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Chilling advice

A tale of graduate school burnout. Should be mandatory reading for anyone planning a master's or PhD.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 26th, 2006 01:49 pm (UTC)
Thankyou very much for posting that. I wish I'd read something like that back in December, but it is heartening reading it even now.
May. 26th, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC)
"I am very proud of my BA and what I accomplished as I pursued it; I really did learn things, really did grow, really did begin to contribute to human knowledge. In contrast, I feel no especial pride over my master’s degree, which is surely rather sad. I don’t feel that it marks any real growth in my understanding; it signifies only that I warmed chairs in classrooms for two years and barely managed to pass a test..."

Yup, that was precisely my experience too.
May. 26th, 2006 02:41 pm (UTC)
Gods, what a fucked up department and graduate school! I had no idea that US graduate programmes were so hog-tied by bureacracy, jobsworths and evil insidious people.

Maybe I've just been lucky over here, but I've found little of the pointless obstructionism that is written about here. I didn't have an easy ride through my PhD, but that was at least partly due to choosing an inappropriate project at the start. 6 months in I changed project and supervisor, assisted by the appropriate members of staff.

Things can be better than they're described here - its not all this bad.
May. 26th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)
I think it's much easier to go adrift in the arts and humanities than in the sciences. (Though having said that, I've witnessed some fairly spectacular meltdowns of science postgrads too.)
May. 26th, 2006 03:02 pm (UTC)
(I skimmed the interesting bits of that proto-blog)

I was actually going to bring up the science vs. arts aspect - but I think, as with most things, the success or failure of *any* enterprise is so very dependent on the work environment, the collegiality, and professionalism.

I count myself lucky in having a positive Masters degree experience, because I got out of it most everything I wanted, and also found in myself no desire to continue on to a PhD. Namely, I didn't see much fun in the PhD race - and fun has been my main academic driver.

Incidentally, with the job pressure driving graduates to pursue post-graduate degrees here in the US, I wonder if there will be enough numbers to drive reforms in the system - one can only be hopeful.
May. 26th, 2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
I'm not convinced the requirement to have a 'professional' MA will make a huge difference. MBAs are already taught in an incredibly different way from PhD track MAs and this attitude will spread. The pro MA students will be seen as cash cows who will get the support necessary to get out the other end since they are money makers and the grad school type MA students will still be neglected and exploited.

Then again, I'm someone who fucked up their undergrad career despite lots of support from their department so what do I know :)
May. 26th, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC)
Professionalism - that people are able to conduct their work in a professional manner, with a sense of common work goals and not get too invested in personality, politics, and the like. That abstract that can apply to all the work people do, inside and outside of academia.
May. 26th, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
I had my master's thesis rejected because "it wasn't journalism". Considering that a) I had specific permission to do it on dance criticism, b) 90% of the journalism aspect had been published in national newspapers (100% had been published) and covered all the areas of journalism that the course wanted, c) they didn't bother to *tell* me this during any sessions with my supervisor, and d) the university consistently lied to its students about many things and certainly couldn't be bothered to do something like actually update their records for new addresses, I decided that getting my master's wasn't worth it.
May. 26th, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC)
I'm really sorry to hear about this - it sounds like a total screwup that someone in the university should have heard about - did you get any satisfaction from any complaints you made about this?
May. 26th, 2006 03:08 pm (UTC)
Frankly by that point, I'd had enough and couldn't be bothered to complain - especially considering it took them the best part of a year to even acknowledge my change of address (they just kept on sending stuff into the void).

I'd done enough complaining at that university. Had they rejected the thesis because the academic bit was crap (don't even *start* me on the substitute lecturer who threw out bits of the course that we needed for our theses), I'd have gone "fair enough" and rewritten it. But they couldn't be bothered - I had a nice bit in there analysing writing for different audiences too.

I also figured it was more their loss than mine, for various reasons.
May. 26th, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)
My masters was an MBA which I know is completely different, so I have no first hand experience of the graduate work this girl was undertaking... BUT

I did detect a certain pattern: this girl seems to have put a remarkable number of people's backs up. Not just a UW, but when she got out and talks about her jobs: it's always someone else that was the problem, someone else who was persecuting her. I do wonder whether she wasn't lacking some basic inter-personal skills. Yes, we all end up in messes sometimes, whether our fault or others, but what saves us is our ability to ask for and receive help from others. She seems to have destroyed every relationship she had at UW, and ended up with noone to turn to.
May. 26th, 2006 04:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there are some people who just seem to have bad luck, and one sometimes wonders... Myself, I would have phrased some of her correspondence a bit differently, but perhaps that is Americans for you. (Having said that, you would kow more about expected standards of etiquette in higher education in the US than I do.)

Having said that, I know from experience that it is easy to get isolated as a postgraduate, especially in a relatively small subject - for most of the time I was doing my PhD, there was no other graduate student in my subject in the whole of Ireland, never mind QUB.
May. 27th, 2006 06:55 am (UTC)

The comrades back home still speak very highly of your Phd work, though, Nicholas.

I sometimes think I made a very big mistake doing a Phd, but then perhaps I'd feel the same way about whatever life decisions I might have taken.

D.O'Kane, St. Petersburg
May. 26th, 2006 04:14 pm (UTC)
Axiom 1:
There are plenty of jackasses with Ph.D’s, and plenty of brilliant people without them.

This post is unlocked, isn't it? I'll leave my comment there then.
May. 26th, 2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
<innocent expresion>Whatever might she have been thinking of adding?</innocent expresion>
May. 26th, 2006 05:25 pm (UTC)
Its interesting to read this, having been through the doctoral mill and seen things from the other side, albeit in a series of UK universities. The ethos and approach is a little different there:

Graduate work is generally sink or swim and the onus is on each student to think careful about what they want to do and what they want to get out of the degree and select course options accordingly. My personal experience is of doing a degree by research (which is down to the student to come up with a research topic, ensure (with supervisor's input) its viable, do the necessary research (with all commensurates twists and turns) and write it up. Ultimately whether the student gets through all that or not comes down to their adaptability, good advice/input from the supervisor and the ultimate viability of the research topic (which can be adjusted all the way through).

My experience of taught masters is limited to the few courses I contributed to, and there the curriculum was fairly tightly controlled. However, these were all 'conversion degrees' taking in students with a BA/BSc from another subject and giving them a decent grounding in my subject - sufficient to give them enough of a basis to then pursue a research degree if they wanted to. The actual quality of teaching varied considerably, although a general rule of thumb would be that most tenured lecturers saw it as an annoyance taking them away from research, most non-tenured ones put a lot of effort into their teaching and their students.

However, effort is a two way process and the students were expected to read both the reading lists given to them, and also to read around the subject - and this was made crystal clear to them from day 1. I have little time or sympathy for those that expected to be spoon fed the answers, or thought that question spotting from past papers would be sufficient. That is not sufficient for a higher degree, and a number quite rightly failed each year because of it.
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