Monday, September 18, 2006

Professionalization

Dr. Virago, one of my favorite bloggers, writes this on graduate students and professionalization in response to these words of mine addressed to graduate students at GW. I'm reproducing below a comment I just left at her blog, and want to make it clear: I am in no way opposed to professionalization of graduate students, but worry about its overvaluation.


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What I intended to convey (ineptly, I know; I'm always at my worst when I'm terse) is that if professionalization is overhyped as the be-all and end-all of a successful program of graduate training, it can become a Holy Grail as depicted in a Monty Python cartoon. Its celestial shimmer is so bright that graduate students told to keep their eyes upon it might not be encouraged to be colleagues in the here-and-now with their current professors. A relentless focus on the conferences at which you should be presenting and the journal articles you should be composing can foster a narrowing of interest. A message implicitly conveyed by the imperative to publish! and present! can be that it is far better to talk to specialists in your own field than to, say, attend a departmental colloquium on an author whose name is alien or on a time period distant from your own.

I wanted to stress that graduate school ideally has its own rewards as an intellectual space, rewards not necessarily related to following the advice in How to Have a Career as an Academic Star. Sometimes those satisfactions can be dimmed when it seems that all value derives from a luminous elsewhere, in the form of the reward system to which "professionalization" is the supposed doorway. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that graduate students should deliver conference papers and strive for publication. Good mentors must ensure that these opportunities are made available and demystified. But bad mentors can use "professionalization" as a way of alleviating their guilty conscience over the fact that so many bright PhDs don't get jobs: if it didn't work out, the problem is that student X didn't adequately professionalize, that student X is a failure - not that the field is extremely difficult to break into no matter how smart and well credentialed you are. I guess what I was arguing for is some notice that growing as an intellectual within a community sometimes means taking the "professionalize or perish" credo - especially when offered as if it were in itself unambiguous and a recipe for success - cum grano salis.

21 comments:

Dr. Virago said...

Aw shucks, I'm one of your favorite bloggers! *blush*

Anyway, I wrote a ridiculously long response to your comment at my blog. Here's part of it (minus references to comments in my thread and with some minor style edits). But first, let me say that I didn't think you were totally opposed to professionalization. It's just that, well, advice to not worry about it so much sometimes pushes my easy-to-push buttons.

And now here's the rest:

[professionalization] can become a Holy Grail as depicted in a Monty Python cartoon

Cue celestial Ahhhhhh's! :) Seriously, I agree with you. In fact, I agree with everything you just wrote, including and especially this:

But bad mentors can use "professionalization" as a way of alleviating their guilty conscience over the fact that so many bright PhDs don't get jobs: if it didn't work out, the problem is that student X didn't adequately professionalize, that student X is a failure - not that the field is extremely difficult to break into no matter how smart and well credentialed you are.

BUT bad mentors can also use an anti-professionalization stance to alleviate a guilty conscience over the increasingly extreme expectations of the job market or use it as some kind of working out of their own regrets and nostalgia.

(Btw, just so we're clear, *you* are nowhere in these lists of bad mentors. And I apologize for assuming you might have been nostalgic in your original post. It did seem a little wistful in tone, but nostalgia is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish.)

Perhaps what we -- and by we, I mean those of us in positions to mentor grad students or undergrads who express interest in grad school -- perhaps what we need to strive for is that elusive middle ground, where we encourage students to balance the richness of the now with the possibilities of the future. I took full advantage of the opportunities in my grad department for study and scholarship in my own field and, when I could, in other fields where I knew we were blessed with someone really cool or interesting in that field, even if it was far from my own specialities. And now I wish I had more time for that sort of thing.

I still think a little more emphasis should be put on what's next, however, since, after all, students are there to get the degree that will get them a job. I'm pretty sure no one invests all those years and work just because they thought it would be nifty to have a Ph.D. Or rather, those students don't stick around very long. But *of course*, if they are professionals *now*, then they should also be active members of the scholarly community to which they belong *now*. And they shouldn't be so focused on their success in their specific area of study that they are blind to what everyone else is doing. They won't do very well on the job market if that's the case, either -- at least not in the jobs that are asking for, at the very least, proficiency in adjacent periods, and, more often that not, the ability to teach surveys and general introductions to literature across periods and genres.

But you know that. My major concern is with graduate student sanity and, dare I say it, self-actualization. My experience of graduate school was not as bad as some, but it had its long periods of depression and abjection. Had I simply oriented myself to think "this is it, I *am* a professional, this is the beginning of my career" rather than "this is the precursor to a career," I would have been much better off.

Of course, for "professionalization" to be successful, we need to teach and mentor students better. At my blog, Medieval Woman wrote a comment about horrifying experiences naive students had when they simply sent out a seminar paper to a journal. How are students suppose to know *how* to write a journal article if we don't teach them?

And now for something completely different, an anecdote: when I was a grad student and there was a job search going on, no matter *what* the field was, I went to the "grad students meet the candidate" breakfast and, if it didn't conflict with a class, to the job talks. At one such breakfast, the candidate had us all introduce ourselves and our fields. When I said I was a medievalist, I swear to god she looked at me as if to say, "Huh, what are you doing here?" Not antagonistically, but with suprise. I tell this story only to exhibit that grad students aren't the only ones (overly) focused on their fields. (Over-)specialization is, of course, the perennial companion-lament to the one about (over-)professionalization.

But then you know that, too. Anyway, I hope I haven't offended, Jeffrey. There's much to think about here.

Dr. Virago said...

And btw, I'm also sorry I didn't notice that you'd gone to mere initials everywhere on the blog. Of course, given that you link to your work, it's not anonymous, but I should've done you the courtesy of not spelling out your whole name on my blog! D'oh!

Eileen Joy said...

First let me just say . . . oh, um, boy. I was contemplating an altogether different post for JJC's blog today [relative to a fellowship application I am working on for a new book project on affective care, premodern literature, and the humanities] which is not altogether unrelated to this topic, but I'm going to hold off on it [for today anyway]. JJC's original post, as well as Dr. Virago's response, and the responses to Dr. V.'s response, etc. etc. are making my stomach churn a little, and I think one of the reasons is that, while I can see lots of intelligence on both sides of this debate, as well as the common sense in the idea of Dr. V's "elusive middle ground, where we encourage students to balance the richness of the now with the possibilities of the future," I wouldn't be honest if I didn't stake my claim on the side of not wanting graduate school to be too much about professionalization--however you want to define that [point well taken, too, from Ancrene Wiseass who, on her blog, has vented her frustration over those who would deem grad. student teachers as "pre-professionals" when, hell, since they are already teaching and working on scholarship are already professionalized, never mind the "pre-"!]. This is a subject actually so close to how my own life and career have developed [in, by the way, an extremely ass-backwards and nonconformist fashion] that I fear I don't have enough critical distance on this subject. But I'll give it a shot.

Frankly, I am against the so-called "professionalization" of intellectual work, period, whether practiced by so-called "students" or so-called "professors" [not counting the development of certain technical skills and disciplinary knowledges which anyone who is smart would want to develop, all the while being vigilant against being co-opted by a too-narrow and thought-strangulating academic specialization]. And I'm really serious here--I don't like the "professionalization" of what I do, period. And what do I mean, exactly? First, I agree with the ever vituperative [and sure, a little crazy] Camille Paglia, who, back when her book "Sexual Personae" came out, gave a lot of interviews in which she bitched and complained that it is isn't possible for really good books to be written when everyone is in such a rush to publish. Most dissertations, given the constraints and context of their "making," are seriously not publishable--their authors have not been given [or allowed] the time that is necessary for serious and deep rumination. The best ideas take a long time to germinate and often arise in the neglected corners and blind alleys and closed-off rooms of the scholar's lines of initial inquiry. Time and again I tell my students that they can only *arrive,* after a meandering journey through research, at a more interesting question than the one they begin with, and only then, can they really "begin" to undertake original scholarly work, which never leads to "final" conclusions, but only to even more interesting questions [and the kind of professionalization that would guide a grad. student to "pitching" their scholarship toward a particular already ongoing debate in a particular set of journals of particular critical bents is the beginning of a certain path to intellectual dessication and the law of diminishing returns]. Obviously, a paper that has to be researched and written within a 15-week semester and then possibly redeveloped into a conference paper and then perhaps into a journal article, all while the student is juggling other classes and teaching responsibilities--while not impossible, at the very least, does some damage to the potential of the critical inquiry. We often forget that scholarship is ultimately a creative act--not a purely technical craft and/or social science--and we neglect the open stretches of time and clean, well-lighted rooms and periods of serious laziness required for such creativity. Because of the various ways in which the profession also makes it difficult to have true fellowship and dialogue with our colleagues [whether within our own university or across different campuses and also in places not called campuses], we do not spend enough time cultivating the kinds of critical dialectics that would help us really hone our thinking and even our ethical regard for what might be called the more broadly social value of our work [I think blogs--the good ones--may help alleviate this problem somewhat, although I personally crave the more "human" encounters]. Because these things--time, space, and opportunities for what I would call robust fellowship--will not be given to us [or anyone for that matter], we have to figure out ways to give them to ourselves, and we can only do this when we start saying things like, "professionalization be damned," I've got work I need to, have to do. As an artist [for I can't see it any other way], I have voices that need listening to, and I have to somehow cut through the professional chatter and red tape to hear them. They are almost never where you might expect them. How else could JJC imagine William of Norwich the boy talking to William of Norwich the saint? It's a little crazy, but it's the good kind of crazy. Further, it's the kind of crazy most grad. students, "scared straight" by their professionalization pep talks, will never attempt. The so-called "profession" is impoverished as a result.

Okay, okay, I know--of course, you can't completely ignore certain aspects of "professionalization" that will help you [hopefully] land a job [although, to be honest, I pretty much ignored them and did most of my initial published work while toiling away as a composition hack-adjunct, working at Target--I'm not kidding--and also as a gardener], but wouldn't it be wrong of us to say that the two or three articles published by a grad. student while she was teaching 2-2 and working on her dissertation within, say, a 4-5 year time frame, is the best work she can do? Are all published articles of equal value, content-wise? [Of course, grad, students, especially the ones who post to this blog, strike me as pretty brilliant already, but everything good takes some time]. The fact of the matter, in my experience, is that we're a little lazy when we evaluate job candidates and we want to "tick" things off a list--school, pubs, conference papers, etc. I'd rather read one writing sample, see a teaching presentation, and base it almost entirely on that, plus good references I can really believe in and a positive personal encounter. I know people who have done well for themselves because they published their dissertations fairly quickly as books and went to the right schools and knew the right people, but their work is kind of soul-less and boring and doesn't excite my passions. Good for them. They can have their jobs--in the end, it's only the work that matters, but that's only if you want it to matter. Yes, I know, how can you produce this fine work, though, if you don't have that all-important job? And shouldn't really promising and smart grad. students be provided with some realistic coaching as to what is required of job candidiates if they even want to have a chance of an interview, which can lead to a job, which is where they can really do their "real" work, finally? Of course, but as Dr. Virago also points out, we have to change the way we hire, too; otherwise, we're just encouraging students to *hurry* to accomplish way too many tasks at once and to "tick" things off of their resume, and where is the quality control in all of this? Of course, as an untenured asst. prof., it also angers me that universities also expect more from new professors, publishing-wise, while also pulling all the purse strings tighter for travel funding, release time, summer fellowships, etc. But why get angry, really? The best revenge is to do the work that you know is good, at your own pace, because it matters to you, not to anyone else, whether a dept. chair, a colleague, or an editor. It's a mighty struggle to do this, but a worthy one. It's something we have to fight for much harder than we are fighting currently--otherwise, we're all just in a mill together. A big, fucking mill.

Eileen Joy said...

A brief codicil to my previous post:

Every now and then, some really miraculously brilliant and beautiful scholarship is written and published that was produced within fairly limiting professional constraints, and sure, some people will be blessed with lighter teaching loads, more fellowship money, etc., which will allow for a deeper development of a particular critical inquiry and then a beautiful book, but my ultimate point is: whatever your particular situation, job-wise or otherwise, you've got to want to write the scholarship that is really meaningful to you, and at the pace that best suits your style and lines of thought and work habits. And you have to shut out a lot of external professionalistic BS to do it. Has this kind of commitment cost some people their jobs? Yes. But opening up new knowledges and new avenues of intellectual exploration isn't possible without that kind of commitment. I think Foucault's "The Archaeology of Knowledge" is instructive on this point.

J J Cohen said...

Three things, because Kid #2 is singing Frere Jacques so loud she obviously wants me in her room to scold her (and, as she knows, give her an extra kiss goodnight):

1) Point well taken about bad mentors, Dr. V.

2) I didn't switch to all initials all the time, I'm just too lazy to type my whole name. And I despaired of getting Professor Joy to call me Jeffrey, and thought "JJC" might be easier to adopt instead of the dreaded "Professor Cohen."

3) Eileen, I think the three of us actually share much, values-wise, but we're each using professionalization to cover a whole range of activities that, in their mildest form, are really just good mentoring (e.g. "Here is how you write and present a cogent conference paper") and in their extreme forms are the kind of soulless packaging that equals the academic equivalent of uber-parents who attempt to raise, from the cradle, Ivy League Spawn -- mainly though a destructive course of packaging and activity-slotting. So let me declare, Creativity: good! Eccentricity: good! Weirdness: how can we academics succeed without that? But we also need to know how to be good colleagues, how to gain entryway to communities where our work will be taken seriously, how to make the kind of connections that will sustain us as intellectuals and as human beings.

By the way and for the record, ask anyone who went to grad school: I was glum, sour, antisocial, and nonpreprofessionalized.

Karl Steel said...

All good to read! I've nothing to add (see previous 'very tired' post), but this struck me:

Three things, because Kid #2 is singing Frere Jacques so loud she obviously wants me in her room to scold her

A fun game that wifey and I have taken up. I often can't remember if a particular song is a round or not. Frere Jacques is, I think. Many other songs are not. But it's a fun thing to try to determine, at least if you can find someone who thinks a bit of cacaphony is a good way to kill 5 minutes.

Grab your s.o. and try it out today.

Eileen Joy said...

JJC [um, I mean Jeffrey] wrote:

"By the way and for the record, ask anyone who went to grad school: I was glum, sour, antisocial, and nonpreprofessionalized."

That's kind of sad. When I was in grad. school, initially, I was exuberantly happy and thought everyone--students and professors alike--would want to stay up late together drinking whiskey and discussing big ideas. I threw parties and tried to rev everyone up, but most remained entrenched in their glum, sour, antisocial behavior [haha] and I also began to notice that most of my professors seemed like terribly unhappy people who spent most of their time nursing various varieties of career bitterness and regret. I had been given a five-year tuition waiver/teaching assistantship, but after three years I turned it in, so to speak, and went to work for a friend who had a garden design business as her apprentice/landscaping crew supervisor. I continued my graduate work, but "from a distance." It seemed that people who gardened for a living possessed more joie de vie, and thanks to them, I finished my Ph.D. in the company of happiness. When I was ready, I sought out mentors, at conferences and elsewhere, who of course helped me get my so-called "real" jobs and also helped me publish. So, yes, good mentoring is vital, but so is "getting away from it all."

Another Damned Medievalist said...

well crap. I was going to expand on what I said at Dr. V's, because it was not as well-thought-out as I'd have liked, but also because Ancrene Wiseass's post made me wonder if part of why I feel so differently is because I waitressed most of the time I was in grad school (the fellowship didn't quite cover living expenses), and then married and worked outside of academia while working on my thesis. But Prof Joy just said all of it much better than I can these days.

Glaukôpis said...

. . .

So just the other day I asked a former prof of mine in his blog if it was *actually* a requirement for Classics profs and other profs in related fields to learn Monty Python and incorporate it into lessons (be they classroom lessons or blog posts). I think I must pose this question to you as well. :-D

Anonymous said...

Lots to interest you in the following 2 links from the other side of the world ('pond' is such an over-used and misleading cliche).

http://www.grad.ac.uk/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/p!eecddL

http://www.grad.ac.uk/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/Resources/Personal_Development_Plans/p!edceaXf?mode=PDPlogin

Of course you have to remember that PhDs here typically take 3-4 years f/t (after a masters). In our more centralised system a new requirement is that all spend 2 weeks (count them!) per year doing non discipline specific, generic skills training. A whole step on from giving conference papers etc ... N50

Dr. Virago said...

OK, Eileen, you just blew my whole little world apart. In a good way.

But JJC spoke for me when he wrote:
Eileen, I think the three of us actually share much, values-wise, but we're each using professionalization to cover a whole range of activities that, in their mildest form, are really just good mentoring (e.g. "Here is how you write and present a cogent conference paper") and in their extreme forms are the kind of soulless packaging that equals the academic equivalent of uber-parents who attempt to raise, from the cradle, Ivy League Spawn -- mainly though a destructive course of packaging and activity-slotting.

Yeah. What he said.

And now I want to say that I went to a lot of parties and drank a lot in graduate school. *And* I learned the professional ropes. So it's not an either-or situation. Depends on the school. Just like in college, some are full of soulless grinds, and some are full of actually brilliant people who realize that to be brilliant you have to have a life. My best friend and my diss advisor were both oenophiles and so I introduced them and now they and their sig-o's party on without me. And my best friend's diss advisor was always inviting me to his poker-and-scotch parties. (But I don't play poker and don't like scotch much, I'm afraid.) And both of those dudes are Seriously Important People and their students publish and present and get jobs. And some of their students are the robotically professionalized kind, unfortunately, but they don't get invited to the wine and cheese or poker and scotch parties. But that just means more for the rest of us!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that mentors who party with their students (um, as long as it's not of the quid-pro-quo variety) also generally think of their students as colleagues and professionals. And that's good for everyone involved.

Also, just for the record, I was wooed to this job with plenty of wine and good food. And my colleagues demonstrated that they had lives and weren't just brains-on-a-stick. So when they see me running by their houses, they don't say, "Shouldn't she be working?" but instead come out and wave. And sometimes I see them biking and walking on the same trails where I'm running.

In short: brains-on-a-stick: BAD! People with lives who also know how to do all things professional: GOOD!

Dr. Virago said...

PS -- I probably also had a well-rounded graduate experience because it was in a big city with lots to do, and the grad students lived all over the city in regular old apartments. My neighbors had other kinds of jobs and I socialized with them, too. I think I would've gone mad in a small college town, though far less deep in debt. Ah well.

So yes, getting out of your own head and out of the academic cloister is also a very, very good thing. It's why I run, too.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Reading these comments, I felt like there was a little bit of a divide between those talking about what grad school *should* be and those talking about what grad school *is.* I guess here I'm thinking especially about Prof. Joy's comments on professionalization and how she'd like to see it banned from all intellectual contexts. ;-) I think a difficult thing for grad students (I don't know about teaching them, because I don't do that) is to strike a balance between academia as they want it to be - a place where you have that space and "serious laziness" (a phrase I really like) to develop your creativity and produce significant research - and academia as it is - a profession with all sorts of messy politics and checklists of accomplishments which, while JJC's right that they won't guarantee you a job, can certainly keep you out of the profession if you don't complete them. (Not invariably. But a lot of the time.) I am rather conformist by nature, as well as pessimistic/pragmatic, so I want to teach grad students to negotiate this world *as it is*. But of course, it's also important to think about how to make it better (more about the "serious laziness" of creativity). It can just be a big step for a grad student to try to buck that professional system - it's up to those teaching/overseeing grad students, but I think it has to be done in a way that doesn't disadvantage a student's progress through the current system.

I think one of the most helpful things for "serious laziness" would be giving all grad students full funding to do nothing but their own work. But in most contexts I don't see that happening.

J J Cohen said...

So much to contemplate here. Eileen, I envy the permanence of your joie de vivre. But I don't think it's a sad thing when others don't possess it as lastingly as you do. Had I not been a malcontent in graduate school, I would never have realized what it was I really sought there.

I don't think I discovered my joie until I was finished with coursework and instigating my dissertation. That's when I encountered not exactly "serious laziness," but the profound pleasures of having a project yours alone to follow, research, talk about. It's really what made me more intellectually gregarious. That project also felt like the entry into community that graduate seminars didn't, at least for me, offer; to my sour, dour, soulless, etc. graduate student mind, those seminars often seemed like hypercompetitive scrambles for professorial attention that was overvalued. Again, a lot of that was no doubt me. But I'm happy now! I think I even might have hummed a short song a week ago or so.

So, back to Dr. V: you definitely didn't notice wistfulness in my first post, though it was possibly nostalgia (if nostalgia is a longing for a past that never was). Really, though, the post was meant to open up futures for graduate students by encouraging them not to make some of the mistakes that I did.

Thanks, N50, for those links. Talk about professionalization! The level of deatil is astounding.

Glaukôpis: If you can't cite Monty Python in small and obscure ways, then all the grad school in the world won't render you a scholar.

Karl: The Office Supervisor and I tried singing your comment as a round. It didn't work. You're not as clever as I thought.

New Kid: You are exactly right, much of what we've been arguing here will not come pass -- or will come to apss only with great difficulty -- unless graduate students are funded for full tuition and a stipend that takes care of all living expenses plus some research travel. Given the grossly inflated state of so many private schools' endowments, I don't think any of them have any right NOT to do so (state-funded schools are another case, but given the amount of labor they extract from their graduate student populations I think the argument is just as persuasive).

Glaukôpis said...

I am following this conversation with great interest, by the way. I just have nothing to offer at this point besides MP inquiries. :-D

And I'm glad I've got the MP portion of my education well on its way. ;-)

Eileen Joy said...

Thanks, everyone, for the wonderful comments. These kinds of conversations re: professionalization, whether of graduate students or otherwise, should likely happen more often and perhaos even in more structured environments [but that isn't likely to happen any time soon]. I give you, JJC, your desolate state of mind in graduate school, to Dr. V., I'm glad to hear you had some fun [and still do--we could have a whole other conversation related to this on the importance of "hospitality" in our field, which is actually one of the specific concerns of the BABEL Working Group, i.e., we are trying to develop sites for and work out new ways of cultivating what we are calling, for now, and for lack of better terms, scholarly amity and an affective, "enamored" scholarship]. One of the unfortunate side effects of professionalization, in my opinion, is the cutting off of our emotional selves and also the development of enmity with those with whom we are led to believe we are competing for a limited pool of recognition, resources, etc. The negative effects of this upon individuals' lives should not be underestimated.

One of the original chapters of my dissertation [an intellectual history of "Beowulf" studies from the 16th through 20th centuries], which I had to excise, was on the Early English Text Society, and more particularly, on the careers of Frederick Furnivall and James A.H. Murray, and on the ways they helped to develop what we might now call the "industry" of medieval literary scholarship, but without the institutional support we now call "the profession." Furnivall was a kind of proto-Socialist/feminist who worked at the Working Men's College founded by Ludlow and the Christian Socialists and spent much of his career churning out editions of early English texts out of nothing much more than the belief that they might be somehow instrumental in reclaiming a more authentic, to him, socially-levelling, cultural heritage. Murray pretty much sacrificed himself in the coal-mines of the Oxford English Dictionary, and because he was Scottish and practiced the the wrong religion and went to the wrong schools, he was technically barred from the libraries, classrooms, and common rooms at Oxford and had to work on the Dictionary in a tin shed sunk a certain number of feet into the ground so that his neighbor, an Oxford don, would not have his views of the countryside ruined [and all this while also earning money as a school-master for young boys because Oxford would never compensate him adequately for his work on the Dictionary]. Some things--like philology and early English literary studies--just weren't yet that respectable at, let's say, an institutional level, but to see how they soon came to be such, read David Matthews' "The Making of Middle English, 1765-1910," although in my opinion, he doesn't tell the whole story. That's a tale for another day.

Suffice to say, we should reflect on the fact that: [1] the instituional history of medieval literary studies isn't that long, and yet [2] thanks to the rigidity with which so many who are "in charge" [of our programs, journals, book series, etc.] envision what is possible [allowed] and what is not possible [not allowed], relative to scholarship, the methodlogies and subject matter of our field remain too limited and change is often seen as heretical [as if our field had such a long history and sacred set of foundations--in other words, we don't want to harm "the tradition," although we often don't really know what that "tradition" is, exactly, or how and when it was originally "institutionalized"--we "bear" the vessel without ever looking inside of it]. Of course, some innovative and strikingly creative work has been done in medieval studies, but it is often reviewed with a raised eyebrow.

I guess what I'm trying to say, sitting here perched on the edge of a tangent, is that when we talk about professionalization, we are not only talking about how we might work to better prepare our graduate students for the job market and for undertaking serious scholarship their respective fields more generally, but we are also talking about why we think what we do matters so much that it requires what might be called professional standards, and who determines what those are? What is my proper subject matter? My proper methods? Etc. etc. There is always a moment, not always easy to locate or trace [for there are really many such moments strung out along the continuum of the history of our field as a "discipline"], when what might be called the very virtuous desire to really know something real about the past [enlightenment] runs up against and is broken by the necessity of only being able to "see" in one or more instituitonally-formulated ways. It's about perception.

Anonymous said...

The astounding detail in the www links I posted comes out of a situation which looks paradoxical in the context of EJ's and NK's desire for full funding of 'serious laziness'. Such full funding exists for PhDs in the UK - in the shape of full grants covering both fees and living expenses from publicly funded research councils for a limited number of PhD students. But such serious laziness at the public expense needed to be justified - so the introduction of all kinds of measures to ensure that projects were completed in short spaces of time (3 yrs) and to demonstrate that PhDs are 'useful'.

This controlled market (with fully funded "serious laziness" for the select few) seems very different to the situation in the open market of US education. Are there other ways in which fully funded serious laziness could operate or justify themselves?

Is there any source of figures for numbers of US PhDs and their post graduation employment?

Karl Steel said...

Is there any source of figures for numbers of US PhDs and their post graduation employment?

From Michael Berube's What's Liberal about the Liberal Arts (2006), 305 n11:

"Definite figures on the state of the job market for PhDs are harder to come by than most people think, not least because the supply side of the job market, every year, includes many of the PhDs who did not get jobs in previous years. In other words, there's no simple way to compare the number of degrees awarded to the number of jobs filled on a year-by-year basis. But Maresi Nerad and Joseph Cerny have conduced a 'PhDs ten years later' study which found that of 814 English PhDs who received their degrees between July 1, 1982 and June 30, 1985, and who replied to Nerad and Cerny's survey questions, 53 percent had tenure by 1995. That figure might actually be cheerier than today's job market for new PhDs, since PhD production in English during the years 1982-95 was especially low."

This figure actually sounds high for me. I remember a few columns in the newsletter for the Medieval Academy a few years back that tried to track medieval PhDs and the picture was very, very ugly.

Berube also observes that for the last 10 years, "colleges have been hiring three new fixed-term, part-time adjunct faculty for every tenure-track position on the books" (77).

I might suggest that our profession respond by producing fewer PhDs, but since that this wouldn't solve much, since a key reason for the existence of our profession is to train PhDs. Certainly I'm entering a profession that will self-destruct if it continues on the path it's been on for the last generation or more. If nothing changes, I suppose I can take hope in the expectation that the human world self-destructs before my profession does.

--

PS: JJC, I'm plenty clever. You learned my comment wasn't a round, didn't you? Keep eliminating texts and eventually you'll have a complete catalog of rounds. And then think of the fun!

J J Cohen said...

Eileen, to add one comment to your observation that

thanks to the rigidity with which so many who are "in charge" [of our programs, journals, book series, etc.] envision what is possible [allowed] and what is not possible [not allowed], relative to scholarship, the methodlogies and subject matter of our field remain too limited and change is often seen as heretical

I know many academics grouse about the unrenumerated duties we are continually asked to perform, often invisibly, BUT for the reasons given above I have always agreed to evaluate any possibly eccentric article or book that comes my way in consideration of publication, and to write a response that is affirmative of what is valuable there while honest about what might not be so strong; and to read through with care every tenure and promotion dossier that I am asked to review. These two duties, which I never do anonymously and never do because I want to be thanked, take up many, many hours of my year. But I can't think of anything more valuable than ensuring in some small way that the field has a future I want to be part of.

Eileen Joy said...

JJC--it's good to know you do those things. and thank you for that.

Dr. Virago said...

Eileen wrote:

I guess what I'm trying to say, sitting here perched on the edge of a tangent, is that when we talk about professionalization, we are not only talking about how we might work to better prepare our graduate students for the job market and for undertaking serious scholarship their respective fields more generally, but we are also talking about why we think what we do matters so much that it requires what might be called professional standards, and who determines what those are? What is my proper subject matter? My proper methods? Etc. etc.

I agree with you, Eileen -- I just don't think what you're urging (thinking about and reconfiguring and even exploding what counts as professional) and what I'm urging (that graduate students think of themselves as and be treated as professionals) are mutually exclusive. It's a both/and rather than an either/or set. In fact, we might even have it in our power to redefine what it means to be professional by treating graduate students as professionals themselves who might have something to say about what counts, what they think it means to be a professional. If that makes sense. I've now used the word professional so many times I have no idea what it means anymore. Of course, that may be a good thing.