Thursday, December 01, 2011

"[S]he could not even get a job that did not pay"

Articles advising college seniors and recent grads not to go to humanities grad school lose me when, if they present alternatives at all (and they never present concrete alternatives - it's always that one might have instead found 'a job'), they offer up some fairytale existence in which unemployment exists only among PhDs, and in which the literarily-oriented 22-year-old could up and reverse a long series of decisions and inclinations and become the sort of person who had double-majored in engineering and air-conditioner repair. In other words, my beef with the genre isn't that humanities grad school in fact leads directly to tenure-track bliss, but rather that the alternatives for the people who are considering humanities grad school are, by the time they reach that point, kinda limited.

Behold, the alternatives


Britta said...

My sister majored in comp lit and got a decent job in the publishing industry after graduation with no connections. It's not easy (I think my sister sent out over 30 resumes) but at least before the recession it could be done. I mean, my feeling (as a person in a humanities-ish social science grad program) is that, if you really want to be an editor/English professor/museum curator, and you have as good a shot as anyone, why not go for it? Life's too short to pick some career at 22 that you hate because it will get you a house and car in the suburbs by 30. I'd rather fail at doing what I want and start over at 30 doing something else than spend 40 years counting down the day until retirement.

Phoebe said...


That all makes sense. What I was thinking of more here, though, was the way that the anti-grad-school essays always offer up (by implication, typically) things like journalism and publishing as the "practical" alternatives to grad school. When these are not such great options, either. It happens that people succeed in those fields without connections, without unpaid internships. But grad school is a convenient escape from those requirements for humanities-oriented types who can't just move back home to NYC (or have their parents pay their NY rent) and work for nothing. Now, it can, often enough, just mean pushing back the inevitable, a bunch of 35-year-olds not being profiled by the Style section, gathered in a speakeasy bookstore. But, as you say, you can always switch fields to something more practical if grad school or publishing doesn't work out.