Thursday, March 13, 2008

I Declare This Timothy Burke Day. Also, don't go to grad school.



Go buy Jessica Hagy's book, Indexed!





I was hanging out with Wolfson last weekend, and we were talking about bloggers you'd like to meet or hang out with, present company excluded of course. I wish I could spend more time with Larry Solum, and I desperately want to shoot the breeze with Frank Pasquale, but as they are both law academics there's a good chance of this happening. Even with the cool sociologists, there's a good chance of running into them at ICSPR or ASA or Law and Society, and so I just can't imagine not meeting Jeremy Freese, Kieran Healy, or Laura Beth Nielsen one day. I mean, I already met Scott Eric Kaufman, so while my life is mostly complete, it is not really. So I chose Timothy Burke, because he is just so awesome, and as a historian at Swarthmore, I just don't know when we would ever meet. His elusiveness is appealing, but his blog is just the best thing ever. I wanted to link to one of his more recent awesome posts, but as a public service I'll exerpt one of his awesome "permanent" posts.

Remember, don't go to law school. But don't go to grad school either:

Prof. Tim Burke's answer to "Should You Go to Grad School"?

Short answer: no.


Long answer: maybe, but only if you have some glimmering of what you are about to do to yourself. Undergraduates coming out of liberal arts institutions are particularly vulnerable to ignorance in this regard. For four years, they’ve been asked to take chances, experiment, change course when it suits them, freely enrich their minds and their hearts. Most such students then approach careers with something of the same spirit, and generally, they should. Take some chances after you graduate, try different things. Why not?

Just don’t try graduate school in an academic subject with the same spirit of carefree experimention.

If you take one step down that path, I promise you, it’ll hurt like blazes to get off, even if you’re sure that you want to quit after only one year.


Two years in, and quitting will be like gnawing your own leg off.


Past that, and you’re talking therapy and life-long bitterness.

What you need to know first is that graduate school will almost inevitably suck. A lucky few have a great time. They’re the exception. For most, it will hurt. It will be humiliating. If you have suckled off the mother’s milk of the approval of your teachers until the point you arrive for your first graduate seminar, get ready to have a professor dislike you for no other reason than he or she disagrees with you. It won’t matter that you do all the work and do it well. You’ll be treated like a colleague inasmuch as you will be subject to the bruising ideological, intellectual and social conflicts that characterize academic life. Your views and actions will be taken seriously in that sense. But they’ll be taken seriously at exactly the moment that you most lack any platform to stand upon, when you lack any independent profile outside of your relationships with your professors and your discipline.


No one is going to pat you on the head and tell you how wonderfully smart you are for sassing them anymore.


That time of your life is over.


Graduate school is not about learning. If you learn things, it’s only because you’ve already internalized the habit of learning, only because you make the effort on your own and in concert with fellow graduate students. You learn because that’s what you do now, that’s your life. Don’t go into it expecting to extend the kinds of heathily collaborative relationships you have had to date with your teachers and don’t go into it expecting to extend the kinds of educational nurturing you have had to date. Graduate school is not education. It is socialization. It is about learning to behave, about mastering a rhetorical and discursive etiquette as mind-blowingly arcane as table manners at a state dinner in 19th Century Western Europe.
Graduate school is cotillion for eggheads.

For all these reasons, graduate school is not something you want to experiment with. Think heroin–this is your brain, this is your brain on graduate school. Think Al Pacino in “Godfather 3″–just when you think you are out, you will be sucked back in again. Academia, especially in the humanities and the social sciences, is a total culture. It colonizes most aspects of your life. You are never not an academic–the little mental tape recorder is on all the time, or it had better be if you want to be good at this life. Anything is grist for my mill as a teacher and a scholar, and that is as it should be. Graduate school is, if anything, even more totalizing than this. It gets into your pores.


Somewhere in the back of your head, your dissertation or your oral exams will be burrowing outwards through your brain tissue with incisors of fear.

All of these dire warnings don’t even touch on the overwhelming issue of the job market.

If you’re thinking you might want to pick up that Ph.D., then be sure before you apply. Take time away from college. That will tell you how much you want to be back in this life. Love your subject well before you ever start, because that passion will be tested mightily.

I thought law school was bad. It was. But grad school is no cakewalk either, and I am in a totally fake graduate law program. It is nerve-wracking and stressful, and I feel like an imposter every day. And until I started taking grad school classes and had a professor (of sociology! I thought they were the nice ones!) hate me, I never really understood what Tim Burke was saying--sure, profs in law school might hate you, but the grading is blind for a reason.

All major life decisions should be made very carefully. Unfortunately, we expect 21 year olds who are still cowed by their parents' authority and incapable of independent thinking (with respect to their lives) having been coddled by micro-managing parents and universities with an excessive degree of in loco parentis trying to make major life decisions. I mean, you can vote and drink, so why not let you decide what careers or what graduate programs? And really, what are the alternatives to grad school. Real life? That would have so freaked me out at the age of 21. It freaks me out now.

There are tons of things wrong with Europe, not the least of which are the A-level exams that force 17 year olds to choose their life careers at an age where they can barely decide what to do the next week of their lives. I meet a ton of young "lawyers" who graduate at 21 or 22 with "law degrees". They have the same level of maturity I displayed at that age, except that they think they know what they are doing (arrogant certainty is tightly correlated with 1) ignorance and 2) youth), are adamant and uncompromising, and have too much actual power. It is like having real money vs. monopoly money. But anyway, while the European model of education sucks, I do like the idea of a "gap year." Take a gap year, if you can afford it. Work. Save some money. Take those admission exams. Really think about it.

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