Sunday, October 19, 2014

Grad school's mental health problem. From Pacific Standard.

by Ted Scheinman

The prevailing presumption is that graduate school is supposed to be hell, and that madness is the natural reaction.

Pop wisdom says you'd have to be a lunatic to spend six years earning a humanities Ph.D. given contracting faculty budgets and a concomitant expansion of ill-paid lectureships.

Leaving aside this prevalent if pat diagnosis (the constant howling drives consistent traffic — exhibit A), we might more properly say: Six years in a doctoral program is liable to make kooks of even our best-adjusted scholars.

Just look at our rich options for scholarly neurosis. There's Imposter Syndrome, relative poverty, the endless solitude of reading and research, disdain within one's extended family, not to mention the mixed-up rewards system that you must engineer in order to tell yourself that reading qualifies as work and therefore you deserve three square meals and occasional sleep. Depending on the school — especially if you're in California — competition for funding (not travel grants, but a livable teacher's stipend) can fuel all manner of anxiety.


1 comment:

  1. I postulate that this was too close to home for too many, that they didn't know where to begin. It took me a couple days to gather some thoughts.

    If I had it to do over, I'm not sure I'd do grad school. But that just raises the question, "if not that, then what?", and the problem is, I can't imagine doing anything other than what I do now. So the system has apparently sapped me of some capacity to imagine.

    The article mentions the professorial attitude that their advisees "have to be better than my generation because you have a.) more resources and b.) fewer prospects." In my field, I tell students that the low-hanging fruit is picked over and funding is tight, so expectations on them will be high. I really can't sell them on the idea that the Ph.D. will reward them the way a stint in industry or on Wall Street will. They'll have to discover the reward for themselves.