July 23, 2013

Important information for anyone seeking (or considering) a graduate degree in the Humanities

Once again, William Pannapacker has nailed it.  He points to the lack of doctoral job placement data available from most humanities departments, arguing for a "Graduate School Placement Project" that "could bring market forces to bear on programs that are failing their students."  Among Pannapacker's many salient points, I particularly like that he "gets" why so many students want to do a humanities degree:
In many ways, the choice to go to graduate school is not simply an attraction to a field but a drive toward something that almost everyone wants—a feeling of belonging, living up to one's full potential, and not wasting one's life in meaningless drudgery.
 This is an important point.  On the one hand, there are many graduate programs who simply fail to tell the truth about job placement and refuse to discuss opportunities beyond the academy.  On the other, there is still a perception that the academy is the only way to live the "life of the mind," and professors tend to enforce this perception whether they know it or not.  I recently talked with a former student who said that one of her other professors had "enthusiastically encouraged" her to go into college teaching.

"He thinks it's great that I want to be a teacher," she said.
"A college teacher?" I asked.
 "Yes.  He said this institution has a habit of hiring its own."

While the institution in question does tend to hire its own former graduate students, I was appalled at the naivety of the professor's response to the student.  Where has he been the last 15-20 years?  Does he just not know the statistics?  Does he care?

I'm not against going to graduate school.  But, like Pannapacker, I believe that it's important for students to understand the odds of finding an academic position.  Students need to know why they're going and what they are getting into if they go.  As I've written elsewhere concerning the MFA in creative writing, there are many myths surrounding graduate education.  It's important for students to do the research and for that research to be available to them.  Unfortunately, as this article by Pannapacker points out, it's not.


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