I Am Trying To Help You: Concrete Examples

Why do I insist that I am trying to help graduate students, even though I have been known to call (certain among ) them “twerps,” “pipsqueaks,” “idiots” and “fucks”? Here’s why: Because everyone you think is trying to help you is actually lying to you. I’ve covered this in my “horrible platitudes” article for Vitae before, but just a refresher course on all the out-and-out falsehoods you get every day:

“The market’s not that bad.” Lie. Except for a precious few fields that most of you are not in, it is that bad. It is, for many fields, worse. Why tell this lie? Because the truth would damage grad-student recruitment, which would be “bad” for the University (which needs the cheap labor) and “bad” for the graduate faculty (who would have to teach more than their current one five-student seminar per year).

“There are jobs for good people.” Lie. There are precious few, if any jobs, for any people, and many of those jobs go to mediocre or bad people. Why tell this lie? Same as above.

“Well, academia isn’t for everyone.” Technically this is true, but about the person your “helper” is describing (a classmate or cohort member who Left The Field), this is disingenuous victim-blaming. Why tell this lie? To absolve one of the guilt of grooming a replicant who’s all replicated up with nowhere to go, forever and ever.

“Don’t waste too much time on teaching. Your research is the most important thing.” Lie. Lie, lie, lie. Three people at most will ever read your research. At most. You have the potential to touch hundreds upon hundreds of lives with your teaching–and the vast majority of TT jobs left are high-teaching-load positions at R2 or SLAC or regional/directional. Teach if you want to teach. Research if you want to research. Do nothing–NOTHING–solely for its result, because it’s a result that probably won’t happen.

“That adjunct job/VAP will be a good stepping stone to a tenure-track job.” Lie. That adjunct/VAP job will be an excellent stepping stone to more jobs exactly like it for the rest of your miserable career.

“The market will be different next year/You’ll fare better on it with PhD in hand and a few years’ experience.” Lie. The market will never come back, because “austerity” measures (aka adjunct-sterity measures) are terrific for the corporatized university’s bottom line.

“Move wherever the job takes you, and if you have to be long-distance with your spouse, it will be worth it in the end.” Lie. It will not. You may end up unable to have a family because you put it off for too long, because “after tenure” is apparently the only socially acceptable time (if there is one) for a female academic to reproduce.

“You should be working 6 hours a day minimum on your dissertation and producing at least 10 pages a day.” Lie, lie, lie, lie, lie. That’s basically like saying, “Hey, get overwhelmed and don’t finish.” You can–and should–write two pages per day or fewer (most of the time) if you want them to be any good. Writing a dissertation is nothing–I mean NOTHING–like writing a paper. It is a completely different beast, and requires its own very delicate and specialized approach, and most of your advisers are beyond abysmal at this approach. In my year as a dissertation coach I have come to the conclusion that most dissertation advisers should not be allowed within 100 feet of their students (mine was awesome, by the way, in case you care).

This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. When you are getting lied to like this–all day, every day, by everyone who matters to you–the result can be really damaging. I am here as a very needed counterweight to all of these lies. Ignore my #realtalk at your own peril.

SCHUMAN OUT. #exhausted

28 thoughts on “I Am Trying To Help You: Concrete Examples

  1. Reading all those lies made me twitchy. I have been told/heard friends get told every. Single. One. I think part of my issues are that I am mouthy and stubborn and have said I do not believe any of them. Well, I did believe the last one (6 hrs of writing/day) until very recently. I don’t anymore.


  2. OMG, that last one–I’ve been feeling like I suck when I only get 3-4 pages done on my dissertation per day. I feel like you’ve just given me permission to do what’s working. (Not that I should have needed it.) Some days I only get 1. One day I got 6.

    (I did a post kind of about this very issue…but it sounds so whiny…) (http://chickwithastick.net/2014/05/29/progess-is-being-made-in-case-youre-wondering/)

    So it’s not just me. Thank God.


    • I wrote a full draft in 8 months doing 3-4 pages a day, 4 days a week, and my advisor told me it was too long! (Granted, my full draft is a mess and it’s going to take just as long to rewrite and defend, but geez. 10 pages a day can’t be high quality product, either.)


      • If someone handed me a stack of pages and was like “I wrote 10 of these a day,” I’d be like FUUUUUUCK YOU wait until you give me something you actually cared about!


  3. One small bit of pushback on the ‘teach, teach, teach’ advice:

    While what you say about the actual value of teaching vs research is true, and you’re right that most jobs are going to be teaching heavy, I’ve seen little evidence that teaching experience (beyond a fairly minimal level) actually makes you more competitive for supposed ‘teaching’ jobs (except of course the poorly paid adjunct kind). So while the job itself may be teaching heavy, it appears that research prestige still plays an important role in standing out in a crowded applicant pool.

    (For example, this is from a rejection letter for a teaching-only position in a SLAC summer program. “We were very impressed with the material you sent, your enthusiasm for the program, and your evident dedication to liberal arts education. While it’s impossible for me to predict future staffing needs, I hope you will consider re-applying, particularly as you begin to publish your research.

    This may vary by field, but here’s a good technique for anyone to try: look at the job ads for regional state universities with 4/4 teaching loads or your favorite SLAC. Now go look at the research credentials on the cvs of junior facutly (or even VAPs!) currently in those positions.


      • Yes. This was the only part of the post that is wrong. Do NOT teach much. It will NOT make a difference, except to slow down your time to completion…which does matter. Twice, three times at most is sufficient.
        And if someone REALLY wants a job in today’s corporatized uni
        climate, do the one thing Schumann does not mention: apply for grants, win money. On your own or with others on a big grant. All unis are paying attention FIRST to your ability to bring in funds. Get good at it.

        Otherwise, great stuff!


  4. When I wasn’t “writing enough” my adviser gave me a pep talk: when she was in grad school she would wake up at 4am and write until noon and then take a two hour break and write from 2pm until 10pm. I guess she was recommending this strategy for me as well?
    Huh. She retired last year having only ever published one book, her dissertation. It seems she didn’t consider whether or not this writing process was, as we say in IT, scaleable.


  5. I like RS’s formulation: teach if you want to teach, research if you want to research. Neither one is going to get you a job. If you want to try being strategic, then you should graduate (in the humanities) with 2 journal articles accepted or published. That makes you look safely ambitious. Less than 1 makes you look incapable. More than 3 freaks out the SC, since none of them have that many. (I’m barely exaggerating here.) Don’t get suckered in to writing book reviews or encyclopedia entries as a grad student. At best it’s a time waster, at worst it’s a career killer

    For teaching, the strategy is to maximize the number of different classes you teach as instructor of record, while minimizing the number of new course preps that suck up your time. Having 10 sections of 101 on your CV isn’t nearly as useful as having one section each of 101, 102, 201, and 202, and maybe a specialized course you designed and taught in your specialty. TA’ing But it’s all about counting CV lines, not paying your dues. No one cares if you’ve payed your dues.


    • That all sounds about right. I just wanted to highlight the misleading inference that is too often made from “what few jobs exist are teaching-heavy” to “teaching experience will make you competitive for those jobs.”

      That same idea also gets used to make it look like the failure to get jobs is a problem with PhDs having the wrong ‘training.’ See for example this article from the Dean who oversees departments like this..


      • Yeah, what I meant by “teach” was “teach if you want to, because what few jobs are left are not going to take you seriously if you publish too much etc”


      • LOL that is quite the impressive faculty roster. NOT. (I guess I should be grateful they listed their part-time faculty at all, though? Usually we’re not even on the website).


  6. My adviser seriously did not seem to care whether I finished my dissertation. I cannot recall a single moment in any of my (rare!) meetings with him when he pushed me to get drafts to him. Once in a while, he’d ask where I was in the process, but he never pushed me to go faster. I’m not sure whether he’d already given up on me or just assumed that finishing “some day” would work out for both of us.

    In hindsight, I’m a little disappointed that I apparently wasn’t even worth lying to.


  7. I actually haven’t heard “your research is more important than teaching.” But I have heard “it’s incredibly important to get as many grants as you can [and buy your way out of teaching assistantships] to show search committees and granting organizations that you do fundable research,” so that’s what my program pushes, and what most people do. The successful ones, anyway – I’m one of the failures who actually has to work for my money next year!

    “Move wherever the job takes you” is the one that scares me currently – as the pregnant half of an academic couple, I realize that I’ve made a choice that will probably make this impossible (or very very unpleasant). I’d rather live with my spouse than have a TT job anyway, so I’m not sorry. But the statistics about how many women vs. men get stuck in adjunct positions are depressing, and following a spouse around to academic jobs can’t make it easy to build a career in other fields, either. I’ve appreciated the series on Vitae about academic motherhood this week, just for bringing these issues into the open.


  8. As an anecdotal contribution to the gender/academia discussion, I would like to add that being married (that quintessential bourgeois status, regardless of your financial status, read: adjunct penury) has eased and facilitated relationships in the academic world for me. Oftentimes, as a scholar who was unmarried in her early 30s I felt both judged and feared as a single woman. Being nice was interpreted as “I’m flirting with you.” There’s been a palpable, maybe even dramatic, difference in how my marriage has cast on me a level of “trustworthiness” and “predictability/readability” that has eased relationships with male colleagues. Again, as a single woman past her late 20s, I felt that male academics seemed to act very uncomfortable in my presence. This is all very sad. I would say, though, that male academics also face a certain kind of suspicion (but by no means equal) for being unmarried. If there is any industry where bourgeois respectability is essential, it’s academia. And, oh boy, if I’ve got a bookload of stories on that I’m sure everyone who reads this does too.

    On another front, I am a woman who very consciously in her late 20s decided that I did not want to have children–a decision that had absolutely nothing to do with academia. Yet an academic mentor “explained” to me in a confidential tone that being a woman academic was very, very…VERY hard because of the demands of motherhood, i.e. subtext: you should reconsider being in academia because your *natural,obvious* future plans as a mother will interfere. I just listened because this is the type of man that would have been even more horrified if I’d told him I had no plans for children–I didn’t have the energy to deal with that one. Obviously, this man’s comment went to the heart of the main topic of the discussion on women and academia that has transpired in the blogosphere in the past few weeks, especially in Vitae: that having children is an academic career killer. And, ancillary to that is a): A) the assumption that women (even academics!) WANT to have children and that, if they do, then…B)….. the onus is on them (mostly true) and not their male partner-if it is a male) to provide childcare. The problem here is, of course, why this state of affairs isn’t being questioned.

    As a side question: any stats on universities that offer paternal leave to male academics?

    All this: the bourgeois respectability model of marriage and nuclear family (and make that no more than two children) is EXPECTED in academia. If not, beware. And if you’re a woman it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.


  9. Can I add another lie?
    “As long as you get into a top program with full funding, you’ll be fine.”


  10. this ABD is very thankful that you and your #realtalk are here.

    I wonder if we could understand the vitriol that graduate students direct towards you with an analogy: there’s something about being a graduate student right now that is a little bit like believing in Calvinist predestination. we know only some of us are among the “elect,” we know that questioning the plan is a very quick seat to not being “chosen,” and we anxiously inspect our own CVs to see if we might, indeed, be living the kind of lives congruent with a tenure track job. (while knowing, deep down, that nothing we do now will matter anyway.) it’s the threat you present to that particular article of faith that inspires the attacks–and also, somebody who was among the “elect” would start life-boating frantically now.


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