Response to an Inside Higher Ed anti-grad school tract by Bitch PhD
Tags: education

Original post here.

Title: Osell's negativity on grad school

Ms. Osell,

The "don't go to graduate school" tracts in IHE get more annoying every time I see them.

"...only go to graduate school if you are getting a master’s degree, and only if you are doing so in a limited number of subjects."

The absolute language -- "only" -- is embarrassing for a writer and indicates a weird bias. I've seen the same tone when IHE commenters beg, "If adjuncts don't want to be so mistreated, they'll have to get other jobs!" As if one can't complain about workplace treatment without having to threaten to find another profession.

My intent would certainly go against your prescription on graduate school: I want to go, and in the humanities no less, and in a bad economy, and for the PhD (I already have the MA in literature).

Your position -- "Don't rush to graduate school" -- whether you wrote the title or not, shows a difference in opinion on the purpose of graduate school between yourself and people like me: is it about a job, or is it about knowledge? A PhD means being an expert on forgotten arcanum that only a handful of people in the entire world really care about and spend time researching. In other words, people get PhDs to become scholars because it's what they love. Your model seems to argue, "Don't bother if you can't get a job once you're done."

I am ideologically and temperamentally opposed to your position; let me share my case. My full-time teaching job recently got changed to an adjunct position, so I lost benefits and took a large pay cut, though I do the same job. Now, I could try to get a new full-time plus benefits job -- no guarantee on this -- or I could apply to go to more gradaute school. Realize, of course, that any decent PhD program in English A) pays for tuition; B) ensures a TA teaching job (at a similar rate of pay as adjuncting); and C) comes with it a built-in network of people with similar interests in learning. In other words, similar (low) pay, the opportunity and time to study, and a better intellectual climate than -- surprise -- adjuncting at for-profits or community colleges.

Ms. Osell, since you seem preoccupied in the endgame, i.e. what happens career-wise when Student X gets the PhD, let me address that. I love to teach and want to continue. Say I get the PhD, and that 2/2 research school job just isn't there for me. If I wish to go on teaching a mixture of composition, lit, and film at a 4/4 teaching college or a community college, my likelihood of getting that job has risen (significantly). My likelihood of adjuncting forever has significantly dropped. The only risk I run is the resentment from having a PhD and not being fully compensated for it, and not having the time to pursue scholarship. Further, I have "flooded the market" with another PhD, and perhaps I'm overqualified. In the meantime I have achieved the highest credential for what matters to me: a life of the mind. It's unlikely that I'll be a derelict PhD living below the poverty line.

Overall, I disagree with your vision of what graduate school is about: it's not the job; it's the knowledge. Ms. Osell, where is your idealism? You write, "If you love and adore it, then I suppose you could go ahead and get a PhD, but why? If you’re adjuncting at a community college, you’re already doing the same work as thousands of PhDs; while your peers are slogging through their dissertations, you’re acquiring seniority."

"Seniority," huh? That's my goal? Reading that just leaves a nasty taste in my mouth, and it is from grim personal experience that I suggest that the tone of "blogging-writing" has infected your writing; surely you once wrote more thoughtfully, and with a more reasonable tone. And, I pray, without CAPS, as seen on your blog "Bitch PhD." In sum, this post has taught me more about the resentments of its writer than insight into whether to go to graduate school or not.

On that issue, better suited for people like me is what Einstein wrote in "The World As I See It":

"Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts -- possessions, outward success, luxury -- have always seemed to me contemptible."
No profanes - sacred

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