September 03, 2003

Benton's Book of "Virtues"

'It doesn't matter where you earn your degree, how much you publish, or how well you teach,' I tell my students who are going to graduate school. 'Nothing you do is enough to guarantee a tenure-track job in the humanities.

-- Thomas H. Benton, "The Five 'Virtues' of Successful Graduate Students"

Here is the latest installment in Thomas H. Benton's series on the perils and pitfalls of graduate school. His "So You Want to go to Graduate School?" caused quite a stir here, and his "If You Must go to Grad School" also generated some interesting commentary here.

In his latest column, Benton offers a catalogue of graduate school virtues: discipline, networking ability, mental health, flexibility, and patience. "I don't mean to offer some kind of Franklinesque success strategy for grad students," he writes. Not to worry, Mr. Benton. Let me assure you that you have done nothing of the sort. Your column is altogether lacking in the kind of cheerful optimism that would qualify it for inclusion in the "success strategies" genre. Indeed, I very much fear the innocent reader might walk away from your advice with the troubling suspicion that the academy is not the best of all possible worlds.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 3, 2003 07:39 PM

Do you need all five?

Posted by: Jacob Segal at September 3, 2003 11:22 PM

These seem to me virtues for those thinking of joining the French Foreign Legion. Benton is an hysteric.

Posted by: Livia at September 4, 2003 10:19 AM

"These seem to me virtues for those thinking of joining the French Foreign Legion. Benton is an hysteric."

Please don't shoot the messenger. I think Benton is basically telling it like it is. He's not endorsing the current system. And I believe his larger point is that if prospective graduate students really knew what was involved in the pursuit first of a PhD and then of a tenure-track job, most of them would not sign on in the first place.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at September 4, 2003 10:37 AM

Another vote for Benton. I think he's right on.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at September 4, 2003 11:20 AM

But then... I've been called a hysteric too for saying several of the same things, so what do I know?

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at September 4, 2003 11:21 AM

Actually, the French Foreign Legion seems like a pretty good deal compared to most graduate programs in the humanities. Check out their Web site.

If you've already gone to grad school and can't find a tenure-track job, the Legion might be a plausible alternative career. They accept people up to age 40. And it's full-time, with benefits.

Posted by: TH Benton at September 5, 2003 08:35 AM

Twenty hours a week just working on my writing? On top of teaching duties and everything else? I'm in my fourth grad-school year in a top-rated humanities department, I don't know any of my classmates who does anywhere near that much. And my classmates are a smart and hard-working bunch.

Benton's fine excess is appreciated, but he does overegg the situation a bit.

(Shit, if I had wanted to work that hard, I would have gone to medical school).

Posted by: Incertus at September 5, 2003 09:25 AM

We'll check in on you in five years, Incertus, and see how many of your smart, hardworking grad-school colleagues have tenure-track jobs, hm?

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at September 5, 2003 01:21 PM

I'm surprised that by the fourth year of graduate school, Incertus is still taken in by his (the form is masculine) colleagues' claims of sprezzatura.

Posted by: jam at September 5, 2003 03:00 PM

Incertus, unfortunately Benton knows exactly what he is talking about. His article is dead-on, and a bit chilling.

Posted by: David Marshall at September 6, 2003 02:12 PM

Incertus describes the reality of graduate school precisely; and reality, not self-dramatizing rhetoric, is what we need.

Posted by: livia at September 7, 2003 10:03 PM

I don't think that any of us have argued with Incertus's description of his experience of graduate school. We're just questioning whether it'll get them to the tenure-track jobs they presumably covet.

As for self-dramatizing rhetoric: *shrug* Guilty as charged. It was what I needed to do at the time. I don't apologize for it.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at September 7, 2003 10:49 PM

I think you're more likely to get a good job when you're a relatively happy balanced person with a sense of moderation - and you project that at an interview and in your writing - than when you're the miserable SOB Benton is describing -- hell, prescribing -- in his essay. As for the tenure-track jobs Incertus and his cohort are "presumably coveting" - well, this is dramatizing rhetoric too, isn't it? Only a fool, given the market conditions we all know about, would sit around "coveting" a tenure track job. A wise person would work hard and happily at his or her intellectual training and hope for the best while preparing for the worst. Cast a cold eye, friends.

Posted by: livia at September 9, 2003 08:15 PM