Here's my latest post from BlogHer.
Thanks to a quick mention on Scrivener's blog, I learned that Bitch Ph.D. was giving a talk tonight at Emory University. And so I went.
"But trillwing," you say, "you live in California. Did you go all the way to Atlanta to see her speak?"
Not exactly. I happen to be in town for the Educause Learning Initiative conference. (More on that in a later post.) And who would pass up the chance to hear Dr. B talk about grad school life, even if one is no longer in grad school? And I, being a shameless hussy, was more than happy to claim a seat in the crowded room in a strange building at a strange university, a total interloper, a celebrity blogger stalker. (In my defense, so are edubloggers Barbara Ganley of Middlebury College and Barbara Sawhill of Oberlin College, who accompanied me on my trip and whose names you may recognize from last year's BlogHerCon edublogging session.)
Dr. B's topic was mentoring graduate students, and her talk addressed issues at the core of academic life.
One such issue is impostor syndrome, where, in a grad school context, you feel as if you don't really belong where you are, that you're a fraud and everyone will eventually find out. You're not intelligent enough, you haven't read enough, you don't work as hard as everyone else--and when you do work hard, you feel as if your labor gets you nowhere.
The problem, Dr. B pointed out, is that academia is both a job and an identity. You don't just do academics; you are an academic. Therefore, uncertainty about your job becomes uncertainty about yourself.
Another major issue is the relative opacity of grad school protocols and faculty life. Dr. B encouraged faculty to make more transparent not only the key milestones of graduate school--admissions, graduate employment and funding, time to degree, exam structures, the job market, and hiring committees--but also the everyday work of a professor. Many graduate students, she said, don't really know what it means, in the office and in one's private social sphere, to be a faculty member. What, for example, is it like to raise a child when one is an academic? How does one get grants?
But grad students need to ask harder questions, too, such as "How many people in this program are on antidepressants?" The answer to such questions may be difficult to find, but they open up important conversations about mental, emotional, and physical health.
Faculty, according to Dr. B, also need to help students determine whether they want to stay in academia. At a time when there are far more graduates than there are tenure-track jobs, faculty should help students think through their career alternatives.
Dr. B tells her students that "Before you worry about whether you'll get a job, worry about what kind of job you want. Do you really want to live in Grinnell?"
Sound advice. And fortunately, there's more rich career advice scattered through the academic blogosphere. Check out the Research, Academia, and Education blogroll to learn more.
Trillwing is a contributing editor for Research, Academia, and Education at BlogHer. A Grinnell alumna who would love to return to Grinnell if only they were hiring in her field, she also blogs at The Clutter Museum.