Why can't the community guidelines include "not being a pedantic prick?" May 9, 2011 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I just wanted to say that the condescending "you know nothing" replies to the poor guy in threads like this are why Metafilter will always remain enshrined in my heart as the Temple of the Douche. Can't people try to be nicer?
posted by Victorvacendak to Etiquette/Policy at 12:30 PM (205 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

I can't promise to try, but I will try to try.

In seriousness, that thread doesn't seem overly troublesome to me unless some stuff got pruned. Which comments in particular do you mean?
posted by Justinian at 12:32 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Temple of the Douche? Wasn't that an Eddie Vedder/Chris Cornell collabo?
posted by chinston at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [25 favorites]


Who the fuck drops a MeTa thread like this and then immediately disables their account?
posted by gman at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2011 [29 favorites]


Why can't the community guidelines include "not being a pedantic prick?"

Not to be a pedantic prick about it, but the community guidelines actually do include that. It's just that they're guidelines, not rules, and site moderation here is not super heavy-handed. Everyone reacts too quickly sometimes and everyone here occasionally types and hits "post comment" on something that they later wish they had phrased a bit differently. For example, I bet you'll eventually wish you hadn't called MetaFilter the "Temple of the Douche."
posted by The World Famous at 12:36 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


To be fair, the OP wants to become an English professor. He's just getting an early taste of faculty lounge politics.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2011 [29 favorites]


maybe the mods disabled it?
posted by marienbad at 12:37 PM on May 9, 2011


That thread's no worse than the ones about going to law school.
posted by amro at 12:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Who the fuck drops a MeTa thread like this and then immediately disables their account?

A High Priest of the Temple of the Douche, right before committing ritual douchicide, is my guess.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:41 PM on May 9, 2011 [35 favorites]


@Victorvacendak, seriously though, the academic life can be so bad that all of us out there doing it really want to help those that want to do it understand how bad it is/can be.
posted by k8t at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


If the mods disabled your account every time you made a questionable Meta post, well... uh... they'd disable a lot of accounts.
posted by Justinian at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you ask questions about a field which show that you haven't the faintest idea about the current dynamics of that field or, indeed, the basic requirements of becoming a member of said field, I don't think it's impolite for people to mention that.
posted by valkyryn at 12:42 PM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


the condescending "you know nothing" replies to the poor guy in threads like this are why Metafilter will always remain enshrined in my heart as the Temple of the Douche

What I really don't get about statements like these is that for them to be said in the first place, the speaker must:

1. Have read enough MetaFilter to have formed a (they would like to think informed) opinion of MetaFilter in general;
2. Concluded that MetaFilter is "the Temple of the Douche,"
3. Keep reading MetaFilter despite it being the Temple of the Douche,
4. Get upset enough about MetaFilter being the Temple of the Douche to spend time complaining about it in public.
5. Somehow hope that all the people that s/he has just called Acolytes of the Douche will agree.

Shouldn't you just cut bait after #2? I tried reading Little Green Footballs once, and occasionally pop into New Republic from time to time to get a radically different worldview from my own, and sometimes read comments on news sites. My wife still reads FARK so I see it over her shoulder on occasion.

Every time, I get to point #2 and think "well, there's a whole wide world full of stuff to do that isn't the Internet equivalent of slowly punching myself in the face."

I don't keep reading something I hate to read. And then complain about it.
posted by Shepherd at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


In the Temple of the Douche
Vinegar is Ambrosia
Douche Nozzles babtize the acolytes
Rinse it and move on
Rinse it and move on
Rinse it and move on

Metafilter will always remain
Enshrined in my heart as
The Temple of the Douche
Rinse it and move on
Rinse it and move on
Rinse it and move on
Douche the Meta Filter Already
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Temple of the what? How much nicer do you want people to try to be?
posted by Namlit at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought people were just being honest, which is a feature around here, not a bug.
posted by pwally at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


If the mods disabled your account every time you made a questionable Meta post, well... uh... they'd disable a lot of accounts.

Shh... If you speak your dreams out loud, they'll never come true.
posted by Science! at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you ask questions about a field which show that you haven't the faintest idea about the current dynamics of that field or, indeed, the basic requirements of becoming a member of said field, I don't think it's impolite for people to mention that.

Yeah, and AskMe is totally for pointing and laughing and certainly not for answering, educating, and informing!
posted by carsonb at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


That thread's no worse than the ones about going to law school.

Except that anyone who wants to go to law school really does, by definition, know nothing, and becoming a pedantic prick is, unfortunately, one of the side effects of a legal education.
posted by The World Famous at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


posted by Victorvacendak

It seems this guy's become a real softie since saving Alex Furlong from the spiritual switchboard back in 2009.
posted by chambers at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Weird. I thought his commend was one of the better ones from the thread:

This is a temptation every English major must confront and overcome. Getting a city English professor job is like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet, while wearing a blindfold..
posted by supercres at 12:51 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I just wanted to say that the condescending "you know nothing" replies to the poor guy in threads like this are why Metafilter will always remain enshrined in my heart as the Temple of the Douche.

Certain people can't help but be jerks. I share your desire to issue this callout, but these things rarely end well. Better just to put the makers of said replies on a list of people to skip over when you see them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and AskMe is totally for pointing and laughing and certainly not for answering, educating, and informing!

The ways in which you can politely say "This is a terrible idea and the fact that you asked it in this manner demonstrates a profound ignorance of the subject which you would do well to remedy," are quite limited.
posted by Diablevert at 12:56 PM on May 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


Oddly, your bizarre callout of a bunch of people saying things that aren't douchey, combined with a ridiculous smear against the entire population of Metafilter based on the comments of just a few people, makes your post into Indiana Jones and the Temple of Douche. Thankfully you passive-aggressively disabled your account before reading the rest of Metafilter, because given your reaction to such a tame thread, if you stuck around I'd expect you to open a misguided meta every 10 minutes or so.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 1:01 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I hope this is the part where somebody rewrites that 'Hunger Strike' song with clever new becoming-an-English-professor lyrics.
posted by box at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of the answers on that thread are barbed, but I believe that in most cases it's because the answerers think it's important to be unambiguous about why going to grad school in the humanities is inadvisable in many (most?) circumstances. I don't think it's a particularly egregious or douchey thread.
posted by a small part of the world at 1:03 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Douche is the one that helped establish the PG-13 rating. The part where Doucha Ram pulls that dude's heart out was pretty intense for young viewers.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 1:04 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Given the OP's history, this was more like a fizzle out than a flame out.
posted by tommasz at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


gman: "Who the fuck drops a MeTa thread like this and then immediately disables their account?"

Guess he wanted the last word?
posted by zarq at 1:07 PM on May 9, 2011


Can't people try to be nicer?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: When a person's plan is spectacularly, ridiculously bad and will put them in an enormous financial hole that may affect the rest of their life in a very bad way, and the question is phrased in such a way as to make it clear that the person has done no research about their plan, then being direct and dire is doing them a favor.
posted by winna at 1:08 PM on May 9, 2011 [26 favorites]


As someone who participated in that thread I want to stick up for myself and the other posters. Some truths are blunt, and if sugar-coated may not be taken as seriously as they should.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


The ways in which you can politely say "This is a terrible idea and the fact that you asked it in this manner demonstrates a profound ignorance of the subject which you would do well to remedy," are quite limited.

Then don't say it.
posted by carsonb at 1:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Douche: Anything Goes, Bros
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having just read through the post, the OP seems to be fine with the bluntness of the advice, which for the most part is quite good. On the continuum of Ask MeFi questions, that one has to be on the very good end. The OP is getting very good advice.
posted by COD at 1:11 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I blame favorites.

If we just called them "bookmarks" the OP in that thread would be well on his way to a tenure-track position at one of our nation's leading universities.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


maybe the mods disabled it?

Nope. There'd have to be something really exceptionally weird going on for that to end up happening.

The poster closed his account himself apparently just about when he posted this, with a note that suggests he's just frustrated with Metafilter right now, so, hey. Odd timing, maybe not the best plan vs. just not making the Metatalk post, but nothing particularly notable otherwise.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:14 PM on May 9, 2011


The OP posted the equivalent of "Should I walk in front of a bus?" It's OK for the answers to be a little blunt.
posted by desjardins at 1:15 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


That thread's no worse than the ones about going to law school.

That was my thought too. And those threads are refreshingly honest, not douchetastic.

Except that anyone who wants to go to law school really does, by definition, know nothing, and becoming a pedantic prick is, unfortunately, one of the side effects of a legal education.

Well geez, sorry for existing! I'm a nice and non-pedantic person, I swear.
posted by naju at 1:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Given the fad for Hollywoods, vajazzles and labiaplasties, The Temple of Douche sounds like LA's next big spa trend.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:18 PM on May 9, 2011


The poster closed his account himself apparently just about when he posted this, with a note that suggests he's just frustrated with Metafilter right now

I know how that feels. I nearly closed my account last night to take a break, but instead am trying to adjust my own approach. Still not sure I don't need a break, but I'm trying to get over my personal frustrations and maybe make it continue to work for all concerned.
posted by hippybear at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


While, yeah, people should have been nicer in the thread, the OP's replies aren't helping.
posted by Melismata at 1:21 PM on May 9, 2011


Well geez, sorry for existing! I'm a nice and non-pedantic person, I swear.

My remark was meant to be self-deprecating, naju.
posted by The World Famous at 1:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Douche is the one that helped establish the PG-13 rating.
posted by to sir with millipedes


You should've seen the script for Raiders of the Lost Fark.
posted by George Clooney at 1:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


My remark was meant to be self-deprecating, naju.

Ah, ok :)
posted by naju at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2011


Fark Fart
posted by George Clooney at 1:23 PM on May 9, 2011


I went over there eager to wallow in bile and witty invective and was sorely disappointed.
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mmm, the fact that the poor guy didn't even know that you need a PhD to be a professor seemed like a pretty good sign that he's never going to experience the pains of an academic career. Kind of a self-correcting problem there.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:34 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Shit like this is condescending and unnecessary:

(Also, dude, looking at your past questions, which include a statement that teaching would never be for you, you've got to get your shit together, and you've got to realize that nobody is going to pay you a living wage to dork around and not work a "straight" 9-to-5-type job until after you put in years of hard work and drudgery and prove you can do the boring shit.

posted by the young rope-rider at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now, I am confused.
posted by clavdivs at 1:40 PM on May 9, 2011


Shit like this is condescending and unnecessary:

Condescending? Sure. I can see that. Unnecessary? Well, I guess that depends on what you think is necessary. It's certainly something the asker needs to hear (read).
posted by The World Famous at 1:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess it's best he find out now that 99% percent of the people in academia are douchebags.
posted by koeselitz at 1:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't mind stealing bread
From the mouths of adjuncts
But I can't feed on the underemployed
When my tenure's already confirmed,
But it's in committee
The chair is nodding
And they're assigning lectures
While TAs are working
CVs are on the table
And the mouths are smirking
But I'm growing hungry
posted by COBRA! at 1:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


This MeTa and subsequent account-disabling is a bit of a Douche-grenade
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 1:48 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm grawin' hongraaaaaaaay
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:50 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


I assume that people who get very angry about posts and comments that they perceive to be populated entirely by pedantic pricks may have something of a perspective problem. It's my considered opinion that people who have strong emotions on topics have a tendency to see these topics in more "You're wrong, no YOU'RE wrong" sort of relief. The grad school thread didn't seem too bad to me, could have had somewhat less snark but I've been keeping an eye on it all day. There was only one person who has had a comment deleted from that thread and that's the person who started this MeTa thread... Which might be why they were annoyed in which case, I apologize and would be happy to go over why their answer wasn't so great.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:52 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's certainly something the asker needs to hear (read).

Really? The response to someone who is trying to make a long-term plan to do something more interesting to them is basically to call them a whiner who is trying to get out of paying their dues? Why, because they don't want to teach? Not everyone wants to be a teacher (or would be good at it). That doesn't mean they want a career as a 150k freelance oral-sex getter.

Jesus. People act like working two jobs you kinda hate is some sort of awesome thing that should just be sucked up and dealt with and it's an obnoxious attitude (and it's 10x more obnoxious from people who entered the job market when it was a lot more forgiving).

Plus, poring over someone's askme history is borderline not cool and if you're going to do it just to lecture them on their vague attitude problem, well, it veers into completely not cool.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2011 [18 favorites]


This thread is sort of like telling someone you want to go to couples' therapy, but you don't show up, leaving that person wondering why there's a need for therapy.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:54 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


That doesn't mean they want a career as a 150k freelance oral-sex getter.

I will selflessly take this... position.
posted by desjardins at 1:56 PM on May 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


The ways in which you can politely say "This is a terrible idea and the fact that you asked it in this manner demonstrates a profound ignorance of the subject which you would do well to remedy," are quite limited.

Then don't say it.


Alternatively, "If you don't want to know the answer, don't ask the question". People were a little brusque, but several posters actually did answer the question and provide factual information on why the OP's plan was ill-advised.
posted by Kpele at 1:57 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


What other sorts of questions should people know better than to ask in askme?
posted by ServSci at 1:57 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Plus, poring over someone's askme history is borderline not cool and if you're going to do it just to lecture them on their vague attitude problem, well, it veers into completely not cool.

Mostly agree (with the lecturing part), but the OP's "I don't want to teach!" thing is at odds with "Academia! That's where I'm a ...." is kind of weird, since it necessarily involves teaching.
posted by rtha at 1:59 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


ServSci: "What other sorts of questions should people know better than to ask in askme?"

Well....
posted by zarq at 2:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What the hell happened to Temple Of The Douche, anyway? I lost track of them after they released "Seen Your Cervix". I did see them on the "Flush Pussies" tour but that was such a wash-out I lost interest.
posted by Decani at 2:02 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The answers in that thread were good answers. I don't see what the OP is bitching about. A major strength of AskMe, and one of the reasons people frequent the place, is that it's a resource for getting unvarnished answers from impartial, well-informed strangers. Most people know and want the plain truth when they ask questions on the site.
posted by killdevil at 2:03 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What other sorts of questions should people know better than to ask in askme?

What's the best way to tell my wife that I want her to lose weight and go to law school? I think both would be really good for her self-esteem, and certainly raise her standing with me. Thoughts?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:05 PM on May 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Really? The response to someone who is trying to make a long-term plan to do something more interesting to them is basically to call them a whiner who is trying to get out of paying their dues?

No. The response to someone who keeps (in that thread) complaining that they don't want to get their shit together because they don't think it's worth their time is that they've "got to get [their]shit together, and [they've] got to realize that nobody is going to pay [them]a living wage to dork around and not work a "straight" 9-to-5-type job until after [they] put in years of hard work and drudgery and prove [they] can do the boring shit." That response could have been given without referring to the asker's history on the site.

Jesus. People act like working two jobs you kinda hate is some sort of awesome thing that should just be sucked up and dealt with and it's an obnoxious attitude (and it's 10x more obnoxious from people who entered the job market when it was a lot more forgiving).

Awesome? Who's acting like it's awesome? Seriously, I want you to tell me, specifically, who is acting like it's awesome and show me the specific statements that give you that impression.

Plus, poring over someone's askme history is borderline not cool and if you're going to do it just to lecture them on their vague attitude problem, well, it veers into completely not cool.

I'm not the one who did that. But I would point out that the poster's own thread moderation in the most recent question indicates more than just a "vague attitude problem."
posted by The World Famous at 2:06 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


What the hell happened to Temple Of The Douche, anyway?

They washed out.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:07 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


aaaand scene.
basically not looking forward to 100+ rehashed douche puns
posted by boo_radley at 2:11 PM on May 9, 2011


aaaand scene.
basically not looking forward to 100+ rehashed douche puns
posted by boo_radley at 10:11 PM on May 9


Ah shit, now I feel ashamed. Look, I'm all flushed!
posted by Decani at 2:12 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Awww, what's wrong with douche puns? It's good clean fun!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:13 PM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


The answers in that thread are less-politely-worded versions of the advice my mother used to give when people would ask her about going into theatre as a profession: "If there is ANYTHING else you can imagine yourself doing for a living and being happy at, DO THE OTHER THING. Do not look to the theatre for a career unless there is NOTHING else you can imagine doing and finding professionally fulfilling."

Sometimes the appropriate answer to a "should I do this?" question really is "That is a terrible idea and you should reconsider it immediately and completely."
posted by Lexica at 2:15 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most people know and want the plain truth when they ask questions on the site.

Others, like the asker, seem to want said well-informed strangers to tell them why their idea is a good one and/or how awesome the asker is. Those types of questions don't seem to end quite as well.
posted by valkyryn at 2:17 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The OP asked for advice, and received it; the advice was honest and truthful. The OP betrayed a degree of optimism (putting it nicely) about their plan; s/he would have been disabused of their rose-coloured glasses quickly enough if they followed through, so better for it to happen here, and well in advance, than when they'd already taken out loans for a grad program.

The OP could still work towards becoming an instructor or teaching English outside of a University setting, and was told so. I fail to see the issue here.
posted by jokeefe at 2:18 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I fail to see the issue here.

The issue is that we have a poor young guy who's miserable about his life, and we piled on him when he asked a naive question. Guy's hurting enough; we didn't need to make it worse.
posted by Melismata at 2:21 PM on May 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


The ways in which you can politely say "This is a terrible idea and the fact that you asked it in this manner demonstrates a profound ignorance of the subject which you would do well to remedy," are quite limited.

Which makes it all the more important to work hard to find those ways.

I think that thread looked to mostly be polite tough love, based on a limited skim, so this is a mostly theoretical issue. But this "being right makes any way of delivery that message okay" disease seems pretty wide-spread on MeFi so I'm comfortable responding.

As a few folks said up above, nobody's making you respond to AskMe. So if you can't find a productive way to answer a question courteously... feel free to move on. Defending being mean to someone because they're ignorant of reality of have dopey motives is BS. It's unproductive to abuse people for trying to learn, meaning you're only doing it for your own gratification. Be better.
posted by phearlez at 2:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


Eh. "You know nothing about what this field is really like" really can be an appropriate response in an AskMe about working in a given field. I didn't read valkyryn's answer as condescending or inadequately nice. I thought it gave answers to the questions, which is what AskMe responses are supposed to do.
posted by Zed at 2:22 PM on May 9, 2011


Bandaid removal - slow or fast?
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 2:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


There was only one person who has had a comment deleted from that thread and that's the person who started this MeTa thread...

Now it makes sense. "Why am I being punished & they aren't?"
posted by scalefree at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who the fuck drops a MeTa thread like this and then immediately disables their account?

I think it's pretty smart. Otherwise you are tempted to fight back in Meta and that never goes anywhere good.
posted by smackfu at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


The only other option is to go to a Yahoo Answers style answer which would look something like this:

"I know a person who was a college professor, first you need to get into grad school and then after that you become a professor. :)"

I say that half-seriously but that's the alternative if you're not going to go with the unfortunate, "Yeah not going to happen dude, but here's why it won't happen, and here's some suggestions on what you can do." Which I think is infinitely more helpful.

The underlying subtext, which I think is a bit sad, is that becoming an English professor requires you to know absolutely what you want to do out of the gate when you graduate. Actually, before you graduate so you can start making connections and plans for grad school. That limits you to a small subset of people who know what they want to do at 19-20 years old. I wonder if this was the case even 40-50 years ago, or if you could have some life experience and then come back to get your graduate degree.
posted by geoff. at 2:25 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Having read the askme but not this thread, that shit seems like good advice to me. If I want to conduct a science experiment I can do it by my damn self :)
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:36 PM on May 9, 2011


I wish MetaFilter'd been around in my life to keep me from doing my (more or less useless) MA. The only saving grace there is that I was a TA and didn't pay a dime for the courses, but I did go completely crazy working a full time job + TA'ing + my own schoolwork!

Although, I wouldn't have my favorite "why I am not a professor" story, which involves one student proclaiming "The Spartans were complete nutjobs" on his western civ term paper.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think it's pretty smart. Otherwise you are tempted to fight back in Meta and that never goes anywhere good.

Now we just need to train people to disable their account before they make a MeTa.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I figure after you've been on mefi awhile, you should be able to read people's tones into their answers. Brandon Blatcher can tell me I'm a big stupidhead and I know he doesn't mean it in a bad way.
posted by desjardins at 2:47 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Although, I wouldn't have my favorite "why I am not a professor" story, which involves one student proclaiming "The Spartans were complete nutjobs" on his western civ term paper.

To be fair, the Spartans were complete nutjobs.
posted by scalefree at 2:57 PM on May 9, 2011 [28 favorites]


I'm just glad that I made friends with some of the junior faculty at my college - it let me know before it was too late that I did not want to be an academic.
posted by rtha at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2011


You know, I thought the answers were direct and brusque, but certainly not assholish. There's a value in being direct, and I don't think there's any value add sweeting up "this is a terrible idea" for someone. I don't think the OP did himself any favors later on in the thread, for that matter.
posted by absalom at 3:09 PM on May 9, 2011


To be fair, the Spartans were complete nutjobs.

"If."
posted by quin at 3:10 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My question would be, in a case where individual asks inflammatory MeTa question and then tucks tail and runs, why keep the MeTa open? No sense rewarding the douche-grenadier.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:29 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm in the "mostly be gentle when people are asking questions they don't realize are naive" camp. Some of the answers could have been phrased more gently. Also, it would be good if people searched the archives for job questions, since there are a lot of great and useful answers in there.

I think the snark and non-gentleness came because if you have any sense of the academic job market, the question is very much like "I am very frustrated by my series of crummy jobs and it has been hard to find a job, so I'm thinking about becoming an NBA player. I'm thinking of quitting my job and joining a training program for the NBA which takes 6 years and will pay me $10,000 a year. Anything else I should know?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:32 PM on May 9, 2011 [39 favorites]


In fairness, it's also like asking "hey academics and people who have considered academia, what is your favorite thing to complain about?"
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Haha. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Douche. People were so hating on his hat in that movie.
posted by dougrayrankin at 3:43 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, in general, we could do with a lot less "tough love" in askme. If you find yourself thinking, "this could be seen as harsh, but this person needs some tough love" stop right away, because you're probably getting ready to be a dick. Pretend you're them for a minute. Do you really need some "tough love?" Find some other ways of saying what you need to say without being a dick)

Some other things we could see less of in askme :
1) combing through peoples' post history (you think it's relevant, but really you're getting further away from Just Answering the Question)
2) not giving people the benefit of the doubt (stop assuming people have bad intentions)
3) obsessing on phrasing and word choice (kinda related to the above. I've seen perfectly good posts derailed because people will latch onto a single word or phrase and use that to psychoanalyze the asker. which brings us to ...)
4) armchair psychoanalysis (unless someone is clearly and I mean CLEARLY suffering from some kind of disorder. just don't do this, you don't know that person. stop implying things that weren't stated in the question)

Even if you think any of the above are okay in context, please remember that askme has a high search ranking and lots of people use it for reference. So if you're fixating on the asker, you're not helping all the other people who are reading the question.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [32 favorites]


The only other option is to go to a Yahoo Answers style answer which would look something like this:
"I know a person who was a college professor, first you need to get into grad school and then after that you become a professor. :)"

There's no way anything on Yahoo! Answers would be spelled that well.
posted by dg at 4:12 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


My question would be, in a case where individual asks inflammatory MeTa question and then tucks tail and runs, why keep the MeTa open?

Why give that much control to the OP over when to end the discussion? Remember, disabling one's account is reversible.
posted by John Cohen at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2011


did ya go inside the sphere?
posted by clavdivs at 4:23 PM on May 9, 2011


I thought the advice was good, but the "and how dare you even consider it when you know nothing about this field?" element was unnecessary. I have a social sciences PhD, and now a postdoc, and was the second choice for both tenure-track jobs I interviewed at last year, and I still live in hope I might get there one day (although I am also realistic about the more likely probability of patching a career together from grant funding and short term positions). Yet if I had posted here right after my BA, I would have sounded as clueless as the poster.

Most of our knowledge (those of us in academia) about how tenure-track job searches work and the requirements for having a chance at one comes during the PhD process, from advice our supervisors give us, watching peers apply for jobs, etc. Well, that's the case for those of us who come from families where no one even went to university for an undergrad degree, let alone a PhD. It's not a given that ignorance at that point in a career rules someone out from the field entirely.

There were other troubling aspects of the story, though -e.g. the six years to get a BA - and given the state of academia, sure, I would never recommend anyone do a PhD unless it's for its own sake and not to try and get a job at the end.
posted by lollusc at 4:38 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


disabling one's account is reversible

So is early closure of a MeTa thread, I would assume.
posted by Trurl at 4:44 PM on May 9, 2011


Wow, I only read two responses before I had to leave. How are those not deleted already? "This is impossible and you are an idiot" does not answer the question.
posted by DU at 4:48 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


clavdivs: " did ya go inside the sphere?"

My name is Jerry... Do you like calamari?
posted by Splunge at 5:06 PM on May 9, 2011


Metafilter is NOT a safe place for the tender and naive. Nor is it meant to be.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:38 PM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought most of the advice was true (or true-ish, because for all that the academic job market is dire, some people are still getting jobs, and it's not a totally random process), but much of it was worded quite strongly. It answered the question, but might not have helped, if that makes sense.

The underlying subtext, which I think is a bit sad, is that becoming an English professor requires you to know absolutely what you want to do out of the gate when you graduate. Actually, before you graduate so you can start making connections and plans for grad school. That limits you to a small subset of people who know what they want to do at 19-20 years old.

This isn't true. You do have to be sharp and driven and willing to self-promote, be good at a very particular and insular social world, and present in very particular ways. And even then, there are going to be more people just like you than there will be great jobs. You do not need to make this choice at 19. From a purely financial or a risk/reward standpoint, there are much smarter decisions to make than grad school in the humanities, though, and I think the advice in the linked thread reflected that.
posted by Forktine at 5:45 PM on May 9, 2011


Complete this sentence:

MetaFilter is not a safe place for______________________.

I'll start:

MetaFilter is not a safe place for Scott Adams.

MetaFilter is not a safe place for Holden Karnofsky.

this is sorta fun!...
posted by tomswift at 5:45 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eh, I think honest tough talk is needed for this kind of thing. If a person wants to enter a hard profession, they deserve fair warning. If the person is up to the challenge, they will know to work hard at it. If the person isn't up to the challenge, then they know to try something else.

Of course, the "you know nothing" thing could probably have been phrased better. IE: "You seem a bit uninformed about some of the nuances of working in this field. Maybe you should read this article before you make your decision about this."
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:46 PM on May 9, 2011




So,

as someone who has pondered this exact question, I can't even begin to describe how awesome it is to read blunt, informed responses. None of the answers personally attacked the OP besides a few implications of ignorance.

Here, let me put this another way. No one in my life is going to give me answers like that.

This is why I come to the Temple of the Douche regularly.
posted by Avenger50 at 6:00 PM on May 9, 2011 [21 favorites]


Seriously, I wish metafilter had been around to give me this kind of advice before I got my MFA (or, hell, my BA), too. Instead, I was all into grad cafe and the poets and writer's speakeasy where everyone was all OMG YOU ARE A FAILURE IF YOU DON'T GET INTO YOUR TOP CHOICE SCHOOLS AND APPLY TO 20 OF THEM TOO JUST IN CASE.

Metafilter's about the only sane place about grad school on the internet.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:09 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Brandon Blatcher can tell me I'm a big stupidhead and I know he doesn't mean it in a bad way."
posted by desjardins


Well, it began with an "s", and ended with "head", but I think you misheard that.
posted by tomswift at 6:12 PM on May 9, 2011


Wow, that thread has gone right off the rails.
posted by GuyZero at 6:35 PM on May 9, 2011


MetaFilter is not a safe place for Scott Adams.

Scott Adams is many things, but I wouldn't describe him as "tender and naïve."
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:48 PM on May 9, 2011


There were rails?
posted by rtha at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2011

Can't people try to be nicer?
Can they? Yes. Will they? Probably not.
posted by rhizome at 6:51 PM on May 9, 2011


Metafilter's about the only sane place about grad school on the internet.

GradCafe is absolutely a loonybin, but Metafilter as a whole presents a picture heavily skewed toward people who make a comfortable living due to their skills in technology, with a vocal minority of frustrated former academics. The guy who posted the AskMe doesn't seem like he would have made it in academia no matter whose advice he sought out, and the advice to never go into debt for a graduate education in the humanities is always worth repeating, but there's a level of vitriol here when it comes to graduate school and graduate students can be a bit unwarranted and unfounded.

Although if people are making life decisions as major as going into academia based solely on the opinion of people on the internet, a resounding Metafilter "no" is better than the ourobouros of self-hatred and bullying over at the GradCafe.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:53 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't mind
stealin' dreams
from the minds
of innocents

Be an accountant, an accountant, yeeeeeaaaaahhh!

-- Temple of the Douche
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:54 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


er, THAT can be a bit unwarranted.

Beers and finals, what can I say.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:55 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha: There were rails?

Yup. And hookers too.
posted by gman at 6:55 PM on May 9, 2011


Guy's hurting enough; we didn't need to make it worse.

IMHO, keeping someone from making a mistake that would cost them tens of thousands of dollars is worth hurting their feelings, maybe more so in this case since he is already $40K in debt. I think the questions were open-ended enough to warrant those answers, specifically the last question "What am I not considering about this?"
posted by soelo at 7:01 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


That advice was more gentle than I expected based on the phrasing of the question...it was also correct, helpful and honest. Unless a huge number of jerky comments have been deleted then I don't see a problem with the thread.
posted by victoriab at 7:11 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


He got basically the same speech I get every time I start talking to my girlfriend about going back to grad school for poli-sci.
posted by klangklangston at 7:58 PM on May 9, 2011



Although if people are making life decisions as major as going into academia based solely on the opinion of people on the internet, a resounding Metafilter "no" is better than the ourobouros of self-hatred and bullying over at the GradCafe.


Oh i don't know, I can't say i've seen much bullying there - a description of Providence from there was great : ) Is there a best-of-grad-cafe somewhere ?

Anyway, snark complaint of op duly noted.
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:07 PM on May 9, 2011


I don't keep reading something I hate to read. And then complain about it.

Clearly you have never read The Da Vinci Code.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chlamydia Jones and the Temple of Douche.

Coming Summer 2012
posted by bonehead at 8:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it's fair to say that I could have been nicer in that thread. I just wish someone had been that blunt with me when I applied and was accepted in English PhD programs and then spent MONTHS agonizing over the decision to ultimately not go. I would have saved myself literally hundreds of dollars on applications, had a much more entertaining summer (which I instead spent slaving over my statement of purpose and example essay and whatnot) and not spent a year at a bullshit, dead-end job that I only took because I'd have time to work on my applications without much fuss from my employers.

See, even the act of considering, seriously, the possibility of "becoming an English professor" (ha! like that happens anymore) really put a cramp in my actual life plans. So that's why I was blunt with that poor guy. I understood where he was coming from, I know that horrible ennui of having a job you hate and a nostalgia for one's years as a fresh-faced undergrad reading books, and I wanted to spare him from the career equivalent of, yes, stepping in front of a bus.
posted by slightly sissy tea hound at 8:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I start talking to my girlfriend about going back to grad school

you got a pistol to the ribs too, huh.
posted by clavdivs at 8:31 PM on May 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


OP of this MeTa's response in the AskMe was one of the worst, boar-tit useless comments in there.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:14 PM on May 9, 2011


I think this question hit a sore point because there's a large and vocal demographic here who did a humanities degree or stayed on in the fringes of academia and are now staring at 35 and increasingly pissed off that they're driving a wreck and have to save up for a pizza. The answers were a little more emphatic than the usual 'get therapy' group hug or 'let's not stigmatise murderers' stuff because people were trying to pull him back from the cliff having long since jumped off it themselves. I think a lot of people's lives here would have been better if someone had given them a similarly frank talk before they ticked 'English' as a degree choice rather than a plumbing course or nursing or engineering. The job market requires marketable skills, and being the smartest person in your class at 11 or getting an English phd at 30 don't help you make a living in the real world. The guy was $40,000 in debt and thinking about going back to school to pursue an academic pipe dream that was clearly never going to happen. If the answers had been any less brutal they'd have been doing him a disservice.
posted by joannemullen at 9:15 PM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Didn't we just have an FPP about the dangers of investing in grad school without a serious understanding of where you will be when finished?
posted by maryr at 9:22 PM on May 9, 2011


I think this question hit a sore point because there's a large and vocal demographic here who did a humanities degree or stayed on in the fringes of academia and are now staring at 35 and increasingly pissed off that they're driving a wreck and have to save up for a pizza.

You must be so pleasant to walk away from at parties.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:22 PM on May 9, 2011 [37 favorites]


I think...

Now you're just being blatantly disingenuous.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:26 PM on May 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


The question of whether you can get marketable skills from an English PhD is an entirely different question from whether you can get a tenure track academic job from one. No need to *actually* live up to what the MetaTalk OP claimed about all of us. Sweeping generalizations? Generally not helpful. Or at all like a hug.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:28 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


You must be so pleasant to walk away from at parties.

I'm going to use that.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:33 PM on May 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I dunno, I think the main problem at Gradcafe is that there are too many people willing to reassure you that yes, it's okay to spend 4 years vainly trying to get into a PhD program and to pay 40 grand to go to West Bumfuckville State because someone there published an article vaguely related to your interests in 1967.

I also think that the advice typically given to grad school applicants online--to choose the reputation of the program over the reputation of the school--usually backfires pretty badly. I mean, yes, if you are already extensively familiar with the debates and politics of your field, it might be a great idea to go to a fantastic department that you just happen to know is located in an otherwise unremarkable university. But most people who are applying to PhD programs, especially if they haven't done an MA first, are not in a position to make that call, so they waste tons of money on crappy schools because they didn't get into their top choice and console themselves with the thought that those shallow people at Stanford didn't think about their field hard enough.
posted by nasreddin at 9:35 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The guy who posted the AskMe doesn't seem like he would have made it in academia no matter whose advice he sought out, and the advice to never go into debt for a graduate education in the humanities is always worth repeating, but there's a level of vitriol here when it comes to graduate school and graduate students can be a bit unwarranted and unfounded.

I don't know. I understand how it might seem harsh or upsetting to those still in academia, but the ratio of satisfied vs. unsatisfied academics on metafilter seems fairly in line with what I've seen from my peers--which is that a small number of people will make it happen and everything will be fine for them but for many other people who go to grad school, it just doesn't work out all that well.

For what it's worth, I actively campaigned for my husband to go to grad school when he expressed an interest. When it became abundantly apparent after a few months that he wasn't happy there (even though he was doing pretty well gradewise), he ended up reading a thread on here about dropping out (which I can't currently find, though i did find one from someone going $40k into debt for an MFA, so hey, that search was good for something!). The anecdotes there--of people who said it was a really good decision for them and that, once they'd mourned their preconceptions of the academy realized that they were still smart people with plenty of potential, not failures--were really, really comforting to him.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:45 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really? The response to someone who is trying to make a long-term plan to do something more interesting to them is basically to call them a whiner who is trying to get out of paying their dues? Why, because they don't want to teach? Not everyone wants to be a teacher (or would be good at it). That doesn't mean they want a career as a 150k freelance oral-sex getter.

It also means that they don't want a career as a professor, where they would be teaching. Frankly I was a bit bowled over by the question -- especially the "my BA sort of qualifies me to pursue the academic life". That's the logical equivalent of saying, "I once ate at a French restaurant, that sort of qualifies me to pursue a career as a executive chef".

Basically, either the OP is trolling, and thus deserves what he's getting, or he is operating under a set of profound misconceptions about his academic abilities, and thus needs a bit of a firm push away from a career to which he is not suited.

OP: Dude, you can go for literally any job under the sun that doesn't explicitly require a specialized degree. You can't be a lawyer, doctor, or rocket scientist, but pretty much everything else is fair game. Heck, if you love the English language, you can even become and English teacher. But to say that you think you want to become an English professor but hate teaching and want to get a decent job in city -- well, it's just insane talk, is what that is.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:14 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Y'know, Joannemullen, it's kind of a shame that every time I see your username, it's coming with a passive aggressive slag on MeFi members.

Some kinda, "Any club that'd have me…" thing?
posted by klangklangston at 10:26 PM on May 9, 2011 [26 favorites]


a small number of people will make it happen and everything will be fine for them but for many other people who go to grad school, it just doesn't work out all that well.

That's generally true of any non-traditional career field, though. It may well be just that I'm paying more attention to discussion about academia here than to discussion about freelance writing or professional acting or even starting a small business, but there are so many different ways for people to fail to achieve their dreams after investing considerable time, energy, and money, each with their own special brand of nastiness. There are plenty of deeply fucked up things about academia, not least the debt people go into, but every time there's a discussion of problems in the humanities, there's always some smug judgement and even schadenfreudey glee going on (I don't mean from you, PhoBWanKenobi; your advice and insights always seem to be from a place of experience, good faith and compassion).
posted by oinopaponton at 10:39 PM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aw, thanks, oino--I think the same thing's true for you, too.

There are plenty of deeply fucked up things about academia, not least the debt people go into, but every time there's a discussion of problems in the humanities, there's always some smug judgement and even schadenfreudey glee going on

I can see what you're saying, and I think part of that comes from being part of a community that values Science(TM)! and all of that. But I also think some of it might be frustration about the nature of the humanities, and how people can do all the right things, or almost all of the right things, and still end up 40 and without health insurance, or whatever. It's sort of the gamble of it, and you also invest a lot of time and sometimes money into it. I know more people succeeding with freelance writing-type stuff, for instance, than in academia. Not to say that it's easy. Just that sometimes it seems like there are lots of sustainable options other than the hungry ghost of academic life.

I was tempted to respond to the original thread because I'm also 27 and hate normal jobs. But I've decided to work really really really hard without pay for a few years on my writing stuff while working a semi-normalish job in the hopes that someday, I'll get paid for it. I think that's what bugged me most about the asker's post--he really does expected to get paid well, now, and I don't know that's something possible without working extremely hard for not-very-much money at first (or, forever. We'll see how it works out for me).
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:52 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does expect, too.

I can has masters in writing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:54 PM on May 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter is not a safe place for______________________.

I totally agree. Therefore, it is best we __________ and avoid further __________ about __________.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:04 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


alot room for adjectives there, maybe a verb.
posted by clavdivs at 12:53 AM on May 10, 2011


Y'know, Joannemullen, it's kind of a shame that every time I see your username, it's coming with a passive aggressive slag on MeFi members.

There's also the Faze-approved technique of leaving one little chocolate bomb per thread in play and then zipping back to one's palace of higher wisdom.

For Juleps and lulz, presumably.
posted by Wolof at 1:14 AM on May 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think that's what bugged me most about the asker's post--he really does expected to get paid well, now

Where'd you see that? Maybe it can be inferred from the later comment about not wanting to volunteer (in non-academic stuff), but the question itself is talking about going into debt and further degrees, and the poster worked through a Bachelor's degree, so I think that would be misreading it. Maybe I'm missing something.
posted by fleacircus at 1:17 AM on May 10, 2011


I think the asker was pretty clear about the fact that he didn't have all the facts and he gave a pretty good background which might explain his apparent naivete. I've often thought that I could end up as an academic and I could definitely see myself asking a similar question as the asker:

"Disillusioned and bored; loved English lit, could definitely see myself doing it for a living, smart enough to at least have a good swing at a PhD, bunch of career preferences like I don't wanna live in some fuckhole town four miles from Canada and I'd rather not teach. What should I know? What have I missed?"

I'm definitely not seeing trolling - just how jaded are you? - and I think the academic world is pretty opaque to the rest of the world, especially those stuck in dead-end office jobs with clear hierarchies and deliverables that while present in academic life, aren't front and centre in cultural representations of university life.

So uh, yeah, tell him how it is and don't be assholes, I guess? To be fair, I didn't think anyone was in the answers but I didn't read too closely.
posted by doublehappy at 3:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


So uh, yeah, tell him how it is and don't be assholes, I guess? To be fair, I didn't think anyone was in the answers but I didn't read too closely.

"don't be assholes"?!? You got the wrong site, buddy boy!

This is metafilter; no room for rubes, they've all been given mickeys by the slicks.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:05 AM on May 10, 2011


Grad school threads often go badly here. I think MeFi is full of academic refugees or nervous grad students.

Yeah, there's a crisis. Name me one major industry that doesn't have a crisis.

Over 15 years of teaching I've produced about as many PhD advisees. Fully 90 percent of them are working full time in the field, most in tenure-track (or now tenured) positions (the rest in postdocs). For my humanities department as a whole, that number is about 70 percent.

If you're a graduate student or young academic, do not let this noise get you down or distracted. When I was in grad school there were 3 jobs a year in my field. Now there are nearly 20.
So no, it's not for everyone. Just the best.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:59 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Heh, based on those numbers, I think it's easier to get on network TV than to be an academic.
posted by smackfu at 6:12 AM on May 10, 2011


I don't see the problem with the thread. If the OP asked "what's the best way for me to move towards a career as an English professor?" and people said "you have no chance," that would be bad AskMe. But what the guy actually asked was "4) What are the chances I could get a gig at a university in a city? I'm not a rural/suburban/small college town kind of guy" in which case "you have no chance" is a direct answer to the question, not a gratuitous slapdown.
posted by escabeche at 6:29 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


a small number of people will make it happen and everything will be fine for them but for many other people who go to grad school, it just doesn't work out all that well.

This is also true for restaurant ownership, and you'll see the same kind of blunt and fervent opposition to the idea of going down that path by people who've gone down that path before. Same with small business ownership, professional athletics and anyone who wants to be a famous artist.

In my experience (more on the restaurant side), it's because the doe-eyed people who see a likely future there are rarely fazed by subtle truths and need to be bludgeoned in order to give up their idealistic view of the future. Those who view it as a long-shot, but one they want to take, are generally not the ones who show up thinking there are tenured English professors out there with a Master's degree.
posted by dflemingecon at 6:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I recently asked AskMe about higher education with regards to myself and you cynical, bitter and totally mean grad school people tore me like three brand new gaping assholes and a couple of nostrils and unusually placed pissing-holes besides.

Thank you. No, seriously, thank you. I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. I'd probably be better off developing an acute herion habit. It would be cheaper in the long run, and it would probably be easier to get published that way, anyway. Oh, and I might actually get paid for it.

Now every time I think about entering the impossible clusterfuck that is the current state of the art of higher education I just close my eyes and stomp on the business end of a rake.
posted by loquacious at 7:12 AM on May 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


Heh, based on those numbers, I think it's easier to get on network TV than to be an academic.

It might be. Ask me again in a year or three.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 AM on May 10, 2011


Honestly, sometime some of the people on here are just plain mean. I've seen it in a few threads. Even if someone is completely ignorant about what they are asking, that's no reason to act like a jerk.

I don't feel comfortable making the judgement that just because someone isn't well informed about the topic they are asking about it makes me entitled to the point where I can be rude to them.

It seems like a pretty flawed system where people ask questions about things they don't know much about (which I assume is why they are asking the question) and people use it as an excuse to be unnecessarily blunt or indignant.

This thread in particular made me think of the shower scene in Carrie where they all sense a weak link and a mob-mentality takes over to jump on one person. It's not cool.
posted by elder18 at 8:03 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even if someone is completely ignorant about what they are asking, that's no reason to act like a jerk.

Part of it is that the assumptions being made, even if out of innocent ignorance, are kind of insulting. When people talk about academia in a, "Hey! I kinda like to read! I could do this!" it makes all of the struggle, pain, anxiety, and difficulty that academics go through seem trivial. So, you're currently suffering for a career that you love dearly, and you see someone shrug as if it's a walk in the park. That insults you; you respond in anger.

It's why I didn't comment in that thread. It made me angry, even though I know the OP didn't mean for it to.
posted by meese at 8:11 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Where'd you see that? Maybe it can be inferred from the later comment about not wanting to volunteer (in non-academic stuff), but the question itself is talking about going into debt and further degrees, and the poster worked through a Bachelor's degree, so I think that would be misreading it. Maybe I'm missing something.

Yes, that later comment was exactly what I meant. While I generally agree with him that people deserve to get paid, etc. etc., the truth is that he doesn't sound like he's particularly skilled at anything yet, despite the bachelor's. Sometimes your market worth is zero in cushy, non-suck fields just because your skills aren't developed enough yet to command any money for them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:15 AM on May 10, 2011


So, you're currently suffering for a career that you love dearly, and you see someone shrug as if it's a walk in the park. That insults you; you respond in anger.

It's fairly essential to functioning in the world that you be able to deal with people who don't understand the complexity of what you do, without losing your shit. I mean, everyone's job or interest or skill looks much simpler and easier from the outside than it does from the inside; that's just the nature of things.
posted by enn at 8:16 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's fairly essential to functioning in the world that you be able to deal with people who don't understand the complexity of what you do

Yeah, I agree. I'm just trying to expand upon the psychology that goes into it, not justify it.
posted by meese at 8:18 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't even understand joannemullen's posts. She just sweeps in with some non sequitur Cato-Institute-approved drivel and then exits. I didn't even know Australia had wingnuts
posted by the mad poster! at 8:20 AM on May 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


Did someone mention Holden Karnofsky? Eyelid begins twitching.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:28 AM on May 10, 2011


the young rope-rider writes "That doesn't mean they want a career as a 150k freelance oral-sex getter. "

Wait. That's an option? I mean it's been a while but I don't remember a 150K a year oral-sex getter booth at the career fair in high school.
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2011


I'd probably be better off developing an acute herion habit.

Fucking herion, man. You want to stay away from that shit. It fucks you up and takes away your musical abilities. That's why most musicians stick with heroin.
posted by NoMich at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


When people talk about academia in a, "Hey! I kinda like to read! I could do this!" it makes all of the struggle, pain, anxiety, and difficulty that academics go through seem trivial. So, you're currently suffering for a career that you love dearly, and you see someone shrug as if it's a walk in the park.

You know, I've known illegal immigrants who were working 13+ hours a day on their feet cleaning and cooking and taking care of someone else's kids and then an hour commute each way (their kids were in substandard daycare) then when they gave birth, BAM, no maternity leave, no job to go back to, no unemployment insurance, in fact, no health insurance at all. In one of the most difficult times for finding employment as a nanny.

That's struggle, pain, anxiety and difficulty. Grad school can be tough, but get some fucking perspective, dude, or drop the hell out.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:48 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I didn't even know Australia had wingnuts.

They're everywhere.
posted by h00py at 8:51 AM on May 10, 2011


That's struggle, pain, anxiety and difficulty. Grad school can be tough, but get some fucking perspective, dude, or drop the hell out.

I've mentioned this before, but one of the things that has helped me not bitch people out here on MetaFilter--and this is me, coming from my personal perspective that not bitching people out is a value that I aspire to--is to keep in mind that everyone's hardest struggle is their hardest struggle, for a multitude of reasons. Some people battle anxiety, some people battle racism, some people battle the government, some people battle soldiers; we're all configured to endure different levels of stress and setbacks, and to attempt different degrees of difficulty in the process. I'm happy the world isn't entirely filled with people like me, but it also means that I have to accept that people make different choices from me, from perspectives that are decidedly not mine.

As soon as you get into the competitive suffering arena, there is literally no way to come out of it without feeling disrespected, insulted or diminished, or that you've done this to someone else. If what you really want to do is fight, have at it. If what you're looking to do is find some common ground, ways to communicate and ways to try to dignify everyone who is trying to do the things that want to do, start with not presuming there's a single line where "hard" is at one end and "easy" is at the other.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:56 AM on May 10, 2011 [183 favorites]


Sorry, meese, that was unnecessarily harsh. It is not your fault that my friend is having a hard time finding a job.

That said, when you describe suffering for your chosen discipline like it's something you're being forced to do (instead of, frankly, a privilege that is available to few) it makes you look silly and dramatic. It certainly doesn't raise ignorance about your profession to a personal insult.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:57 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I didn't say that anyone is forced to suffer for academia. I never intended to imply that. And it certainly isn't right to imply that the struggles involved in academia are worse than the struggles a migrant worker has to deal with. I'm really glad I didn't say that, because, of course, that'd be downright ridiculous.

If I had said that the claim, "Migrant workers have it harder than academics," was insulting, I could understand your point. Because that would be an awful, horrible thing to say. I don't see anything in my original comment that seems to imply that an academic's life is worse than a migrant worker's, or even an unemployed person's. Because that would be false (except when the academic is, also, an unemployed person). I didn't in any way intend to imply that there's any sort of competition. I don't know why you read that way.

My point was this: "It feels like an insult when someone claims that your difficult career is actually extremely easy." I don't really understand why you think I can't maintain that point while also accepting that migrant workers have a much harder life than that of an academic.

I kind of understand our disagreement like this. I said, "headaches can be very painful, so someone with a headache can get angry when others act like they're not in pain at all." And you reply with, "Yeah, but a headache is absolutely not as bad as a knife wound to the abdomen." Both my claim and your claim can be totally true at the same time. I just didn't bring up knife wounds in my original comment, because they didn't seem relevant to the particular topic of conversation.
posted by meese at 9:12 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


Over 15 years of teaching I've produced about as many PhD advisees. Fully 90 percent of them are working full time in the field [...] So no, it's not for everyone. Just the best.

The narcissistic self-congratulation and unjustified contempt for others here is nauseating, but very revealing: this is nothing but the academic version of "Fuck you, got mine." This is the myth of meritocracy in a nutshell — the academic labor crisis perpetuates itself, and academics are nearly impossible to organize in solidarity with one another, because everyone who's individually succeeded privately thinks that the system is doing a great job, rewarding the best and the brightest. As someone who elsewhere puts on a (thin) pretense of leftist labor politics, you should be bitterly ashamed to have said this.
posted by RogerB at 9:25 AM on May 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


So no, it's not for everyone. Just the best.

When I hear people in the academy say this, I'm reminded of something I read once about the whip hand that is held over you in graduate school being the fear of expulsion and loss of status that comes with being in grad school. It's exactly this kind of branding of people who aren't suited to the overall grad school/tenure-track chase package as failures (because the problem is never with the system, with the fact that university life and job prospects are changing, etc., just with the complainers and quitters) that leads to the kind of resentment and harsh discouragement of people who want to go to grad school to teach at the college level that people are complaining about in this thread.
posted by immlass at 9:36 AM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


In retrospect, I think what happened to the OP was mostly as a result of the wording of the question, specifically using the term "professor". If he'd said "instructor" the advice would have been much less emotional and there would have been no sense of a pile on. I can't help but think that this is more or less what he could have meant-- that he wanted to find a job which allowed him to exercise his skills in the area that he liked/loved. There's room for instructors of English in this world, even if there's not enough professorships to go around.
posted by jokeefe at 9:44 AM on May 10, 2011


If I go to grad school, it'll be for the same reason I went to college, to learn and expand my mind. So far the cost doesn't seem worth it, but being able to spend years studying and learning still beckons with its seductive siren song.

I can find a decent job, with or without that Master's degree.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:04 AM on May 10, 2011


being able to spend years studying and learning still beckons with its seductive siren song.

For me, the real draw is being able to wear a tweed jacket while driving an old MG at a leisurely pace through a campus of limestone buildings, autumn leaves, and co-eds who never get any older. Academia must be a pretty sweet gig for people in it to protect their territory so fiercely. It's gotta be the jackets.
posted by The World Famous at 10:18 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Once you get tenure, every day is a crisp fall day, high of 62F, sunny, 0% chance of precipitation, peak foliage. I think there was an article about it in the latest Chronicle.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:24 AM on May 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


Once you get tenure, every day is a crisp fall day, high of 62F, sunny, 0% chance of precipitation, peak foliage. I think there was an article about it in the latest Chronicle.

Yes, in the "Tweed" column.
posted by jgirl at 10:27 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think there was an article about it in the latest Chronicle.

I remember that article well, because as a tenured professor, I read it on my 40 foot catamaran while searching the ancient rainforest for rare English literature, or whatever else it is I do on my long summer break.
posted by dflemingecon at 10:28 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


fourcheesemac, you have said this in a lot of academic threads (which, I agree, tend toward the doomsaying end).

But do you really think that this is true of humanities fields in general? Most humanities fields are absolutely not growing, the number of tenure track positions is shrinking (at most institutions I've been at or have friends at) and the oversupply of qualified new PhDs ready to take low-paid and insecure adjunct positions, or move to places they would never otherwise consider moving to, is very high. I know people who are successful in getting jobs they like in places they like, and for them it is great - hard work, but great. But it's just dishonest to hold that up as a result that someone could reasonably expect, given no other information - if they are super-bright and super-driven, and they get a spot in a top grad program, then yes, those things are a lot more likely. But for the average English major? The odds are not good.

Going to grad school has a high opportunity cost, and being in grad school can reshape your vision of what counts as a worthy life in bad ways. It's not as risk-free as many people assume when they go into it. It can be great, for some people and with luck -- but still it's not something most people should do. I am hesitant about recommending it to even my most talented students.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:29 AM on May 10, 2011


>co-eds who never get any older

can we please never use the term 'co-eds' again?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:30 AM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


can we please never use the term 'co-eds' again?

Sorry. I don't like the term, either, but the Guild's bylaws require that it be used.
posted by The World Famous at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2011


fourcheesemac: “So no, it's not for everyone. Just the best.”

... at university political games.
posted by koeselitz at 10:37 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you are a person thinking about grad school in the humanities: don't take all that as an absolute reason not to go. As I said, for some people it works out and it can be really great. Fourcheesemac and his students are a great example; there are other academics on here who have found jobs they like in places they like.

But don't have illusions - it's not something where you can just show up with a love of your subject and be bright and things will work out. It's not something to do just because you have always been good at writing papers and aren't sure what else to do once you're out of college. I react strongly on AskMe because I think a lot of people come to this decision with that kind of attitude - I've always been a good student, so I should go to grad school. But the personality traits you need, and the type of work you'd be doing, are different.

Do some homework, think about what subject area you will specialize in (for example Victorian literature, post-Colonial Latin American literature, etc), and see if there are any jobs in that subject area. Talk to your undergrad professors about how to check the job listings, and about narrowing down your plans so you have a good strategy for which school to go to which is strong in your specialty, etc. Treat it as a serious decision, with pros and cons, and set limits for yourself on what kinds of sacrifices you're willing to make to pursue it. There are a lot of other rewarding paths out there for a good student or an intellectual person.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


klangklangston: "Y'know, Joannemullen, it's kind of a shame that every time I see your username, it's coming with a passive aggressive slag on MeFi members. "

Passive aggressive? "Typing crap for idiots, so I'll fit in just fine"?? Every other message is "suck it up, you whiny toad" or something about cricket and how Mefites couldn't be arsed to even know what that is. When I see this, I like to make a bet with myself if it's joannemullen or Faze. At least Faze has moments of joy.
posted by notsnot at 10:43 AM on May 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


... sorry, that may sound glib. But, fourcheesemac, you're always talking like graduate school is always and in all places this pure meritocracy where the "best" always succeed, and those who don't succeed simply aren't as good as the rest. You can dismiss me as a bitter crank if you want, but while my experience in graduate school wasn't exactly the opposite, it sure as hell wasn't as pure as you're making it out to be.

In point of fact, I remember being taught by some of the "best" – truly the best, very good teachers, and I was lucky. And without exception, every single one of them had a very clear notion of the messed-up things about the graduate school culture, the sacrifices one had to make in order to placate the social order. None of them harbored any illusions about their being in their positions through anything more than a combination of luck and shrewd calculation.

Maybe it's just me, but it strikes me as extraordinarily convenient for someone who's actually ended up on top to look down the ladder and sniff at those who've struggled, saying it's all there for those who work for it, saying that those who are really good will always succeed, saying that if you haven't made it, you just haven't worked hard enough. It's convenient because it allows the person at the top of the ladder to believe that she or he is the best, and to ignore the possibility that shrewdness or luck played a large part in her or his success.
posted by koeselitz at 10:45 AM on May 10, 2011


LobsterMitten: “But don't have illusions - it's not something where you can just show up with a love of your subject and be bright and things will work out. It's not something to do just because you have always been good at writing papers and aren't sure what else to do once you're out of college. I react strongly on AskMe because I think a lot of people come to this decision with that kind of attitude - I've always been a good student, so I should go to grad school. But the personality traits you need, and the type of work you'd be doing, are different.”

This is really how I feel. And, as someone who (so far) has failed in academia, after getting past my bitterness I look back and find that the thing I really lacked was a kind of grad-school shrewdness – a habit of being careful and calculating about where one is heading, and of staying a few steps ahead in the game. That habit is absolutely essential for success in academia, though it generally has nothing to do with one's subject matter. There's nothing wrong with that kind of caution, either; it can be a perfectly moral thing, as I've seen again and again. I guess if I had to do it all over again, I'd work at that from the outset, instead of being pissed off by the fact that this non-academic thing was taking up my time and effort.

I've seen other people like me fail – people who loved the material, who were naturally suited to thinking and learning and working on it, but who didn't make it. And I think there are a lot of us on Metafilter – hence the bitterness. (You know well enough that I'm more often than not the source of that bitterness, unfortunately.) The thing I have to keep working on accepting is that that habit isn't an immoral thing; it's just a habit of survival in academia, and it can be gained by good, thoughtful people too. Obvious, yes, but given my track record I figure I ought to say it.

However, yeah – I disagree with fourcheesemac. I don't think it's really fair to say that academia is a simple meritocracy, where anyone who is the "best" in their field will automatically succeed. I've known some who were the best in their field who succeeded in academia – but every one of them did so by learning to carefully sacrifice their academic pursuits in certain circumstances and to play the game right. I've also known some who were the best in their field who failed, and they failed because they didn't learn to do that.
posted by koeselitz at 10:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Who the fuck drops a MeTa thread like this and then immediately disables their account?

We got served
posted by stormpooper at 11:46 AM on May 10, 2011


So no, it's not for everyone. Just the best.

Yeah this on the other hand doesn't sound informed. It just sounds arrogant. And a little naive.
posted by Avenger50 at 12:04 PM on May 10, 2011


koeselitz brings up "playing the game" and being savvy about academic politics, as an important skill for a young academic.

When I mentioned personality traits, I was thinking of something different. It seems to me that many people who are drawn to consider humanities grad school are very thoughtful, consider-the-endless-nuances types of people, rather than decisive, write-it-up, send-it-out types. And the very thoughtful personality trait can be detrimental. In academia you need to have a very strong sense of self and be assertive and decisive and willing to cut off your internal debate in order to submit your dissertation or send out a paper for publication. You can't be the guy who always has second thoughts. It's perverse in a way, and I've seen a lot of wonderful, scholarly, hugely knowledgable people -- voracious readers, intellectuals of the best sort, and great teachers who love to engage students -- wash out because of this personality trait. And sadly it's these people who are most drawn to the academic life.

Forktine put this very well in the other thread, by saying that the kind of people who succeed "aren't abstract, wafflely types -- they are competitive, high-energy, and willing to work cruel hours." Everybody works long hours, for sure - the thoughtful-nuance people work constantly. But it's true that the people who can rack up the chits needed to move ahead (submitting the diss, presenting at conferences, submitting papers for publication which take bold and provocative stands on issues) are the very decisive people who don't have the kind of self-doubt or second-guessing. Being decisive doesn't mean they are jerks, btw, and being thoughtful-nuancey doesn't mean that they're losers (or whatever negative stereotypes we might tend toward).

This is what people mean when they say "only go into academia if you're absolutely sure it's for you" or "if there's anything else you could possibly do, do that instead". They mean, if you are waffling around and considering a lot of options and can't settle, that is a STRONG sign that academia will be a bad choice -- because you NEED to be able to make strong decisive choices in order to get a job in academia. (In my field anyway.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:07 PM on May 10, 2011 [13 favorites]


But it's true that the people who can rack up the chits needed to move ahead (submitting the diss, presenting at conferences, submitting papers for publication which take bold and provocative stands on issues) are the very decisive people who don't have the kind of self-doubt or second-guessing.

I would say, rather, that the people who move ahead are (a subset of) the ones who learn how to put those doubts and second-guesses aside when it's time to do so.

The people who truly don't spend lots of time questioning, testing and attacking their own ideas also tend to fail, but for different reasons.
posted by escabeche at 12:25 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


My perception of the core of the problem you're describing, LobsterMitten, is that it's got more to do with careerism and self-promotion than merely learning to be decisive; it's a matter of substance as well as personality. (Or maybe this is just a similar but slightly different problem that seems more troubling to me; more about people's approach to presenting their work than just their personality.) The perverse incentives of the academic career ladder sometimes dictate that clever self-promoters are rewarded over more careful, more genuinely thoughtful researchers who are more clearly able to see the boundaries of their own work, and unwilling to pretend they're not there.
posted by RogerB at 12:33 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


escabeche, yes, didn't mean to imply there are the never-doubters and the always-doubters and nothing in between. Certainly you need to be thoughtful and willing to address criticisms and so on. But you need to be psychologically able to put your foot down at a certain point and say "ok, publishing it as-is, will take my lumps" rather than "no, let's hold off, the seventeenth round of revisions is still underway". I've seen more people get good jobs by being overly self-confident/decisive than by being overly careful/thoughtful.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:11 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there's a crisis. Name me one major industry that doesn't have a crisis.

Marketing. Fundraising. Accounting. Network/systems admin.
posted by desuetude at 6:22 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


But you know what? Don't go to fucking grad school. Less competition is good.

Bunch of privileged bullshit, all this moaning.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:27 PM on May 10, 2011


Bunch of privileged bullshit, all this moaning.

Are you serious? Take a walk, bro. You sound ridiculously angry. This is the guy who "produced Phd advisees"? Gimmie a break.
posted by Avenger50 at 7:12 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bunch of privileged bullshit, all this moaning.

I'd suggest taking a walk at this point.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:19 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


OK, that was intemperate and I flagged myself. I apologize.

My point was made with respect to the original question's orientation, namely, that it is bad advice to go for a PhD in the humanities for most people. But not for everyone.

There is a tremendous wave of doom-saying right now. To some extent it is exaggerated. And of course there is a class structure in academia. And this is opposed to when, exactly? So from a moral-philosophical point of view, how horrible, academia is elitist and its middle class is being squeezed out of existence. (Unlike, say, the rest of American business?). But from a practical point of view, if you're going to do it, the competition is fierce for funded admission to the better programs and the good jobs without as much of a fallback as there was for a while there over the last decade or two. I called it like it is. That doesn't mean I don't think plenty of smart people are being screwed over right now, or many once rock solid institutions not in rapid decline.

I'm not saying nyah nyah my little world is fine so screw the rest of y'all. Nor am I unsympathetic with some of the criticisms of how we have this stuff organized and funded. Like many of my academic generation, I've been compelled to be more entrepreneurial and to pursue applied projects, my students even more so. Being an academic in my field means you're a grant-writing machine now. I think we need a drastic reduction in the number of PhDs we're producing, but more than that a drastic shift in the PhD training process itself.

My point, always, is that society needs its sharper minds to be thinking critically, teaching actively, researching and arguing for a living. It has ever been thus. If we cannot manage to sustain one of the more significant accomplishments of American society (including class mobility effects) then we are all fucked on a much deeper and nastier level. Which, in fact, we are.

But the singling out of academia for scornful relegation to the Recycle Bin of History that has become a bit of a blood sport of late is a little on the bullshit side. This is not only not news, but it is of a piece with the decline and transformation (if not fall) of many other knowledge industries where some core missions require the most expensive forms of labor, where technological efficiencies meet human limitations, and where education at levels well below the university is overdetermining the possibilities for higher education.

If I were in grad school right now I'd be damn nervous. Hell, I am damn nervous for my grad students, all the time. In claiming, however, that most of them end up OK or better, I mostly mean to reassure the many graduate students I know to be MeFites. There have been crises before, there will be again, so don't forget to pursue your passion. Be realistic about the career path and your particular field; be strategic in positioning yourself for the future when you choose a project, learn a language or two, etc.

I spend a lot of time in places where the troubles we bemoan in the academy are amusingly trivial. It's a business. It's the real world. We're all in it together.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:22 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think anyone singled out academia "for scornful relegation to the Recycle Bin of History". I really don't think I saw that in either thread.

Perhaps those that sound doom-and-gloom about the PhD supply/adjuncting situation do it because they don't want to see academia thrown into the Recycle Bin of History.
posted by lillygog at 7:28 PM on May 10, 2011


Well, this guy seems to have gotten something out of his grad school experience.
posted by nasreddin at 7:48 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look, obviously a lot of the problems academics face are trivial when cast in the light of the abject poverty and disfranchisement and lack of basic infrastructure that much of the world has. Fair enough. So is nearly every subject we ever talk about on this website.

You say you're nervous for your own grad students (from a top program) when your field is growing hugely (as you describe it). Other fields are producing more PhDs and have the number of jobs shrinking.

You agree that "it is bad advice to go for a PhD in the humanities for most people". Your point is only that there are a few for whom it's a good idea, and even those must learn to treat it as a business rather than operating on a vague sense that eg literature is enjoyable and they might like to be professors.

So basically, we're all on the same page here, that opportunities are extremely tight (in terms of job prospects) for most new humanities PhDs and you better be serious about it and understand what you're getting into, and plan well and so on, if it's going to be anything other than a trainwreck of wasted time and opportunity.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:52 PM on May 10, 2011


But the singling out of academia for scornful relegation to the Recycle Bin of History that has become a bit of a blood sport of late is a little on the bullshit side.

I think I see why you got so angry, fourcheesemac, and now I understand it a little. From outside of your thought process it sort of looked like you were mad that people were suggesting that academia, as a career right now, is kind of a bad bet unless you're slavishly devoted, aggressive, and (given the enormously talented people I know who can't find work), lucky.

I got a master's degree in history for the lulz. It was no more expensive a hobby than mountain biking or WH40K, all things considered, so I thought it would be an interesting thing to do before I got too old to do it. So I wasn't there to get a job. I think that it was an amazing experience and made me a better person and I would do it all over again, even though in purely utilitarian terms it was just burning money.

I knew perfectly well that there was no way I could get a job in the field. I knew it going in. I knew it the whole time, even while my professors, who knew just as well as I did what was the score, were telling me that I should seriously consider getting my PhD. And who knows? Maybe after I've been out of school a couple of years and I'm bored without school, I will go back.

I doubt it, though, because while I love history, I am not creative enough for the process of research. I also doubt it because tuition has risen more than 100% in the last three years, so that a graduate degree for fun stops looking like a mildly eccentric hobby and starts looking like insanity. If I planned to do it for a living, I'd doubt it based on the limited number of jobs posted on any of the academic history mailing lists. I think that is a shame, because it achieves two things which are related to both the thing that makes you angry. It keeps people out who want to explore and learn for the sake of enriching their minds, and it turns the question of whether or not to go to graduate school into a purely utilitarian problem.

I don't think this discussion is people relegating academia to the recycle bin. I think it's people who've been in the recycle bin themselves caroling out a warning, however direct, that there are reasons to go into academia, but none of them at this point are related to financial remuneration or job security.
posted by winna at 8:27 PM on May 10, 2011


Being an academic in my field means you're a grant-writing machine now.

This is true in any field right now, I think. The days of one grant application per year are long, long, long-time gone.
posted by bonehead at 9:17 PM on May 10, 2011


I think I see why you got so angry, fourcheesemac, and now I understand it a little

No, I got angry because RogerD told me I should be ashamed of myself for being a narcissist because I got mine and fuck everybody else. Because my students are successful I must be exploiting the academic politics of my elitist situation to keep them employed and everyone else in academia working a shit part-time job just to pay for my sherry and bon bons.

And somehow that's cool behavior here, posing like a radical and telling other people to be ashamed of their own success.

His profile tells me he's a Marxist literary critic. Which also explains the lack of a tenure track job. Some kinds of knowledge really are more useless than others. If you want my opinion, we could do without literary criticism entirely.

Since he's so smart, he will recognize in himself the condition of ressentiment.

Fact of the matter is, like it or not, only the very best (meaning hardest working, smartest, best prepared) will wind up in the top graduate programs and have a shot at a tenure-track career in many humanities fields. The system is very selective. And those at less than top programs are basically fucked -- they are competing with less funding, less stellar faculty (and yes, those less stellar faculty members do have fewer connnections), etc. We are overproducing PhDs, but that doesn't mean we don't need any, or that all humanities PhD programs should or will shut down.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:46 AM on May 11, 2011


If you want my opinion, we could do without literary criticism entirely.

Thanks for the opinion. I have a PhD, and literary criticism is my job.

Yes, I too am in the opinion industry.
posted by Wolof at 5:50 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus, fourcheesemac, just stop digging.
posted by chinston at 6:50 AM on May 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why are you fussing at the cheese? From what my son tells me, he's absolutely right. (As to the literary criticism opinion, son's bachelor degree is in English and he pretty much feels the same way. ;-) )
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:08 AM on May 11, 2011


I won't opine on whether we need literary criticism or not, but there's definitely a lot of ressentiment on display in this thread.
posted by nasreddin at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2011


Literary criticism is the original plate of beans.
posted by nomisxid at 10:28 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you want my opinion, we could do without literary criticism entirely.

This seems an odd thing for an academic to say. I mean, I don't actually find much of the canon of American Lit very fulfilling personally, but I wouldn't purport that "we" should do without it.
posted by desuetude at 10:47 AM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


fourcheesemac, I think people were responding strongly to you because you seemed to be writing off what others were saying (for a random English major, the odds of getting a professor job in humanities in a major city are extremely poor) on the basis that your sub-field is growing and your students have found jobs.

That seemed callous. For one thing, it's not true of most humanities fields. For another, it's partly a matter of luck and fashion that your sub-field is growing and things like eg classics are shrinking (not that your sub-field isn't valuable, but surely classics is valuable too) -- but you seemed to be attributing it to your being better than other people ("[academia is] only for the best").

Plus it's misleading to a bright young student who is accustomed to having been "the best" up to the undergrad level, and who's trying to decide about grad school in the humanities. Those people make bad decisions based on reasoning that if only they are good enough, they will make it. It's not true. There are a lot of other factors that it's worth being clear with them about. Not to say nobody should do it - and I agree that we shouldn't be discouraging the grad students who are here - but your remark about "treating it as a business" is (sadly, to me) probably the most salient advice. Treat it like a business rather than like a calling or a moral test (of who's "the best").
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


His profile tells me...

It most certainly does not tell you that. Argue with me on MetaFilter all you want, but please don't claim to have read things on my profile that aren't there, or to know things about me that I haven't discussed myself. This feels very creepy to me coming from someone so obviously incensed, like you're trying to figure out my real-world identity.

posted by RogerB at 12:18 PM on May 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm still amused at the idea that I would have been better served in the job market by taking plumbing, engineering or nursing instead of my humanities degree. As a dyspraxic with an intense fear of needles I can't think of three worse choices, aside from heroin addict, hurdler or acupuncturist.
posted by mippy at 6:31 AM on May 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


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