Friday, December 28, 2012

Of lost time

I know you are under the impression that a PhD that focuses on the themes of inter(text)uality in medieval basket-weaving would be a surefire route to a high-paid career with 1950s-breadwinner-style job security. I know, it's a common misconception. And the only way you'd possibly learn the truth is that every so often, a wise adult issues a Don't-Go, warning the likes of you that grad school is a terrible mistake.

The mark of a Don't-Go is that it will be phrased as a question: should you go to grad school? But the moment this has been asked, the answer has been given, and apologies for the passive voice. The most fun Don't-Goes try to reach the widest audience possible by refusing to differentiate between MA and PhD; humanities, social sciences and sciences; funded and not; elite U or not. This is to confuse you, such that when you're admitted to a joint PhD program in all quantitative disciplines, with a joint appointment at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, you can turn it down, because it's only sensible to do so.

Ron Rosenbaum, the latest author of a Don't-Go, limits himself to literature grad school, which, if you were considering/are currently in literature grad school, will cause you to read the thing, and the comments, and let's be honest, it's not like you're needed desperately at the office. What gives Rosenbaum his authority is that he himself went. To Yale. For one year. In 1969.

That Rosenbaum then had a successful career in journalism either a) gives us hope or b) tells us that in 1969, that was a viable career path, or c) makes us wonder if maybe having been a literature grad student at Yale (where he also did his undergrad) gave him an edge. Which is often the missing piece, as with the Harvard college drop-out legends. A place can lend you caché even if it doesn't grant you a degree. A commenter though, put it best:
I love you, Rosenbaum, but here's what I'm hearing: if I can manage to get myself into undergraduate school at Yale University in the middle of last century, I will have a good shot at getting a good job in the field of journalism, which (since it's midcentury) still has many years of plenty ahead of it? Well then, my mind is made up!
The classic problem with the Don't-Go is that we learn not to go to grad school, but are presented with no viable answer to what someone who ends up in or considering literature grad school might do instead. Rosenbaum's alternative sounds all kinds of appealing, but ignores the state of journalism today, as well as the logistics, namely the ten trillion unpaid internships one is now expected to have completed prior to the low-paid work with which Rosenbaum was able to enter the field. He seems to have caught onto the fact that academia is no longer a sure thing, but that's about it. He's mostly interested in the undisputed tendency of literature grad school to turn lovers of books into Perez-Hilton-addled burn-outs, if only from time to time. But I promise, enjoyment of literature comes back eventually. Just don't expect much of it in the lead-up to or week after your qualifying exam.

Anyway, I have nothing against the Don't-Go concept, but I want to see one that tells college seniors and recent grads to rewind the clock and pay more attention in high school math classes, to bond with teachers of something other than creative writing, to do whatever it is one does that leads to being a consultant, banker, air-conditioner-repairperson. Give us something we can work with.


Anonymous said...


Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thank you anonymous volunteer copy-editor!