I have found that most prospective graduate students have given little thought to what will happen to them after they complete their doctorates. They assume that everyone finds a decent position somewhere, even if its “only” at a community college expressed with a shudder. Besides, the completion of graduate school seems impossibly far away, so their concerns are mostly focused on the present. Their motives are usually some combination of the following:
Category: Career & Livelihood
These famous authors didn’t major in writing, or literature, or even journalism. Instead, they enriched their minds taking other, equally challenging classes, and used their experiences to become successful writers. In fact, several of them have won the Pulitzer Prize, considered one of the world’s greatest honors in literature.
I am a long way from my college days. One thing life has taught me about the English major. It is a rewarding major but it ain’t the only route to the life of the mind. Poets, novelists and journalists have no corner on intellectual “coolness” as we used to say. For example, after hours and hours of literary study I am finding biographies fascinating. Why? They are grounded in the experience of living. They deliver excellent “career education” as well. You know what else? Biographers are rarely revered in the English departments. There’s rarely a major in biography writing. So, where do biographers learn their trade? Think about it. A major, any major is a mere sampling of this miracle called life. Life is not esoteric. It is a miracle. Get knowledge but with your getting, get understanding.
“I quit because I’d lost the stomach for being part of the institution of higher education — one that wasn’t sustaining me intellectually, financially or spiritually; one that wanted me to teach classes for very low wages — as a grad student and then likely as an adjunct faculty member. I quit because I was exhausted and couldn’t handle the obstacle course that grad school and the academic job market still required my running through. I quit because I needed to heal from the trauma of watching Anthony die. I quit because far from that so-called Ivory Tower being a place of solace and contemplation, it had become a nightmare of bureaucracy and politics. I quit because I didn’t want to be a cog in that machine. I quit because I felt the system was broken. And at the time, I was broken too.” — MORE —
Here is an addition to my collection of stories on “The Tortoisefactor” about the PhD Octopus and how timeless it has become. The author is Audrey Watters who writes a blog called “Education Hack.” I trust that the wary will find her thoughts and experience useful. They simply illustrate the landscape of graduate study and the life of the mind. My reminder to all is that the library and books are alive and well unsurrounded by the moat of the university.
Much to my annoyance, I was listening to “The Tortoise and the Hare” (Elmo’s version) for about the 98th time the other day. My two-year-old son likes it, so I do what I can to make sure he’s not lapsing into one of his famous temper tantrums – so, shoot me.
Reading stories and comments about generational cohorts intrigues me, though I understand the period for Gen Y has been difficult to define. Roughly they came of age in the 70′s and 80′s. They are not defined by events as Sacrificers of the Great Depression were defined or the Greatest Generation of World War II and, of course, the Boomers. Then there was the Lost Generation (late Thirties through the Fifties). This Beat crowd wound up in Paris wearing berets. I belong to the “war babies” or Tweeners — just missing the Boomers by three years. Categories like these have faults — mostly those of human nature itself which turns out hedonists, sacrificers, narcissists, scalawags, and saints on a regular basis without regard to epochs.
Nevertheless, the Boomers due to sheer numbers and the post-war boom stand out as an historical blip. In another way the generation, primarily the male casualties of World War I, represents another more tragic blip. Both groups had major effects on society. Women went to work all over Europe. The millions of war dead, of course, had no recourse to complaining unless it was in the wintry mud of a foxhole in France before they were killed or maimed.
Generally I’m sympathetic to the Millennials whose careers and lives have been disrupted and wounded by the excesses of affluence and the global economy. And now the Boomers prefer to keep on hangin’ on making jobs even more scarce. But not having a home before age thirty doesn’t move me to much pity. The rising cost of the American Dream has become an enormous burden. I don’t know if we deserve the necessities which were once luxuries. I wonder sometimes if they are worth as much as we think they are. I don’t know who is or who isn’t worth mega-millions; but then if it’s there, someone will shake it down. I have an uncomfortable feeling that there’s still a helluva lot of money sloshing around out there and doing a lot of harm and little good. But I also know that our current state of affairs is the logical progression of our free enterprising capitalism — and the Invisible Hand. I do know we can afford and need a decent, efficient, productive public sector and a decent safety net. Question is, does austerity kill the bloat by sinking the boat? Do we have the society we should want? And I really don’t know how free it is for many, BUT it is what we have. Much of it I like and enjoy, but I do not like its crassness, covetousness, greed and smug self-satisfactions. I fear that greedy, self-satisfaction has become one of the fruits of liberty for which so many have fought and died. I have a friend who says, “The beauty of capitalism is the way it harnesses greed.” I don’t know, maybe.
Petri comments sarcastically that “keeping politically active required [the politically active generation] to pay attention when Newt Gingrich said something.” I share her opinion here and regarding Newt, but it saddens me to hear that the Millennials have lost the hope they had in 2008 — that they have let Newt do that to them. Too many opinions from left and right are not worth our attention. Our elective process is a circus and we waste billions on the silliness.
I can only hope that the Millennials and most everyone far younger than I will get their hope back (and it does not have to be specifically Obama’s hope), because we desperately need a new generation to re-invent a capitalism that will fit the future.
S, David Milliken
I did it. I actually read the old thing again. I suspect that most people who receive a Master’s degree park their bound copy on a shelf — perhaps next to the primary subject matter. For me it was the early fiction of John Barth back in the ’70′s when he was an edgy metafiction writer and I was a lowly grad student. Next to my copies of Giles Goat Boy, The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, and The Sotweed Factor, I stashed my monograph, ”The Heroes of John Barth: Mockers of Heroism.” The only other copy sat for awhile on a shelf in the Idaho State University Library. I assume it has been copied since to microfiche and the hard copy recycled. Perhaps by now it has been flushed into the infinite Cloud — just a little more space junk amidst the Twitter tweets and Facebook detritus. I am only mildly curious to know if anyone ever checked out my thesis. I doubt it. The only manuscripts deader than old Master’s theses are senior English papers in high school and all those brilliant essays to all those professors back when — products of the late-hour muse.
I sent an extra copy of my thesis to my father and stepmother. My opus was beyond Dad, the engineer. Judith, a reader, teacher and liberal arts graduate (sometime after the First World War), was flabbergasted that her stepson could be associated with “filthy trash” like Giles Goat Boy. The sodomy was too much for her.
Other than this familial dissemination only I have read it two or three times. For awhile even I wondered why, but now forty-two years later I know. I’m not going to mention the subject matter much. My literary composite of Barth’s four heroes was highly abstract and esoteric in 1970 and now its even more arcane. Barth has written thirteen more works since Giles including his last, Every Third Thought. I have not read all of them by any means and my interest here is more the personal significance of my experience. I don’t know that every English major should revisit his applied intellect of an earlier time, but there has been some personal value in it for me. And I know that John Barth’s work will continue to amuse me.
For me 1968 through 1969 was an exhilarating year of “doing my own thing” which amounted to a late adolescent trip. By 1968 the hippie culture was on the wane and I was removed from the world. I had gone from college into two new bubbles: the Navy and then into the corporate world, but I had a need to “let it all hang out.” By the time I arrived at Idaho State I had visited Czechoslovakia in the wake of the “Prague Spring” after the Russians had squelched Dubcek, I’d passed eight weeks studying French in a joint university program at the University of Pau.
I’d sldo come home to California, rented a cheap studio and dived into making up credits at Hayward State for an English major. I worked as a corral hand and study hall monitor. I had a girl friend in Berkeley, lived on cube steaks, macaroni and cheese — all washed down with beer at 89 cents per six-pack. My transportation consisted of a used Honda Trail bike which I destroyed on the Nimitz Freeway by throwing a rod clean through the crank case; and then I bought a ’61 VW and switched in a ’60 junkyard engine. The old 34-horse power plant got me across the Sierras and Rockies up to Pocatello. These were two unforgettable years and as far as the prodigal son was concerned — welcome and way overdue.
Arriving in Idaho I bought a nice pair of snow boots and even checked out the slopes — whereupon I destroyed my knees except for cycling.My Master’s marked the culmination of this passage. I immersed myself in intellectual adventures, scholarly masquerade and a second romance — all of it atop the world in Big Sky Country. My mind and spirit was as expansive and free as the Great West itself. In all this time I never popped a pill. I tried pot once. I didn’t need any more for my highs became Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, W. B. Yeats, Ken Kesey, Gunter Grass, Shelley, Keats and of course the Bard himself. Prospero and Lear in particular stirred my imagination. Funny, I seem not to have read a lot of contemporary poetry — too busy meeting the requirements of academe.
When I opened my thesis a few days ago, I leaped over forty-two years, the bulk of my active working career, I was there again on the top floor of the business administration building in a room full of study cubicles. I was with the new woman I would marry; then later I was drinking beer with her at Buddy’s listening to “Hey, Jude.” Down below, some 5000 feet into the real world, the US still continued the social progressivism of the Sixties. Political and economic awareness, particularly the liberty of women were going strong. Opposition to the Vietnam War was growing and on May 4 the Kent State violence occurred. There was hostility to both big business and big government. The first Earth Day happened. The Me decade continued. And one former Naval officer I know sent President Nixon a telegram demanding our departure from Cambodia. The Beatles disbanded. Long live The Who! There was 6% inflation and the average income was $9400, monthly rent $140, and gas @36 cents, The AMC Gremlin was going for $1879. Apollo 13 was aborted. That was the external reality — as seen from 5000 feet in Pocatello, Idaho.
Internally in the imagination it seemed a great time for a John Barth to write an allegory about an innocent boy raised with goats on a farm run by New Tammany College. He is George Giles, Grand Tutor, novelist, avatar, human. It seemed a great time for a fabulous, metafictional allegory in which University=Universe, Founder=God, Enos Enoch=Jesus, New Tammany=America, Chancellor=President, Informationalism=Capitalism, Student Union=Communism, Campus Riot I and II=World War I and II, and Cold Riot I=Cold War. WESCAC and EASCAC are two huge computers representing the West and the East blocs. Ironically they share the same power supply on Founder’s Hill(God’s Hill). Maurice Stoker is in charge of the furnace room which resembles the Inferno. Dr. Strangelove and the Doomsday Machine have their counterparts in New Tammany — and on and on it goes, never ever that simple in total, comprehensive, complicated, sometimes tedious — this fictional reality.
Pervading it all was a haunting sense that if Something Doesn’t Happen, It Will Soon Be All Over. Giles Goat Boy is the Barthian bible, a fabulolus, fabulated romp that never gives up its secret. It gives us no new fact or discovery about what we call reality. It is the work of Prospero and it is good entertainment and like The Tempest, an epic parody. And I haven’t been able to let it go. These days, when I ask around, few have heard of The Giles (The Grand-Tutorial Ideal, Laboratory Eugenical Specimen). We learned about human specimens in the 70′s.
The young man, the graduate student at Idaho State was a little like George Giles: naive, looking for a calling — perhaps even a mission. Most likely he was in literature not for its own sake, but hoping to find philosophical and metaphysical understanding of life itself. Difficult to judge his work in assessing Barth, he was 28, under the pressure of getting a thesis done; plus even Barth had said that the avant garde of metafiction writers didn’t know what they were doing. No one knew whether they were right or wrong; or whether or not the novel as we knew it was truly dead. Besides, in times of economic, social, political and artistic turmoil who really knows how to judge anything? In the late 60′s and 70′s even the University from Berkeley to Kent State groped for answers in matters of curriculum and scholarship. Oh, what to do, what to do! It was a good time and a terrible time to be in graduate school.
After forty-two years though, as I read slowly and thoughtfully through the ninety pages of my thesis, I felt that the amateur scholar who wrote this tract knew his material. To the walls of my basement cell I said aloud, “I can’t believe I wrote this. It even sounds intelligent. Feels like someone else wrote it. Nice job.” And given the fact that I now know more about Barth than I did in 1970, the old thesis held up pretty well — considering the nature of the universal floating opera itself.
S. David Milliken
A press release announces a “differentiated value proposition.”
A consultant offers to share her “key learnings.”
A business trumpets its “executives’ core competencies: the ability to scale businesses and improve execution.”
Thank you, Diane Stafford.
See also these references:
So often, especially in these United States, we think about victory as winning: the next great job, the next game, the bigger house and soon it’s time for the playoffs and the championship game. Americans are proud of our military might. World War II remains our greatest feat in battle. Yes, we endured, surely our soldiers and citizens back home endured. In the end as Admiral Yamamoto said, it was our industrial might and our ability to focus it, sustain it, that won the day. We did not do it without our allies.
But when I think of endurance, I think of Britain who persevered and sacrificed, holding the fort until we got up to speed. Britain had a very close call. Endurance implies the ability to keep on, keeping on out of seemingly endless oppression and suffering. I think of Jesus toting his cross up the slope of Golgotha. Somehow, one can’t romanticize endurance like you can the “glory” of a cavalry charge. Poland endured. Czechoslovakia endured. Latvia endured. There are thousands of Syrians enduring. The Jews endure. Sodbusters endured. Endurance is struggling with no sign of help and relief. For a time endurance was Valley Forge. Endurance is the mind game Sisyphus must play to continue his unending rolling of the boulder up a hill, down and up, down and up. Endurance operates when hope remains the barest dream, if that. Endurance has no vision of trophies and laurels. It sees no golden retirement.
So what is it that endurance conquers? I think it is despair.
Steadfast and cautious,
Someone reached my site with the search: “Should I Lie about My Failure in School?” Most likely Google found The Tortoise because of the posts on failure in Ph.D. School. I assume this is not about high school failure. Even if it is. lying will catch up to one — especially to one with a conscience which you obviously have.
I am not an ethicist or counselor, so all I can do is speak as an individual whose been through part it. First of all, failure in grad school is nothing to be ashamed of unless you spent too much time drinking and partying. Even in that case, what is done is done. If you gave your all to the effort, then no apology to anyone is necessary. There are just too many other factors involved in failure: level of experience and self-understanding at the time, the nature of the experience itself, quality of guidance you had and just the human ability to make bad choices — even self-delusion.
Grow with it. Grad school is an option and a choice. To wash out of Naval flight school, as another example, doesn’t define a person’s ultimate worth, nor does failure to pass the bar exam. To have sought what you believed was a star and not to have found it, is no sin and maybe not even a mistake. You made a choice, took some chances and something happened — end of story. In the end you were trying to get on, right? You tried what many others would not even have attempted.
You may be worried about the resume and interview stuff. Don’t ever use a fraudulent resume. As for the interview, be honest here too. You do not have to beat your breast confessing. Chances are the interviewer won’t understand any field other than her own. No, come to terms with yourself first and be honest. Explain the experience and what you learned from failure. That takes guts. Who knows? Maybe you still want that degree and can go back and try again. Some employer might see an unfulfilled passion there just waiting on more experience and wisdom. Maybe that employer will offer you the chance. Sometimes we try stuff before we are ready for full success. We pop the wine before its time. If you’re seeking an alternative career in which the failed credentialing does not apply, it will not matter.
Finally, you are probably drowning in regrets about what might have been and kicking yourself. Don’t give yourself another bludgeon for self-punishment — like guilt over lying.
Steadfast and cautious,
A competitive mind-set is productive only to a point. It’s important not to lose sight of value defined by other metrics. Peter Thiel’s argument for monopoly may provide an alternative framework. More . . .
April 23, 2012
Some skills of a monopolist (one who dominates in a “distinct market, niche and identity”) are “alertness, independence, and the ability to “reclaim forgotten traditions.” Brooks would also have the young re-examine the “status funnel,” a lemming-like obsession to compete for the best colleges, banks and companies.
Brooks does not develop his idea of reclaiming forgotten traditions. However, I would suggest that he hints at discretion being the better part of valor as one of them. If a pitcher has just suffered three home runs in one inning, for example, it might behoove him to take his bat and glove elsewhere. Perhaps he should find a blank space where everyone else isn’t. Take your sophisticated urban skills to a smaller community and make change where you have a chance or might be more appreciated. You might not even need a Stanford MBA.
American tradition honors wealth and success, but not always has America revered the drive for celebrity. Americans are an egotistical lot, but we have not always been narcissistic. There have always been people who wanted their photo and name in the newspaper, but not until the age of television, Internet and the plethora of electronic Media did we drool at the prospect of ten minutes of fame. Time was when a man or woman could feel wholly content and successful having tended well a relatively private garden in life.
Today we measure our own self-esteem against the best, the brightest, the “seen”ones. Often parents regarding the “status funnel” expect and often drive their kids into inappropriate careers and expectations — resulting in nothing but heartbreak. Some teachers belong in public school classrooms. They are called to it. One doesn’t have to be a university professor to be a good teacher and worthwhile human being. Life at the little end of the funnel is not necessarily a happy place. But, as Brooks says, when “the intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value, that’s what happens.” Knowing one’s self is very much a traditional value and that means knowing one’s league and being happy in it.
Steadfast and cautious,