Friday, September 10, 2004


On Growing the Fuck Up

Well, only a few more hours until I go see about my kitty! I'm so excited! I will post a picture as soon as I can so you all can see him/her, too. Other than that, I really don't have a thing in the world to report, so I suppose I will write about this annoying column I read in the Chronicle today.

[Yes, I'm addicted to the stupid Chronicle again, I think as a result of my thinking about going on the Market. I guess it's not a horrible thing to be addicted to - keeping up on professional things, I guess - but I'm so often annoyed by the Chronicle that I sometimes think it exists only to annoy me and actually has no valuable information/insights at all. And do any of you read the discussion boards? Always the same questions. Always some jackass claiming that he didn't get the job because of a woman/a minority/an inside candidate/a new PhD and wanting everybody to tell him that he's the best and that he was discriminated against. And yet, I read them like it's my job. Ridiculous.]

So anyway, the pseudonymous Gail Jacobsen writes this column about how her dissertation adviser is avoiding her. I remember feeling like that was happening when I was working on the diss. I also remember thinking that my adviser hated me. I think all people writing dissertations experience this. Ok, well, maybe only 99 percent of them. Because of course there is always that exception, the person who has a fantastic relationship with her adviser and gets a ton of personal attention from him and never feels like the adviser is avoiding her or that he hates her. And then of course she ends up becoming his second (or third, or fourth) wife, but that is neither here nor there.

I sympathize with the frustration of feeling isolated and without guidance during graduate school, and I understand the anxiety this produces. But I was annoyed by this column. I realize that it opens trying to be funny, but as it continues it just sounds... whiny. I would avoid this graduate student, too. In fact, I would avoid this person, whether or not she is my student. Yes, it's frustrating to go on the job market. Yes, it's scary. Yes, it's frustrating and scary to write a dissertation. But, and this occurred to me when I was on the market the first time, finishing my dissertation (and having a huge fight with Hans-the-adviser about how he didn't care about me and then he threatened to stop being my adviser and then I cried like a baby and begged him not to leave me): I think the point of the hoops at the end of graduate school - the dissertation, defending, and going on the market - is not so much the tasks in themselves but that each of the tasks - and having to do them with what feels like little help or support - forces us to grow the fuck up. In the real world, i.e. the world beyond academe, people do cover letters and resumes on their own all the time. A friend might proofread for them. They might get a book out of the library for advice about how to do these things. But real people, i.e. non-academics, do not have a person required to hold their hand through a job search, to be available to them when it's inconvenient, to coddle them.

When Gail Jacobsen writes, "I'm also the only one of his students on the market this year, which would normally suggest that he ought to be concentrating on getting me a job," her tone betrays a sense of entitlement that is astonishing. He ought to be concentrating on getting me a job? Says who? Where exactly is it written that one's adviser is supposed to "get" her a job? Is this really what people think advisers are there for? She writes that as far as she is concerned the dissertation is done. What do you want to bet that she, when her adviser returns the draft, will have yet another round of massive revisions? Again, I remember these feelings, and I do think that they are absolutely normal at the end of the dissertation phase. But even when I was in the middle of feeling these things, I knew that I was being fucking insane and fucking immature. And ultimately, I appreciated that my adviser let me become my own scholar, which I couldn't have done with him standing over my shoulder.

We academics are so used to being teacher's pet that a lot of us get to the end of graduate school and have no idea how to take care of ourselves. We have no idea what to do without a professor to guide us. The problem is, when we're done with graduate school we're supposed to be the professor. How do we learn how to do that if our advisers don't push us out of the nest?[Of course, I could just be justifying the way that my adviser treats me with all of these musings, but I don't think that they are total crap, even if that is the case.]

Finally, I think that this Gail Jacobsen should just be direct with the adviser. He may not be responding to her email, but why doesn't she call him at home? I know I had my adviser's phone number. I rarely used it, but when push came to shove, and when it was necessary, I called his ass up. And when she does call him, why doesn't she just ask him for help with the job search and ask him when she can expect to get his comments on her diss and to set a defense date? Finally, if all of this fails, where is the rest of her committee? Couldn't one of them find out what's up? Why all of the subterfuge and the sleuthing? What's the fucking point?

Anyway, this is an awfully long rant about something basically stupid and insignificant, but I guess I felt like responding to it because these feelings about being isolated and at sea don't really go away, I don't think. If it's not the dissertation it's the book manuscript. If it's not going on the market for the first time it's going on the market trying to get a "better" job. If we need help with these things we've got to ask for it. We are responsible for that. Also, at the end of the day, we alone are responsible for our productivity as scholars and for our career advancement. Nobody else. Nobody's going to do it for you. I have to remind myself of this about every six months.


Hello, I do not agree with the previous commentator - not so simple
I think thesis or dissertation advisor shouldn’t be avoided even if they are the terror type of people, because they are the one who would help with thesis writing in the first place. So, I think it would be a good idea to pick the one you think would truly help out rather than drag you down more.
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