One more thing, in case anyone is here from Twitter (now I have 160 followers!! I am pretty much Ashton Kutcher now), that I thought it might be positive to make clear. “Thesis Hatement,” though told in the voice of one very anguished and disappointed person, is not my story in academia. I have actually, until this year, been one of the lucky ones.
The “you” in my piece is an amalgam of dozens of people I know and hundreds of people out there who are willing to work anywhere, do anything, at any cost to their personal lives (because that is to be expected; you are to worship the Life of the Mind no matter how isolated it makes you; you are expected to pick up and move every year or every semester, so that you can never make lasting friendships and put off starting a family until you’re a big old oldie like me, or, better yet, don’t have a family because babies are for people who don’t get tenure, AMIRITE?), but who are still just unwitting members in a hugely oversaturated market.
This piece was not really about me–it was about the dozens of people who have reached out on email and Twitter with heartbreaking (and, at times redemptive) stories. It is and continues to be about those I know who are still in the cult, who are about to enter the job market for the first, third, or if I go back out this year, fifth time (spoiler alert: I am not going back out this year. In a way I think I had this piece published precisely to keep me from going back out this year and plunging yet another September-March into total anguish), who truly believe that they are qualified to do nothing else. Or who realize that there is a huge and amazing world out there, but are ashamed to ask for letters from their advisers (or whose advisers disown them after they move on, possibly the most abhorrent act of all–I mean, I wrote this piece and my advisers didn’t disown me, so most people aren’t dicks like that, but some are).
Or who finally happen upon the Versatile PhD (at which I am a member, of course), but are dismayed to recognize that membership in it is cloaked in secrecy, because many academics take “a dim view” of those of us who have chosen to attempt to feed and clothe ourselves by other means. So this wasn’t the story of how I’m bitter–truth be told, I’m doing pretty great. I was “internet famous” in academia for 24 hours, and I got to tell the motherfucking truth about what faces all but the most lucky and fortunate job marketers (and, by the way–many of the dismayed I know went to top-tier or Ivy programs; the market is cruel across the board, and nothing can be done to make one more “competitive” besides, possibly, gaining the favor of a deity I have yet to pray to).
So yes, was the piece bitter? Sure, but it was the bitterness of a dying field more than the bitterness of me. Was it entitled? Maybe–but only in the sense that every PhD student is molded to develop the expectation–and then the hope, and then the desperation–for a job, and trained for little else, and told that “someone has to get them, so maybe it will be you,” and it takes a person with a much stronger constitution than I to resist 24/7 indoctrination and isolation, which is the absolute reality of all but the most privileged graduate students.
At any rate, I’ve said this in many ways already, and will say it again, but whatever shitstorm this piece has caused says far, far more about academia than it does about me, because anyone could have written it and many have anonymously.