Friday, March 28, 2008
One question people outside academia, as well as a lot of fellow undergraduates, ask me an awful lot is why schools are going to pay me to go there rather than the other way around. I don't work inside academia, so I can't really answer that question in full. I'm not clear about where all the funds come from that are used to pay the stipends of Ph.D. students, or why some schools have more resources allocated for this purpose than others. I do know that the simple economic facts are that it takes about eight years in North America to earn a Ph.D. in history, on average. No, that's not counting the time it takes to get your Bachelor's. In 2005-6, the average salary for a new assistant professor, the sort of job that history Ph.D.'s aspire to start at, was $45,529 at public institutions. Would you pay your own tuition for an additional eight years in order to get a job that paid that wage? Me either. The assumption is that if people were not supported to go to graduate school in fields that lead to a career teaching in the university, not enough students would pursue those fields. I'm not really persuaded that this is actually true, since only 56.7% of new Ph.D. holders in 2005 reported having definite employment offers at the time of their graduation, which was actually up from previous years, but that's another issue. Another factor in the reason Ph.D. students are funded is that they have become an integral part of the functioning of university departments. At the funding levels they are supported at, in many universities, graduate students represent a source of cheap labor for everything from teaching classes to babysitting the children of their advisors. Furthermore, their presence is required to bolster a type of power structure in which the department functions as a feudal lordship and graduate students are the serfs. Commonly a single advisor holds a great deal of power over his or her students, and this can have disastrous results if that advisor behaves in an autocratic and/or capricious manner. The exploitation of graduate students is an ethical issue routinely addressed by professional organizations across academia. So being paid to go to graduate school is certainly not necessarily all rosy. However, the point here ultimately is that if your undergraduate major is in the field you want to get your Ph.D. in, you get reasonably good grades and GRE scores, have decent writing skills, and adequate language preparation, there is no reason you should pay for your own Ph.D. education in the humanities. There are plenty of programs that guarantee funding for admitted students, and it does not take all that much effort to determine which ones do this. You just look at the "graduate education" section of the website of the schools you are interested in. Depending on the program you enter, you can expect to begin working as a teaching assistant during your first or second year of study, and eventually as an instructor. Yes, this does provide a source of cheap instructors for universities. However, it also trains a Ph.D. student to perform the chief duty that university professors are essentially being paid to do. It's similar to the employment of prospective schoolteachers as student teachers. So, there is the fundamental explanation of why, when I start Ph.D. study this fall, it won't be on my dime.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I am happy to report that the really nit-picky and detail work of the thesis project is done. The transcription of the text is completed, all 46 pages worth! Yesterday, I got back into writing the narrative part again. Nothing sexy, just the detailed description of the manuscript itself, the handwriting, and so on. The hardest part of that is just finding a logical organization for all the information I have to discuss. I wrote about three pages on that subject and thought I was more or less done, but then realized that I had not even discussed the punctuation in the manuscript. In case you are wondering why anyone would care about the punctuation, the punctuation system we use today developed during the Middle Ages. At one time, texts were written without punctuation or even word separation. Just imagine trying to read, say, War and Peace without punctuation or spaces between words. Not a pretty thought. Anyway, exciting or not, progress is being made. At least three of my severely overdue library books can now be returned. I may have to sell my firstborn into slavery to pay off my library fines by the time this is all over with, but I think that will be a small price to pay. Just kidding! My former Latin professor and my former paleography instructor are (hopefully) reviewing my transcription work, and I'm hoping I won't have to make a ton of changes to that part. After all, the clock is ticking since I now have about four weeks left to defend my thesis...
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Today is Tuesday, which means it's my bar night. I will put in a full eight hours at work today, starting at 8 a.m., then head over to campus to write my little paper that's due tonight, attend my two and a half hour Honors film class, and then head to the Corner Bar with one of my professors and most of his graduate students. Starting in September, when my prof first invited me, this has become a regular thing on my schedule. I was and am the only undergraduate in this crowd, but I took a grad-level class from him last semester so I'm sort of given a special dispensation. True, in the grand scheme of things it would probably be better if I didn't go drinking until the wee hours on a work night, but especially with all the stress I'm under it's a major outlet for me to let my hair down and say what's on my mind. I still go to work the next day, even if it's on four hours of sleep, and I get a chance to spend a lot of "off the record" time with graduate students. I've learned a lot--possibly too much--about weird departmental politics this way. I've also learned how relationships, even mentor-mentee relationships, can be strengthened through casual socializing. Of course, most professors would not go out to a local dive for beers (and sometimes tequila shots) with their students, and there are no doubt critics who would view this kind of interaction as inappropriate. However, I have been told several times that as a graduate student, I will be viewed as a potential future colleague by my professors. I think this professor definitely views his students, including me, in that light, and I've realized that really means a lot to me. I don't expect to go out drinking with my professors at the university I'm going to attend as a graduate student, to be honest. And I think I will miss it.