Thursday, May 16, 2013

Graduation and Current Wisdom.

I have done it. I have burnt bridges, but damn it, I did it. In some sense, I should be screaming a triumphal tone. I should have many responsible and thankful things to say, but they really would only be about two people this year, two faculty members that went above and beyond for me while I learned who never had my back at all. I will refrain from any more comment lest the forces of darkness seek me more harm.

I can tell you what I learned from receiving my Ph.D. in philosophy.

1. There are little if any jobs. The fact that so many of us are unemployed when we reach the other side proves that the system is not sustainable. Warn your friends, but don't put much stock into them listening. They will be enamored with writing their dissertation, and if they do, suggest they take up a trade.

2. If you attended a non-Leiterite school, you are worse off for it given that gatekeepers in the profession did go to those schools. Yet on the other hand, if you did attend a non-Leiterite school, you may be the one-stop solution to smaller liberal arts college departments. It's a mixed bag.

3. Powerful people in the profession are best avoided altogether. These same people may demand disciple-ship. Search your soul if you want that. I would advise not picking them as supervisors; they don't have the time to develop you, unless of course they are actually interested in you as a person. Pick a supervisor who will give a shit about you as a human being. Life will be easier.

4. Learn a little lesson about how philosophy is actually written before graduation. Philosophical papers advance specifically outlined theses, and the grad student requirement of being open to new ideas is fine. Yet, do not think that when you are done that you must be open to every single philosophical idea. Hopefully by the time you've written a thesis or dissertation, you should decide what arguments are the best and have some idea of your own commitments. You should be a good listener about various positions that you do not agree with, but thinking that being critical is being dismissive is stupid. The point is to have the conversation. Moreover, the Continentals that can see exegesis or interpretation as an argument to be had make more headway than those that cannot. See next rule.

5. If you've spent years only reading Continental philosophy, the best of luck to you. That's all I can say. Even I cannot abide such people. Hermeneutic insulation does nobody any good.

6. Learn to discuss your ideas in a public forum without being insulted that someone might disagree with you completely. If you cannot do this, change professions.

7. There are bullies and sycophants in every department. There are people that hang on every word of some powerful personality or consider themselves such a powerful personality. Sometimes, the sycophants have learned to think only one way and argue something akin to Marxism would conclude X, Therefore X (Pick your philosophical position). Their inability to argue from a point of view other than their own should be a strong signal to you. Avoid them, or in the very least, avoid anybody not interested in actually being your friend in the truest Aristotelian sense.

8. Learn to tell the indifferent from sincere.

9. Learn to read another language. Don't be an analytic philosopher of language that can only speak English. There's something very bizarre about such a person.

10. There is no boys-network to which being a white male confers an advantage when one comes from a non-Leiterite school. White privilege and being male is a product of entrenched political alliances and if your institution is without resources, then there is no advantage to be had. Move beyond this talk. Try to be the best philosopher you can be and demand the same from all genders. The most helpful way to do this is to insist upon clarity of argumentation. Be a colleague to anyone that will reciprocate professionally in kind. If someone never reciprocates, cancel the relationship. In graduate school, you don't have time to dilly-dally with those that never take you seriously as a person, let alone a scholar.

11. A dissertation is not your magnum opus.  Get it done. About half of all doctoral candidates bail out at this point. The dissertation is simply a demonstration of your ability to focus on one research area for an extended period of time. It also teaches you how to organize your time and what editing professional research is like. You will also master Chicago Manual Style. Above all, remember one simple adage: the best dissertation is a done dissertation.

12. Put the X-box on the shelf. Commit to one gaming session a week, if that. Nothing more.

13. If you are married, stay out of departmental politics altogether. When the grad students get stupid and go out and drink, go home to your spouse. A lot of the stupidity of graduate student life occurs when the academic life and social life intermingle with alcohol.

14. Avoid people that mythologize victimhood, especially when they are better funded than other people.

15. Avoid curmudgeons that have an axe to grind against you. These people usually swear a lot and hate your optimism about life. Optimism may be naive, but it helps with the drudgery of life with a Ph.D.

16. Avoid graduate school if you can. If you are forced to go either by your own soul or some other strangely spiritual force, attend a program that is able to fund you for four years.

17. If you are practicing German pronunciation, do not look at yourself in the mirror. You will think you are Klingon.

18. When you are ABD, do not think of yourself as a student. At that point, you're a scholar-in-training.

19. Read all you can about teaching. Teaching is your bread and butter.

20. If your program produces scholars, or pays little attention to professional development, then pay attention to what Georgetown is doing with its Ph.Ds. They did stellar in the 2012-2013 job market. Their website building and neatly composed syllabi are just two of the reasons we should all seek to emulate their professional development.

21. Read New APPS blog. It rocks.

22. Jettison your blog the moment you go on the market. Blogs can be a personal repository of information as to how you developed. You should simply present the developed best version of yourself at an interview.

23. Relate to others as colleagues even if they do not reciprocate in kind.


Vanitas said...

"1. There are little if any jobs. The fact that so many of us are unemployed when we reach the other side proves that the system is not sustainable."

Question: might there be some bad faith involved in portraying this as something you've just now learned? I can't imagine anyone graduating from a humanities department in 2013 who wasn't keenly aware of all of this when they went in.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

I actually did not "just learn this." The post is about accumulated wisdom over time, and certainly not posted in Sartrean "bad faith."

Robert Bond said...

The points you make here are all valid, and I wish that I had known about more of this when I was starting my PhD: it would have saved me a great deal of personal suffering & frustration. But I would like to say that I do feel that the analysis/advice presented here glosses over what seems to me to be a significant structural division within academia globally now: that between researchers and teachers -

(i) The 'researchers' are those who you call the powerful. They are the minority of academics, who power through their careers, producing perhaps four or five major books of their own, and become Professors (in the UK sense of the word). They tend to neglect their students, and then complain bitterly when landed with admin. tasks at the peak/end of their careers.
(ii) The 'teachers' are the majority of academics. They produce probably one book and an edited collection of essays, early on in their careers. After that they produce the minimum of research, and essentially live for their teaching ('I've got some good students').

My intuition is that a third category - that of scholars who want to maintain serious research but have neither the force of personality to be hyperproductive & so become professors, nor the desire for the social status that comes with having students - can no longer exist within the university system. I include myself in this category (I taught for only 18 months after completing my PhD, before leaving).

Personally I think that it is a tragedy that there is no room for this third category, or personality type, within the university, because it could well be that truly original work can only emerge from this category. The research produced by the powerful, the Profesors, tends to have a dogmatic quality; the thinking is insufficiently free. That's just my opinion, as someone who has been forced to go freelance. I wonder what you think.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

It may appear as a gloss only since I am in between categories and I do not know if the dichotomy you propose is as rigid as you let on. I am taking on editing a book project while developing my teaching methods and submitting sections of my dissertation as revamped essays. When you first get out, you don't know if it is possible at all that you may be a researcher and a teacher or which way you may slide. Indeed, some people ascend while most teach. In philosophy, Lee Braver used to teach at Hiram College, and his book on Continental anti-realism secured him notable prominence that he took up a research position at University of South Florida this year.

And in all honesty, research productivity is largely determined by institutional culture and the professional expectations set at one's university. If I got the 5-5 Visiting Instructor at So-and-So this year, I will not likely write but one or two articles in the coming year. I only have four out right now under consideration. The point is to keep hammering away, but with respect to having finished, I wish somebody would have been more honest about what to expect on the job market. I figured out how to finish quickly, and I will spend this next year regarding it as professional development.

I really don't know if being detached frees one for truly original research. I already do "strange stuff" by analytic standards and don't apologize for it. I don't know what it means for thinking to have a dogmatic quality to it. Usually, I think my philosophizing is empowered when it is part of a community and I am putting my thoughts in dialogue with the larger academic community. I tend to view dogmatism a problem when it prevents the realization of possibility. There are plenty of cottage industry papers in analytic journals that have exhausted themselves just as much as there are fads in Continental philosophy. Yet, the point again is not to reject the community that one forms the backdrop of one's thinking, nor view what one is doing as pure novelty. I think both can be equally dangerous.

Truly original thinking takes place where a philosopher starts to work at the edge of another's discipline and develop deeper insights than simply philosophical discourses internal to other philosophers. I don't downplay the internal discussions either; I just happen to think that philosophers are rather good at using their intellectual imaginations to enliven discourses where they are not expected.

Robert Bond said...

Thanks very much for this reply. There is much to consider here.

I particularly like what you say in the final paragraph about the originality of interdisciplinarity: if I was trained as anything during my Eng. Lit. PhD, it was as a philosophical literary critic - which explains why I subsequently found it hard to find a community, perhaps, but which also means that I now think it is worthwhile for me to try to return to that sort of work long-term.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

I imagine that the philosophical literary critic might be researching concerns in English lit that the English community don't want to address. I went to a few talks at English Departments over the years and generally let them think I was a "Continental literary theorist" rather than a philosopher. Over the years, I have found that many English folks do not like the pretension of formal inquiries The looks of disapproval would ensue, and many in English just do criticism and interpretations of their specialties. I think they don't want to think about methods, but carry on some canonical torch. Equally, sometimes I think you might find some Continentals equally dismissive of English lit types as dabblers in what we do. This is probably not as deserved as it should be, and am no less guilty.

All the same, glad to make your acquaintance, Robert.