Grad Students: What Would You Tell Your Fellow Students, But Can’t?
First we asked what graduate students would like to say to their professors, but felt like they couldn’t. Then we asked what professors would like to say to graduate students, but couldn’t. Less for the sake of exploring all of the available logical space (but of course partly for that) and more because it was requested and might be of some use, we shall now take up the question:
Graduate students, what would you like to tell each other right now, but can’t?
I believe that this could be a constructive exchange in which graduate students can learn more about how they might understand each other, support each other, and make what many see as a challenging time less challenging. I would imagine that there will be a range of statements (“don’t apply for the jobs I want!”), and while the voicing of problems is certainly on the table, so, too, are suggestions and praise.
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Graduate seminars are not your own personal space. Whether that’s to ask irrelevant questions, bring up your favorite figure/project, or spout off your largely irrelevant objections. Everyone is trying to learn, so participating is fine, but when you make a contribution to class everyone else has to hear it. Keep that in mind.Report
And that is precisely why grad school is stressful. How are we to know what is and what is not the proper thing to say if we’re afraid of trial and error? How would I know whether an objection is relevant or not if I’m too afraid that someone like you will be dissing about me over drinks after the seminar? Gosh. All the nightmares from grad school are back again.Report
I don’t want to sit through another 10 minute soliloquy about how you feel about a thing that the reading kind of reminded you of, and I don’t care about how interesting this feeling is in relation to what one of your undergrad profs said once. I want to know what you think about the text. If you want to talk about feelings you’re having about something tangentially related to the text than let’s do it after class.Report
Dear Fellow Graduate Students, (but mostly to those who are stereotypical of graduate students: single, childless, healthy, making enough to get by, and yet inexplicably, remarkably, not accomplishing anything at all, and wallowing in the 57th year of graduate school).
Here’s the deal: doing philosophy well is hard work. You don’t work hard. You don’t work at all that I can see. That’s why you’re not done with anything. It’s in particular what’s keeping you from finishing your dissertation, publishing, going to good conferences, getting fellowships, etc.
In case it helps, here’s how to do work, as a philosopher:
Step 1: write something (e.g. an original paper, or a response to someone’s paper, or a fellowship application or…)
Step 2: Read other people’s stuff (preferably things related to what you wrote).
Step 3: Read your own stuff. If it’s crap, throw it out and return to step 1. If not, go to step 4.
Step 4: Use a red pen to tear your own writing apart. Lay into it like you would lay into the writing of that smarmy-ass mofo who sits at the back of class and hassles you all period but isn’t half as smart as he thinks he is. Do not be gentle.
Step 5: Using the guide from Step 4, rewrite what you wrote. If what you wrote is now good enough to publish, send it to a journal. If not, go to step 2.
You need to be doing this for roughly 60-70 hours a week. Because (repeating what I already said) doing philosophy well is hard work. Or you could just quit philosophy. But do choose one of these options, and fast. You make me look bad by association.
Your moderately successful colleague.Report
I think these steps are legitimate, but if you really, genuinely are actively doing them for 60-70 hours a week, either you need to find a more efficient way to work, and/or we need to have a serious conversation about work/life balance. (And if that 60-70 hours was not implicitly meant to include teaching, seminars, reading groups, committees etc, none of which were included in those four steps, I feel safe saying that that “60-70 hours” is way, way too much!)Report
I was going to get on to write about this very topic. That is, what Workyo expresses is a very common attitude that is expressed explicitly and implicitly by lots of grad students in the profession. And it is a deeply unhelpful and unhealthy attitude. This is a recipe for burnout for most people, even assuming that we are appropriately identifying who has legitimate excuses (which I seriously doubt Workyo is). While all the steps that Workyo referenced here are reasonably accurate, they aren’t that helpful. It’s like saying “to all you lazy grad students who aren’t getting jobs, what you need to do is go out there and get jobs.” Yeah, thanks, we know.
For what it is worth, I am a moderately successful grad student; my disseration is essentially done, I’m published in an OK place, and I’m about to go on the market. And the periods when I was the least productive were ones where I was trying to stick to that 60-70 hour a week schedule. I worked long hours, but I just didn’t make as much progress on my work. In periods when I have had better work-life balance, I have completed more of my work. Of course, I also know some super successful people who work all the time, even 60-70 hours a week. And I don’t know what it is like to be them, and I don’t want to suggest that there is a one-size fits all solution to graduate study. Maybe for them that’s fine. But I think for many of us, like myself, better work-life balance make for better productivity. And this judgmental attitude that other people are less successful because they are lazy is just causing a whole lot of suffering while adding nothing of value to the conversation.
So what I would want to say to grad students is: go have a life! It’s valuable, intrinsically, to have hobbies and do fun stuff. But its also justified even if all you care about is getting more work done. And stop trying to prove to your fellow grads that you are better than them by talking about how much you work, and stop judging them for failing to meet your standards. That’s desperately unhelpful, and just plain mean.Report
I’ve worked constantly and around the clock. I’ve noticed that people who treat it more like a job are doing better than I am. I’ve recently decided to do the same. I’m still clocking 12 hour days sometimes, but I’m taking Saturdays off now. And I’m getting more done.
So Workyo, no. And do I need to remind you that this is a thread for grad students to talk to grad students. You can use the Prof2Grad thread in the future. And forgive me, but you can also pipe the f down.
Just pipe down, you maniac.Report
I know. It’s difficult to believe that a fellow graduate student would think that working like a mofo is something demanded of them. But I do. And it pisses me off that so many other graduate students *don’t do shit*.
I’m also pissed off about all the grad students that spend countless hours worrying about their goddamn TA sections. They’re meaningless. And yes, I genuinely believe that. And yes, I genuinely mean it when I say that you’re spending time on your TA work to avoid doing the hard work of doing good philosophy.
You’ve found a way to be successful without the 70 hour week? Good. I’m honestly happy for you. For me I didn’t see the start of progress, never saw a paper I wrote look remotely like something I’d want to publish, didn’t really understand anything I was talking about until I did.
So here’s the deal: work. Work fucking super hard. Or, if you’re the type that only needs to work hard to accomplish actual work, cool. Don’t work super hard. Just work hard. And if you’re not willing to do that, leave the field. Because philosophy looks bad already, and we don’t need any lazy assholes hanging around making it look worse.Report
I’m sympathetic with a lot of that. But I think there are more productive ways to say it.Report
I think you might think that the smart or clever people you know are failing because they’re not working. I can only speak for myself, but I think that nothing I’m doing is good enough. It hurts my productivity badly and in many ways. I’ve had to do a lot of extra work to overcome that. I’m still doing that work.
But I don’t see how that makes my friends look bad- unless, of course, you mean that it makes them look like they might be dishonest for never admitting my ideas are interesting. Is that what you mean?Report
WorkYo, your comments are hectoring, insensitive, and suggest that you care about appearances much more than necessary. If you’re worried about making philosophy look bad, I suggest you begin by turning down the rudeness and indignation.Report
workyo’s comments make it clear that they are concerned with philosophy looking bad in the ways that they value, not looking bad to anyone of any value set. I’m not concerned with how philosophy comes off to multi level marketing scammers and I doubt you are either.
as a secondary thing, philosophy is ostensibly one of the most truthseeking disciplines you can pursue and this means getting neck deep in reality. I’d love for more philosophers to drop the cushioning affectations they have. “hectoring and insensitive” is so not on the list of things that even register to me as a problem. that’s like, the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night when your dad can buy you a car with the model made in the last year, or your parents can cover your college tuition or whatever. someone who voiced that concern would be anti-respected by anyone in the schools I grew up in – the value set you advance is very much a subcultural thing.Report
How does caring so much about how other grad students work, which (unlike other comments like those about seminar behavior) in no way effects you, factor into your working super hard 60-70 hour a week plan? You seem to know so much about their work habits that it must involve around the clock surveillance. Definitely seems like something that’d cut into your 60-70 hours of SUPER HARD work. I guess you probably free up some time by completely neglecting your TA sections because, you know, undergrads don’t deserve an education or anything.Report
Dude, if you work so hard on your stuff for 60-70 hours a week, how do you know what other grad students are doing with their time, or rather not ? Spyware on their computers? Hiring a private investigator? Facebooking when you should be working super hard? Poor abductive reasoning about other people’s lives based your own personal evidence that they should and could be having greater professional success? Just curious. Totally get it tho if ur too busy to read blog comments.Report
Unproductive grad students don’t make philosophy look bad; they at most go unnoticed. What makes philosophy look bad is the awful attitudes — superior, machismo, dismissive — that philosophers often take towards others. There is wisdom in kindness and gentleness, and our lack of it is a much bigger PR problem for us than the ones you mention.Report
I agree that philosophy is hard and that many hours (not sure about 60-70, unless thinking, talking with others is included) need to go into a piece of work for it to be good, but one respect in which doing philosophy differs from digging a hole, is that in addition to time/effort, imagination is essential to great philosophical work. The more time I spend ‘in philosophy’, the more I’m inclined to think there’s a non-accidental connection between boring people and unexciting (but perhaps well-argued and even worth reading) philosophical output.Report
This is a bit harshly put, but seriously needs to be said. Tenure-track jobs are good jobs, and lots of intelligent, hard-working people want them. It’s fine if you’re looking for more work-life balance, but in that case you’re not entitled to expect a picturesque job to be waiting for you. Nobody expects to work as a doctor in a good hospital, or a lawyer in a big firm, and pull 40-hour-weeks. Why, then, should you expect to land a tenure-track job in a research department, with all its perks, working any less hard?Report
You’re everything that’s wrong with USA and consequently the world. You’re position embodies a narrow American-centric view. Everyone, from the highest ranked doctor in a hospital, through the philosopher, to the street sweeper is not only entitled to work no more than 40 hours a week, but should do so. Working 60-70 hours a week is a guarantee for a miserable, meaningless, unproductive, unhealthy and short life. It is also a guarantee for no more historically meaningful and groundbreaking texts in philosophy. It is too bad that so many undergraduates have internalized the sick values of their institutions and predecessors instead of realizing that we are able and obliged to choose to pursue other values.Report
“You’re everything that’s wrong with USA and consequently the world”: A little civility please?
I a bit worried that you’re trying to have things both ways. You argue that more work makes people both (i) less productive, and (ii) less happy. In professions like academia, where hours are flexible, people work harder to be more productive (knowing that this might make them a bit less happy/fulfilled). So they’d have to be extremely misguided for their decisions to be making them at once less productive and less happy. Perhaps this is the case, but it would be surprising and requires a strong argument to back it up.
More to the point: labor markets are markets just like any other. People trade current/future leisure, talent, past leisure/money (invested in education), etc. to get the jobs they want. Like most markets, they aren’t super-fair. Talent and opportunity is unequally distributed. Those who value their leisure more than others will be pushed towards less-desirable jobs. So there’s nothing wrong with a little intervention (government regulation, workplace policies, etc.) to correct for some of this. But that’s not to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions about how to spend their leisure time at all. Nor is it to say that people shouldn’t have to give something up to get a good job. It would be super-unfair if doctors were expected to give up no more for their jobs than their receptionists.Report
Please bear in mind that you don’t know everything that’s going on in others’ lives. It’s good that you added the qualifier about single, childless, healthy, etc., but please also remember that a lot of people who seem to be that from a distance are going through more than you realize (sometimes big, sometimes little but productivity-impacting). In my experience, grad students are rarely unproductive in the long-term due to not caring or being lazy — there is almost always something else (or many sometime elses) going on (severe anxiety or other mental health issues, family health crises, etc.). Sometimes they may just be struggling with the mundane issues involved in getting a good work rhythm that generates actual productivity rather than useless time at their desks. But my guess is that they’re already disappointed in their lack of productivity and wish they were having an easier time fixing it. They may need support, but I doubt they need contempt.Report
Data point here. I got a TT job, albeit not one at an R1, working 40 hours a week, both in graduate school and after. I have no kids, I just don’t want to do philosophy all the time. What a shitty existence, in my opinion.
P.S. I recognize the role that luck played, and continues to play, in my life.Report
I want to echo what recent grad said. I’ve only rarely worked more than a forty hour week, either in grad school or in either of my jobs since. Sure, maybe I would have published more if I was willing to give up more of my free time, and I still stress that I don’t have time to read everything – but the idea that you can’t be a decent philosopher without devoting every waking hour to it is both false and damaging.Report
interestingly, it didn’t occur to me that I agree with you until I realized that I do what it is you suggest to do for 60+ hours/week already. I just don’t consider it work. work is, I think, something I don’t want to do that I do anyway for compensation or reward. so talking to a friend about their problems is fun, but talking to many people about their problems for money is being a therapist.
I don’t have any intention of working in (being employed in) academia, though. maybe counterintuitively, the people I know who are most likely to do what you say (write/read obsessively about these things) are people who have intense autodidactic tendencies, to the point where they find a job constricting and would nearly go homeless to open up more reading time.Report
Have you looked at psychological research on the relationship between productivity and hours worked? I don’t have the time to look it up right now, but my impression is that most brains can basically only do around five hours a day of intense work. That, or something in that ballpark, fits with my personal experience, and it also makes sense given that the sweet spot for working other organs is generally way less than the maximum you could do during your waking hours. But I could be misremembering the research.Report
This. This entire thread. What I want to tell my cohort: stop being so mean, stop being so judgmental, stop being such an ass. That’s what I want to tell other grad students.Report
In a crowded, suffering job market, the mental landscape of too many professional philosophers has become dominated by the just-world hypothesis on steroids.Report
Rapidity of speech is not a guarantee of truth–neither in seminar nor in casual conversation over beers.
Saying “I’m just not sure what [random philosophical view] is supposed to look like, but I might be misunderstanding” doesn’t make you look like a charitable reader/listener when you are practically rolling your eyes at the same time and physically pushing at the air as if the view in question was a physical object you are attempting to repel.
I’m not impressed by how much writing you have done if I have seen your writing and I know you could say twice as much with half as many words.
If I say I am happy for you about your publication/conference/whatever, I really and truly am. That doesn’t mean I’m not envious. But I mean it when I say I am happy for you.Report
To grad students still early in the process of grad school: think about publishing ASAP. Write all of your seminar papers with an eye to publication: interact with the literature, find a point that hasn’t been made and that advances the discussion, etc.
This might make you a worse philosopher, but it’s the only way you’ll get a job. Publishing a paper before you go on the market is virtually essential for those of us not at a top 5 school (and for many of those who are). But publishing takes a long time. It’s a numbers game, and you’ll average at least 3 or 4 rejections for every publication (and that’s assuming that the paper is really good). Each try takes several months, so that means you’re looking at a year (at LEAST) between the time you send something out for the first time and when you can maybe, possibly, on a prayer, hope that it’s forthcoming somewhere. Plus, you’ll need a lot of time to polish the paper before you ever start sending it out. And on top of that, your deadline for looking awesome for your letter-writers is almost a year before you’re actually done with grad school, since they’ll be writing their letters in the early fall of the year you’re on the market. Long story short: do the math, and you have to be thinking about publishing pretty much from the get-go.
It seems like many of you are just really nervous about getting rejected, or getting harsh comments. Just get over that.Report
I wholeheartedly second this line of encouragement. Definitely do not wait to get onto the publishing track. Putting it off until your dissertation is written is no longer a viable plan. As the commenter above says, you will be amazed how long it takes to get your first submissions into print. In the best scenario, you need to be submitting work to journals 2 two years or more in advance of going on the job market. If you are not in a Top-10-ish department this is especially crucial. Be thinking about publishing from day one, and if you find yourself in the dark as to how the process works, get help from everyone that you can. Consult professors in your department who are outgoing and helpful, even if their expertise is not your area. Make an effort to attend or submit to conferences devoted to your research areas (if you don’t know what these are, look around online; every subject area in philosophy has little societies and workgroups with regular meetings).
In concrete terms, one piece of advice for starting out is to engage as much as you can with the literature in your expertise area (or else in an area you might end up dissertating on). Get to know the journals where your subject area is published, and get a sense of the issues people in the scholarship are studying at the present moment. The more you can do this early on – and thus, the more you can start to drill down on micro-issues that interest you – the more prepared you will be to write your first published articles.Report
To More Dialogue
‘Drill[ing] down on micro-issues that interest you’ – is it impossible for a young philosopher to wrote something one of the big issues then?Report
Should have been:
‘Drill[ing] down on micro-issues that interest you’ – is it impossible for a young philosopher to write something on one of the big issues then? Seems a depressing vision of the scholarly life to me.Report
To my fellow grad students: can we mutually agree to quit being so awkward or flaky or self-conscious or judgmental or whatever it is that keeps us from being able to have regular basic social contact? I know we all could use a bit more reliable support from each other, but it’s inexplicably difficult to get us all in the same room together if it’s not somehow required of us. Can we be a bit more proactive about coffee or lunch, or dropping by to check in on each other during office hours? I know it would really help me feel a bit more “connected” to the department and to the profession and even to my own work to be able to casually discuss it with a friendly audience more often, and I doubt I’m alone in that.Report
My fellow grad students,
Look. You’re not at an elite institution, and your future depends on what you do now. You cannot be average. You cannot pretend that you can lazily stumble your way to a tenure track job. You have to be driven; you have to be elite. WAKE UP! When you find yourself in a small pond, you have to stand out.
Maybe our school shouldn’t have a philosophy PhD program, but we do. Don’t complain about the professors; leap to their standards. Don’t complain about people being biased against you; prove them wrong. Don’t consider teaching irrelevant; show the department that you can be the best teacher around.
You don’t have the luxury of a Princeton student: to focus exclusively on your studies and your work. You have pressures from home, and you have a life. But if you don’t do grad school well, those pressures will get worse, not better. YOU HAVE TO CREATE YOUR OWN HIGH PRESSURE ENVIRONMENT. If you do, you can succeed, even here. Students at Nowhere U can submit to blind review journals too. If you do it, and you get your name in print, you can show this world that the Leiter rankings don’t determine your future. Make it happen.
Please don’t sacrifice basic human decency in an attempt to appear more intelligent than your colleagues. Don’t, for example, belittle your colleagues by speaking to or about them as though they are unintelligent. This behavior is unreasonable (you’re in the same program), rude, immature, and perpetuates a hostile environment that is not conducive to collaboration or psychological well being. Graduate school is an incredibly stressful time in one’s life; do your part to minimize unhealthy social stressors.Report
Can you give some examples of such attempts?Report
I’d look elsewhere in the comments here for some pretty decent examples…Report
If you decide to AUDIT a course as a 3rd, 4th, or 5th year graduate student, and if you also are auditing it with a whole bunch of other graduate students who are also of similar advanced level, please do not allow yourselves to be so caught up in your own discussions which are unintelligible to the 4 or 5 of us who are actually TAKING the course for grades and who are not already specialists in the field. In other words, please be aware that there are other people in the room who might not even understand what it is you’re debating. The classroom shouldn’t be owned by the oldest graduate students in the room, it’s not there solely for your benefit. Auditors should take a back seat to the people who are actually going to have to write papers for the course.Report
Grad school is an easy life compared to just about any other bourgeois life path open to you.
Try making a living as some nameless employee in a cubicle. Try making a living staring at a Windows-running computer doing some mindless task 38 hours/week. Try making a living doing something even remotely like manual labor (like being a waiter or a bartender).
The grad students here in the UK are really pleased to be grad students and know full well what a privilege it is.
[JW: This comment has been edited.]Report
To be fair, you guys just get to write dissertations on things you’re interested in while making normal amounts of money. We have roughly several bazillion demoralizing hurdles to jump through while on food stamps.Report
Where is it like this? everywhere in the US? My impression was that grad school in the US was way better than UK, with much better resources, better supervision, better offices, and so on. Is this wrong?Report
I amazon prime’d some boots with a 2-inch heel, tbh that’s the best I can doReport
Dear Philosophy Grad Students Curious about the Job Market,
You probably won’t get a job unless you have a book publishing contract and have published articles while in grad school (slightly different conditions for Ivy League grads). In this twisted system you need to extend your dissertation and focus on publishing articles, edited volumes, translations, etc. (those are easier and quicker than publishing a book). And then make sure you have a book contract before you go on the market.
If you do happen to land a job, your life will be nothing but work. You will likely have a heavy teaching load, be on a ton of committees, run programs, and quickly realize that education has been hijacked by neoliberalism, and that administrators only care about money–and you’re their slave. Everything you do and all of your students will be commodified. You’re fighting against a machine in your new college that you will be unable to defeat. Try to get hired at a college or university with a union, trust me. Most of you won’t even land jobs at tenure granting institutions. You will be perpetually tired with huge teaching loads, administrative duties, losing money presenting at conferences, and being pressed (internally or externally) to write and publish during your spare time, which does not exist anymore. For most of you, this is a moot point, b/c you won’t get hired for a full-time tenure-track position unless you are at an Ivy League school. If you’re in Continental philosophy, get used to applying with a pool of 500-1000 people for each job.
You’ll probably start as an adjunct, maybe you’ll be promoted, and you’ll never get out from under the burden of your debt. And maybe you’ll get pushed out of academia altogether. You’ll quickly realize that only the yes wo/men truly make it in any small college, and being subversive will lead to a very uncomfortable existence. You’ll quickly learn that being a philosophy scholar makes you subversive in this corrupt system. Colleges and universities hate philosophers, b/c we question the system, we ask critical questions, and we see through their hierarchical, bureaucratic, outcome-obsessed nonsense.
I hope you like rubrics…b/c you’ll be spending endless hours designing them, which will be pointless.
Get used to hearing phrases from administrators like “low hanging fruit” ad nauseum.
An associate professor who adores philosophy and wants out of this system, but this system is pervasive. Dear Kafka, help!!!Report
Philosophy is male-dominated, as we all know. If you happen to be an attractive woman, almost every male in your department will pursue you as a romantic interest. However, you exist in a boy’s club, so there will be several occasions where men go out and exclude *all* women from their social activities–this is especially the case in analytic departments. Try to avoid parties where there are a significant number of married analytics. You’ll feel more at home talking with the other philosophers, who happen to be all men, and their wives, none of whom are in philosophy or academia, will stare at you as an imminent threat. You can instead try to join the segregated wives group, as a fellow woman, and have to listen to inane small talk about bank jobs, etc. Again, this is predominantly the case in analytic programs.
Women, you will be presumed less intelligent, less worthy of your fellowships…that is, until the grades come out. When you have all A’s and your male friends have a few A-‘s, then they will start asking your opinion and involve you in conversations. You will hear things from good male friends like, “As an attractive woman, you’re going to have to work even harder in academia to prove yourself.” And they are correct.
Guys, many of you are awesome, and most of my best friends are male philosophy graduate students. However, when you get into large groups, please stop excluding women; we already feel like outsiders in our departments. It’s always disheartening to get a call from your best friend (male) saying, “Sorry, it looks like it’s going to be a guys-only night after all.” When we’re all out drinking as a group or at a party (this goes for mostly Continental mixes, which include more females), don’t take us outside and slam us against a wall trying to make out with us. Don’t pull us aside and tell us we need “rough sex.” Treat us like equals, not sexual objects.
> “don’t take us outside and slam us against a wall trying to make out with us. Don’t pull us aside and tell us we need “rough sex.” Treat us like equals, not sexual objects.”
neither of these imply being an object
I mean maybe the guys you’re referencing did that, but I’ve had this done to me – by men and women – and it’s just an estimation of what they thought I’d like. Being pressured to bullshit or lie about reality, which is commonplace at most customer service jobs, is far more object-like in feel imoReport
Dear Attractive Woman,
I’m really sorry men in your program are behaving the way that they are. It’s really gross. If men in the program are regularly and repeatedly having social events in which they are excluding the women in the program de iure, you might consider telling someone sympathetic in the department that this is going on…
You’re not a woman, and your willingness to split hair over what “being treated like a sex object” entails is actually part of the problem here. Also please consider the background environment in which these things happened to the AW. These things were done by members of her program, who systematically exclude her and imply that she is not as intelligent as them. That gives them a difference valence that if they were done (say) by an intimate partner.
I’m also a woman, and I really don’t want to spend any energy arguing with yet another guy who refuses to take what woman are saying about climate to heart, so I’m not going to argue with you further. Please just keep in mind the effect that comments like yours have, especially after a woman has just shared some deeply personal stuff about how she has been treated.Report
look. you’re not being epistemically responsible. your reply, as a technique, fails when someone of the same demographic disagrees with you, and I think you know this, because you peaced out from the get-go and I don’t think you’re self-deluding enough to believe that even a supermajority of women will agree with your take here. the people liking your comment might be women, but that hardly entails most women agree with you and it certainly doesn’t entail or even suggest that you’re right.
“I’m also a woman”
WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED
of *course* you are the thing that would otherwise be no-big-deal to anyone if you hadn’t invoked it self-righteously. the rhetorical weight of everything you said depends on this.
if I was just being catty, I’d ask my fiancee to reply to you directly, who studies philosophy herself and I know not only agrees with me but thinks a much harsher version of it. going further I could post the entirety of what was said here to my full friends list, many women from which are in male-majority fields. I could send it to my fiancee, to her mother, or even to her mother’s mother and get the same position once a few key terms were explained.
but I shouldn’t have to do that, because it should be obvious to people who study arguments why an opener like “you are not [demographic]” is completely contingent on you hoping that [demographic] does not think differently and it should be *more* obvious that it’s easily broken by competing accounts from that identity. doing it the catty way is just acting like this way of reasoning has merit and that will never be true.
the identity-centric reply to you from my angle goes like this: you’re not a gay or bisexual man, which both involve pursued roles of similar degrees of what you’d call objectification, but you gloss over this anyway and default to “I’m a woman” as a defense of why the phenomena involved are sexually objectifying.
if even so much as challenging this is “part of the problem” — with no elaboration, in intellectually smug fashion — then holy shit have we fallen and regressed in the totality of propositions we’re able to consider. I also want to say you’re evaluating this entirely from a straight chick’s point of view since you didn’t even consider that the same thing could be done to me by another gay/bi man in my program, but that’s secondary to how profoundly ridiculous it is that your tone suggests even questioning this is objectionable. woman or not, if I can exclude people who put forth such constricted models of dialogue by making sexual comments, then I clearly haven’t been doing that enough.
but nah — what this comment section clearly needs are more vague insults and unqualified rebuttals with ironic distance from sincerity. how dumb of me to think otherwise.Report
Seriously, your sex and gender do not make your statements any more or less valid. When you make an empirical statement about something that is or is not happening, your personal traits are irrelevant.
As someone who is ALSO a woman, I will say with certainty that I have never been excluded because I am hot. If nothing else, I actually get priority status in being heard in any academic environment. I’ve been in multiple academic environments, and never has my femaleness or attractiveness been a detriment.
Roughly making out with someone isn’t sexist or objectifying. It’s just sex. If I can push a boy against a wall and fuck his brains out and it doesn’t mean I’m disrespecting him.
If I can do these things as a female, then a man can do them as a male. That is how sexual equality works.Report
We all have different experiences Kyta. I’m glad yours have been positive.Report
I imagine whether these events and actions discussed are okay will depend a whole lot on context, and if someone says that someone pushing them up against a wall and telling them they need rough sex is not okay, then it was definitely not okay.
The one time someone said that to me it was threatening and insulting. The implication was that I was a prude and needed someone to “fuck that out” of me. It was not a sexy-time, I-find-you-attractive sort of thing. It was definitely meant as a violent assertion of power, meant to make me feel small.
A lot of these women are hot and extremely attractive. I would just like to say, I am decidedly frumpy. Not at all hot. I am not a sex goddess and I do not “fuck” anyone–and I certainly do not fuck anyone’s brains out, I merely have sex. But I’ve still been excluded.Report
At the very least, I would *hope* that everyone here could agree that one’s ability to pursue one’s own sexual interests at whim in every possible situation in which one desires to do so is not nearly as important as making sure that women in our profession are not subject to sexual harassment or even assault (intentional or otherwise), so it’s much better to err on the side of caution unless it really is absolutely clear that your advance is welcome. (To be honest, this seems like really basic stuff to me, the kind of thing one might teach kids in high school alongside other “sex ed” type topics, but sadly it might still be a point worth making here).Report
Congratulations on getting “priority status” for being a hot female. You write:
“Seriously, your sex and gender do not make your statements any more or less valid. When you make an empirical statement about something that is or is not happening, your personal traits are irrelevant,”
so doesn’t this make the rest of your post neither more or less valid? Since gender and sex don’t make your statements any more or less valid, the fact that you’re relying on your status as a “hot (personal trait) woman (gender and/or sex)” is irrelevant, according to your own logic. However, I don’t accept that logic.
Having men that one is not remotely interested in sexually/romantically pull a woman aside like a possession (while she is in the midst of a conversation with another philosopher), then drag her to an isolated location and force themselves on her (pushing her up against a wall and/or telling her she needs “rough sex”), is an awful experience, and a form of objectification (you and Alfred should take a feminist theory class together–but don’t be dismayed when he pontificates for 10 minutes at any opportunity he has to insert his brain dick into any possible “epistemological” hole.) Guess who is NOT subject to that treatment? The men in the department. It’s not “just sex”…are you fucking kidding me? This happened to me on several occasions with men in my department. You should read the following blog sometime; it might help you see beyond your hot female priority status:
As for Alfred: You have NO idea what it is like to be conditioned as a female by society from birth into a patriarchal society. It fucking sucks.Report
When a renowned scholar gives a talk at your department’s visiting lecture series, get your ego in check during the Q&A and stop asking your 5-point, 4 minute long question/diatribe. You look like a total jackass.Report
Our MAP chapter won’t run itself, and it’s not cool to ignore my emails and countless efforts to make things happen. Either take MAP off of your CVs, or actually do something to demonstrate that you care about the initiative.Report
I doubt that I’m the person this commenter had in mind, but I think I’ve been guilty of somewhat similar things. When I realized that, I tried to bring in other (newer, less bogged down in their own research/teaching) grad students on the leadership level so that it wasn’t just all on my distracted ass to make sure things happened. Learn to delegate, and start setting up other people up to be able to come in and take over after you’ve left. So far, that strategy seems to be going well, though ymmv, I’m sure.Report
An academic position at a research university is not the only worthwhile job in the world, nor is it the only dignified way to earn a living. Those who think so haven’t done their research or suffer from a very serious lack of imagination.Report
I would tell my old cohort that I’m not the 22 year old all-American girl they seemed to think I was. I’d tell them that I’m not like them, and that the life I led only a few years before I met them was like nothing any of them (de re) can imagine. Most people who got into the sort of trouble I got into very early in life do not survive it. And those who do are usually in and out of hospitals and jails- no exaggeration. So I would want them to understand that this is the best thing that ever happened to me, and that I’m willing to work as hard as I need to work to keep it going. I would want them to know that I do sort of think that makes me a little bit better than them- but not that much better. And that really, I’d much prefer to be their friend than their enemy.Report
that was awesome. this is one of the realest replies here.
“Most people who got into the sort of trouble I got into very early in life do not survive it. And those who do are usually in and out of hospitals and jails- no exaggeration.”
I feel you so hard on the need to qualify this with “no exaggeration.” when dialoguing with students from some of the more expensive universities, especially in the northeast, I feel like I’m in a different timeline of reality; the life-or-death pressures you mention are so unbelievable that they process them as like, one in a million events that only happen on Breaking Bad or whatever — not the extremely common shit it actually is. there’s such a huge disconnect between people who publish papers about what is unethical and people who do highly unethical things, which hits you like a ball to the face from sentences like “it is hard to imagine someone who kills others without remorse” and you’re like “?????? lol?”Report
Thanks Alfred. I don’t think I’m an unethical person at all. I was just a little bit too curious of a cat when I was young. And then it almost killed me.
But maybe you mean that most professional philosophers have fairly sheltered lives, which they’ve spent following all the rules.
That might be true. I’m not sure. I just wanted to fill in the gaps for my old cohort so they would better understand why I was weird.
Because they seemed to think I was weird because of some bad character traits. Truth was, I just had no idea how to do things normally- and I was still pretty shell-shocked from all my previous misadventures.
I guess this speaks to the point that we really don’t know each other’s lives and should probably be careful before attributing all sorts of nefarious intentions to each other.Report
I would suggest to students that they focus on understanding philosophy before seeking fame and fortune as a teacher of it. A novel idea, for sure, but some things are most effectively done for their own sake. A university is (in theory) not a technical college. I would suggest that they beware of confusing academic success with philosophical progress.
I would share with them Alfred’s view, viz. that ‘the overwhelming thought I have about the environment of grad school is how censored some students are and don’t even realize that they’re suppressing their thoughts,… and how for a subset of students, they seem more interested in the discipline as an intellectual club or showoff mechanism (or employment opportunity -ed) than as something they really think matters’.
Of course, for some students this wouldn’t need saying, but I fear it wouldn’t usually do much harm. I would add they are studying the most important subject in the whole of academia.and should always remember this.Report
Your happiness is not directly tied to your ability to appease the idiosyncratic standards of every professor, referee, Q&A snob, or your colleagues who mask taste and preference of idiolect as objective standards of truth. (Your job and future livelihood might be, but not your happiness). Appeasing people in this way is also not a reason to expect everyone to pat you on the back. Failing to learn this, know it is okay to run. You’re probably really smart and very capable of performing other work while enjoying your hobbies on the weekends.
Also get a hobby and/or stop frowning on people who find the need for personal time outside of reading a philosophy paper. Never feel bad about going fishing on the weekend instead of editing your seminar paper. You’ll be better off for it.Report
Hi folks. I’d like to step in and remind everyone of one of the things about Daily Nous that helped it get started two and a half years ago:
“Before you comment, imagine the following. You are seated in a comfortable chair at a table with all of the other commentators. You have gathered to discuss an issue of mutual concern, and you are aiming to learn something from the conversation. Take off your shoes if you’d like. Wriggle your toes. Appreciate the wonders of everyday life in the twenty-first century. On the table in front of you is your favorite beverage. Through the window is your favorite view. And seated next to you is a child, who you brought with you for a lesson on how to discuss controversial issues with strangers. Are you imagining all of that? Okay, now you may be in the right mindset to comment.”
That’s from the comments policy.
I’m a bit disappointed in some of the comments here.
Please, let’s be kind to one another, even in our criticisms and complaints. Let’s acknowledge that we don’t always know all of the relevant details about other people’s lives. Let’s not pretend to expertise that you, as grad students, don’t have (intellectual humility is one of the first lessons of philosophy, no?).
This thread is an opportunity to say some things that might be difficult to say in person. It may be frustration you want to express, or need, or sadness, or indignation, or satisfaction, or advice, or concerns — whatever it is, though, please do so in a way that acknowledges the humanity of your interlocutors (or, barring that, at least the possibility that you’re committing the fundamental attribution error).
I keep a collection of quotes to remind myself of things I want to do. I’m adding the quote from the comment policy.Report
This is great!
On a different subject, it seems that the comments on this thread are posting oddly; I’ve got replies to my own recent post which are timestamped from several days ago.Report
Grad school can actually be the best time of your life (it was for me), so make sure you enjoy it. You have five years during which you’ll have the opportunity to make good friends with people who share your interests, have intelligent conversations, learn lots of cool stuff, get a shiny title that will genuinely impress people, and even to become a good, reflective person. Yes, it will postpone your career, saving for retirement, starting a family and so on, but it’ll be worth it (let’s be honest: very many of us are also the kind of people who didn’t really get to enjoy high school or college the way we perhaps should have; as grad students in philosophy we got our chance).
Just make sure to spend some of those years to figure out what you want to do afterwards.
You’re unlikely to land a worthwhile philosophy job. The *best* jobs you can hope for (at least if you’re in a program outside the top 10) are jobs you probably don’t want, or shouldn’t want, for reasons listed by Sisyphus above and others. But you’ve got plenty of time to plan your career outside of academia.Report
Dear fellow graduate students:
Graduate student relationships are wonderful. To meet a like-minded person, to talk about books and life and everything until the bars close with someone who “gets you” is exhilarating.
But remember, your fellow graduate students are your professional colleagues. Be very careful about coming onto people, especially single women, who are typically pursued by many of the single men in your department. Look for signs that she’s interested. If you don’t know, ask your friends what they think. Come on verbally before physically. Don’t come on to someone when they are very drunk, or when you are very drunk. Don’t come on to someone who is in a relationship. These are simple guidelines, but they will save you and your colleagues lots of grief and misunderstanding. And they will increase your chances of success, believe me. No one wants to date the creep who gets handsy when drunk (or not drunk, for that matter) or who tries to kiss someone (or more) when they’ve never so much as exchanged meaningful glances with that person. Don’t be that creep.
Also, grad school is fun. Get some work done, but enjoy it. Single folks, don’t hole away with your work. You will be more productive if you spend some time socializing.Report
1) Be kind to each other. Do you remember how awesome it was to first arrive at a place where – finally – you’re surrounded by people who have similar interests and can actually have philosophical conversations with you? Your colleagues are supposed to be a philosophical oasis and people with whom you can have real, meaningful conversations with. Don’t ruin that by being an asshole, and don’t devalue them by thinking they’ve got little or nil to contribute (in general, I mean: obviously there are sometimes situations and people where they’re just being assholes and/or have nothing constructive to contribute).
2) Don’t feign knowledge of a particular philosopher. If you’re a 4th-year Ph.D. student working on pragmatism, don’t come in to audit an unrelated seminar and go on a tangent about Sartre (also unrelated to the seminar and outside the professor’s knowledge base) because you read a small sliver of his work out of context. Not only is that rather pretentious, it puts other (specifically younger) students who actually know Sartre’s work in a weird position where we ought to correct you in front of the class for purposes of truth (which, considering the dynamics, can be quite a blow to one’s ego), but it just really isn’t worth drumming up conflict and is much easier to just let people listen to a misleading synopsis. Then we have to live with the fact that we let, uncontested, an incorrect and superficial reading or a philosopher we care about be purported (or publicly made an enemy – as opposed to just recognizing a person who’s full of it – because we care enough about historical accuracy). So please don’t try to impress people by speaking “authoritatively” on philosophers you don’t know much about.
3) Please don’t, on the very first day of orientation, grill incoming graduate students about whether or not they’re vegan and proceed to lay out (questionable) arguments for why vegans occupy some sort of moral high ground in relation to (all) meat-eaters. You probably shouldn’t be force-feeding veganism down peoples’ throats before they’ve even had time to remember your name.
4) Beware of the old, super famous professor with a short novel for a CV who can “really help your career”. Anyone with an ounce of street smarts and capable of staving off naivety in the face of a famous big-wig will tell you he’s a pig who only cares to help anyone when he envisions something in it for himself.*
*This is, of course, not always the case. But be careful and remember that where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.Report
Establishes self on moral high ground against vegans by laying out a questionable argument about using questionable arguments to establish moral high ground.
There are some unspoken norms that reasonable people, such as your peers, expect you to comply by, even though no one has ever explicitly told you about these norms. A good reason why they are unspoken is that reasonable people assume that they are too obvious to have to tell a graduate student pursuing a PhD in philosophy.
If you are part of a working group of mostly grads, it is rude to only attend your presentation and no one else’s. Pay others the courtesy of showing up and actively listening to their presentation, the courtesy that you expect other people to pay you when you present your work to them. Excuses such as “I am busy” don’t shield you from this norm. We are all busy and yet, some of us still make it a priority to attend your presentation, which, often times, has nothing to do with our own research projects. (And part of the reason we’re busy is that we’re attending your presentation.)
It is rude to ask a speaker a question during colloquia and then check your phone during their response. If you can’t stick around for the speaker’s answer, you shouldn’t bother asking them your question. It is also rude to roll your eyes, meanly laugh, stare at the floor or make faces of disgust as the speaker answers your question. You don’t like their answer. Fair enough. But do you need to add a tinge of disgust to your reaction. The younger graduate students in the room are watching you. Be a role model.Report
Try to relax a little. Philosophy is supposed to be fun.Report
You’re married, I’m married, we can still be friends! Your wife is a kind, smart, lovely person, but *I have nothing in common with her*, and I’m pretty sure she feels the same way. I like philosophy, you like *the same* philosophy. It’s insulting and otherwise frustrating when you invite my husband to “guys’ night out” (read: philosophers’ night out) and I’m excluded. It’s also weird that when I reach out to you, you basically direct me to hang out with your wife (I’m sure you don’t do this to your male colleagues). Otherwise thoughtful individuals do this all the time, and it sucks to be explicitly excluded because of gender.
I also like hanging out (from time to time) with just philosophers and not having to worry about other guests who are bored and annoyed by conversation that centers on philosophical topics. But I was only invited along to “mixed” parties (mixed gender/mixed philosophy-nonphilosophy people). THINK for a second about how “guys’ night out” serves as a proxy for “philosophers’ night out” and how that makes the women in your program feel. It may be slightly more difficult to explain to your wife why some women, and not others, are included, but she is very smart and kind and I’m sure she’ll get it.Report
Most of my colleagues have spent the entirety of their adult lives in academia. Many of them have Ivy pedigrees. Nearly all of them grew up in households with highly educated parents. I’m impressed with their intellectual abilities. But I am consistently dismayed by their cluelessness. They’ve never held down a job. They’ve never been in trouble with an authority. They’ve never witnessed police misconduct, and certainly have never been the victims of it. They spend most of their time with their cat(s). They don’t exercise. They don’t eat well. They sleep terribly. They’ve only been on a handful of dates in their lives. Maybe they had sex once or twice, awkwardly. They know nothing of popular culture. They have no style, no social grace, no discernable artistic sensibilities, no humility, poor mental and physical health, and only a crude sort of empathy. I don’t blame them for this. I’m not resentful. But I wish they’d get a clue, both for themselves and for others. These personal deficits cause them to be terrible in their roles as educators and community members, and I assume is the primary cause of their gauche ethical views. If you suspect you too have many of these personal deficits, please, hang out with non-academics. Go to some concerts. Commit some morally permissible crimes. Play a team sport. Drive capriciously to a new city. Take up a non-literary artistic project. Build something that requires power tools. Work a summer job as a barista. Consider not eating ice cream for dinner. Maybe go for a run.Report
I emphatically and unilaterally reject all of this advice, especially the not eating ice cream for dinner.
Let’s not replace one sort of weird elitism with another.Report
Hi Grad. Many of my colleagues haven’t experienced much in life outside of their academic path. Some were actually groomed for academia by their parents. My thought is not that such individuals ought to adopt a particular lifestyle. Please, eat ice cream for dinner! I worry about the general health of my colleagues and professors, but the mere fact that they tend to enjoy unhealthy diets shouldn’t, and doesn’t, bother me in the slightest. More generally, my claim is merely that it would be good for individuals who’ve rarely deviated from an academic lifestyle to experience, however briefly, other lifestyles and perspectives. Do you disagree with that? If so, why?Report
At first glance, this is good advice. The worry is that it will turn me into the kind of person who chastises his peers for not getting laid enough and thinks an ethical view’s being “gauche” is something that ought to count against it. Perhaps I’ll stick with my cat after all…Report
Hi Junior Faculty. Please don’t turn into such a person. You’d be intolerable. Of course, I doubt that my advice to those who have led severely limited lives would turn them into the sort of person you describe. Perhaps I’ve failed to convey my worry. Here are a few examples that may help to vivify it. A colleague of mine scoffs at the claim that there’s racism in the U.S. criminal justice system. She’s never been stopped by police, even for a traffic violation. She’s not closely acquainted with anyone who’s been stopped by police, detained, arrested, tried, etc. She’s never even met a police officer. Seems like a problem. Another colleague thought that the mere fact that he and a fellow grad had been hanging out regularly meant that she and he were dating. He was indignant when he found out that she felt otherwise. How could he be so clueless? Well, as far as we could tell, he’d never been on a date, even though he was in his mid-twenties. Seems like a problem. During a seminar, a colleague and I were trying to convince a room full of fellow grads that vigorous exercise could bring about the feeling of pleasure from pain. These fellow grads all vehemently rejected this claim. But none of them had ever exercised. Seems like a problem. I’m at a restaurant with grads. The check comes. I notice everyone is tipping no more than 15%, some even less. I inquire as to why. They start citing imperfections in the server’s performance. Drinks came a little slow. One of the orders got messed up. I point out that we came at a busy time, that serving is more difficult than it appears, that all things considered our service was great. This didn’t deter my low-tipping colleagues. They say they’re being generous. None of them has ever worked a day in their lives. Seems like a problem. Some of my colleagues claim that some of their students don’t understand incredibly dense material because these students are idiots. But unlike their students, these colleagues have never had any of the hinderances to learning outcomes common to students. These colleagues have never had to work a job during school, never had to deal with mental illness, never had a healthy work/life balance. Again, seems like a problem.Report
Okay, the lack of dating and exercising things seem weird but not problems.
But the lack of experience with police and the horrific approaches to tipping are huge problems.
Better learn nem kiddos at life Ivyguy.Report
Your two posts are so at odds with my own experience with grad students in philosophy that I don’t know what to think. Most grad students I’ve met are more empathetic than usual, many are very immersed in pop culture, many are into recreational drugs (far higher percentage than in the general population), many are into exercising and even competitive sports, a lot are into drinking, many have interesting life histories.Report
I didn’t get interested in philosophy until late in my undergraduate career, so I never picked up the major, only a minor. My first year in grad school (in a terminal MA program that was also part of a PhD program) was a really tough adjustment. For the first time in my academic career I felt like one of the dumbest people in the room, which is potentially crushing when you’re at the outset of a career as an intellectual, and a big part of your identity is wrapped up in being really smart. I felt totally outclassed and like I didn’t belong. Some of those feelings were to be expected. I *was* outclassed. I didn’t even have a BA in philosophy and I was in graduate seminars with third year PhD students. While most philosophy grad students arrive at grad school better prepared than I was, my sense is that my feeling of being completely inadequate is fairly common for first year grad students. Here’s some advice I wish someone would have given me my first year.
Your first year you shouldn’t expect to be the equal of colleagues who have spent up to four more years in grad school than you (as was the case for me – some of those third year PhDs did an MA first). It’s okay to be the dumbest one in the room your first year. Just make sure you’re one of the smart ones by your second or third year. In order to make those improvements it’s best to be humble and honest about where you’re at. Own your inadequacy. Ask lots of questions (of your profs and other grad students) and don’t worry about betraying your ignorance (it’s okay – you’re a first year remember?). When someone casually references some paper or argument you’ve never heard of, resist the temptation to pretend you’re familiar with it. Just stop them and say something like, ‘Sorry, I haven’t read that paper, how does that argument work?’ Once you do this once or twice, you’ll feel extremely liberated from the exhausting game of pretend expertise.
If you own your inadequacy and you put in the work, soon you won’t be inadequate. Soon grad school will be a lot less anxiety and depression inducing and before you know it you’ll be one of the intimidatingly smart senior grad students that the first years are in awe of. Now, as a fairly successful fourth year PhD student, there’s still plenty of stress (the job market is just around the corner, I have to balance a fairly heavy teaching load with the need to get research done, I have a family that needs my attention, etc.), but none of this is as bad as the crushing self-doubt I felt as a first year MA student. So be encouraged. Keep grinding and it will (probably) get better.Report
I really want to get this out there:
– If you like philosophy and like academia – good, keep it going!
– if you like philosophy but not academia (in its current state) – you are not alone!! Many of us grads love philosophy but hate this uninspiring, hierarchical system driven by prestige, status and trends. Let’s take philosophy back from the status elites. We all know that something being hot in academia now is not a reliable guide to philosophical relevance. Let’s be courageous and study, discuss and write about what we really think matters. It will get published eventually, if we do it well enough. It’s a risk but it’s worth taking.
– if you hate philosophy but like academia – please move on to some other career. If you want status, power, influence, or just want an academic title and a well-paid job, please just leave philosophy, you are hurting it. At worst, this attitude boils down to grad students having this blasé and defeatist attitude according to which a) philosophy can achieve nothing and is at most about “fun” puzzle-solving b) nothing new, important, relevant or mind-blowing can be done in philosophy c) all areas of philosophy that people consider relevant for their lives are ipso facto not “real” philosophy. d) having your world-view changed by philosophy constitutes personal failure – all cool people in philosophy are wholly removed from it personally.
– if you hate philosophy and hate academia, you are probably there because it’s a compromise solution. You continue on because happen to be good at something, or because your parents or friends expect you to be an academic and philosophy was the path of least resistance. If this is you, please stop complaining about how hard it is to get a job in philosophy – you shouldn’t have one, since you lack passion for the subject. Get real and do something else, or you’ll get depressed, burnt-out and full of regrets eventually.
Also, all grad students who try their best to not care about philosophy, to pretend it is useless and uninteresting, please stop. If you think philosophy is useless, get out, but if you’re actually interested, let your enthusiasm show and be a part of a change towards a positive, creative and supportive climate – a change I honestly believe is underway.Report
What I would say to continuing graduate students is that you are almost universally unbearable. You’re worse than the professors–at least they’re just boring and old. But you are young! And yet you don’t have an eye toward the broader world or the significance of how you contribute to that world. You lack perspective and your work doesn’t matter. It’s a shame, because philosophy has so much potential. Also, graduate students in nearly every other department are much, much more fun (and easy) to hang out with.
What I would say to new philosophy graduate students is to build a life outside of your department and find one or two older mentors in your program. The rest of them are losers, so don’t get dragged down.Report
Am I crazy, or does it seem like the comment system put Jolyon & Alfred below my comment instead of below philosophy>academia’s comment? I’m not sure how they could have replied two days ago to the comment I made, today!Report
“…below my comment instead of below philosophy>academia’s comment?” That’s not where it should be either – it was posted two days before that too. That comment just seems to latch on to the whichever comment comes last.Report
Good catch–my error.Report
Dear Top of the Class,
Stop talking shit about the other grad students.
My Dear Colleagues,
I hope this note finds you well. I just wanted to take this opportunity to clear the air, so that our our professional relationships might continue to grow and be of great value to us both.
I care very much about you, and I care very much about our professional relationship, and it is with this in mind that I offer the following comments on several of our interactions.
– When you ask me for my opinion about something, whether this is a philosophical position or your own grading policies, I assume that you value my opinion. However, when you respond to my answer with hostility and condescension, I can’t help but feel that what you wanted was rather self;-validation, and then I can’t help but feel a bit used. When you solicit an opinion, and respond to it defensively and oftentimes violently, it seems as if you are taking my comments as a direct assault on the very core of your person; but know that I wouldn’t even respond to your request if I didn’t care very much about this person.
– When you attempt to establish camaraderie with my by disparaging one of our fellow students, please know that I assume that my own disparagement is likely to be the foundation of your other relationships, making mutual trust incredibly difficult.
– Both of us have decided to pursue graduate studies in philosophy, and, unless you have a rather exotic backstory you have yet to share with me, neither of us was coerced into joining this department. Why then do you so often complain about the caliber of our department, as if you were tricked into coming here? We both knew what we were getting into, we knew the likely options we would have coming out of here, and we both knew from the start where we would likely be standing at the end. To be sure, I agree wholeheartedly with the majority of your assessments. But I would rather see you content with your own decision, or moving to something or somewhere else where you might flourish, than endure your assault on the place where I am trying to succeed.
– Grad school is tough, and we both know this. I know firsthand how often the difficulties of professional philosophy can severely undermine our personal security, and how often the emotional toll of the whole thing can be unbearable at times. I want to help you, and I want to be there for you when you need me. But please know that I cannot save you, as much as I would like, and I cannot simply be the repository for your negative emotions. I am generally willing to share your burdens, but this comes at a cost for me as well, and I would rather you didn’t assume my constant willingness to take these burdens on whole-cloth.
– I know that for all of us, philosophy becomes work at some point, and much of the attractive glow that made us decide to do this in the first place is gone. However, for many of us, that glow is still important, and we have some pretty significant personal investment in the topics we find fascinating. I think you often forget this when you dismiss or demean our philosophical interests. I don’t expect you to be interested in what I’m interested in, but I would hope that the fact that we are working together, involved in a professional relationship where we get to know each other quite well, would cause you to exercise a bit more tact and discretion when speaking about my projects.
– Some of our fellow students are doing considerably better at this whole business than we are. I hope you can learn someday that this is okay, and that we don’t have to be the absolute best. I hope you can also learn to be happy for our colleagues’ successes rather than see them as an unfairness to you, as much for your sake as for theirs.
– It might not be a bad idea, from time to time, to remember that not everyone here has the same level of knowledge about your favorite subject. Certainly, we love to hear you passionately explaining what you’re thinking. But sometimes it seems as if you are not interested in helping us to understand what you are trying to say, but rather trying to impress us with what you know. It can get a bit irritating, and we can’t begin to be impressed until you’ve made us understand.
I hope that we can continue to pursue our careers together in friendship and professionalism, and I hope my comments might help us to do so.
Here is what I would tell my fellow graduate students, but can’t:
1. If you’re sad or depressed, talk to someone. This note, in particular, is for people who leave their family and friends behind to work their butt off in a different state for a measly paycheck (and for professors who don’t thank you enough for the amazing work that you do as TA’s and instructors), for paychecks that do not reflect the blood, sweat, tears and years that you’ve poured into your craft. This note is for those of you who feel bogged down, worn out, depressed and anxious. Know that you’re not alone. Discuss your feelings and your frustrations with a friend, a fellow in your cohort, or even a university counselor. In other words, do everything in your power to get some help.
2. Always have a backup. If you’re applying to grad schools, have a backup plan (because you may not get accepted). Once you’ve been accepted, if you’re planning on working on with Person X, plan for backup (because Person X might leave, lose interest, or just say “no”). If you’re planning on writing on Topic Y, have a backup (because it may be that you are more proficient in Topic Z than you thought, or there may not be anyone who can guide yo through topic X). In sum, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Also, if you can manage it, have a backup for your backup.
3. Philosophers are people, not punching bags. In passionate philosophical exchanges, let’s please remember to avoid ad hominem. The soundness of an argument was never strengthened by calling someone “stupid,” “insane,” “backwards,” or “confused.” One of the things that drew me to philosophy was the idea of a careful, open, philosophical exchange. In particular, I was drawn to the image of philosophers clinking tumblers, eating great food and engaging in argument however idealistic this image may seem. It saddens and frustrates me to see people rip into each other, or to hear first year and second year grad students on the verge of tears, because a fourth year called them an “idiot.” Let’s remember that ideas and claims are false, not people.Report