Friday, April 5, 2013

Thesis Hatement. From

Okay, so maybe it's our week for somewhat overdramatic, self-involved reflections written by millenials which nevertheless contain more than a grain of truth, but I found it interesting that the article below is listed on both "most read" and "most shared" on Slate.  Anything that slows down the stream of new Ph.D.s even a bit strikes me as a good thing (but maybe that's just a selfish thought from a longtime contingent faculty member who wouldn't mind less competition from the minty fresh*). 


Thesis Hatement

Getting a literature Ph.D. will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor.

Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor, and all you have to do to get it is earn a Ph.D. So perhaps you, literature lover, are considering pursuing this path.  
Well, what if I told you that by “five hours” I mean “80 hours,” and by “summers off” I mean “two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning”? . . .  
Don’t do it. Just don’t. I deeply regret going to graduate school, but not, Ron Rosenbaum, because my doctorate ruined books and made me obnoxious. (Granted, maybe it did: My dissertationinvolved subjecting the work of Franz Kafka to first-order logic.) No, I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you.

The rest is here.  

*Hey!  the search engine worked!  


  1. Ah! A title! Thank you! I knew there was something missing (it really is the end of a long week).

  2. When I read essays like this (on my break from grading comp 101 essays on a Saturday morning) I am grateful for my job. My narrowly-attained, now-tenured job.

    Thanks, CC, for posting it.

  3. "Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired?"

    I have no sympathy for this person. If you live in a fantasy world where your dream is to never work, then yeah, reality is going to make you a tad bit uncomfortable.

    1. I don't think she ever expected that; instead, I suspect she's trying to invoke the popular image of a professor's life.

      But yes, it's a bit confusing, as is all the scorn of theory (if she doesn't believe in the value of theoretical approaches to lit, why did she write a diss from that perspective)?

      In short, there are a couple of rabbit-trails that distract from the main (and true) message: academic employment has changed, drastically, and not for the better).

    2. GG, She amends the ideas from the first paragraph in the second paragraph.

      As for scorn of theory, I am in her camp (sorry). I started out thinking that lit theory was going to be a great way to combine my philosophy and English lit BAs, but as I moved through grad school I grew increasingly frustrated with the way that theory consistently sucked the joy out of the texts (not all theory--I came down in the New Historicist camp, for the most part) and started to really question why I was in grad school. It sounds like the writer wrote her diss because that's what you do if you want a PhD. I opted out after my MA, and got a terminal degree in another field. My original diss idea was to write on Henry Miller, who is not exactly canon (for a number of reasons), and I was discouraged from pursuing it. So I didn't.

      I am a lucky one. I got (and kept) a TT job. But it was a slog. A gruelling, nasty, wholly unnecessary (except that it's necessary by current academic standards) slog. I ended up needing both meds and therapy to deal with the anxiety and depression. It wasn't fun, and now that I spend most of my time teaching comp, I'm not even sure it was worth it.

  4. I wanted more on the intro: even if she GOT a TT job, it seems it would be miserable...

  5. @ BurntChrome: "It sounds like the writer wrote her diss because that's what you do if you want a PhD."

    Having clicked the link to her dissertation abstract, I think it's no wonder she's miserable. I bet her committee was too, having to read that jargon.

    Some flava: 'In my second chapter, I uncover links between narrative representations of meaning, truth and ambiguity in Der Prozess and the language philosophy of Gottlob Frege, without whose work the Sprachkrise 's major intellects would have been lacking systematic precedent; in my third, I move on to the early work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, and explore the "limits of language" as they are reached and confronted in both the Tractatus logico-philosophicus and Kafka's Die Verwandlung ; in my fourth and final chapter, I demonstrate a common current between the Officer's fate in Kafka's Strafkolonie and the paradoxes of ostensive definition and rule-following as "played" in the language-games of Wittgenstein's Philosophische Untersuchungen. '

    I know the comp and lit proffies grade long, long hours, and I thank them. But I'm having deja vu about the Humanities / "checkable" Sciences divide. How on earth was that dissertation worth years of someone's life?

    1. My theory is that she liked Kafka, and she liked philosophy, especially Wittgenstein, who I liked, but wasn't ga-ga over.

      I have sat through enough papers at conferences to know that her dissertation's jargon is not unusual. I was on a panel with someone who turned Sherman Alexie's collection of short stories _The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven_ into something completely unintelligible. If I could find the notebook, I'd share some of what I wrote down in an effort to try to make sense of what the writer was doing.

      They do this because that is what they have been trained to do. Every time I get a copy of the latest edition of Science Fiction Studies, I have to google a bunch of terms I've never seen before.

      I didn't write a dissertation, so I cannot speak for my fellow HU proffies, but I will say that part of the reason this is happening is that there is only so much ground to go over. Much of it has been trodden, so it's harder and harder to find a way to write about things that have already been written about. The closest I ever came to over-jargon was when I applied Michel Foucault's _Discipline and Punish_ to Hawthorne's _The Scarlet Letter_ during my first semester in grad school. It was a good paper (it got an A) but that was the point where I started to think that maybe a PhD wasn't for me.

    2. Did you ever read _The Pooh Perplex_? It's a scalding parody of literary criticism, deconstructing the oevre of A. A. Milne. The Freudian chapter had me laughing till I cried.

    3. I loved the Pooh Perplex! I have a copy in my office. My favourite essay though was the Aristotelian one (from the Chicago grad).

      It is possible to write interesting things about literature in lucid English. It's even possible to use theory while doing that. But it is very, very hard. Much harder than just slapping on the jargon. I don't claim to be able to do it at all, myself. But I enjoy reading the very occasional article I stumble across that succeeds in it.

    4. No, PG, I hadn't even heard of it. I will look it up, forthwith!