead was only for letters of recommendation for my students.)

But seriously: if the paper gets sent to referees, what matters is what the refs say. And the refs aren't going to see the cover letter. Some refs will be able to tell who wrote the paper anyway, and that may influence their recommendation. But it's not as if the letterhead itself is going to matter.

Or am I just naive? (It occurs to me that the above admission may altogether undermine the authority of my earlier assertions. I guess I will use letterhead next time, just in case. But that does seem rather tacky.)

Ogged, I don't know that Heideggerian bottoms are forbidden at the APA. There was a Sartre colloquium at the recent Pacific.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 15, 2003 06:18 PM

I've published four papers and a review without a PhD. My area is Asian Studies / Chinese Philosophy. Two papers were at refereed journals. I have only attended one conference as an independent, where I was pretty well received. I try to defuse the "What are you?" question in advance sometimes, but the idea that I'm a potential grad student, at my age, is always there, and some people seem to tune out when they find that I'm neither a PhD nor a potential grad student.

Most independent scholars I know of are PhD's. One has made significant contributions to a very difficult field, but quit trying to get a tenure track job in about 1983 after 5 years of disappointments.

The advantage of my route is that I never, ever have to read a book I'm not interested in or mouth a proposition that I am uncomfortable with. So for me it's all fun.

The disadvantage has been having no money, and time conflicts. I am completely uninterested in a lot of stuff other people are obsessed with (real estate, respectability, and the "good life"), so it's less hard for me. It's especially hard having to explain to people what I'm doing with my life. Basically I let people think I'm an eccentric Bohemian, which is effectively true. (Deadheads are quite accepting, but fiercely non-intellectual.)

Explaining things to family is the toughest part. With my parents I basically was,like, take it or leave it. It bothered my father a lot and my mother hardly at all. With my ex-wife it was a significant unexpressed issue. Basically, no one wants to be married to someone short on both money and time.

The one thing I would have done differently is to have spent a year in school so that the day job I ended up getting would have been either more interesting or better-paying. Ogged is in a good position compared to me that way.

Oddly, for me either an adjunct position or a grad student slot might be a good deal now, since I have pension $$ coming in, as long as I got a passable financial deal and could pick my own topics. (I actually am a .065 adjunct this year, which means I teach one 2-credit course and get ~$1500.)

This problem is pretty old. At a 1999 reunion I met a ~1974 PhD who had been funded for about 10 out of 25 years. The book "The PhD Trap" is from 1987. Seemingly each new generation of cannon fodder has to figure things out for themselves.

PhD trap: http://siliclone.tripod.com/reviews/RCude2.html

Posted by: zizka at June 15, 2003 06:30 PM

Actually, when I was working at Modern Philology, letterhead seemed to be an awfully random thing--some used it, some didn't. There didn't seem to be any correlation between letterhead and place of employment (or employment in the first place...).

Posted by: Miriam at June 15, 2003 07:04 PM

Lots of good threads!

It also depends on what you're using the letterhead for. Writing a recommendation -- yes! Demonstrating that someone thought you were worth hiring and thus have something to contribute -- yes! Looking for a job that doesn't end in a year --- less clear.

I do notice that people pay attention to affiliation at conferences. I'm not proud of it, but I will admit having in the past wondered what was up with someone without an affiliation of some sort (even "independent scholar" was better than nothing).

Time and money are issues for doing research outside the academy, but -- as I've found out -- they can be issues inside as well. Nor can you assume that you will have a cohort of colleagues right at hand for the purposes of discussing your research together -- they're busy too. What you do get is access to libraries and computer time and the like, and institutional approval for doing research during "business hours." This is also one of the benefits of grad school, as Dorothea noted in one of her blog posts (I don't remember the date -- the one about offering grad school to people not pursuing the degree).

On the other hand, to play devil's advocate, it may well be easier for me to do research employed as a temp in the area of my sources than away from them as a visiting professor. I'll report back when I've actually tried it!

Posted by: Rana at June 15, 2003 07:28 PM

I think letterhead matters. So does having an .edu email account. More broadly, affiliation matters very much indeed.

Sure, we can all trot out some example of some "independent scholar" somewhere whose valuable contribution has been recognized by those within the academy. But for the most part, I think academics tend not to take the "independent scholar" very seriously. The academy is a very hierarchical place (always has been, of course), and nowadays the maintenance of hierarchies of prestige is one of the few areas in which faculty still exert any real power.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 15, 2003 08:58 PM

Well, but are you courting Clio or the professors? You (as a site) are awash in arguments that the tenured faculty are willing to sell the future of the humanities for their own self-satisfaction. There might not be *any set of moves* that win their game for you, let alone fix it while you're playing it. If a game is unwinnable, the best strategy is to quit soonest.

Posted by: clew at June 15, 2003 10:36 PM

ogged --

Philsophy departments and philosophy have nothing to do with each other. Unless, maybe, you consider it all a performance art reinterpretation of that old undergrad chestnut, y'know, "If a small subset of an academic discipline gains hegemony over the field but everyone ignores them, is it really hegemony?"

They had to kill Socrates. "Sein und Zeit" was a bestseller. Marx & Engels shook the world. No one but no one reads what comes out of Anglo-American philo departments. (unless they're paid to do so.) Grad school in philo would be an immense waste of time. You'd especially hate it if you like Heidegger. The horror of mechanised philosophy, the horror...

Engagement with philo apres ack!a-dementia? Of course it's possible. It means active reflection on how to live and think as well as practical engagement with those issues. Quit your job, fly to Freiburg, & reread Sein und Zeit if you think it will help, but stop this grad school chatter.

or you could just do acid and listen to Led Zeppelin.

comin' at you from Das Mann,


Posted by: che at June 16, 2003 03:20 AM

Appreciated. And with apologies to Ted H., who is not, in his open-mindedness, representative of other "anglo-american" philosophers I've known, there's no way that I'd apply to "analytic" departments. But when I was doing my MA at one of the 5-10 departments where one can do Heidegger in safety, I did meet people, students and professors, who were doing philosophy the way you describe it and I really miss that.

More practically speaking, active reflection is noble and necessary, but if you think that part of reflection is reading certain texts closely, then an amount of time and mental energy is necessary that is hard to find when one works full-time. My original question was really about this problem. Without an environment designed to foster reflection, what have people done to satisfy themselves? (Before people jump all over me to say how little reflecting can be done in academia, let me say, spare me. I'm not comparing academia to an ideal, but to my job.)

Posted by: ogged at June 16, 2003 12:09 PM

ogged: 1) Probably, but you'll have to decide for yourself. 2) I miss the academic life, but only as a sort of Platonic ideal that was visible only in brief flashes when I was doing it 25-30 years ago and now I gather is mostly gone beyond recall; it's not a "longing" because I know the torment far outweighed the good parts. (Sort of like my first marriage, now I come to think of it.) I've been lucky enough to get jobs (in editing) where the workload is not overwhelming and I don't have to take it home with me, so that I have time and energy for my own pursuits. Which brings me to zizka's well-stated point: "I never, ever have to read a book I'm not interested in or mouth a proposition that I am uncomfortable with." And the converse of that is that I can immerse myself in whatever appeals to me, since I don't have to worry about specializing. If I'd continued in academics, I'd be spending my time reading ever-more-abstruse analyses of possible laryngeal structures and hypothetical etymologies in Indo-European; as it is, I can study Georgian or the Russian Civil War or the history of Sephardic Jews in the Middle East for as long as it interests me, and then move on to something else. I've acquired a wide-ranging perspective that I wouldn't trade for tenure at the finest Large Private University in the Ivy League. It's just not worth it to me to be the go-to guy for zero-grade thematic presents in the early IE languages.

In your particular case, I don't know a lot about contemporary philosophy, but if I were you I would think about the philosophers who have actually meant something to the world at large (as distinguished from philosophy departments) -- say, Plato, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and pick a couple more yourself -- and think about how likely they'd be to fit in and get PhDs and tenure in a philosophy department these days. I urge you to think hard about what you want out of philosophy and out of yourself, and consider the real-world likelihood of achieving your "good academic life" versus the kind of drudgery and existential horror so many are describing. I consider myself well out of it, I've never been tempted to go back, and I always counsel others thinking about it not to go to grad school unless they're willing to endure years of hell (and go into debt for it) with very poor odds of ending up in a situation that will justify it.

"I think there are nonetheless some very real rewards, and among them is the fact that you've entered a world in which no one ever praises anyone. No one praises anyone not because everyone is mean but because nothing could count as praise."
Ted H.: I sure hope this is sarcasm or something. A world in which no one praises anyone sounds like an antechamber of hell to me. Why would that seem like a "reward"?

Posted by: language hat at June 16, 2003 12:22 PM

Oh, and this should probably be taken with several grains of salt, but still:
I'd Rather Be a Whore Than an Academic, by Anonymous, Ph.D.

Posted by: language hat at June 16, 2003 12:41 PM

A quick clarification in response to language hat: When I said that no one praises anyone, I meant to their face. People do say complementary things about others, lots of people are kind and generous, but you just can't pull off in-your-face praise: it could only come across as BS. I could try to explain why this is so, but that would be a long comment and probably not very interesting to readers of this blog. My point was merely that it's not at all a bad thing; in fact it's rather liberating to know that everyone knows that the greatest, perhaps the only, complement you can give or receive is vehement objection.

This is getting way off topic, but it's sad to encounter the same old caricatures of anglo-american philosophy. Isn't it difficult to reconcile them with the fact that Bernard Williams, who died last week, was the most, or one of the two or three most, influential anglo-american philosophers of the past forty years? If he doesn't fit this received view, how, given his influence, could the profession?

Posted by: Ted H. at June 16, 2003 02:05 PM

A couple of questions to consider (note: these are personal questions and I certainly don't expect you to answer them here, but rather to think about them):

How opposed is your fiancee to the idea of your going to graduate school?

Do you and your fiancee plan/hope to have children?

Graduate school is very draining -- financially, emotionally, and otherwise -- and can wreak havoc on people's personal lives. Even with a supportive spouse/partner, it is a long and difficult haul. But with an unsupportive partner, you're looking at misery, counselling, therapy, and the like.
And you can't raise kids on ramen noodles and without health insurance (well, you can, but I'm sure you and your fiancee wouldn't want to).

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 16, 2003 02:56 PM

Happy to take this to email if you like, but I've had recent confirmation that the "caricature" is still far too true.

Language Hat,
I think you make a great point about the push to specialization. One great fear is that even the "best-case" of getting a good job would mean pursuing research that is narrow and cramped. Also a good point about making this decision in the wider context of what I want my life to be. You guys aren't making this easy, for which I thank you.

Now, where's the blog for happy graduate students? Hmmm.

Posted by: ogged at June 16, 2003 02:59 PM

I agree with language hat about specialization and what I call methodologization (an ugly word for an ugly thing -- sorry, I know you don't agree with that way of talking about words, l.h.) They say it's bastard Kuhnianism -- "find a paradigm and enforce it". By this method freedom of inquiry is strangled nationwide in whole departments (postmodernism and theory, as I've been told, have the stranglehold in English).

I have more posted at my link.

Analytic philosophers' caricatures of everyone else are as negative as anything that's ever said about analytic philosophy, with the difference that analytic philosophers are in a position to enforce their prejudices.

Posted by: zizka at June 17, 2003 12:18 AM

zizka: Actually, even I have to agree that "methodologization" is an ugly word. But what do you mean by "analytic philosophers are in a position to enforce their prejudices"? Or do you just mean they can keep philosophers they disagree with out of departments they control?

Posted by: language hat at June 17, 2003 01:00 PM

My experience as a Ph.D. student was quite different from Invisible Adjunct's. I spent quite a lot of time on "the basics," and most of the remaining time (apart from doing research and writing) was spent getting familiar with the literature, with very little attention paid to Theory. In part, this may have been because there were relatively few graduate seminars offered, so I had to take a number of upper-level undergraduate courses. But it was also because everyone had to take three written prelims (in one major and two minor fields). I hated having to study for written prelims, and thought at the time they should be abolished, but perhaps they have their uses after all.

Posted by: Adam at June 17, 2003 02:32 PM

Language hat: analytic philosophers do the hiring. As far as I know they control 50--70% of the Phil. depts, and have a foothold in most of the others. When people talk about continental philosophy, Catholic philosophy, Asian philosophy, Marx and Hegel, classical philosophy, and non-standard forms of Anglo-American philosophy (e.g. process philosophy, Popper, Toulmin and "practical philosophy"), they tend to enumerate the places where these are taught at all. As I remember, Matt Yglesias almost graduated from Harvard in philosophy with out having read Aristotle or Plato (he ended up taking one elective course).

I'm out of touch since about 1985 but scattered reports the situation is worsening, not improving.

Posted by: zizka at June 17, 2003 04:50 PM

Gee , Zizka, your comments at this blog are usually great, and I applaud your courage and perseverence in pursuing an intellectual career outside the mainstream academy. (I really do; that isn't backhanded.) But your last comment is way out of touch.

The matter is extremely off topic for this comments thread, though. So I'll just register my dissent and reiterate my earlier appeal to the example of Bernard Williams.

I'll be happy to discuss the matter by email though.

Posted by: Ted H. at June 17, 2003 06:27 PM

My email is zizka@johnjemerson.com . This particular format doesn't seem to make them available.

Posted by: zizka at June 17, 2003 06:56 PM

Here's an interesting and (I think) relevant comment I ran across at the Eudaemonist under the heading "errare humanum est":

"I like the idea that scholars and academics are displaced, are wanderers, are, in short, matter out of place, who can only become a part of society, be reclaimed by society, through professionalization – that is, the systematic acknowledgement of their perpetual displacement. This leads me back to the idea of pollution or ritual impurity; the polluted or the impure is ‘matter out of place,’ matter which does not fit into the cosmology of ritual and society. Education is the process of neutralizing this pollution; those most tainted are confined to the academy for their own safety and for the comfort of society. (Parallels might be prisons, insane asylums, religious institutions…) Only by being a ‘professional,’ by receiving accreditation, and working within a university or college does the scholar become less threatening, because jailed in obscure rules and arcane laws – empiricism, induction, positivism, deconstruction, etc. The institutions which cage the scholar serve society at large as the boundary posts for the empire of the known, beyond which lies the defining negative space of the unfathomable, of creativity, of genius, and of change."

Posted by: language hat at June 17, 2003 10:26 PM

*raises hand* I'm seriously thinking about starting a blog -- or at least a couple of posts -- for happy grad students. I just don't want to exclude everyone else. ;)

Ogged, it's up to you, but I don't see any reason why you shouldn't go to grad school provided that you can get a well-funded ride at a top-five program. Like you, I left a well-paying job at which I was fairly good for grad school in a humanities field which was (to say the least) rather abstruse, but was what I wanted to do. I felt competent about 95% of my time in grad school (at least 3% of the remainder had to do with dissertation-handing-in procedures), and I remember the program fondly. Two years after moving out of town, and a year-plus after my formal graduation, I still keep in touch with a large number of friends and acquaintances from grad school. I also got a tenure-track job at a good school, which is having its ups and downs but which I still prefer to any other career path just now.

It's possible that I suffer from undiagnosed psychopathic megalomania, of course -- but it's also possible that I had a good graduate school experience. What baffles me -- and I said as much in the blog post IA referenced above -- is why so many other people didn't.

Posted by: Naomi Chana at June 18, 2003 02:01 PM