First of all, now that I know he agrees with me, I want to thank my friend and very-admired-person Gerry Canavan for the Twitter conversation that inspired the longer post below on the MLA Report. I’d also like to thank Michael Bérubé for the heartfelt correspondence in response–if you’re going to get “spanked” by a Fullprof, make sure it’s the best! At any rate, the post inspired some serious criticism from friends of mine (though mostly wild and wide agreement across academia, where the Report is being met with heavy cynicism), and I wanted to clear something up.
In the post (which is directly below this one), I express bafflement that anyone should be expected to want to go through a PhD with no intention of being a professor. Some people, including a former colleague of mine in HumCore back at UC-Irvine, found this assertion “incredibly insulting.” This was not my intent!!!! If you want to go through all the years and sweat and toil of a PhD for whatever reason you want, you do you. Bérubé also scolded me heavily. I won’t quote his email because privacy, but here’s a paraphrase: “YOU KNOW, OTHER PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT THAN YOU and NOT EVERYONE wants to be in ACADEMIA.”
I find this really funny, given that I VERY PUBLICLY left academia in a blaze of non-glory, “before it was cool,” so to speak. I am the hipster of academia-leaving. I make most of my money now doing “alt-ac” things. I am the person–ironically enough–that the “new PhD” is trying to create, and it is because of this experience that I cry foul.
I of all people know how difficult it can be to leave academia and be treated poorly for it, and in no way do I mean to say that budding scholars should only want to be professors, or that any budding scholar who does not wish to become a replicant of his/her advisor should be bullied for it, as so many now are. But the fact is that most PhD students do go into the doctorate because, and only because, want to be Very Serious Scholars. This is because the rigor of dissertation work requires a singular level of scholarly commitment that would be rather strange to commit to without the end goal of professional scholarship, and that–professional scholarship or no– (most) people who enter into graduate school really, truly want. That is why I went–I wanted to do the most rigorous work in my discipline possible. I enjoyed how hard it was and how specialized it was, and the act of producing completely new knowledge was, and remains, extremely important to me.
At NO POINT in my doctoral studies did I even come close wanting an Executive Literary MBA, and I can’t imagine most current PhD students do either. Watering down the PhD until it is nothing but a poorly-organized b-school program is truly, truly baffling to me.
Let me be clear: I see no problem with seeking myriad ways out of the chasmic abyss that is the academic job market. I did. But just because it worked out for me does not mean it will for anyone else, and I am not arrogant enough to expect anyone else to take the path I took . Sure, there are some of you out there who never wanted to be professors ever, and who now “use your PhD every day” in whatever non-academic jobs you have. That is great. You are the tiny sliver of a minority, and if anything the MBA-ification of the PhD–which implies that the “skills” you now have could and should be watered down considerably, since it’s not like you’re going to be a professor or anything—is more of an insult to you than anything I could ever say.