Saturday, January 20, 2007


As I mentioned earlier, I need to decide whether I want to pursue a PhD or get out while the getting is good. At the moment I'm kind of obsessed, so what do I do? Research!

Flavia's post discussing her transition into a tenure track position led me to a google search on "grad school infantilization," which led to some very interesting resources for grad students in search of advice.

Jonathan Sterne's site has a whole series of articles related to navigating graduate school and an academic job search.

"Over The Hoops And Through The Hurdles" by Pamela Oliver, of U. of Wisconsin, is subtitled "Surviving the Graduate Program in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin," but contains many excellent tips for grad students in other programs.

" I believe the reason graduate school is fundamentally unpleasant is that it entails inherently self-contradictory demands. Structurally, it is school, it is infantilizing. You are structurally a child, and adult teachers are ordering you around. I went straight through school, and when I hit graduate school at age 21, I was already too old to appreciate being treated like a child (Many of the people who work for a while before coming back to school find the infantilization even more intolerable, although others find that work experiences make them more motivated and tolerant of the structure of grad school. It probably depends on how bad your job was.)"

My job before returning to grad school involved little pay or respect, but a significant amount of responsibility and independence. I returned to graduate school because I wanted to be respected for my knowledge and experience. (I know, what was I thinking?) I also spent 8+ years struggling to learn how to teach well and so was not impressed with many faculty members lack of pedagogical knowledge.

To the rescue comes Dr. Virago with "To professionalize or not to professionalize." What's funny is that I didn't even know that "professionalization" was what I wanted. At least there are some other people out there that think it's not crazy to want to plan ahead if I'm going to invest numerous years in an academic career. It seems that professionalization isn't on the radar of most faculty member here at Big Ag U. I have been taking classes, writing papers, and getting A's, but I still have no clue what my professors think of my writing and ideas. If they gave me some real criticism, I would at least know that they were taking me seriously. I understand that grad students are supposed to be self directed, but the occasional discussion of how to get through the process wouldn't take that much time and would be amazingly helpful. Maybe that is part of the "game" here at Big Ag U., you have to figure out how to get through the process even though no one will give you a straight answer about how. It also worries me how few grad students from our program are presenting at the upcoming national conference, which is taking place within driving distance of the U. this year.

All this reading has inspired me to get moving on my grad student networking plan. Here are the things I need to discuss with other grad students: identifying helpful/relevant committee members, writing, getting funding, publishing, presenting at conferences, and on and on. Now I just have to lure some supportive/friendly/available students in with refreshments and/or entertainment.


Leslie M-B said...

In my program, the problem isn't a lack of professionalization--it's that we're only given training for ONE profession--a tenure-track job. And that's totally unfair, considering the job market. But most of the professors haven't had any experience outside of academia, so they lack imagination when it comes to professional opportunities.

And it's well-known in my program that if you admit to wanting to do something other than become a full-fledged academic on the tenure track, many professors won't take you as seriously.

Breena Ronan said...

I think that is a big part of the problem. It can be really difficult to discuss with professors, in an honest and open way, possible career paths. Anyone who is on the other side of the grad school experience seems to be polarized on one side of the debate or the other. Professors (especially at R1 institutions) are unwilling to admit that many of their students will not be able to secure tenure track positions. They also want to minimize any negative aspects of that career path. On the other hand, many, many people who haven't found tenure track positions are disillusioned and bitter about their grad school experiences.