Category Archives: graduate school

November 29, 2014, 12:30 pm

Study says Humanities Ph.D. Candidates Should Drink More Coffee


Ok, I lied. But you clicked on it, didn’t you?

Today we focus on yet another study, this one by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The AAAS injects new life into a tired conversation (one that has been going on intermittently for about five decades) about whether humanities Ph.D.s spend too much time in graduate school. What are they doing there? Should they do less of it? More? Should they do the same things — only faster? No one seems to know much, except that the median time to degree is 6.9 years.

As Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed noted last week, in a follow up to the MLA’s 2014 report that recommended a five-year Ph.D. clock “with wiggle room” (perhaps two years of wiggling?), AAAS is suggesting that humanities graduate students might benefit more generally from a shorter time to degree.

Among the key findings is that the median time is longer in the…

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August 21, 2013, 10:50 am

The Ten Commandments of Graduate School

reality is overratedSo you are starting graduate school, eh? Against all of our best advice here in the blogosphere, you are determined to embark on the scholarly life.  Well, you know what I have to say about that?

Good luck and godspeed! Keep your feet dry and your spectacles up to date! Cover your head when the sun is too bright! Don’t fly with ballpoint pens in your luggage! Get a cat!

As you make your way through this first year, finally acting on that sense of purpose that coalesced in your undergraduate years, know that there will be times of frustration and sorrow, but that many of us have found this to be a good life all the same. There are, as the foundations say, deliverables. There is the reading. There is the teaching (that sense that you have just taught a really good class? *Priceless*!!!) There is the blogging. There are the friends. There are the ideas. And there is the emerging…

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December 7, 2012, 9:51 am

Stanford’s Five Year Ph.D. (continued): In Which The Blogger Responds To Comments On A Prior Post

Maybe I could turn this post in as a dissertation and get another Ph.D. by Sunday? Photo credit.

Yesterday I posted about Stanford’s new plan to shorten up the humanities Ph.D. to five years.  Then I went to the movies, specifically, a documentary about why the children of the poor attend four year colleges in far lower numbers than the children of middle-class or wealthy people. During the course of the evening, the post metastasized all over the interwebz, attracting a number of comments. My original Twitter posting notched more re-tweets than any item at Tenured Radical  has probably ever had.

Awesome. Keep talking, and while you do, here is a response to some of what I have heard.

Just to be clear: I do not defend an endlessly long Ph.D. But that said, many defenses of a forced time to degree metric…

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December 6, 2012, 4:48 pm

On Stanford’s 5-Year Ph.D.: A Preliminary Assessment

Earlier in the week there was a lot of buzz around a story in Inside Higher Ed (12/04/2012) about Stanford University having announced incentives for its humanities doctoral programs to reduce time to degree to five years. As Scott Jaschik writes, Stanford humanities docs currently finish in an average of seven years, and at other schools (where graduate students have to work a lot) time to degree can be much longer. Stanford departments that present a plan for the five year Ph.D. are also expected to prepare graduates for careers beyond academia, and they are expected to track employment.

Jaschik writes, “Departments at Stanford are just starting to plan the approaches they may propose to qualify for the program.” I may have to come back to this topic when I am…

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October 31, 2012, 5:35 pm

The Job Fairy Speaks: Your Letters of Reference

This, for example, is too short for a letter of reference.

If you have been following Tenured Radical lately, you know that we are all about the Twitter feed.  In the midst of all hell breaking loose with Hurricane Sandy, we got this question in 140 characters or less:

“I’m curious as to what happened to @TenuredRadical’s reflections on the academic job market. No new ones for this season? Too depressing?”

I’m certainly not depressed about the job market — after all, I went on the market and got a job! But to tell you the truth, I have been deliberately trying to ignore it. Last year, having moved to a new job, my pal Lesboprof wrote that she was

having to force myself to stop looking at jobs. I have been looking at job ads for several years, trying to find something in the discipline or in central…

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February 29, 2012, 1:24 pm

Radical But Not Tenured: Reflections from an Unemployed ABD

By “Sam Concord”

Today’s guest blogger is a pseudonymous graduate student from a major research university and a future tenured radical. Super-qualified, unemployed, and nearly finished with his degree,  Sam reflects on his six years in graduate school and how he has practiced the art of failure.

I am crawling to the finish line of graduate school with six publications, one mostly-finished dissertation, two major teaching awards, and no job. As I wait to go on the market again next year, I’m doing my best to embrace what Jack Halberstam calls the new ways of being opened up by failure. These benefits include the time and space to figure out what I’ve been doing for the past six years.

In this spirit, I offer you four versions of this story: Superhero Sam, Naked Sam, Terrorist Sam, and CV Sam.

Superhero Sam. One highlight of graduate school was not dying when a driver …

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February 6, 2012, 2:11 pm

From Little College to Big Grad School: Reflections From a Graduate Student

By Herlin Hathaway

Today’s guest blogger is Herlin Hathaway, a pseudonymous graduate student and future tenured radical.  I asked Herlin, who is in his first year of coursework, to reflect on his trajectory from a small liberal arts college and to a Ph.D. program at a top North American research university.


Heavy on the scholar, light on the activist

Little College students have a reputation for being politically aware and active. While this is not actually the case for the majority of the student body, it is also not difficult to become politicized through coursework and by joining a student organization. This is exactly what happened to me when I began studying the history of the U.S. prison system, volunteering at Little College’s Center for Prison Education and discussing race and class discrimination with older students. By the time I was a 3rd year I was in…

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May 2, 2010, 12:08 pm

Like Sands Through The Hourglass, So Are The Days Of Our Lives: Having The Courage Not To Go To Graduate School

You would think that May would signal the winding down of things at Zenith. In fact, as we all know, the liberal arts college has a tendency to crank things up toward the end of the year. Didn’t spend enough of your budget? There will be a memo asking for suggestions on how to do that. Last year, when I was chair and everyone was in ex post crash-o mentality, we saved a lot of time via a memo telling us that departments and programs were prohibited from spending down at the end of the year, although how they would be able to sift legitimate from illegitimate expenses was not clear. (“Six skateboards? Why did sociology purchase skateboards?”) Prizes and various awards must be given, and we will be solicited for the names of ever-more students to receive them. Committees that have been ruminating on this or that will be rushing legislation to the floor of the last faculty meeting….

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December 1, 2008, 7:41 pm

“Hey-yay, Wait A Minute Mr. Postman:” When Recommendation Season Is Upon Us

So I’ve got a pain in my side that may indicate a cracked rib. I have a sore toe, a wrist that aches halfway up my forearm, a bump on my head, a throbbing neck, a sharp pain in my lower back and at least one elbow and two knees that are puffy and sore. You get one guess – what am I?

A football player?

Nope. Guess again. Can’t?

Liberal arts college professor. And it’s recommendation season. Yep, recommendation season. And as it turns out, this year recommendations are a contact sport.

This is what happened. I was going off to a country house where there was no internet. I decided to push through all my letters of recommendation – eight students, several applying to as many as nine graduate schools — in two days. Business school, law school, social work school, political science, history, American Studies – I wrote for all of them, sometimes more than one category for a …

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August 12, 2008, 12:39 pm

Dream A Little Dream Of Me: Six Easy Steps to Writing a Great Job Letter

Last year I was in conversation with a fine scholar and a caring mentor from an excellent northeastern university. Since I have no graduate students, I expressed surprise — given how much more emphasis is being placed on readying candidates for a tight market at institutions like hers — that the quality of job letters in a recent search was so uneven. She rolled her eyes. “If my students would only show me the letters they write,” she said. “The problem is they tend only to show their job letters to each other, and they repeat each other’s mistakes.”

So this is where we need to start, as you ready yourself for the job season by drafting the letter you will use as a template for your job applications. Don’t write your letters in isolation, and don’t get advice from other people who don’t have jobs yet. The letter is what introduces you to search committee members: not your…

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