Things I Learned in Grad School The Hard Way: Graduate School Is Not A Noble Pursuit

Jesus, No.

Academia, in general, is not a noble profession. It’s a job like any other, really. More accurately, it’s a precarious career track where people vie for positions and try to climb the hierarchy like everyone else in every other profession. The term ‘noble’ implies a class hierarchy, as if everyone who engages in academic pursuits gets to claim a higher rank by default. But academia is nothing if not a hierarchy where most people are on the bottom. And rank, to invoke another meaning, smells like shit.

All this means that you are not better than other people because you are studying to become a scholar of Susquehannan Squirrel Squalor Studies. Your work is not more important than other people’s work. Your daily thoughts are not more brilliant than other people’s thoughts. Anyone who is conscious, I would argue, lives a life of the mind. You don’t care more about the search for truth (or questioning the epistemological basis for such a thing) than others because you have a PhD. You don’t care more about reading and writing than other people who read and write care about it. And, no, you don’t deserve autonomy or a decent living or prestige any more than the guy who delivers your mail deserves those things.

If you are a grad student, you are just someone who is trying to get a job doing a particular thing. This is perfectly legitimate. The only difference is that academia has even higher rates of having the door slammed in your face than other professions. (I even hate to use the word ‘profession’ because it sounds, well, like some kind of noble endeavor, when it isn’t. It’s a job.) Why am I bothering to make the point that graduate school is not a noble pursuit? Because if academia is a job like any other, then you can leave that job when you don’t like it anymore. It’s not like you are walking away from your one true calling (that’s what I should have called this blog post: Academia Is Not A Calling). You are simply changing jobs, getting rid of a career you don’t like (or that won’t have you) and doing something else. It doesn’t even matter what that something else is right now. What matters is that you don’t fall into the trap of believing that academia is a noble pursuit that requires sacrifice of money, sanity, or relationships. You’re not a monk for Christ’s sake.



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5 Responses to Things I Learned in Grad School The Hard Way: Graduate School Is Not A Noble Pursuit

  1. Kelly says:

    Boy, I like you more and more all the time, postacademic. Well said. My undergrads beat my love of teaching right out of me, but maybe those entitled little fuckers actually did me a favor, saving me from years on the job market and/or taking a job in Shitstick USA and commuting 3 hours a day.

    One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about staying and finishing the doctorate is that I actually now have a diss idea that interests me (essentially I remembered the original idea I had that Evil Advisor #1 prevented me from pursuing). Then I woke up one day and went, “Ding!” Most writers and journalists don’t have doctorates. I could just as easily write a book without having to pay to do so. I’m outta funding now and continuing will cost $15,000/year–probably for at least 4 years–money that could be spent on a professional masters degree which I’d either really enjoy getting, like an MFA, or which might actually help me get work, like a counseling degree. Why slog onward just to earn the title of Dr. Dumbass??

  2. Anthea says:

    Good point – I also think that academia has an awful tendencies to foster people who don’t want challenges…and like to navel gaze..and not push the disciplinary boundaries forward. Essentially these people are hiding in the university since they can’t face the world outside it. They’re want a friend of mine calls “speshul”…since they think that they are special people..and somewhat better than the rest of us when in reality they aren’t.

    • Kelly says:

      Ugh–I’ve got a “speshul” “friend” from my cohort who started out reasonably cool (for grad school at least), then drank the KoolAid bigtime. Grow up, precious, the “real” world won’t contaminate you–you might just learn something useful.

      I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but there seems to be this category of grad students with Doctor Daddies. Daddy was a doctor, but I hate science. Hmmm…how can I become a doctor too…I know! I’ll get a PhD and study Space Alien Vowel Inflections! Then I’ll be a speshul doctor too! Never seen it where mom was the family physician, but know quite a few where dad was. Wonder what that creepy shit is really all about…

  3. Z says:

    Well, at one point I got quite guilt tripped for not seeing it as a calling. It isn’t and it’s pernicious that people insist it is but it does become what you do. I think people put so much into it that it starts feeling like it must have been a calling – ! 😉

    I like to teach … advanced undergraduates. Graduate students, not unless they’re the kind who are in a really good PhD program; if not, the advanced undergraduates are usually smarter and more interesting. Freshmen and sophomores are really hard to take, I find.

  4. Pingback: Hello, post-academic world! | What Do You Do with a M.A. in English?

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