Well, that’s my take on graduate school (and by extension academia as a profession), but Naomi is more sanguine (though she acknowledges the need to solve some pressing problems). If any of you have been through it and have thoughtful things to say about it, I suggest you drop by her place and join the discussion; if you hated it as much as I did and simply want to spew vitriol, please do so in my comments section, where it will be appreciated.


  1. Languagehat, I need to thank you for the pointer you gave me earlier on for the link gone south. 🙂 A couple of weeks ago, I made a mental note to link to a few pages from that site, and it seems the directory structure changed in the meantime, with some pages being apparently deleted completely. I’ve made the necessary changes but I appreciate you pointing this out :).

  2. This will probably make no coherent sense whatsoever. But here goes:

    Grad school! Oh my God, how I hated it! It was overrun by theory! I got so sick of Foucault and Derrida and post-structrualism and post-colonialism and post-feminism….and what especially bothered me was if you disagreed with the criticism, or didn’t like it, that was a BIG nono. In one class, all we did was collect “interpretations” of “texts”: You will present the neo-colonialist view of Jane Eyre, and you will present the neo-feminist view of same…..oh god how I hated it. I would not go back if you paid me, unless it was to some nice non-theoretical discipline like archaeology or pottery. Christ.

    Spewing over….

  3. And I was in grad school from, let’s see, 1995-1998, about, so that was not during the worst of the PC debates but after a lot of the PC stuff had trickled down even to the backwater campus I was at (UNM). And what bothered me about the whole PC mess was the intolerance, on both sides, and how EVERYTHING was political.

    OK. OK. Spewing over now. Really.

  4. That’s OK — spew all you want — it’s music to my ears!

  5. Moira, if you haven’t yet, you really, really need to read Postmodern Pooh.

  6. Heh, a number of people have pointed that out to me….it’s very good.

    MORE about how I hated grad school? How about how the TAs got all the dreadful required English Comp classes that were filled with people who had failed the obligatory entrance English exam, and who were going to have to pass it at the end of the year, so their attitude was that of high school students in detention? How about how the TAs had no decent insurance and no union (although I hear that’s changed in parts of the country)? How about the endless politicking and backstabbing and pressure on publishing and paper-delivering at conferences? I could go on….

  7. I’m assuming you were in English? I think their understanding is that if you wanted to just talk about Jane Eyre, and what the book was about … well, you could join a book club. They are trying to teach you to be scholars. To understand who has thought what, if it is valid (okay, maybe not this one … ), and whatnot.

    I have yet to go through bs GS, but I will one day.

  8. Why do you assume being scholarly is just absorbing and regurgitating other people’s ideas?

  9. Sorry — that was snippy. But I don’t appreciate “join a book club.” So you got what you gave, in essence.

  10. I have managed to avoid grad school altogether. It looked worrying.

    One thing I noticed as a BA was that everyone doing a Phd seemed to go through at least one nervous breakdown.

    Further, judging by my older friends, there seemed to be something about doing a Phd which actually damaged that person’s ability to think. The remarks earlier about backbiting and collegiate nastiness would help to explain some of those casual observations…..

  11. Moira: Don’t apologize, he deserved it — that “book club” crack was uncalled for. And since I’m temporarily unable to use my e-mail (thanks, Yahoo!), I’ll say here that I’m glad you didn’t mind my remarks in your comment section; I was afraid I might have offended someone who for all I knew was a friend of yours, but sometimes I can’t resist leaping in when I feel someone’s being attacked unfairly, so that’s what I did. So I’ll just keep being myself, and you do the same!

  12. Steve, I’m waiting to see whether or not you get more comments for your offer of vitriol storage than I did for my requests for policy solution. 😉

    That said, I remember reading an article last spring which estimated that one in 200 U.S. citizens have some sort of doctoral degree. They didn’t break it down by degree, but I’d be willing to bet that making blanket negative generalizations about PhDs will ruffle the feathers of a significantly larger segment of the population than making blanket negative generalizations about academia. 🙂

  13. Whoa, I didn’t mean to be mean. I think that is WHAT THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT THINKS; I was trying to summarize THEIR VIEW. I agree completely with you. I go through it in Classics. I would just rather read the literature, especially when they start babbling the Higher Criticism on the NT; it drives me insane.

    From their point of view, they want you to know what the “scholarly” discussions are … not simply what the book means. Especially since the advent of pomo, they’ve given up the ability to find the meaning and instead what to know: “How does this make you feel.”

  14. That’s okay, Mike — you weren’t being mean, I was just a bit confused about where you were going, and my feathers were ruffled for about two seconds. If I were genuinely angry, I’d leave off the smiley. 😉

    I was going to say that I didn’t know whether it was possible to read without some sort of critical apparatus in one’s head, and then I started thinking about the opera of Danielle Steele, and… OK, yeah, sometimes it’s nice to read a story just for the story. But most of the time, I enjoy literature more when it has enough depth that I can think about it on multiple levels (some critical, some not).

    All of this is, of course, distracting us from the prescribed vitriol-spewing, but it’s interesting nonetheless. 😉

  15. But, Naomi, I think it goes both ways….if I’m not just tired and wanting comfort reading, I will enjoy something more if it has multiple levels. But I very rarely appreciate reading fiction that can’t be enjoyed just for the story. Which of course may be why I have never ever considered grad school in English. (Linguistics, yes.) Anything I would recommend as being really worthwhile (a wide swath from Shakespeare to Austen to Trollope to Sayers to Willis and fforde) will have many levels but for me, has to be readable first as a pure story.

  16. Sorry, the below is sort of short on vitriol, but my grad school experiences are limited to Space Science (MS) and Linguistics (a few classes) and weren’t unpleasant at all. But the subjects are less subjective (well, excepting what Congress does to space exploration).

  17. Hey, before everybody gets the wrong idea, I wasn’t demanding vitriol, just trying to keep it out of Naomi’s comment section! I’m actually very happy with the turn the comments have taken; it’s giving me food for thought.

  18. I was trying to summarize THEIR VIEW.

    Well duh. I just missed that completely, didn’t I? ((rereads comment)) Oh my, yes, that’s there. Well, my apologies for being snippy AND inattentive.

    I actually love reading novels with multiple levels and depth — Eco, Calvino, Borges, and so on….what I didn’t like was not focusing on the “text” at all, and instead being force-fed simplistic, overly political “interpretations.” Heart of Darkness is a critique of capitalism. Charlotte Bronte is REALLY critiquing the position of women in colonial times as well as England’s colonial policy. And so on. Like reading tea-leaves — the critics basically read whatever they want into something, and the original book is left far behind. It’s not reading a book with a critical apparatus at all — it’s substituting criticism for reading.

    And I don’t remember where I read it, but there’s some famous quote that while originally criticism was subsumed under literature, now the opposite is true….Alfred Kazin quotes it in a book I just read of his, I think. I’ll try to find it because it summed up A LOT of my particular grad-school experience.

  19. Oh and Steve — nah, I don’t think you offended anyone on my blog with your comments — most of the blogmass are rabid fans of yours, I think, actually.

  20. Whew!

    (And Naomi, I’m rapidly approaching your comment count…)

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