29 April 2004

Hell Hath no Fury Like a Grad Student Scorned

It seems, despite the fact that this blog averages five visits a day and these visitors only stay for an average of 0 seconds, that I'm famous.

(a)musings of a grad student was mentioned in the Village Voice in an article about discontented graduate students. As the article says, A new group of tortured, funny, largely anonymous websites are providing an outlet for academics who feel like they're getting spanked by their alma mater. They have names like Invisible Adjunct, (a)musings of a grad student, Beyond Academe, and Barely Tenured, and they address the emotional just as much as the practical consequences of competing in, and losing, the academic job-market lottery.

Well, I hope I'm not "tortured," and I'm certainly not anonymous (which may be something I regret later on). I'm also not sure I'd put myself in the position of feeling spanked by Harvard--at least not yet. My complaints do include our substandard health insurance (but at least we have some), narrowing teaching opportunities for grad students beyond their fourth year (although I've been offered teaching next year), the new news coming out of the grad school indicating that in order to get our fifth-year funding we must prove that we are in our final year (yeah, yeah, very funny--make us teach full time for two years and then magically expect us to finish--ha ha).

Overall, though, I think I have it pretty easy. I'm shortly to be published, and I got a paper into a conference into September. I had a fellowship this semester that's allowed me to live and work in Virginia and spend lots of time thinking about my dissertation. Things in the world of this amused grad student could be a lot worse.

The Village Voice suggests my future might look something like this: Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it's time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession's ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off.

I've known people who've ended up like this. But, I am an eternal optimist. Hopefully someday I'll make my way to a tenure-track job, a little house, a large vegetable garden, a pile of cats and dogs, and maybe a llama. In the mean time, I'm interested to see how Columbia's effort to unionize turns out. The idea's been bandied about at Harvard; I'm of two minds about it but as I find myself more strapped for cash and in need of better benefits, I suspect my indecision could swing towards open and active enthusiasm.


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