A bit ago I had a meeting with yet another of my students who is interested in graduate school in English. This is a student I'm only getting to know this semester, and zie is graduating in May. Zie is a strong student, and she's the first in her family to go to college, yadda yadda yadda.
I gave my standard spiel about how competitive it is, about how I don't in good conscience recommend that any student pursue this - opportunity costs, horrible outcomes, yadda yadda yadda - but also that if a student wants to do it after all of the facts are presented, that I support students that I think are strong candidates. Reading Sisyphus's post today... well, it has me thinking about that meeting. (I link to Sis here because I want everybody in the whole world to head over there and to give her some love. I'll know if you don't do it, so get on it.)
I've also been spending some time lurking on the forums at The Grad Cafe, and on the Chronicle's grad student life forum in recent weeks, thinking that it's good for me to know what those kids today (beyond "those kids" whom I know in the academic blogosphere - and I use "those kids" facetiously here) are saying about the process and about their experiences. It's nearly 13 years since I began grad school. I gather it's a brave new world - or maybe it was always that world and I just didn't have enough of a clue to realize it. And then there's the current economy, which is encouraging even more students to consider grad school (per even my local news), and yet which is fucking higher education just as surely as every other career path is fucked (although my students don't realize this).
At any rate, all of this has me rethinking my stance on the grad school advice. Well, not really rethinking - just thinking about. See, I still believe that it's fucked up to tell my students no outright. Especially given the fact that I'm at a crap institution where nearly all students are first generation to graduate from any college at all. I still believe that people from a wide range of backgrounds make higher education stronger, and I still believe that some of my students really are suited to academia. How can I just tell them I won't support them? I mean, the facts probably do indicate that I should, but my instinct is that once upon a time the "facts" indicated that lots of marginalized groups should be advised toward, say, beauty school or secretarial school and iron-working or construction. Not college. And yeah, I think that's fucked up. So sure, the facts are against me, but my beliefs really are on my side on this one.
But. There is a tiny part of me that feels like maybe I should be even more discouraging than I already am. There is a tiny part of me that feels like maybe it's not my job to advise based on what I believe. It's just my students are so clueless and so without support. I feel like if they didn't get support from me then they wouldn't get the informed support that they need. They have no idea that they need to apply to more than one program. They have no idea that they should expect full funding or not go. They have no idea that even if you want to teach at a place like my current place that you've got to go to a top 50 program - that even the crappy jobs are just that competitive. They don't know from SLACs and R1s - they just "want to be a professor" and they figure that any Ph.D. from any institution will do. They think that if they take out loans that they'll make a salary commensurate with their debt, if they're not funded. They seriously think these things. They think that they won't need to move away from their families. They think that they won't need to do anything other than to "pursue their dreams" and that it will all work out. Of course I disabuse them of all these notions, of course I tell them lots of things our grads have done that are not graduate school (or law school, or library school). But so many of them still want this. Even after I talk about the specifics of my job, of the things that are screwy in my personal life, even after I give them my best doom and gloom.
And so I support them. I give them the best advice I know how to give, and I support their research, and I write those letters of recommendation. But is that the right thing to do? Who the fuck knows.
I'll say this: I'm glad that I don't teach at a uni with a Ph.D. program. I imagine that the guilt that I feel right now would be quadrupled.
All of that said, my BES? She won two of our 7 or so department awards. She won the biggie for most outstanding graduating senior, and she won the one for the most awesome student in class (the award is something about the student's wit and irreverence... I forget the language). And two of my other students won book awards, and another former student (one of the boys who gave me a poem when he was a baby freshman!) won the leadership award. So maybe my worries are about nothing. Maybe my students really just are that good.
I'm still not sure if they should go to graduate school in English, though. Not even close to sure.
4 years ago