Going to graduate school in the humanities, especially in philosophy, should be similar to converting to Judaism. Like rabbis, a student’s undergraduate professors should serve as a formal (but slightly secretive) part of the graduate school admissions process, situated as an obstacle or test for the student’s commitment. They should bend their efforts to dissuade you, to tear you down, to depict a life of penury and discomfort. If you can persist in your intentions against all that, then they should relent and write that letter of recommendation you’ve requested.
Of course, right now it doesn’t work that way, and I find myself unable to practice what I preach. Instead I join in on the student’s excitement, with a few warnings that I quickly dilute by pointing to philosophy’s status in the career rankings (right behind “Dental Hygenist.”) As Brad DeLong recently pointed out, becoming a tenured professor is the closest this country has to becoming landed gentry. Surely that’s worth some risk, and we probably shouldn’t be making that kind of risk/reward calculation for someone else. Plus, I do love my job, and I can’t be blamed if that love is infectious, can I? I tend to pass the buck to the profession and the university as a whole, though I think we all have obligations as potential authorities in the face of a difficult status quo. (See, for instance, my concerns about advice.)
Anyway, if we ever adopted such a test, here are some links that’d be worth using as part of the dissuasion process:
- Is Graduate School a Cult? (No, it’s a pyramid scheme!)
- Just Don’t Go (More) via Adriel Trott
- Wanted: Really Smart Suckers
- The Case of the Invisible Adjunct & The Invisible Adjunct: An appreciation
- How the University Works
Perhaps applicants should have to write an essay on this theme?