Speaking Out

Saturday, 11 June 2011 15:58

After I read the final draft of my first post, I realized: This is how I feel and I have been unable to speak it. I have felt so powerless this past year that it is now a revelation that I am free to write and say whatever I want. Thank you internet.

Any conversations that I had about the problems with graduate education while I was PhD student always felt like a nefarious affair. Most exchanges were in private with one or two sympathetic individuals. My more public attempts to raise discussion about the state of the job market were never well received. I felt a definite chill after I sent Thomas H. Benton’s article, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go” (Chronicle, Jan. 30/09)  to the departmental grad list. I received only three responses:

(1) A good friend replied to my email admiring the size of “my balls,”

(2) My (extremely supportive) supervisor made a Cassandra joke,

(3) And an MA student, whom I didn’t know, confided to me at a party that the article changed his mind about pursuing a PhD and he was heading into law instead.

It has taken me months to reach the point where I am able to write anything down and, in some ways, I am still fearful of some unknown repercussion. I am aware of the tension I am causing between the professional and the personal, the public and the private. I am writing posts of emotional and critical reflection on my business site! Who would want to employ me now that I have admitted my dissatisfaction with aspects of my training?

My experiences in obtaining my doctorate have shaped both my professional qualifications and my sensitivity to working with others in the same occupation. I deeply understand the pressures for perfection in communication and the necessity to meet deadlines. One of the main reasons I pursued my PhD in the first place is because I love teaching and working with students. While I can satisfy my desire for research work on my own, I cannot engage with teaching if there are no students. This is why I decided on trying my hand at freelance (academic) editing – I get to use the skills and passion I have to help others in their own education.

So while I will be criticizing academia for its shortcomings and exclusions, I also hope that is clear to anyone reading that such criticism does not constitute a lack of professionalism or capability. I strongly believe that it is important for those of us who recognize wrong doing – and have the resources and time to address it – to speak out publicly. Standing outside of university, we can work towards creating productive solutions (like influencing governmental policy, pressuring universities to reevaluate graduate enrollment numbers, etc.) because it is difficult to safely and effectively rally for change while inside.

2 comments

  • Comment Link Kathryn Allan Friday, 01 July 2011 19:37 posted by Kathryn Allan

    Thanks Dilia! I meant to respond to your comment when you posted it, but I became busy and it slipped my mind. Apologies!

    So far, I haven't noticed any "unknown repercussions" coming my way from posting my thoughts here. The feedback I have received has been positive and supportive (from people like you). From what I can tell, there are a lot of people like us, who are angry and upset at the end of their PhDs. It just seems like once you are out of academe, you shouldn't talk about it (or you don't want to talk about it), so no one does. At least not in any way that I personally have found useful.

    There seems to be pressure to be "upbeat" and "positive" about it all -- but screw that. There are a lot of things that I'm happy about, looking forward to, etc, but my grad school experience is not something I am going to feel sunny about for a good long while. Writing helps ....

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  • Comment Link Dilia Wednesday, 15 June 2011 13:22 posted by Dilia

    I've really enjoyed all of your blog posts, but I especially identify with the fear of "unknown repercussions" when you put your ideas about the academy out there. I feel in the same boat in similar ways, though I'm not really writing in public. it more feels like my mind is still feeling worried about expressing my true opinions about academia. it was funny, on convocation on monday, i ran into someone i hadn't seen in a while and they said they didn't sleep the night before the big day because of the stored up anger they felt about the phd process. i can identify. i'm still working through many emotions about being done. i admire your writing here. good job with bringing these issues to light.

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