Sunday, November 13, 2011

painful truths about grad school

This post about grad school in history has been making the rounds. It basically says the same thing most of us have been saying: there are no academic jobs, current academic lottery winners won't tell you the truth, the opportunity costs are too high, etc. Still, it's a nice re-statement of the problem.

Although I believe everything stated in this blog post, I'll admit I find it hard to quash the dewy-eyed dreamers that come to my office, seeking advice about graduate school. It's hard to tell them "no", without it coming out as either "you're not good enough" (no matter how often I say that's not the case), or "it's only anthropology that's this f#@ked up" (especially since students who are given a pessimistic view of the future by me often find a more optimistic faculty member in another field, and assume that they're better off in history or sociology).

How much reality do you inflict on undergrads?


  1. I only wish I had some undergrads on whom to inflict reality! As an adjunct, I don't get asked these sorts of questions, and to be honest I'd be afraid my answers would just sounds like sour grapes. This information is much more convincing coming from tenure-track faculty.

    To me, the underlying problem is that we just can't stop expecting the system to be a meritocracy and accept that it really is more like the lottery. I keep thinking one more journal article will push me over the edge, but clearly it doesn't work that way-- we all know amazing scholars who never get jobs, and people who get them on the strength of a great "fit," a single article and no teaching experience. I'm starting to feel like getting one more publication out is the equivalent of buying 10 more lottery tickets-- it improves my chance of winning, but not by much.

    On the other hand, I like writing articles. I'm a sucker, or a glutton for punishment, or something. And now, off to write another job application...

  2. The myth of meritocracy is such a pervasive problems! It's so fundamentally American, isn't it? Of course we all have the opportunity to succeed, if we just try hard enough, are smart enough, etc. We cannot accept that the academic system is broken, any more than we are willing to believe that, in fact, Europe has a less rigid class system than we do! I like your analogy of published articles being multiple lottery tickets. Too true!

    Good luck on the job market this year!