Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In which the proffies shut up for a moment, and let the grad students talk


So, you may have noticed that I have opinions.

You may have further noticed that some of them concern graduate education. Those opinions tend to draw some strong reactions from my grad student readers, principally those that advocate a sink-or-swim approach to grad school, and a harsh dose of the new reality for anyone considering it. I like to think in terms of that story about St. Benedict's early rules for admission: when the candidate comes, tell them to get lost. Several times. If, after three strong rebuffs, they continue to insist, and if they're qualified, let them in for a year, and see if it's a good fit for both parties. Either party should be able to opt out for any reason at the end of this year -- it's not for everyone. It is not meant to be a soft life.

You may have further noticed that I appear to be talking primarily to other faculty members on this blog -- a pose that I've recently realized may alienate my grad student readers. And the content of those conversations is likely to piss them off sometimes.

So you know what? For the next couple of days, I'm going to temporarily back off, and ask my proffie readers to do the same. I'll moderate, but I'm going to turn this over to the grad students. What do you wish we were doing/not doing with respect to our grad students? Should we let in more grad students, or fewer? Should we give second, third, and fourth chances, or is it better to cut the agony short? Should we be nurturing you like parents, or toughening you up like drill sergeants? Is there a difference between what we should expect of a terminal M.A. and someone who's Ph.D.-bound? Do gender and/or age play a role in what you expect of your grad faculty?

Maybe let us know a little about yourself -- M.A. student? PhD? ABD? Ditched it all and decided to do something else? ONE POST PER PERSON, AND KEEP IT BRIEF. Otherwise, people will just skip over it.

Ad hominem attacks will be summarily deleted. Praise or criticize (or both!), but please be constructive.

We're listening.

(There will be a follow-up post for profs to give their point of view -- also constructive, I hope.)


teachergirl said...

part one:

my background: i'm a week away from turning in my dissertation draft to my entire committee and three weeks away from defense. i suppose that makes me abd still, but darn close to phd.

i would consider my graduate education a success, but only because i was deeply self-motivated. my director is wonderful, but she is not a hove-er. if i needed her to be, i suppose i could have asked her to be so, and she checked in with me periodically. i'm not sure if i would have responded well to her being more drill sargeant-y, but i think it might have helped to have more concrete deadlines (perhaps even institutional ones) for me during the year or so when i really only got one chapter done. the middle of the dissertation is a sinkhole of academic quicksand. something should be there to help even those who are progressing to progress more quickly.

that said, i know of people (directly...this is not just lengendary graduate rumor mill fodder) who are in their 8th or 9th year without taking exams. they are clearly stuck, and have been making little progress for years. why are they still in the program? for years beyond when they timed out of funding, they would still get teaching appointments and have the benefit of institutional support for their inaction.

teachergirl said...

part two:

that frosts my cookies. granted, this was before the economy tanked, budgets were tightened, the job market became a laughable joke, and reality kicked us all in the behind. things have improved because of these grim prospects now in my department--these people no longer have teaching, but i believe that's more because of economic reasons than because of philosophical problems with the relative happiness some people feel with staying in school, making zero progress, for years. i really believe that, when times are better, the same old attitude that allows these situations to happen will come back, and students will be back where they are now--going nowhere.

i feel a bit catty for saying this, since this is my sixth year in my program and i am well out of funding too. but i have been abd for three of those six, and have been working (to varying degrees of success) on my project during that time. i also sought employment elsewhere (hello adjunct world!) this year and had a fellowship for the year before that, so i was never taking someone else's spot.

i'm rambling, but here's my point: what on earth can directors and committees be thinking, allowing someone to flounder so badly? i understand that life sometimes happens. had the people i refer to had multiple major life events (ie having children, family trouble, health issues, etc), then a leave of absence would surely be in order. one could then pick up the work when life had made it easier to do so.

but to allow someone to simply flounder, making no progress, seems deeply immoral to me. that's not sink-or-swim. that's watching someone drown in their own inability to progress. it's unkind. it's unfair to others who might be able to be successful but were never given the opportunity because that person is taking their spot. it's patently ridiculous, and it makes the program look like a joke.

while i know that phd programs are not easy, it's also not THAT difficult either. you either have a project that works or you don't. the system we have now seems to reward people for the musing academic inaction that i describe here. thinking a lot is great. just thinking gets you nowhere. in a job market that requires you to be ridiculously published and incredibly well-rounded as a scholar and a teacher even to get a proverbial foot in the door, programs should encourage students to GET ON WITH IT.

if you are a director, you should have the courage to stand up to your students who aren't making progress. be prepared to have the hard conversation. some people get into the program and realize that they can't finish. maybe their interests change. maybe they were never able to finish a project of that magnitude, that requires the self-motivation and focus that it does. maybe they just don't care anymore.

either way, it's a director's duty (moral, i would almost say) to shepherd students in the fair way. that means, sometimes, shepherding them out the door and into the real world. graduate school is not a place to hide from life, but i think we've created a system where phd programs can do just that. until our programs match up with the harshness and reality of the job market and the world that welcomes us with schedules of 6 and 7 classes to teach a semester and an adjuncting juggling act, we will never really prepare students adequately.

and that's all i have to say about that. :)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

You may have further noticed that I appear to be talking primarily to other faculty members on this blog -- a pose that I've recently realized may alienate my grad student readers. And the content of those conversations is likely to piss them off sometimes.

As you request, I won't opine at all on the substantive points you raise and seek trainee input on. I would like to point out, however, that if they are thinking broadly about their own careers, trainees should be self-interestedly eager for opportunities to "listen in" on faculty conversations. This is regardless whether they "like" what they hear.

Sapience said...

I'll officially be ABD in about three weeks (prospectus will be turned in on Monday, and my defense will about two weeks after that). I'm in a fairly large grad program of 85 students (including both terminal MAs and PhDs) at a state flagship university. I'm also the grad representative to the department's Grad Exec committee, so I've been a part of a lot of conversations like these as the one grad student among a room full of faculty.

I agree with teachergirl that prolonging the agony is a bad idea--if someone isn't making progress, advisors ought to be keeping track of that person and either working to get him or her back on track, or getting the person out of the program. But being in a program for seven years without even becoming ABD is really unacceptable.

I also think that programs ought to recognize everyone works differently--not everyone will benefit from a drill sergeant, but parenting isn't the best metaphor for everyone either (though it really depends on what "parenting" means...).

As for numbers of grad students: what is good for individual programs and what is good for the discipline as a whole are two different things. I want every program BUT mine to shrink. =) We need enough students that we can run the variety of classes that we want.... but I think there are too many grad students on the whole. (In other words: I don't see a good solution.)

Also--Comrade PhysioProf has a great point. I read blogs like yours precisely because I want to see the conversations faculty are having. Don't apologize for opinions on a subject you know about--we can argue with you over them, but it is your blog.

Anonymous said...

I'm ABD at Giant Southern U. and intend to have drafted all my chapters by July 1. I'm away from campus and feel quite isolated.

Our program observes a wave cycle concerning crackdowns on non-performing ABDs: excessive tolerance alternating with rigorous strictness. I can understand how this happens and don't mind being in one of the rigorous phases. I agree that it's cruel to string out the process, but have chalked it up to a benign neglect from people with a lot on their plates.

I do wish faculty were more involved in our grad careers. I hear lip service paid (esp. by the early modern faculty) to the idea that graduate study is a form of apprenticeship. Oh, really? Then when do I get to observe the master at work? I would value the chance to see, or just discuss, how my adviser does research, for example. How is technique passed on from one generation of historians to the next? Surely we don't all figure it out from scratch. I suspect there are some aspects of mastery that a methods seminar doesn't cover. Would it be obnoxious for me to accompany you to the archive?

Sometimes I feel like an immigrant to a strange and privileged land. I was interested in teaching next fall, and had received some encouragement last year. By March it became clear that my writing should be in the committee's hands by the end of summer. Then I hear, "You know, you should have let the department know about your teaching plans for next fall in January." Is that right? How was I to know? Does it matter so little whether I teach or not?

In The Satanic Verses a new immigrant to London named Saladin, who has loved England from afar, orders a kipper but can't figure out how to eat it. The English diners, who could easily show how it's done, pretend not to notice him choking on herring bones. These days I feel like Saladin. Ignore me or not, I'm going to learn to eat that bloody kipper if it's the last thing I do.

Bookbag said...

I'm ABD and hoping that next year is my last in graduate school. I feel quite positive about the whole experience, probably because I've been lucky enough to lead a charmed life so far and have held fellowships the whole time I've been a grad.

I think the best thing that my advisor does for me is to read drafts of my work carefully and tell me when something isn't working. I know some people whose advisors seem worried about hurting their feelings and so hold back. And overall, I am more in favor of a tough love + more regulation approach to graduate education.

Anonymous said...

I'm ABD, probably one year away from finishing. I'm at a top university. I've had a horrible experience, probably the worst of anybody in my program in a long while, or so I'm being told. A year ago, I wouldn't have said that; it's amazing how quickly things can deteriorate. As a result of my experience, I think I'll have a very hard time recommending graduate school to people because although it's mostly fine for most people, when it goes wrong, it's devastating. The power differential between professors and graduate students is so great that students have very little recourse when professors are abusive and in the wrong.

So the main thing I would say is that something has got to be done about the professors everybody knows are horrible to graduate students. (I do not necessarily mean neglectful but who are in some way or other abusive to their students.) Either keep graduate students away from them or make a concerted effort to provide additional means of support for the students who have to work with these professors. History departments are of particular concern here because so frequently students are working with the one professor in their area and there's often little way to switch advisors.

I'd also say that I think universities/departments should train their students to be the kind of professors that that department would hire (even if they don't plan on hiring their own graduate students).

I'd also say that advisors need to see their graduate students as individuals, not as a type. We all have different strengths, different weaknesses, different support networks (if we have any at all), different financial situations, and different levels of preparation. One size will not fit all.

I'm sure there are other things but right now I'm not really able to separate the awfulness of my situation from graduate school as a whole and frankly, I'm not sure I ever will.

Oh, and brutal honesty about everything: the quality of our work, when things aren't cutting it, the realities of the market, and the increasing chance of not getting a job.

Eileen said...

I'm on the early end of the PhD, just finishing up my second year and planning on going ABD early next fall. I'm pretty happy with my grad program--my advisor is the right mix of high expectations, no hovering, but immediately available if I need something. And I think that the good fit of our personalities has had a lot to do with how I feel about my program. I have a couple of committee members who I get along great with--as committee members. With their own advisees, they're controlling and unbearable, but having them as minor members makes them SO much easier to deal with because their expectations of me are different. And that issue of personality makes the whole process feel really unstable, as well as it's worked out for me so far, since it could change so quickly.

As to numbers of admits: Sapience said: We need enough students that we can run the variety of classes that we want.... but I think there are too many grad students on the whole.

Part of the reason I chose my program was the size of the department--it's rather small for a PhD granting dept. We have about 40-50 grad students on campus any given semester, with another 20-30 away doing research and <10 admits every year, even before the budget crunch (we don't have any MA students). And I like it. I'm my advisor's only grad student currently on campus, and I always feel like he has time for me. The rockstar prof of our department has a ridiculous 7 grad students on campus, and none of them can ever get a hold of him because he's always in someone else's committee meeting.

But it does make it hard to convene grad seminars in any one area, and we have a 7 seminar requirement on top of 2 language proficiency exams to go ABD. Theoretically, we're supposed to get through both these requirements in two years, but through a combination of bad luck, lack of seminars, or reluctant-to-certify language depts (don't get me started on that one . . .) many in my department aren't ready to take their comprehensive exams and go ABD until the end of their third or even fourth year.

One of the ways the department moved to fix two years ago was to allow seminars taken in other PhD-granting departments to count towards the requirement, which has been the major hang up of most people besides the language requirement. (This is how I managed to get through the seminar requirement so fast--took a lot of interdisciplinary seminars and got them all counted towards the req by a friendly DGS). But there's a LOT of resistance to this among the faculty--some faculty are moving to reinstate the rule only allowing history seminars to count. The same faculty who complain that the grads aren't moving through the program quickly enough.

In sum, this is a really local problem to my department, but I think low numbers of grad student admits are not necessarily mutually exclusive with a good seminar culture. I've found my interdisciplinary seminars to be among the most helpful to me, but there's a lot of hostility towards the institutionalization of interdisciplinarity in the program among faculty, despite a lip service to interdisciplinary research and writing.

Also, I love alarob's suggestion of archival apprenticeship. There's one prof in our department who runs a two-hour research workshop at the beginning of every year, and another who talks about it incessantly during seminar whether it's on topic or not, but it should be a larger part of the training. My first experience in the archives was like getting thrown into the deep end of the pool without even waterwings.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Okay, CPP. Now, hush.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thoughtful comments, all. Still listening here. Am hoping that some M.A. students will also chime in.

Anonymous said...

I'm an MA student (part-time and mature: late 40s), of Literature, not history, but enjoy reading this blog. I am also from the UK. However, I hope I have something to add.

First of all, career prospects. I have had one successful career in a completely different area and have no desire to begin another. So my MA is for personal development. Despite this I do have ambitions. I want to progress to a PhD, part time. In the UK we have to do a Phd in either 3yrs full time or no longer than 6yrs part time. My MA is over 2 yrs. My undergrad took 5 yrs, although in hindsight I could have done it in 4. So for someone to take 12yrs to do an MA - too long and steps should have been taken to find out what was going on. Even with breaks an undergrad degree can take no longer than 7yrs in the UK.

I have been to discussions on whether or not to progress to Phd, and the advice was, unless you are in your 20s don't imagine it will lead to a post as a lecturer. A bit ageist I thought, but I could also see their point. It seems to take years to get even a part-time post these days.

Numbers: when I applied for the MA (clutching my First and university prize for highest marks) I assumed I had earned my place - when I started, I found out that it seemed to be more important that I could pay - my least favourite professor even commented on the size of the group with - if you can pay you get a place (aimed at the overseas (non EU) students I think, but still a bit negative). Our core group is too big for the seminars, half of them are non English speaking, some had never written an essay or constructed a bibliography before! I am hoping the option, and therefore smaller, modules will be better. I am a bit disallusioned and wonder what it is I am paying for sometimes. I had high hopes of small seminar groups, with challenging discussions - not so far, I always worked beyond the level expected at undergrad level, so maybe I was expecting too much.
Still, I love the subject and have an interesting topic lined up for my MA dissertation and possible Phd.

Thanks for inviting comments.

Anonymous said...

Oops, just noticed he 'only' took 6yrs to do the MA, still rather long though.

Anonymous said...

I'm also a MA student from the UK (though in medieval history), straight into MA after my BA and going straight into PhD when I finish in September.
Re comments from studentmum: in the UK the grad programmes do differ from the US. That's not to say I don't know PhD students in my department who seem to have been there forever, but my department is especially focused on getting programmes finished within a reasonable timescale. Even funding is granted on a PhD proposal that can be finished within three years (full time). So my tutors (and other professors I've talked to from other UK unis) are big on finding a topic that's completable, rather than being overly ambitious. One tutor at the beginning of the year gave all the MAs a stern talk along the lines of if you want to start a PhD you'd better be prepare to finish it - scared several peple off! We need talks like that - who wants to be stuck as the eternal PhD when there may be other things you want to do?
Regarding roles of supervisors - I'm happy to get on with my research by myself, but that's depedent on my own attitude towards work, and my supervisor being pretty trusting that I will get on with it. I think that it's not my supervisors job to check I'm doing my dissertation work, it's my own responsibility. Saying that, sometimes I could do with a bit more structure ie. dates to dicuss drafts etc, and a kick up the arse occasionally!

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon above, the time limit is stressed and even 6yrs for a part time Phd is deemed a long time to sustain a project. I also am aware of PhD students who seem to have taken forever, or restarted the same topic after several years break. I imagine that supervison is subjective, with guidlines given on minimum reqirements. I personally like structure, deadlines and thrive on regular meetings that push me to finish projects/essays sooner rather than later. I am hoping to find this kind of supervision as I progress through MA to PhD.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I'm a prof (*really* doesn't translate to my UK level at all!) but this seems like a good time to ask something that's confused me before: what is this ABD phenomenon? I have had it explained as "all-but-doctoral" but the usage here appears to imply some kind of recognised status. Is this like the mid-course upgrade meeting that UK PH.D. students mostly get, or what? All enlightenment much welcomed...

Sapience said...

ABD is all-but-dissertation, meaning you've passed exams and are writing the diss, but haven't defended yet.

Anonymous said...

I just defended and will graduate in may. I had a horrible time in graduate school. I agree with what frogprincess said about faculty who are known problems and faculty who read students as types.

I feel like I had to do a lot of screeching to get anyone to believe there was an actual problem that wasn't me because they already had a narrative about me. Apparently, I have a reputation for being difficult. I also saw a letter a prof wrote about me that described me as having problems with male authority in particular. Can you hear me rolling my eyes.

Well, this meant that any complaint I made had to be filtered through the general assumption that I was already a problem, even though I had never been told I was doing anything wrong.

Now, how did I manage to have this heinous reputation and I had no idea I had done anything wrong? No one told me.

There should have been a straightforward mechanism for feedback as well as mechanism for handling student problems.

Sure, there were deans to talk to and the director of graduate studies, but there were no policies or guidelines and there was no one to act as an official mediator between a struggling student and an advisor. Just a lot of behind the scenes talk that I only heard about in whispers.

I did not like that my own life was a secret from me and not from anybody else. I wish the issues had been discussed openly.

moreover, if we had a more honest conversation about the quality of my work, perhaps, and we had it out loud with me in the room, I could have known whether I was doing poor work or whether my director was being unreasonable. That might have saved me hours of weeping and wailing and wondering if I should drop out.

It did not help to find out later that faculty who knew me had been asked by the dean about the quality of my work and only said good things. Why didn't I know that? Because my program runs and annual review process where they interrogate students, then send them from the room and make decisions about progress/quality of work and then never report it to students. The department has no policy on providing student feedback, which is why the program chooses to avoid the ugly task of telling students the truth.

While we're at it, throwing an inexperienced junior prof into the role of dissertation director without mentoring said prof was a bad idea. I wish someone had worked with hir on what good advising looks like.

I also wish my department had clearer expectations regarding requirements, by which I mean what should an exam look like, what should a proposal look like. They claim they don't want to micromanage the process for students but what they're doing is letting people flounder. They're penalizing people for not being able to ferret out the requirements. Which means you sink or swim by your advisor. Which brings me back to mentoring junior faculty into competent diss directors.

All of what I've said so far comes down to this: If you want me to do something, tell me what it is. If I'm doing something wrong, tell me. If I'm doing well, tell me that.

Don't rely on a predetermined narrative about who I am. Listen to what I'm saying, look at evidence, and then make a judgment. Don't make me stand on my head and scream to be heard.

After that, tell me the fucking truth. Clearly. Don't dance around the issue. Just say it.

I can identify moments when professors tried to tell me things and I didn't listen. That's on me. In other cases, though, they were telling me that the shitty gender dynamics I was experiencing were real and shitty but that's life and you should learn to deal with it.

That is not. helpful.

Anonymous said...

I do wish more of them had been more straightforward with me at times.

My department was ultimately really supportive of me, but I wish they'd also given me the courtesy of telling me what the fuck was going on.

lastly, if a student chooses to do an unusual project, I get the need to make it clear that this could make my work harder to publish and make it harder for me to get a job. If you've told me the risks and I'm still eager to do the project, I say back off. I can't see sinking a project because you think it's too unusual to be marketable. The warning needs to be there. It needs to be clear. After that, it's on me to decide if I want to take that route. And if I do, that's when I say back off.

At the least, please refrain from making me start the dissertation over from scratch four different times before you convince my entire committee that the project is intellectually bankrupt before you resign as my director and leave me with nothing. At that point, definitely don't hug me and wish me luck.

Damn, i was trying to keep the ranting to a minimum but it slipped out...

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Okay, stepping in to moderate, here: One post per person, and keep it brief.

Anonymous said...

I'm about to break Notorious's one post per person rule but I'll be brief. First, I agree with virtually everything Anastasia said, which should surprise no one.

But it seems important to mention that the really horrible problems with advisors that Anastasia and I have had don't have any correlation to quality of work. I've just been told by a university administrator that my advisor really likes my work and yet my experience with this person has been incredibly abusive.

Sachi said...

Background: Terminal MA in anthropology at a Large State U with no PhD program; now in 2nd year of PhD program at (a different state’s) Very Large Research-Oriented State U. Will be at least another year to comps/proposal/get to ABD for me, and several years after that to finish. (sigh)

I’m basically going to be echoing much of what others have said above, but I’ll chip in anyway. What I expect, and want from advisors, committee members, faculty, administration, etc., regardless of age/gender/etc. is clarity and honesty. If something is not going well, tell me. If something needs to be fixed, tell me. If something is good and doesn’t need any more work, tell me. If I’m doing something wrong, tell me. I’m a grown up, I can handle honest answers. I just need accurate and complete information – don’t let me go down a path (or tell me to go down a path) if you know it’s not going to work. I think the best thing for advisors to do is to have a conversation with their advisees, up front, and discuss expectations and working styles. I did this with my current advisor – I was paranoid after being burned badly by my last one – and it’s made all the difference in the world. Discussing exactly what is expected of me, preferred style of interaction, and the best ways for us to contact each other, and being able to explain the conditions under which I work best has made this program vastly less stressful than my previous one, even though the difficulty of my studies and amount of (in and out of class) work are substantially greater.

In short, I prefer something halfway between a parent and a drill sergeant – I want to be able to go to them for direction, guidance, and yes, some motivation at times, but I don’t (nor should a PhD student need) constant hovering. Just clear guidelines and expectations, and some idea of what the milestones or goalposts are.

Terminal MA vs. PhD students: yes, there should be a difference, especially in fields where the terminal MA leads to jobs outside the academy. Unless they’re involved in a really good project or something, push them hard to get through as soon as possible – it does no one any good to linger on in those circumstances. If they’re going on to a PhD-granting program, the sooner they move on the better, and if they’re going on to the employment market, again, it does them no good to hang around, accumulating debt and dragging things out. On the other hand, I think PhD students can benefit from a slightly slower pace, in terms of having time and breathing space to fully develop a good project, and do the necessary work, and in general learn about academia and take advantage of research opportunities, conferences, etc. But they shouldn’t be allowed to linger on with no progress and no accountability for decades, either. Some degree of oversight, and some kind of standards, are necessary, if people are going to progress in a timely fashion – it’s too easy to drag things out if left alone completely. I’m thinking in terms of annual reviews, required annual diss committee meetings, not required weekly updates or lots of crazy hoops to jump through. Just some kind of regular milestones that provide some structure to the process.

Lastly, here, at least, I wish they’d let in fewer students. My program admits large cohorts, requires discussion-style seminars in the first year as a cohort, and has virtually no funding for anyone. Our department, like so many these days, is seriously strapped for money – 1 TAship/15 students or so, almost no RAs or other funding, with 20 students coming in every fall and no more than 10 leaving? Recipe for disaster. There is a serious disconnect here, and something is going to have to give.

Anonymous said...


MsMcD said...

I'm a couple months from getting a signed top sheet on my dissertation in History. I'm also applying for tenure track jobs. So it's crunch time for me.

It took me 8 years to get to this point. But, I'm not depressed or crazy, I have a life. I have an intellectually complex dissertation that already has publishing offers. During my time in graduate school I learned to write well, speak and read another language, and took courses in statistics, GIS and computer programming. No one pushed me too hard to finish, because I needed the time to become a better PhD. Those of my colleagues who finished in 4 years are floundering, because their work is not as good, and now they have to learn those skills while balancing a 4/4 teaching load (or higher). My advice to advisors: faster does not mean better.

I agree that being able to observe your advisors and other professors do research and teach would be invaluable. I also agree that requirements and expectations in a department should be leveled. Why is one's persons 150 page dissertation acceptable, and yet some are not finished at 400+ pages?

My last point is that not all of your students will be professors (even the ones getting PhDs). There should be a system to help those with PhDs get other relevant non-professorial jobs. It's hard to leave graduate school (with its low but guaranteed paycheck) for unemployment. Make the transition easier, and the graduate students may actually finish.

Joe said...

As an aspiring MA/PhD student in the Medieval History field, I want honesty. I think the Graduate Programme should weed out its candidates going from the MA to the PhD level. You have to be able to give the students a chance to learn what the system is, as it is VERY different from that of the undergrad. I know this from experience because I was actually in an MA programme for a different subject and I dropped it because the subject matter was not what I thought it was. So I spent 2 years to retrain for a field that I really do love. I don't want to be coddled, but encouraged. I don't want the harsh reality shielded from me, but I certainly don't want to be oppressed by it. I want to be critiqued fairly. If I am lacking in certain skills, tell me which skills they are and make sure you don't hand me a degree until my skills are commensurate with the skills necessary to obtain a PhD, if I so chose to pursue that course of action. Even if I don't pursue that course, for whatever personal reasons, I will be the better for it.

In the end, I think I just want fairness, honesty, and encouragement to do better (if I need to do better). If I don't do better, than make sure I don't get the degree. Make the degree process a meaningful process.

dave said...

I'm a PhD student in the humanities who expects to defend in December.

I've had a great experience in my program. I've had supportive faculty members, and happened into an amazing collegial, friendly, and social cohort of peers. I'm probably one of the lucky ones who stumbles upon this all-too-rare combination that makes graduate school almost enjoyable. I've definitely had a lot of frustration, but there's not a lot for me to complain about in terms of my department.

I follow a lot of these professorial conversations on blogs like this and on forums like the CHE, so I'm all too aware of the fact that my job prospects are probably nil. None of this is all that surprising, as my supervisor has never given me any false illusions about what the job market--and in my region, even the sessional job market--is like.

That's the toughest part of grad school for me. The future is damn depressing. Not because I feel entitled to a job--far from it. I work my ass off every day but I don't think that means I deserve a job when I'm done. There's lots of other people who work just as hard and harder than I do, and are just as smart and smarter than I am. But it makes me frustrated and yes, sad, to think that at some point, in all likelihood, I'm going to have to give this up. I really love being involved in the university. I love doing research. I can't think of anything else I want to do with my life. I've given my everything to this, advisedly or not, and odds are it will be for naught.

And now, I'm facing financial difficulties next year because, due to the regulations of my program, funding is cut off at the end of my year. You can apply for sessional teaching but we have a seniority system for that which means that those students who teachergirl talks about, who are in year eight, nine, and beyond who got sessional jobs when the program was smaller and they were plentiful, are pretty much locked in. Meanwhile, everybody in my cohort will be scrambling to find funding wherever they can get it.

Anyway. I don't know what all of this amounts to. I just wanted to express how frustrated I am that I've found something I love to do and apparently it was the wrong choice, and my father was right, and I should have gone and done computer science or engineering as an undergrad rather.

Jen said...

I am a second year PhD student, so not as far along as most of the other people who have commented here. I would like to echo the call for honest feedback, and to say that I would appreciate more (and clearer) feedback generally. I often feel unsure about how I'm doing because I'm rarely told in a clear and direct manner.

So, when a student gives you hir work please tell hir if ze's done well. Name specific things that are strong in the work. If there are problems, say so, and give clear instructions about how to proceed and improve. Don't let hir get to the point of failing without knowing ze's been floundering and don't make hir go through grad school doing well but never knowing it.

Please don't assume that we know how you feel about our work. If it's unclear, the chances good are that we're worrying about it.

Jen said...

Sorry, that should be: "the chances *are good* that we're worrying about it."

How embarrassing.