Why we do what we do

Holly passed along a disheartening essay on the Ph.D. glut, which basically argues that anyone who is smart enough to earn a Ph.D. ought to be smart enough to know better than to pursue a Ph.D.

I find this whole line of discussion irritating, because it accuses the professoriate of a vicious conspiracy of self-replication and graduate students of hopeless naivete, neither of which I have found to be the case in reality. I was warned of the dismal job prospects in academia when I was originally encouraged to consider this path, thank you very much. I received the form letter that the American Philosophical Association provides to member programs to send out to all prospective Ph.D. applicants, warning that we can't promise you a job even if you excel in your doctoral work. I came into this process eyes wide open and with no illusion that I would necessarily end up with a cushy endowed chair, or even an academic career, on the other end. So I get irked when doctoral students in the humanities are collectively pegged as economic imbeciles.

I also get irritated by the author's assumption that earning potential or cultural status are the only reasons a person would pursue an academic career. Well, of course if those are your standards of success, getting a Ph.D. is a losing deal. I sincerely pity anyone who goes into academia on those bases, and hope for their sakes that they wash out of their program before they waste too much of their lives.

But that's not why I, or anyone else I know, got into this process. I'm pursuing a Ph.D. because right now it allows me to enjoy a life that I love. Not that I don't suffer from the pressure and frustration of keeping up with the academic rat race, but I'd rather be doing this than a lot of other, better-paying things I can think of and am qualified for. For these five years, it's worth it, whatever comes next.

Case in point: two days ago, I got to spend the entire afternoon reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, an absolutely beautiful novel, because I had to lead a discussion of the book with my American Christianity students the next day. I couldn't but revel in how lucky I was: I'm getting paid to sit here soaking in this lovely prose; this is my job. Yes, I'm getting paid a pittance, but a pittance is all I need. There's more to life than being able to afford a new car and the latest fashions, or setting oneself up for a high-power, high-prestige career. I'll take a beautiful novel any day.


Clattercote said...

Well, it does remind me of what my undergraduate advisor told me - "Do a PhD because you love the subject, not because you want to be a professor."

But yes - I think you're right - there is much more to life than the high power career.

David and Sarah said...

Such a wonderful book...David and I are reading it together. Glad to hear you liked it.

Interesting Stuff

Books! Books! Books!

  • Bookfinder
  • BestBookBuys
  • Bookcrossing
  • Book Sale Finder
  • Library Thing
  • Good Reads
  • Disclosure: links from this page to commercial sites -- particularly Amazon.com -- may or may not be affiliate links that remunerate the blogger for sales made through said links. In no case does affiliate status affect the opinions offered on this site.

    HTML 101: How to add a link

    <a href="http://exact-url- of-site-to-which-you-wish- to-link-goes-here.com">WORDS TO APPEAR AS LINK</a>


    Blog Archive