Grad Students: What Would You Tell Your Prof(s), But Can’t?


In the wake of last week’s post about what graduate students wish they had known going into their programs, a fellow philosophy professor suggested I ask a related question:

Graduate students, what would you like to tell your professor(s) right now, but can’t?

Dear Professor Post Card

Given the sensitive nature of this question, I’m going to relax the commenting requirements. Normally, as per the comments policy (which you should go look at if you haven’t in a while… seriously, we’ll wait… [checks Twitter] …still waiting) you are required to either sign in via social media by clicking on one of the symbols above the comment box—

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—or by entering in a name (or pseudonym) and an accurate email address. For this thread only, if you choose not to sign in and wish to not use a real email address, you may use “[email protected]” or a clearly fake one of your choosing. You are welcome to use a pseudonym, but don’t use one that has “anonymous” or “anon” in it.

NOTE: If you use the email address with which you regularly comment on blogs, your regular avatar will appear next to your comment (and be sent out to those who receive email notifications of comments). So if you do not wish your identity to be revealed, enter [email protected] or some such alternative as your email address when you comment.

UPDATE: See the related post, “Profs: What Would You Tell Your Grad Students, But Can’t?

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BBB
BBB
5 years ago

Dear professor (and former supervisor),

We had some positive moments, and they helped me to be a better philosopher, so for those moments I say thank you. Specifically, thanks for taking the time to listen to me think deeply about lots of shit, and asking pressing questions about the theories I was putting forth. Also, thanks for offering me feedback on said shit. But that’s where the positivity about my experience with you ends and I think it’s time you here the other side of the way you’ve made me feel.

How can someone so smart fail to see how constant put-downs harm someone in my position? Criticism is one thing, we must all learn to handle it well and learn from it whether it’s warranted or not, but to call my views “crazy” over and over again for the entire duration of my stay was damaging. I already felt out of place in the grad school setting, the way you spoke to me made this alienation worse! Your lack of care for the struggles I fell into in my personal life made me feel even further isolated. I don’t think you meant for this to happen, but it did. Making me feel like a failure when I missed a few deadlines when I was homeless really bothered me. I mean come on, you knew what I was going through! Asking once about how the divorce was going over an entire year? Cutting me off when I began to explain how it was going was the worst. Being a supervisor is more than just reading my “crazy” work. It means being a mentor. Part of being a mentor is being there in times of crisis. I didn’t expect anything more than a shoulder here and there, but, maybe I was asking too much? In any event, I thought you should know how you made me feel.

Lastly, if you weren’t convinced I was a good philosopher why did you continue to work with me? I doubt my letter from you for the job market would have been any good and you know how much I forfeited to embark on this PhD, so why not just tell me this so I could have worked with someone who actually respected the work I was doing? In the future don’t take on students who you do not respect as a scholar. No one wins in this sort of one-sided relationship. I feel like my career was sabotaged in a weird way. Thankfully, I was able to move on and write a whole different diss at the last minute with someone new. We’ll see how it pans out, but I wanted you to know that I feel slighted by the way our relationship unfolded and I can’t help but to think you made my grad student experience much worse than it needed to be. I wish your future students the best of luck, the will surely need it!

Sincerely,

Bitter_but_betterReport

MC
MC
Reply to  BBB
5 years ago

“Criticism is one thing, we must all learn to handle it well and learn from it whether it’s warranted or not, but to call my views ______ over and over again for the entire duration of my stay was damaging” — I relate. Constructive comment is one thing. Being impatient with your students and their work is another.

It really hurts because students have to invest much trust in the expertise and professionalism of their supervisors. It also takes much courage to reveal your ideas to your supervisor knowing that it might risk sounding unintelligent (if not unintelligible).

Mine was also a bitter experience which I have learnt to see things clearly….Report

Don't Spare Us
Don't Spare Us
5 years ago

Dear Professor,
You should do a better job of correcting students in class when we say something false or implausible or outright idiotic. I feel you let things slide.
Yours,
Don’t Spare UsReport

Anon XY
Anon XY
5 years ago

Dear Professors,

When you call me oversensitive and ask why I’m so slow, I wish I could tell you it’s because I have PTSD from being raped by another grad student at the beginning of my time in grad school. Now I’m too angry and upset to finish this note but I will say the lack of empathy (including from professors who knew what happened) is an indictment against your characters. Especially if I have to drop out (which I hope won’t but depression sucks and your lack of advising/support is not helping me graduate!) I’m going to remember and hold that against you.Report

HFG
HFG
Reply to  Anon XY
5 years ago

Wait, no. I meant HolyShit THIS one.

Somebody help this person.

Good day.Report

Sara Protasi
Sara Protasi
Reply to  Anon XY
5 years ago

I’m so sorry this happened to you and you were not supported by your professors. It’s hard to write something meaningful to a stranger without sounding artificial. I’m not sure I can help, but if there’s anything I can do, feel free to email me.Report

me_too
me_too
Reply to  Anon XY
5 years ago

Telling them you have PTSD doesn’t help most of the time. I’ve tried. It’s not like they do anything to help you. That said, getting ANYONE to understand PTSD is nearly impossible because they can’t understand why you aren’t being “rational.” I have had two professors who were somewhat understanding. But just two. And only somewhat.Report

Does Not Take Instruction
Does Not Take Instruction
5 years ago

I’m really not interested in being your disciple. I can learn from you without structuring my work around yours. I have my own ideas and I will develop them with or without your help. Did you really think I would accept a 50% cut in my possible lifetime earnings to do your work rather than my own?Report

J
J
5 years ago

Dear Professor:

Many grad students inhabit a professional climate in which the only way that a grad student can try to communicate honestly with you, without fear of harming their career, is through an anonymous comment on Daily Nous. Please let this fact guide your words and actions.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
5 years ago

I don’t think you are aware of the drastic power imbalance that exists between us. Those of you in charge of teaching assignments and other forms of funding are effectively in control of my current job and potential to stay in the field. Academia is NOT a friendly place for those of us without comfortable savings put away or parents who help out financially–and you quite easily make it worse by not giving enough information about pay dates, NET pay, and by the individuals in administrative positions having too much discretion over teaching assignment policies. It is highly inappropriate to take out your frustration at your administrative duties on those of us who have almost no ability to make complaints without reasonable fear of retaliation. I don’t even feel like I can ask for transparency around certain processes (like how certain honors and special roles and opportunities are assigned to grad students) without negatively affecting your opinion of me–and it is reasonable for me to worry about your opinion of me. Whether it is true or not many of us feel that our position in the program is not secure even though our direct advisors are satisfied with out progress-in large part because of your haphazard policy changes and harshly-worded emails.

Be clear and transparent about everything. Don’t change policies affecting grad student without grad student input. Don’t wait for a formal complaint to be more considerate of graduate students, and always assume we’re more afraid of you than we let on.Report

HFG
HFG
Reply to  Grad Student
5 years ago

HolyShit. This one.Report

Cheeseburger
Cheeseburger
5 years ago

Thank you. I had a great education with you and with the whole department, and I wouldn’t be where I am now without you.Report

Third
Third
5 years ago

Dear professors,

Please don’t play favorites with funding. Teaching assignments and travel to conferences should not be given preferentially to whoever happens to be working on research with the faculty member in charge of teaching or the department chair.

Don’t play favorites with requirements. Graduate students do talk to each other and attend the same seminars, so we will find out if exceptions are being granted only to certain individuals. It’s fine when accomodations are given uniformly, it’s not when it depends on how well you know certain faculty.

Please remember the power differential between us. It’s a good thing when professors are supportive of their graduate students, but some behaviors that are acceptable with peers are not with graduate students, and so curtailing how personally (and socially) involved you are can be a good thing. You can force us into things that we wouldn’t accept from other acquaintances by virtue of your position.

I know it isn’t your job to be kind to us, but please remember that doesn’t equate to you needing to be cruel. A professor can do a lot of damage to a grad student’s confidence and ability to continue in the career by berating ad hominem instead of addressing the flaws of the work at hand.Report

X
X
5 years ago

Dear Professor,
Don’t pretend to be an advocate for equality, and then laugh when my lab mate tells me to my face that I’ll only get a job because I’m a woman.Report

paolo
paolo
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

you were one tough cookie, relentless and unforgiving. Sometimes it really hurt. Thank you for all that – were it not for the growing pains, I would not have grown. And thanks for all the time you spent on me – being a professor myself now, I can just ask – when did you sleep?Report

Your former grad student
Your former grad student
5 years ago

Dear Professor,
You are part of a system that conditions its members to think primarily about themselves and their own personal advancement. Your grad students always come second, and your undergraduate students don’t seem to matter at all. Your own personal advancement happens not through contributions to the people around you or to society at large, but rather through the introduction of minor variations to a body of literature that few people will ever read, and those who do read will do so mainly as a means to introduce further minor variations of their own. No wonder you are unhappy.
What strikes me most of all is that you don’t seem to ever see through the system, taking means to counteract its effect on your life and work. Rather you appear to participate in it enthusiastically, viewing it as the only possible reality for yourself and every person you mentor. You ought to get out of the department more. You are a genuinely good person, you’ve just spent decades internalizing all the wrong values.
I wish you nothing but the best,
Your former grad studentReport

They Warned Me About You
They Warned Me About You
5 years ago

Dear Researcher (for “Professor” is being much too generous):

For the love of God, put your own papers and projects aside and actually come prepared to teach your seminar. We notice you’re unprepared, and it’s embarrassing.

You are truly a beautiful person, but your head is always stuck in your own work. I came here wanting primarily to work with you; and I’ll leave having done everything I can to avoid working with you.Report

HFG
HFG
5 years ago

We may need to be extremely annoying at times.Report

J
J
5 years ago

Dear Professor

I’ve been in love with you since second year. Now I’m in my [redacted] year and I’m smarter than you think, I just hopelessly can’t get express my ideas in our supervision sessions.
If you wouldn’t mind being a little less socially awkward I might be able to string a sentence together.

Best, ( also I hate it when you use “best” – might as well just say “yours, in utter disregard….”)

Your studentReport

GladGradStudent
GladGradStudent
5 years ago

I don’t think you know how much you influenced me from the day I took your first class, and this is meant solely positively. You always treated me with respect; you never once gave me the feeling of asking stupid questions and, whenever I had questions, you would take the time to answer them as best as you could. You encouraged me to question everything (even your own work!), resulting in countless, insightful discussions. However, you also criticized me when necessary, being honest in a very considerate way. Step by step you introduced me to and prepared me for the world of academia. And, as corny as it may sound, without you I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I couldn’t have had a better adviser/mentor – I hope you know how much you are appreciated!Report

Frustrated Grad Student #492729
Frustrated Grad Student #492729
5 years ago

Dear Philosophy Professors,

Other fields have these things like textbooks… even for advanced topics. The purpose of a textbook is to summarize broad swathes of material without getting bogged down in irrelevant minutia and the mistakes of specific historical authors. Reading one highly specific book chapter or article for your seminar each week is not a very productive use of my time. If I had to come in and discuss every single article I read in order to understand it I would have no future in grad school. In fact, I read articles all the time for my research. What would be really helpful is a broad summary of the conceptual space that several articles cover, the arguments put forward by each author, and maybe some sense of what the general consensus is. This would tell me where to look in the future for my own research. It would also help to insure that I don’t just give an argument that someone else has given because after I read x I don’t have time to read all 20-30 responses to x by the end of the semester when the paper is due just to determine whether my argument is novel. I realize all of this would require a lot of work on your part and familiarity with the literature. But maybe seminars should be aimed at educating your grad students rather than getting comments for the new thing you’re working on.

Yours truly,
Frustrated Grad Student #492729Report

a
a
Reply to  Frustrated Grad Student #492729
5 years ago

This.Report

seriously??!
seriously??!
Reply to  Frustrated Grad Student #492729
5 years ago

Dear student:
You have chosen to pursue an advanced degree in the humanities, in which learning (a) to efficiently assimilate the arguments and evidence of highly specialized research, and (b) to read broadly and synthesize these findings and approaches with issues of particular interest to you, are two of the most fundamental skills you need to learn in order to (c) learn to make your own contribution to said scholarship, and (d) to avoid the navel-gazing hyperspecialization we are so often accused of promoting. While it is appropriate for you to expect professors to model the acquisition of these skills on occasion, there is no shortcut substitute for engaging with texts on your own. Learning to engage appropriately with texts is even more important to this process than their content, and it is one of the most bankable skills you will acquire.Report

Gradstud
Gradstud
5 years ago

Dear professors,

Many of the graduate students in your department are poor. Seriously. Food stamps poor. Can’t afford a doctor’s visit poor. Can barely afford the rent that (in some cases) is almost half our income. We aren’t all from a background of privilege and wealth, and you come across as pretty tone-deaf when you act like we are.Report

Gradpoor
Gradpoor
Reply to  Gradstud
5 years ago

YES. And the solution to poverty is not “get a roommate or find a cheaper apartment.” There are grad students trying to support families, care for older relatives and feed their kids on poverty stipends. Pretending we are all still capable of living like undergrads is insulting.Report

Normal
Normal
5 years ago

Professor,
Please realize that assigning on average between 100-200 pages of primary texts per class and only “discussing” (i.e., remarking upon) in class one or two sentences is useless; assigning students to read 150 pages and doing a poor job of explicating about 2-8 sentences from all of those pages is poor teaching. We do not learn learn much except how to resent you.

That is not an effective way to structure a class because “it’s old school” or because grad students “need to pay their dues” by trudging throw an unreasonable amount of material with little to no guidance or support. It’s shit.Report

Frank Sandbeans
Frank Sandbeans
5 years ago

Dear professor,

I don’t yet know who you are, as I am still an “undergrad”. However, I am a middle-aged adult, probably about 10 years your senior, I predict (by the time I get to grad school). I have had a lengthy and productive professional career in tech. And, if I really had to, I could easily go back there. But I don’t want to. That part of my life is now drawing to a close, and it’s time for me to move on to pursue fully, a passion I’ve harbored quietly since I was a boy.

This is where you come in. In an internet world, where a man of means can obtain the resources and materials he needs to pursue a subject (even one as complex and specialized as philosophy) relatively easily these days, it is essential that you differentiate yourself enough from the run-of-the-mill academic, simply applying a tired old template for the production of new academics.

I will not be dependent upon the archaic, monastic political structure of the university, in order to make my living in the world. There is no special pressure on me to “publish or perish”, in a cloistered, politically incestuous environment of hyper-sensitive and hyper-critical colleagues. I will be free to make choices that most of your students are not.

As such, you will need to be sure to offer me a value. A value I do not already possess. What I need from you, is quality training, discipline, and proper, professional academic guidance. I sincerely hope you can provide this value to me. If you cannot, I will find someone who can.

Sincerely,
Child of the 70’sReport

RoboTA
RoboTA
Reply to  Frank Sandbeans
4 years ago

A funded PhD in a research department is not for self-actualization. It’s for training students to contribute as researchers to the areas of the philosophical field that interest them, and to teach and participate in academic life. If academia is not to your taste, there are indeed other ways to study philosophy.Report

fuam
fuam
5 years ago

Dear First Advisor,

You are the sole reason I have a persistent twinge of regret whenever I nationally advocate on behalf of policies that protect tenure. If you don’t want to have advisees, you should tell them that up front, rather than driving them out of the program (in two recent cases) and emotionally abusing them (in three recent cases). I have records of the interactions. I wish I could use them to protect this department and its future students from you.

Dear Second Advisor,

You are outstanding, and I enjoy the space for freedom you give me, but a slight uptick in communication–particularly that stems from your end–would be warmly welcomed!

Dear Professors,

A number of you have tenure. Be more bold. Fight for the future of your discipline. Engage yourself with your department’s situation within your university. Do what you need to do in order to be capable of providing useful advice, encouragement, and empowerment to your students *in the present world.* And encourage more programs that interface with the broader community (schools, prisons, city councils, whatever).Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

You’re very smart and perceptive. You might consider using your brain cells in the effort to offer reasonable criticism of causes you oppose, instead of just sneering at them. The sneering makes you seem nasty, not wise.

Your recent grad student,
ArthurReport

NotYourTypicalPhilGrad
NotYourTypicalPhilGrad
5 years ago

Hi Professor,

I really enjoyed our seminar on Quine last semester. Among the many things I learned, I found extremely valuable your advise as well as practice of reading philosophers charitably whenever possible. However, how come you so easily dismiss works of Chinese and Indian philosophers, calling them “unphilosophical”, “immature”, “obscure”, etc.?Report

Brida
Brida
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

I think you’ve gotten so caught up in what being a “professor” entails that you’ve lost sight of what it means to be a teacher. You’re a teacher (whether you’re a good one or not) and we’re students; and we’re all philosophers. More than just guiding us on how to jump through various hoops and spruce up our CV, we need you to teach us: about philosophy, about the academy, and, perhaps most importantly, about life. Don’t be afraid to make a real impact on your students. Moreover, perhaps making an impact on your students’ lives and helping them grow is the mark of a great teacher.

…and your students may even pay it forward someday.

Sincerely,
Pupil who sought a teacher, found an academicReport

GradStudent
GradStudent
5 years ago

Dear Professors,

I was very fortunate to be able to attend your summer school in Europe without suffering undue financial hardship. I was also very fortunate to be able to make the acquaintance of so many prestigious philosophers in our discipline, editors of journals and authors of seminal texts, and to be able to ask them serious questions. I broadened my own understanding, refined the direction of my research, and felt confident in my ability to navigate the politics of academia while generally earning the respect and friendship of faculty and my peers.

That is why it was devastating when, at the conclusion of the summer school, I went to dinner with a large group of my friends, all of them women, and found that every single one of them had been sexually harassed or propositioned by one or another of you. Suddenly it occurred to me that the reason I was so at home in this place was not purely because of my talent or effort or careful choice of words, but because I am a white man with an authoritative voice who can presume to be taken seriously. Not only did I not have to endure any such invalidating experiences, I hardly knew they were going on. I had the luxury of occasionally catching glimpses of them and telling myself that it was nothing more than a little awkwardness. But sending e-mails asking for personal photographs? Telling my colleague she has a “sexy body”? Leering at her so blatantly that your wife, standing right there, sighs in exasperation and stomps off, to the dismay of everyone present? (And let me be clear, I’m referring to different culprits.)

I know that my fellow grads are adults. I know they can take care of themselves. They did. But why do you do this? Why do you tacitly exploit the power difference between us by taking actions for which you’ll have plausible deniability? If we call you on any of this, you’ll just say, oh, I was a little drunk, or oh, that’s not what I meant, I’m sorry, my bad. And then you’ll do it again. I know this. You know this. This can’t possibly be new behavior for any of you. You’ll push until you sense that you might start to get in trouble, and then you’ll stop and you won’t, until the coast is clear.

And we all leave feeling like shit. They feel like they’ll never be taken seriously. And I feel like that when I am taken seriously, I don’t deserve it. That I’m not special. That I’m just lucky. That’s fucked up. Stop harassing my friends. Instead of getting pathetically intoxicated by your meager power and authority, why not take pleasure and find meaning in your role as teacher, in guiding us in the pursuit of our passions? Why not understand how what you experience as a small, harmless, self-affirmative act causes ripples in the lives of the vulnerable, which mean so much more to others than they do to you? Why not dismantle this system so that we can participate in it without shame or fear? Just a thought.

When you disgrace this profession, you disgrace all of us. Knock it off.Report

ghost
ghost
5 years ago

What’s up with the same teal icon attached to a bunch of inconsistent comments with different names? No tea, no shade, you’ve got a real knack for creative writing, but wtf?Report

Ghosted
Ghosted
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

Oooooooooooooooooooooh……………. I get it now.

I wasn’t aware of this dummy email address. I must have skipped that information. But that’s a nice idea. 🙂Report

Discouraged
Discouraged
5 years ago

Dear Advisor,

You’re my role model in so many ways. You’re both an intellectual hero and a person who is so unfailingly kind and generous that I truly expect to spend most of my life trying to be more like you.

But there’s this one thing you do that’s killing my research flow. When I come to you with a new idea for a paper, you tend to start leveling objections at it so quickly and forcefully that I feel like an idiot and can’t even remember for a while why I liked the idea so much. I’m not as quick or as well-read as you, so I can’t keep up with you once you start subjecting my fledgling ideas to the same level of scrutiny you would apply to finished papers. I usually leave these meetings, cry for a while, and then abandon the ideas. But some of those ideas that you initially shredded have ended up — because of the encouragement of some other philosophical mentors — becoming papers that you eventually seem to think are good. So, in those early stages of brainstorming, I wish you would help me build up my idea into something plausible before you tear it down with criticisms. I wish I could learn from you how you develop a new idea and make it something good, in addition to learning how to dismantle poor arguments.

Sincerely,
A huge fanReport

freespeechforyoubutnofreespeechforme
freespeechforyoubutnofreespeechforme
5 years ago

Dear Philosophy Professors: You are not martyrs of free speech. You have free speech – we don’t.

You run no risk of getting fired or being restricted for talking in the most insensitive, disrespectful and often ignorant way about issues that many students care deeply about and are personally affected by, like abortion, suicide, migration, jails, prisons, anorexia, sexual abuse, depression, poverty, crime, unemployment and so on. When you use these topics as toy examples with little context or relation to reality, or as ways to grab our attention, you are fooling yourself at best. Not only do you lose our respect as you reveal your ignorance about these topics and how to best approach them, but it is also very distracting, as we walk away thinking primarily about how little you seem to know about the real world and how close these issues are to some of us, some for whom they pose real life problems that take much of our energy, and for which we had hoped philosophy would at least help us get clearer on.

Some of you seem to make a point out of being provocative and enjoy your free speech. But you have it: you don’t have to constantly prove it. You have free speech – we don’t. If we challenge you we will face the consequences of crossing you, of getting the cold shoulder, of not getting your support either in class, in supervisions or for references. You have the freedom to stop responding to emails for months or to start not bothering to really read your student’s work when they have hurt your pride, not give them the word in class, to not say hi in the corridor or at conferences. We cannot afford to cross you, so we are not de facto able to speak freely. And this does not mean we don’t wish you would be more active in directing the seminars, we do, especially when some of our peers imitate your behaviour and start making these provocative remarks to see what happens or simply become liked by you. There have been complaints about cuddling and safe spaces and so on, but they all miss the point: we do want to discuss important issues, we just want it to be done with the same attention and rigour as when you teach Kant or formal logic: not just sloppy off-hand remarks and “intuitions” about these very real issues, and discussions where the people who know the least talk the most. And it is you who have a de facto safe space. Many of you cannot stand criticism: if you are openly challenged by a student, you start ignoring them, and it becomes obvious you are not happy about it, especially if it happens in front of class or other faculty. That’s how these mechanisms work. Be aware of it, and please change it if you can. Otherwise we will continue to see all but the white guys from fine schools, with parents working in law or medicine, drop out of the ethics seminars. The less privileged students tend to turn to other areas of philosophy, as we feel ignored and talked over, with the issues that concern us deemed irrelevant, and our very real knowledge of certain parts of reality being disputed by people who are convinced they know better but simply don’t.Report

grad school sucks
grad school sucks
5 years ago

To my advisor:
You couldn’t possibly ever understand how much your care, friendship, and ability to consistently challenge and push me philosophically means to me. Thank you so much. And special thanks for being pretty much the only man in my life who I feel like I can trust, intellectually and emotionally, and for being interested in me for philosophical and friendship reasons and not weird sexual or fetishy or emotionally weird reasons. It probably seems weird to someone with such a stable life and someone, like you, who has a lot of consistency in their life, has strong family connections, and so on, but for me–you’re probably the most consistent and stable part of my life. You set all the right boundaries and give all the right kind of support and none of the wrong. And you’ve made me so much better at philosophy!

To (nearly) everyone else in my department: it’s totally transparent that you don’t care about grad students. It’s also transparent to me–now that I’m almost finished, but it took a long ass time–that generally all you care about is advancing your own careers, or, in some case, just being control freaks. Also, you should be more honest with your students and yourselves and your colleagues about the completely batshit crazy power structure amongst the faculty. Like, all of the power in the department is consolidated in three or four people, one of whom is almost certainly a sociopath (and I don’t use that term lightly), and who appears to be extremely good at manipulating you all into doing whatever he wants, no matter how awful it is, and to ignoring the messed up stuff he does. (And by the way, no one outside your department thinks he is even a good philosopher.) Also, if you have tenure (which most of you do) I wish you would take a long hard look at what is happening in your department. Try to be objective about it. Think about bringing in some outside people to assess it. Realize that admitting there are (serious) problems and trying to fix them is not a sign of weakness and it will make the department better, not worse.Report

another grad student
another grad student
Reply to  grad school sucks
5 years ago

Sounds like University of Chicago! Sorry if there is another place like this.Report

RoboTA
RoboTA
Reply to  another grad student
4 years ago

What’s the deal with U of C? Who’s got the power there? Who’s the sociopath? Not someone in the law school?Report

Jfd
Jfd
5 years ago

Dear Professor,
Thank you for nothing. You’re not a bad man but I will probably go nowhere with my PhD even if I finish it, partly because of the inexistent supervision and inexistent professional support.
Hell, will you even read the damn thesis? Probably not.Report

Politically Confused
Politically Confused
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

I appreciate your tendency to “go against the grain” and dismantle modern political correctness with provocative terminology. I’d appreciate it more if you told us why that pursuit is worthwhile.

Yours,
Politically ConfusedReport

Grad Student
Grad Student
5 years ago

I go to a Leiterrific program that doesn’t report its placement data. I would ask my faculty to make our placement data publically available, and to be up front with students about the odds that different people face in this job market. In the last 5 years nearly 60% of our tenure-track placement has gone to women or men who were spousal hires for women. The group of women and their spouses makes up less than a third of the graduates for that period, giving that class a 75% placement rate in tenure-track positions, as against 30% for those who are neither women nor married to women. This distribution is statistically significant, with a p-value of .0308 using a two-tailed Fisher exact probability test (similar numbers in favor of women alone go back to 2000). Of the remaining 40% of our tenure track placement in the last five years, half have gone to people who tick some other demographic box that explains their placement in the jobs they landed. Some of this is explained by what people work on, some of it by their advisors, but there is no mechanism in place for people to talk about the realities our graduates are facing without running the risk of censure from the faculty (which in some cases has already happened–hence the need, regrettably, to post pseudonymously).

With all the bad information that is out there about our program, without this information the people who either are considering coming here or who are already here cannot make informed decisions about the payoff odds of the effort they put into pursuing a career in philosophy at the expense of other employment.Report

ABD
ABD
5 years ago

Dear Professor Z,
Meeting you was the single best thing that has happened to me in academia.

Dear Professors in General,

With very few exceptions, you guys are selfish jerks. I hope I don’t turn into a person like you.

Signed,
Meaningless graduate student

PS. I laugh at your jokes because I have to, not because they’re funny.Report

Grateful
Grateful
5 years ago

Dear former advisor,

You were wonderful! Thank you! And it’s only in retrospect that I appreciate just how great you were. Now that I’m faculty and actually realize the tremendous time-pressures etc you were under, and how small a part of your workload graduate teaching is, I’m amazed at how much you were able to give me. And I’m sorry for being a whiny, entitled snot at the time.Report

CurrentTeacher
CurrentTeacher
5 years ago

Thank you, Professor, who was not on my committee, whose field did not overlap with mine, for talking to me about teaching. I noticed while TA’ing for you, that you were an excellent undergraduate teacher (maybe not great a graduate student teacher…). I noticed it, and when I came to talk to you about it, not only did you not brush me off, we had a long, fruitful conversation about how you do it. And that fruitful conversation led to many fruitful philosophical conversations about my work. Though I thought our fields were far away, I realized that philosophers really just like to talk to other philosophers. Just taking that moment to connect, you made me realize for the first time what it means for a fellow philosopher to take you seriously. You never were a member of my committee, but you were one of the people who made the difference in my graduate experience, and, once I was hired at a job that requires a lot of teaching, your model let me hit the ground running.Report

IJustWantToLearn
IJustWantToLearn
5 years ago

Dear Department,

I just want you to know that I don’t want to sue you, any of your members, past or present, and that I never did.
I know I probably could have done so successfully, but that’s not how I roll. That said, it would mean everything if *one* day, one or two of you just came out and said to me, “You know what? I messed up, and I’m genuinely sorry about being so reckless with your life.”

-IJWTLReport

5thyeargrad
5thyeargrad
5 years ago

Dear Tenured Professors,

I desperately need you to start talking about mental illness.

I’m a PhD candidate in philosophy who has struggled with mental illness for my entire life. I have been given countless diagnoses: anorexia nervosa at 14, depression at 15, bipolar disorder at 16, dissociative identity disorder symptoms at 18, PTSD symptoms at 22, obsessive compulsive personality disorder at 26, and severe generalized anxiety and social anxiety somewhere in between. My childhood, teenage, and undergraduate years were characterized by trips to mental health care professionals’ offices and short stays in psychiatric wards (where I would be studying for your classes). I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t struggling with some form of mental illness or another, yet this is part of my identity that you will never see. I have to keep it hidden from view, hoping that you won’t discover the scars on my wrists and wonder whether I am stable enough to be a good prof.

Why haven’t we started talking about mental illness? What is it about this awful thing that deters us from serious philosophical inquiry and activism, despite the incredible work of so many philosophers on issues of importance to members of the discipline who face barriers related to gender, race, and and other features of their identities? I myself have not adequately come to terms with the pressing need to include mental illness amongst gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and other axes of lived experience that have earned their rightful place as subjects of intersectional inquiry.

What might it mean, for example, to think about the intersection of mental illness and gender? For me, it would mean recognizing the unique ways in which women with mental illness find themselves victims of charges of craziness and hyper-sensitivity—for example, the exacerbated harms that women with mental illness face when their male students claim that they are psychologically unfit to be a professor because women are too emotional, too irrational, to occupy positions of authority (true story). It would mean recognizing that media messages which harm all women are disproportionately burdensome to women whose self-esteem is also damaged by the burdens of mental illness. There is so much room, so much need, for expanding our scholarship and activism to think more about mental illness.

We all struggle with mental illness, you might say; and academia breeds it. Professors and graduate students are constantly being graded on their enthusiasm, charm, efficiency, and likeability by their students; they are ranked (literally) by the prestige of various elements of their CVs; they are often rejected by conferences and journals, sometimes with self-esteem shattering comments about the poor quality of their work. Many academics are undervalued, underpaid, overworked, isolated, unsettled, with poor health care and uncertain futures. It’s such a messy issue, better left dealt with on institutions’ student services pamphlets and in the rooms of school therapists – wherever on campus they are.

This is such an inadequate reply. How many of your students, for example, are suffering from mental illness without knowing where to go for help? Many of them, I bet. How many of your students are on waitlists to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist – patiently hoping for potential help that is six months down the road? Does your institution even provide (adequate, culturally appropriate and identity-sensitive) mental health care? How many of your students have been searching for months to find a medication that might possibly help them to relieve some anxiety, to enable them to get up in the morning, to challenge suicidal thinking, or to calm the multiple voices in their minds? It’s hard to know. But these students are suffering, even if they look fine and you don’t know who they are. And there are things that you can do to make your classroom, and your office hours, a safer space for them.

I was (am) the student who shows up at professors’ office hours perfectly dressed with a smile on my face, and a draft of my essay finished early for feedback. I am the graduate student that is “intimidating to others” (so I’m told) because I supposedly have it all together, publishing and conferencing like the perfectionist that I am. But then I go home, curl up on the bathroom floor, and cry… because that illusion is so exhausting to maintain.

I hope to some day be an activist for students with mental illness, but I can’t do it from my position as a graduate student – except through anonymously posting on relevant blogs that show up on my social media feeds. We (your students who are struggling) need you to do it, and now. I’m not asking you to be a therapist; I’m asking you to think about how professors might – together – work to improve the climate for members of the discipline who are suffering from mental illness, to self-educate about mental illness and your institutions’ services (and to help advocate for services where they are inadequate or don’t exist), to think about the tone of your comments on students’ work, to be accommodating, and… Let’s continue this discussion. What else can we do?

I am terrified of what members of the philosophy profession might think if they knew that I am mentally ill, hence the anonymity of this post that I will stubbornly maintain. But I sincerely hope that you, tenured professors, will lead the way in tackling this massive issue facing so many members of our discipline from the faculty level right down to the first year students who enter your classrooms at 17.

Sincerely, and with thanks for reading my post,
Grad studentReport

DirtyLaundry
DirtyLaundry
5 years ago

Thanks for suggesting, when my work had slowed down because I was having trouble at home, that a divorce might be the best thing for me, professionally speaking.

I didn’t get divorced, and I did leave the profession, and I believe that I’m much happier than I would have been had I finished.

You reminded me that being a moral philosopher doesn’t have to overlap with being a reasonable moral person.Report

ejrd
ejrd
5 years ago

Thank you. I often mistook your refusal to act as a parental surrogate for my emotional needs as you being cold and uncaring. I now realize that you were keeping professional distance and that you couldn’t (and shouldn’t) involve yourself in the personal lives of your students, me included. I often mistook your incisive, sometimes devastating, critiques of my work as evidence that I was a failure or that my ideas were bad. I now realize that there is a huge difference between critiquing me as a person and critiquing my writing. Your focus was always on my writing but my insecurities (i.e., a major dose of impostor syndrome which I needed to work on) made it hard for me to see that. I had a lot of growing up to do in grad school and I thank you for being a part of that without being weird, too involved, or creepy. I now try to model my own interactions with my own students in this way. I hope that they too come to appreciate that I am not their parent, that my criticisms of their work are neither personal nor mean-spirited, and that I wish them the very best.Report

Mirror
Mirror
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

There are professors who constantly talk about their own feelings and experiences who also say things exactly like this to graduate students. That’s a very confusing set of mixed-messages. Chances are, NOBODY wants you as a parental surrogate, and your students are just trying to get on your level. Want a more professional, more removed relationship? Think before you speak. Would you want your grad student to approach you about some topic? No? Then don’t bring it up all the time when you’re talking about yourself on Facebook, in a meeting, or in a seminar.Report

ABD
ABD
Reply to  Mirror
5 years ago

Thank you for saying this, mirror.

On the one hand, I completely agree that some grad students (I don’t know how many) expect too many emotional resources from a supervisor, in ways that are unprofessional or immature.

On the other hand….

Many professors feel entitled to talk to their students about all sorts of extremely personal aspects of their lives. Off the top of my head, I’ve heard about medical conditions, prof’s children’s personal life (such as health, boyfriends/girlfriends, academic performance), personal financials, marital life (non sexual, thank God), gossip and trouble with colleagues, and so forth. The most common topic is complaints about their university obligations, which is pretty off-putting coming from someone who has a cushy job. Note that these aren’t one-off cases. I’ve heard about all of these topics multiple times from multiple faculty members (both senior and junior, male and female), at multiple institutions. No, it isn’t everybody doing this, but it’s enough professors that a lot of graduate students who have encountered this phenomenon get really confused.

Let me repeat: this behavior is EXTREMELY CONFUSING to students. My experience has been that most of these profs are not interested in hearing about such personal matters from their students. (There was one exception, where I just had a personal friendship with the person. That friendship developed over many years, however, and was coupled with a real intellectual relationship as well.) Even though we’re babies or unprofessional for bringing personal matters to the table, some profs treat us as their default coping mechanisms.

It really reminds me of the feminist notion of “emotional labor.” Maybe it’s because I am a woman (and my other female friends report this as well), but I feel like I am expected to do emotional labor for my advisors–laughing at their jokes, letting them have someone to tell their insecurities and troubles to, listening to random stories I don’t care about and pretending to be interested–while if I ever bring my personal stuff into the room, I am the one who is unprofessional. Do you know how this feels? It feels like disrespect.

Professors: if you don’t have have a personal friendship that has grown over a long period of time with a student, please cut this out. Or at least stop complaining when students seem to want some of this emotional work reciprocated when things go wrong in THEIR lives.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  ABD
5 years ago

I’m not entirely sure why these are responses to my post but I admit that I have run into my fair share of manchildren professors who have the privilege of never having to grow up. I didn’t intend my post to invalidate experiences like yours with professors like that.

I do think that sharing some personal information is entirely within the bounds of being professional and part of having normal conversation (I know a little about my dentist’s kids and some of the issues she’s had with buying a home, for example) but I think instances of boundary-crossing happen and when they do they’re unprofessional and I’m sorry that you went through these sorts of experiences.Report

Mirror
Mirror
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

Thanks for that ejrd. I think finding the exact right mix is extremely difficult if not impossible. Your initial comment reminded me of the psychological projection I, and many of my female colleagues in an out of my department, have received from female faculty in recent years. I definitely do not want a parental figure, but sometimes I genuinely need an advocate. I don’t want you to give me a hug and tell me everything will be okay, but sometimes I need to tell you what I’ve been through (or in some cases, am still currently going through) so that you and I can work together to make sure that nobody else goes through that ever again (in our department any time soon).Report

DiscouragedGrad
DiscouragedGrad
5 years ago

Dear professor,

I know that you see sleeping with your grad student as “your own private matter”, but i want to let you know what for all of us hard working grad students, it has been awfully depressing to see how your behaviour has impacted on our opportunities. As dedicated and determined students pursuing academic careers, we need to see some fairness in the way we are supported. It is depressing seeing the teaching opportunities, job support and funding going to your student when many of us are way more deserving on objective merits and promising. As a girl, it hurts very much to see that the one female student that gets all the encouragement and support from the department and is expected to succeed on the job market is the one who chose to sleep with you. Your behaviour, apart from disgusting to me, is the source of a lot of anxiety and anger in our small student community and we would love it if you could stop exploiting your position and gave all a fair treatment. Cheers!Report

Old grad
Old grad
5 years ago

Dear committee,
I wanted to say this for a long time. You are the worst advisors I’ve ever encountered (barring those who engage in sexual harassment or other extreme behavior). C1, you never ever gave me written comments on my work; it was clearly so distasteful to work with me that you just sat there in meetings, reading my drafts real time and making criticisms. C2, you told me that it was ” kind of a shame” that I ( female) chose to work in ( insert technical analytic philosophy field). The implication was that my work might seem better if I worked in an easier area. Thanks. No one was more surprised than you two when I got several tenure track job offers, one of two students on the market that year from our ( fancy-pants) program to get a job at all. Oh, and thanks for walking out of the room and leaving me practically in mid- sentence during my private PhD defense, I had to chase you both into the hallway to ask, ” are we done?” One of you said, ” yeah”, and you both sauntered off to lunch, while I was left standing there alone,wondering what had happened. But what did happen is that I became a professor. And 20+ years later, I’m still in the field, doing my best for my students. At least I’ve got a great idea of what not to do.Report

Grateful Too
Grateful Too
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

You have been in every way an exemplar for me, both as a researcher and as a teacher. I will inevitably fall short of the extremely high standards you have set in these regards. But now, as a professor myself, every time I start to fall short in some respect (which is often), I think of the example you have set, and I become a slightly better professor for it. Thank you.Report

AnotherDisheartenedGradStudent
AnotherDisheartenedGradStudent
5 years ago

Dear Professor (in my non-anglophone University in Continental Europe),

You have been my advisor for more than five years now. During these five years, I think that we may have spent at best 4 or 5 hours talking together (and only maybe half of it was dedicated to talk about my work). Choosing you as an advisor was the worst decision I ever made in my professional life. I don’t think that you are a bad person, in the sense that you are not evil, but you are lazy, shameless, incompetent, and you don’t care at all about your students. Also, you don’t really care about philosophy anymore (if you ever did), and the only things that you seem to have been interested in, for all these years, are your personal administrative power and your reputation. I don’t hate you, but sometimes it makes me sick when I think that I am still passionate about philosophy, but that my chances of finding of job in philosophy are seriously lowered because of your careless behavior and because of the fact that you never gave me any help. If I ever finish this damn thesis, I would have written it absolutely alone (or with the help of people that had no duty to help me). It makes me sick when I think that so many people who are more competent, more caring and more hard-working than you would dream to have your job, but never got tenure. Finally, it makes me sick when I think that, if I end up writing a good thesis and having a decent career in philosophy, you will get some credit for it.

Best!Report

Just Another Woman Who Left Academia
Just Another Woman Who Left Academia
5 years ago

Dear…
Not dear…
_______,

How dare you? How dare you? Recounting this now fills my gut with the same twists of disgust as when you first made a pass at me. It was subtle enough– after all, you’re a smart man, a PhD, and despite the fact that your department and university have clearly-defined consequences for your actions you needn’t expect to face them if you can keep your harassment just vague enough –but there it is still. Just questionable enough. And as a woman in this field, who is more deserving of questions? Whose stance warrants more scrutiny? (Especially, when so many young male professional philosophers-to-be worshipped you so– albeit, I think for reasons beyond your scholarship. You did so have a knack for turning any necessary example or instantiation of some concept into a sexual innuendo. They were entertained by– and more grossly, inspired by –your explicit nature.) Over time you lost your subtlety. This would usually coincide with your lost sobriety, because leading our supervisions in your office seemed “inconvenient” or “idiotic” when we both lived so very near this particular pub. In those moments of forced disconnect, I was almost humored by your advances– how you brushed my thigh beneath the table where my two colleagues sat across. One of whom ACTUALLY said to me, “I’m certain you just misread the situation–women do that,” when I confided in him, seeking support or advice on how to stop you and successfully finish my studies. I didn’t stop you in the end. I did graduate in the top of my cohort. And you married another colleague of mine, or more concisely, one of your students. Thank you for confirming the accuracy of my judgment, which every one of you little followers disregarded or denied as you 1) wielded your title over me (and heavens knows, how many others) 2) opened countless doors hoping I would walk through them (perhaps, then you would be an even more protected position to get what you wanted from me) 3) extinguished my faith in common decency among male professional philosophers and made me leave a community I know I could (and did) thrive in.

“Academic achievement,” “professional scholarship,” giving life to my theories/ideas, becoming a professor…none of it is worth being subject to the tireless advances made by the men YOU SET THE EXAMPLE FOR, and the proclamations that my work was only distinguished because YOU APPRECIATED MY “MOTHERLIKE HIPS.”

Why did I leave philosophy? You, f*cker. And all your godd*mn cronies.Report

Fed Up & Devalued
Fed Up & Devalued

Professional academics don’t have to behave like professionals, do they? Not when they’ve got tenure. Gross.Report

Fed Up
Fed Up
5 years ago

Dear Dr. Doesn’t Care When a Woman’s Interrupted,

For God’s sake, is it NOT your responsibility to– not police, exactly –but at least, mediate the cross-table discussions in our seminar? By this, I really simply mean: if my GROWN ASS MALE COLLEAGUES DO NOT KNOW HOW TO CONTAIN THEMSELVES WHEN A WOMAN IS SPEAKING, IF WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAT IT WARRANTS BOTH INTERRUPTION AND CHANGE OF TOPIC, then maybe you could return to the point my female colleague or I was making prior to this sporadic “contribution” to our seminar. As opposed to…you know, calling it a “contribution.” And proceeding to follow this reorientation of an incomplete conversation. There ARE defining features of open discourse– and exclusively male voices being heard and praised is not supposed to be one of them. There are guidelines for how to carry oneself in a discourse– mostly, just “don’t be an a**hole.” Perhaps, that is asking too much of someone of your status though. Sigh. What really made me give up the fight to be heard with you however, was my making a point in seminar which you repeated back to me…only proving you hadn’t actually listened to a thing I had said, as what you “repeated” was the direct OPPOSITE of what I’d said. And then when a male colleague cited ME– WHAT I HAD SAID 10 MINUTES PRIOR– you called his observation “astute.” It was MY observation, but it had no value until a man observed it himself.Report

Fed Up & Devalued
Fed Up & Devalued
5 years ago

Dear Dr. Doesn’t Care When a Woman’s Interrupted,

For God’s sake, is it NOT your responsibility to– not police, exactly –but at least, mediate the cross-table discussions in our seminar? By this, I really simply mean: if my GROWN ASS MALE COLLEAGUES DO NOT KNOW HOW TO CONTAIN THEMSELVES WHEN A WOMAN IS SPEAKING, IF WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAT IT WARRANTS BOTH INTERRUPTION AND CHANGE OF TOPIC, then maybe you could return to the point my female colleague or I was making prior to this sporadic “contribution” to our seminar. As opposed to…you know, calling it a “contribution.” And proceeding to follow this reorientation of an incomplete conversation. There ARE defining features of open discourse– and exclusively male voices being heard and praised is not supposed to be one of them. There are guidelines for how to carry oneself in a discourse– mostly, just “don’t be an a**hole.” Perhaps, that is asking too much of someone of your status though. Sigh. What really made me give up the fight to be heard with you however, was my making a point in seminar which you repeated back to me…only proving you hadn’t actually listened to a thing I had said, as what you “repeated” was the direct OPPOSITE of what I’d said. And then when a male colleague cited ME– WHAT I HAD SAID 10 MINUTES PRIOR– you called his observation “astute.” It was MY observation, but it had no value until a man observed it himself.Report

Alfred MacDonald
Alfred MacDonald
5 years ago

There is nothing I couldn’t have said to any of my professors. Nothing in universities has life-or-death consequences.

“Couldn’t say without any consequences”, sure. Innumerable things. More than I could fit into this comment box. But then, universities aren’t institutions optimized that foster honesty, and people who believe they are tend to be vastly unaware of how many thoughts are suppressed.Report

Another Grad Student
Another Grad Student
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

You are one of the kindest, most inspirational, wonderful people I have ever met. I wish I could say that about everyone in this field, but it’s at least heartening to know that there are still good people in academia.

Sincerely,
StudentReport

Mixed Feelings
Mixed Feelings
5 years ago

Dear supervisor,

Your supervision is a mixed bag. You’re very generous when it comes to sharing your professional network, and that’s been phenmenal. When you comment on my work, it’s *enormously* helpful. You’re always right on time with letters and the like. The real trouble is just that I can’t ever count on your feedback. Six months to a year might elapse before I can pin you into reading just some of the dissertation work I’ve sent you over the preceding months, which I also know you do at the very last minute. And although the feedback itself is great, what’s less great is trying to address major issues at the very last minute, in a compressed time frame. If you were just a little more reliable, it would make a huge difference (not least with respect to my funding, which eventually ran out).

Yours,
-MixedReport

PhDenial
PhDenial
5 years ago

Dear Department Faculty,
Some of you did so much for me, for which I am infinitely grateful. I have told you so. However, I am concerned about your actions during hiring a new tenure-track candidate recently. When a group of graduate students approached you, concerned that the hiring committee had picked the most unpopular candidate (although still qualified) over the overwhelmingly popular one (who happened to be female), your response and explanation was a bit shocking. What do you mean you don’t think hiring a woman is essential to our graduate program, or immediately pressing? Almost half of our graduate students are women. Why can you rest on the fact that, “women graduate students have done well without female mentors in years past,” to conclude that we do not need female mentors? I know you were trying to make us feel better about our futures, but it made us feel worse. I wish you had just told us your preferred candidate had more publications than the one we liked better, and left it at that.
I wanted to tell you, Advisor, that I did manage to get through graduate school and get a job without a female mentor; however, I strongly believe my graduate life would have been a million times easier with a female advocate; and it would have been easier for the younger graduate students to have one, even if I could not. Your insensitivity to the issue really hurt. It felt awful that you used ME as an example of someone who got through without a female mentor. Our interpersonal relationships have been positive, but this interaction felt like a betrayal. Until this happened, I had felt supported and safe. Now I am not sure whether you really care about our needs as female students; maybe you only care about us insofar as we can spit out philosophy articles. You have no IDEA how hard graduate school was for me. I never told you because I didn’t want to seem “oversensitive”, the exact thing you called my younger colleagues when they expressed similar struggles.
It’s no wonder so many women leave the profession during graduate school.
Sincerely,
BackstabbedReport

(Not So) Great Expectations
(Not So) Great Expectations
5 years ago

Dear senior faculty,

Please stop complaining about your administrative duties when you don’t even complete them on time. Or, in some cases, ever. Some of these duties affect us and our progress in the program, and “sorry” doesn’t make up for our losses. You are being paid to do these things, whether you like them or not. As a graduate student, I also have to do an awful lot of things I don’t like, like embarrassing myself (and annoying you) by asking you to do your job so that I can then do mine. The difference is that I will stop receiving a paycheck if I stop doing my work.

And please don’t tell us that a few thousand dollars is “nothing to worry about” or “really not that much money, after all.” This is at best insulting and at worst veers into gaslighting territory. It is infuriating and humiliating to be made to feel greedy for ensuring that I will have enough money to eat and pay my rent.

Almost all of you seem like very nice people to get beers with. But I expect more.

Sincerely,
(Not So) Great ExpectationsReport

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
5 years ago

I know this doesn’t really count as something I wish I could tell them but can’t, since I already told them, but since other comments are clearly similar sorts of exceptions, here I reproduce the Acknowledgements page from my dissertation:

“I would like to acknowledge Professor David Brink for getting back to me with two pages of single-spaced general criticism and 82 targeted critiques of the nearly 100-page prospectus that I would have turned in too late to defend on schedule but for the fact that he responded so quickly, allowing me to revise in time. This example stands for many; he is a model of professionalism as well as intellectual and personal responsibility, and the standard he set as an advisor is one I hope to be able to approach in my own career. His patient support and thoughtful criticisms of the dissertation have made it much better than it otherwise would have been.

I would also like to acknowledge Richard Arneson for, when I was originally toying with the idea of desire-dependent reasons, continuing to pester me with the question of why ‘me-now’ should care about what ‘me-later’ wants or cares about. Out of the frustration of trying to answer that question came a central aspect of this work. Even more important, his sustained enthusiasm for the project lightened my spirits in heavy times.”

Given that my dissertation criticizes David’s work, it’s especially impressive and rewarding that he responded to it as positively as he did. And he has been very helpful on the job market. Without David’s help, I would not have a job. (And if I had been wise enough to seek out his help about the market and job-talks earlier, I would have probably gotten one sooner). That’s a debt that can only be paid forward.Report

Grateful
Grateful
5 years ago

Dear Professors at my PhD department, and especially my Committee and Supervisor,
You probably don’t know that your encouragement and mentorship have helped me to heal and rediscover my love of philosophy after an emotionally abusive relationship with a professor in my masters program. I needed to relearn that academia largely isn’t, and shouldn’t be political games and intrigues, and a zero sum game of egos. And I needed to be treated like a philosopher in the making, not like a pawn, a vessel for personal and professional frustrations, or an object of desire or contempt. Without your support, professionalism, and the positive community that you fostered I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am so very grateful for this, and it pains me that you may never know what you did for me.Report

Amelia
Amelia
5 years ago

Also as a graduate student, I have read about two dozen of these comments, and all of the negative ones seem like whiny babies who blame others for his or her personal issues in life.Report

Aladdin
Aladdin
Reply to  Amelia
5 years ago

You’re right, it’s our own fault that we’re sexually harassed and can’t get feedback.

Count yourself lucky that you don’t recognize yourself in any of the bad comments.Report

IJWTL
IJWTL
Reply to  Amelia
5 years ago

I can understand that. We’re incredibly lucky to be in grad school. In fact, I remember thinking that older grad students were whiny babies- and bad philosophers- when they talked this way.

…..And then all the genuinely f*cked things happened.

Stay tough Amelia.Report

William Bell
Reply to  Amelia
5 years ago

You read this comment:

“When you call me oversensitive and ask why I’m so slow, I wish I could tell you it’s because I have PTSD from being raped by another grad student at the beginning of my time in grad school. Now I’m too angry and upset to finish this note but I will say the lack of empathy (including from professors who knew what happened) is an indictment against your characters. Especially if I have to drop out (which I hope won’t but depression sucks and your lack of advising/support is not helping me graduate!) I’m going to remember and hold that against you.”

And your thought was “whiny baby”?Report

Mid-Career Female
Mid-Career Female
5 years ago

Dear Big Name Professor,
When we were discussing some work I’d written on supervenience, an area to which you had made significant contributions, you mentioned that there was a body of literature exploring the issue from a formal logic perspective. I asked for some key references and you refused to provide any, telling me that they were ‘too hard’. I walked down to the lake and cried in bewilderment because I thought that you were saying that I, a female philosopher, wasn’t clever enough to understand them.
Only 10 years later with benefit of much hindsight do I understand that the person who was unable to master these pieces was yourself.Report

Student
Student
5 years ago

Dear advisor,

The reason I left my old graduate program and waited a few years to reapply to academia was that I was a victim in an abusive relationship. I needed to get away from a person in my old cohort, and I wasn’t able to deal with the problem properly until I finished the term, handed in my papers, and went home. Caring for oneself is the first thing that gets taken off the table when the deadlines start piling up, so I decided to grin and bear it until I could get out with an MA and without causing a scene. I did not want my temporary anguish to tarnish my academic record permanently. I would have stayed in my old program if not for the abusive relationship, though it’s probably better that I didn’t, since my mentors there were not very helpful and my advisor did not know who I was. My old program was more prestigious than the one I’m in now, and everyone there thinks that I was not readmitted after I completed my MA, although I actually was.

I don’t have a problem telling people about this now that it’s over, but it always seems like a weird, debbie-downer thing to bring up. I’d have told you about it by now if it had come up in conversation, but it never did. So there’s that.

MeReport

Ash
Ash
5 years ago

Telling me to do feminist philosophy because I’m a woman was SO helpful. #notReport

A Few Years Later, But I Remember
A Few Years Later, But I Remember
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

Thanks for the comment you put on my paper (which you assigned with no direction whatsover) that read, “I expected better given your contributions in class”. As a psychologist yourself, I thought you might have more compassion for a paper submitted late with a doctor’s note for a mental health problem.Report

Confused
Confused
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

I will not be your last advisee, nor am I your first–and I have discovered that the issues I have had with your feedback your other advisees (and other students) have had as well (hint: it’s not just me). In the future, please, please remember what you actually advise your students to do in future drafts. You seem to go with what you notice at the moment during our meetings, and as a result I have received completely contradictory advice about fairly major points within my chapters, and this leaves me confused about what I should do to strengthen my work (I tried once to address this with you. That was a mistake–and your reaction taught me that discussing issues with you is not an option). Once you have forgotten that it was your suggestion, you declare it a terrible idea, and claim you have no idea why I did whatever it was–when in multiple cases now I was following your advice, and you had actually approved what I’d written in previous meetings. In addition, you simultaneously have told me I have done good work and that my chapters are “trash,” “bad writing,” and “not PhD level work”–opinions that my other professors do not seem to share. In detailed feedback in the chapters, you haven’t identified any major problems or been able to be specific about what exactly I’m doing wrong–and in fact, the same writing that you called trash in our meetings, you complimented in your comments! I chose to work with you because I respect your work and I hoped that I would get good advice and feedback from you on my own work so that I could grow as a scholar. Instead, I feel confused and unable to correctly evaluate what I write, and have lost all confidence in my ability to survive in this field. I should be able to finish the program this term, but what I will do after that, I honestly have no idea.

You are a brilliant scholar on your own. However, you seem to have no idea how to actually work with students (graduate or otherwise) to help them grow.Report

Jason
Jason
5 years ago

Dear Professor-Supervisor,

I am glad I have better academic mentors who are interested not only in my intellectual and academic work, but also my emotional, social, and spiritual growth. Here is a list of things that have contributed to my lost of respect for you:

Your emails are very poorly written and the content is scattered. When I ask for clarity, you contradict your self in the next email.

Your instructions change haphazardly; you tell me to focus on transcribing and coding–which takes about three to four months–and then in about three weeks you send me an email asking me if I started writing a draft. What the huh is up with you?

The day you told me to be careful of what I say because you are a tenured professor and can break or make my career is the day I parted ways with you from within, and gave you a perpetual invisible middle finger.

Your mentorship is at an all time zero; I have decided to not reply to your emails because I understand now that you do not see me as a person, but only as a number in the graduate studies mill and a line in your CV. My father almost passed away, my sister got cancer recently, for years I was suicidal and depressed, I have been dealing with extreme poverty, I almost quit the program to go to another country, and you have NEVER asked me about these aspects of my life and how they impact my intellectual and academic endeavors. As a result, I have decided to treat you as instrumentally as you treat me and I will email you when I am ready to use you.

You have not really informed me about the behind the classroom mechanisms of academia; those important information on how to become a bonafide junior academic on the way for a successful academic profession. Heck, when I asked for your feedback on my job application for a post, your responses were so meaningless. You clearly did not read my application seriously; you probably just browsed through it in few minutes. I am glad that the website the professor is in dot come and my other mentors had my back. You are my supervisor, and you are not even supervising.

Look, I understand it is not easy being a tenured associate professor. You have tons of responsibilities and you deal with shady characters and colleagues every day, and the toxic nature of departments and academia with all its factions wears you down. I know, I see it in how unhealthy you look and how psychologically imbalanced you are. But to treat me as your scapegoat is unacceptable. You and your colleagues should get on the real work of bringing change to the department so that it better reflects your needs. Professors should use their unions to bring meaningful change to their working conditions and should collaborate with student unions to mobilize and organize for better education conditions in general. The lone-wolf academic is a slow suicide for all academics. Time to get back to the roots of education for change and not education for mere talk and fat pay checques.Report

Survivor
Survivor
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

No matter how much you may respect me or consider me an up-and-coming peer, do not bad-mouth other grad students to me. It does not come across as camaraderie. It just makes me wonder what you say behind my back.

Similarly, please do not complain to newly minted PhDs about how much you hate advising those needy grad students. No, I’m not one of them anymore, but was I? And btw, pre-tenure I still need help and mentoring. Guess I won’t be getting it from you. Do you even want your field to survive into the next generation or are you cool with it being wiped from the face of the academy because no one can get hired or promoted?

So many of the comments here have been about professors being so buried in research that they can’t see the people around them. Please wake up and look at us.

-A Survivor and Her GuiltReport

Needy McNeederson
Needy McNeederson
Reply to  Survivor
5 years ago

Thanks for saying this. Honestly, I’m over this whole needy grad student trope. And with that:

Dear Professors,

I *need* to know exactly what you expect of me and will accept from me. That way I can do it, and never need another thing from you ever again.

-“Needy”Report

Another Needy McNeederson
Another Needy McNeederson
Reply to  Needy McNeederson
5 years ago

Yeah, I’m really over this “Needy” stuff as well. Are there hordes of graduate students out there wanting their professors to talk like surrogate parents? I don’t know, maybe.

But mostly what I see and hear is graduate students who just want their advisors to do their friggen job, where minimally that requires: replying to emails in timely fashion, giving comments in a timely fashion, submitting paperwork on time (AND CORRECTLY), teaching courses at least half-way decently (getting tired of providing feedback on professors’ new stuff when they should be teaching me), coming to seminars prepared, helping them navigate confusing or opaque aspects of professional philosophy (such as journal submissions), and treating students with basic respect and kindness. I have had to micro-manage my supervisors just to make sure crucial documents were submitted on time, in order that I didn’t get seriously hurt by their negligence. That is unacceptable. Part of your job is submitting your paperwork on time.

Faculty members sometimes act like extremely important and busy CEOs…witness someone in the other comment thread saying they don’t get paid to make small talk with graduate students and are not interested in doing it. (Really?! What the heck? That’s part of being part of a work place, and also being a decent person. Is my plumber being needy when we make small talk?!) Also witness the complaints that we don’t realize how busy professors are, what with their family and friends. I know. We know. We also have family and friends too. We are also busy. We just want you to do your job, as we can do ours. Why is this so much to ask???Report

Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Reply to  Survivor
5 years ago

@Survivor: If you replace “research” with “egos”, I’m totally with you.Report

Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
Sad Eyed Philosopher of the Lowlands
5 years ago

Dear Many Famous Professors:

1. I wonder how valuable your “truths” really are, if nothing else in your life reflects them.

2. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, but normal humans enjoy conversations about other things, too.Report

AlsoAlsoGratefulAsWell
AlsoAlsoGratefulAsWell
5 years ago

Dear Department Chair,

The sheer volume of constant shenanigans you put up with is truly astounding, but you handle it like a champ. Thank you for your service.

-Your Most Annoying Grad StudentReport

AlmostDone
AlmostDone
5 years ago

Dear Advisor,

You seem to have a huge disconnect between how you think you are advising and how you are actually advising your graduate students. We’ve never discussed my dissertation or the ideas therein and we only talk once or twice per year. It takes you 3+ months to read a chapter, you are late on getting paperwork in, and I often seem to be an after-thought. I understand that professors have busy lives, but if you weren’t going to do the minimal requirements of an advisor, then why become one? You say you want to be a support, but then disappear when I actually need you. You’ve given me precious little advice about academia, careers, or the PhD process. I’ve mostly grown my network on my own. In the rare times we do get together, I somehow end up in a “counsellor” role as you talk about your life issues. Even though I consider myself an independent self-starter, this PhD experience has been a lonely one — a feeling not uncommon in graduate school.

Dear Actual Professor-Mentor,
The day we met was a godsend. I had been travelling this graduate path alone for so long until you came along. THANK YOU for the monthly chats via Skype, reading my dissertation (in a timely manner!), quick email replies, encouraging me to write, the stimulating intellectual discussion, your brilliant mind, collaborations on projects, and just generally being there for me. You were everything I was hoping for in a mentor and I’m touched and humbled by your altruism (considering I can’t even be a line on your CV and you’ve done all of this extra work despite your hectic schedule). I’m also happy I could also be there for you, too, and help advance your career.Report

A standard student
A standard student
5 years ago

Dear Professor,

I’m just a lazy student who expects you to pass me and let me get a degree. I am not smart to be a student in many other countries. But here, I am and I think I deserve it and I want professors to serve me. I have no idea what college is about and how to respect my professors.
I think immigrants take my job because they come here. But they get my job because I don’t learn much in school.Report

a nonstandard student
a nonstandard student
Reply to  A standard student
5 years ago

Comments like his are why I support viewpoint diversity.

http://heterodoxacademy.org/2016/09/12/i-support-viewpoint-diversity-badge/Report

TY and FY
TY and FY
5 years ago

Dear Mentor,
Thank you. For everything.
Thank you for allowing me to explore my own thoughts and ideas. Thank you for supporting my efforts and my work, even when you thought my theories and arguments were a little strange. Thank you for being a genuinely kind person and for understanding that I’m human…and thank you for not discrediting me when life was hard and my work wasn’t my best. Thank you for kicking my butt so that I understood an A in your class was something I had to work hard for and something I earned and that any B was deserved. Thank you for being a strong example in our department of what a true mentor should be.
Thank for trusting me enough to welcome me into your personal life more after graduation and thank you for being someone I can now call a friend.

Dear You Four Other Professors in the Dept Specifically,
See what ^he’s^ doing? Do that, too.
Try nurturing students’ individuality instead of expecting to have your asses kissed every moment. Try giving students the grades they deserve, based on their work instead of on how well they prop up your own agenda. Try not criticizing and penalizing students who propose theory not directly in line with your own crap-filled dissertation. Try publishing textbooks without plagiarism, typos, and syntax so bad that freshmen point it out in class (true story). Try not being a shitty person.
Start caring. Start caring about the students, the adjuncts, the GAs…start caring about ANYTHING or ANYONE other than yourself. Starthe caring or GTFOOH so we can save what’s left of the program and it’s reputation.
You’re not going to try. You’re not going to care and that’s sad. You’re ruining the department I want to love. You’re sending the entire department down a shit hole to the point that it will not recover until you four specifically are gone and can’t screw it up anymore. Stop ruining the program for the rest of us who love our job. When a student who’d already declared their major in our department leaves because of a meeting with the “two crazy bitches who like to listen to themselves talk”(another true story), we lose more than that one student.
And you just keep making it worse.Report

pizzagrad
pizzagrad
5 years ago

I like it when we go out for pizza after seminars, because I struggle to afford to eat on some days out of the week.Report

Suffering
Suffering
5 years ago

To the department, and all of the professors in it:
The school and your careers are structured such that you are under continuous pressure to publish, and you have no incentive to do your job well vis a vis students. At least, that’s the most charitable explanation for what I have experienced. Let me give you a short list of issues:
1. Assigning an incompetent professor, who everyone knows sucks at teaching, to teach 2 required difficult courses that we all must pass. If he doesn’t have to do his job teaching, then why are we required to do our job (learning)? He gets to waste our time and not teach, but then he gives us real grades. He can keep us from graduating. I know a student who switched departments just to get away from this class.
2. Placing a lot of the much needed information we need to know in a class with prerequisites that is taught once a year, so we take it in our 3rd or 5th semesters… but we are held accountable for the information we learn in that class from Day 1, in our other classes, in fellowship applications, and in our thesis… which many of us have already written by the time we actually take this crucial class.
3. Poor teaching in general, across the board. The teaching model used in grad school is difficult to master I imagine. It’s one thing to stand in front of a room and lecture, but it’s quite another thing to herd a room of grad students into a discussion in which each of them comes out learning what you want them to know. That said, many of you are poor to mediocre at it. You aren’t trained in it, you aren’t held accountable for it, and you might not ever do anything to make yourselves better at it. Some of you do, for sure. But it’s optional. The end result is more poorly taught courses than well taught ones. I don’t fill out critical evals of my profs most of the time. We have small classes, it’s too risky that they will know who wrote what. And everyone’s tenured, so it’s not like they are going to change because I wrote down that they aren’t good teachers.
4. We’re expected to live in poverty while undergoing a stressful program. This is not our individual professor’s faults but dear god, HELP! In any way you can! Or at least understand that while we are trying to get our reading done and dissertations written we are also trying to figure out how to pay the rent and eat something other than ramen every day.
5. Most of all, it’s just a lack of mentoring and giving a shit about the students at all. A few professors obviously don’t like me, and they aren’t professional enough to set that aside and be grown ups and do their damn jobs. Go to therapy and work out your issues for god’s sakes instead of taking it out on your students. More often, there’s just a lack of time spent on students in general. Between the poor teaching, lack of mentoring, and just plain old lack of time, nobody cares. I’m trying to learn here. I’m broke, I’m struggling, I want to learn. I want to learn from YOU. There’s absolutely no regard for how individual students learn, and nobody takes the time for individual students as far as I’ve seen. Nobody even bothered with my thesis it seemed. Easier to rubber stamp it than to help me make it better.

There’s a lot of mental health problems in our department, among the students. I’m drowning in it, and other friends have dropped out as a result. Still others are with me, still going but struggling. Everyone’s issue is different, but several of us cope by eating and gain a ton of weight. Some have panic attacks. One friend is too afraid to meet with professors, even to find an adviser. Another quit because the prelims gave her panic attacks and she couldn’t do it. She was 100% competent aside from that, and it was entirely unnecessary for her to drop out, but that’s what happened. And nobody gives a shit. Please, can somebody give a shit? I realize faculty are under pressure themselves, but meanwhile your students are suffering.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Dear Prof X,

I know you and Prof Y don’t get along, and that you don’t want to be reminded of the existence of prof. Z either. I believe your feeling resonates with theirs. But you all happen to work in the same area, which is the area I am interested in, and we are all in the same department.

Please put your personal differences aside when judging my work or my capabilities, or when considering whether to advise me.

It is not my job as a graduate student to try to figure out what happened, nor to take sides.Report

Tired
Tired
5 years ago

Dear Advisor:
Words matter. You taught me this, through the endless rounds of critique to which my work is subjected. I signed up for this, and your advice has helped me become a better writer. I can put up with your critique of my writing, even if I have come to see that other faculty members have more encouraging and productive ways of presenting criticism; I’ll deal. Why do you see so clearly that words matter when writing an academic paper, but not when applied to making comments about students’ personal lives?! Why do you feel compelled to make snide remarks, both to my face and behind my back, about my choice to have a child and to take a break from school?! Or tell my friend that she will have an easy time on the job market because of her status as a racial minority? For someone who constantly chides students for carelessness and lack of attention to language, you certainly don’t seem to hold yourself to the same standard.
Sincerely,
TiredReport