Sunday, March 18, 2007

Grad School News

There is more news than I can reasonably relate here. My graduate program was under review this week and I was the rebel at the program review. Everyone there wass so worried that the program will be dissolved that they weren't willing to express any discontent. So I was the nasty, negative Nelly, even though I did my best to be mellow.

I sort of hate myself for it because one of the main defenders of the program is a grad student who I consider a friend and greatly respect. I'm not sure why she is so defensive about the program, but considering that her adviser is one of the few that really identify with this discipline, I guess I can understand her feelings. I feel that having a PhD in an "interdisciplinary" program with an adviser who doesn't identify with your main field of study is dangerous if you hope to attain a position in academia.

Meanwhile I have been making appointments with various professors outside of my program to try to either identify possible committee members or get some advice about possible PhD programs to apply for. It's quite clear that I am a rebel and misfit here so it won't hurt to attempt to find another program in which I feel more at home. On the other hand, it has become fairly clear that I could get through the PhD program here with very little objection by my committee members.

I'm fairly confident that I could identify committee member that would sign off on almost anything I wrote. In fact, in my three years here I have never gotten more than a sentence or two in response to a paper submitted. I have no doubt that I could continue to approval for whatever work I turn in. In fact, the first professor I discussed my dissertation idea with basically claimed that there were two ways for advisers to relate to their PhD students: some advisers that read drafts of each chapter and some advisers that only read a penultimate draft of the dissertation. This was highly useful information for me, because if I was getting useful feedback on my writing in my classes I could see not asking my adviser to read several drafts of the diss, but considering the fact that I have been in grad school for three years and have yet to get any helpful editing, I just don't feel comfortable with working for years without feedback.

My point is that I have now talked to five different professors and it's basically a tie as to whether I should remain in my current program or apply to new programs. It may be that the votes have to do more with each person's point in their career than anything else. It seems that the two youngest professors I talked to suggested that I might be happiest applying to new programs while the oldest two thought it wouldn't make much difference to my career where my degree came from. The prof I'm TAing for this quarter was a sort of abstainer, admitting that while there are some good reasons to move on, the practical considerations of staying put are not to be discounted.

So far I have consulted a landscape architect, a rural sociologist, two American Studies professors, and an English professor. None of these people identify with the official field of my current program and almost all of them suggested programs in their own fields. I know this is just because they are suggesting programs that they are familiar with, but it's really not helpful.

So I'm obsessing about what sorts of programs I should apply to and avoiding doing any grading be continually surfing grad program sites. Currently I'm considering programs in geography, landscape architecture, environmental planning, history of science, science and technology studies, history of architecture, and American studies. I could look into program in environmental anthropology, environmental sociology, art, or environmental studies, but I don't think these are right for me. (I have to draw the line somewhere!)

On the positive side, everyone is very supportive about my dissertation idea, but on the negative side no one seems to know where it belongs. I'm taking comfort in the fact that they think it's "cutting edge" and "innovative."


ArticulateDad said...

I know these feelings all too well. Be careful, my friend, not about your passions (follow them, always!) but about your expectations. Take a step back: you have a good sense of what you want to study, GREAT! But toward what end? Spend a little time working on that. You won't lose your focus, your interests. I can tell that.

I spent a couple years, between my Master's and PhD, doing essentially what you are doing now. I troubled over just the sorts of questions you're dealing with. I had a mission statement that read like a university catalog, with hands in a half dozen different departments.

I eventually had advisers who signed off on everything I wrote, no one who knew where I fit, but many people who found what I was doing "cutting edge" and "innovative".

I wanted the freedom to pursue my own path. And I got it. But I failed along the way to think about just where that path might lead, not so much as a destination, but the byways. Remember a path is not just a path, it travels along a trajectory.

You're in a very exciting place, live it, enjoy it. You'll do great!

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Having read the last couple grad school posts, it seems as if you'd probably be better off with a department that supports your idea than staying with your current school.

I should warn you that the lack of comment on seminar papers does not insure that they actually like what you've written -- at least in my experience that was true. I submitted a paper that got minimal comments and an A, as an 'area paper' --- and ONLY then did I get feedback -- all of it negative. In fact, I ended up writing a new paper to fulfill the requirement.

Breena Ronan said...

I agree that no comments doesn't mean they liked it. What I was trying to say was that in my program it's fairly easy to get through without much objection if you pick certain committee members. That is the impression I get from people who are going through the process. Personally I would rather be in a program in which I felt a little frightened because I knew that my advisers would hold me to high standards.