Achoo. And also, stop telling new PhDs not to complain.

Posted by September Blue Friday, 27 March 2009

Off work with an unpleasant cold, and counting down the hours until I get bored enough to start reading work-related papers anyway. That's what you get for spending a weekend in the bracing sea air, you see? Ill.

My parents have been on holiday here, or at least not too far away from here, for the past week or so. Their hyperactive collie puppy is five months old now. She loved the empty beach, the fact that she could dig big holes in the empty beach, and most especially the fact that she could sometimes find dead hares this way, which is absolutely the best thing a puppy could ever find, and how cruel were we for not letting her keep any of them?

She's not too keen on water that got deeper than she was expecting, though:



The puppy is absolutely their favourite child at the moment. (Second is my boyfriend for fixing their DVD player. Joint third, me and my brothers, who have indeed lost all patience for fixing technological things without a litany of 'DAD, stop MESSING with this! What did you DO?' a long long time ago, but have never to my knowledge dug up a dead hare from a beach and then rolled in it.) Previous dogs have not been allowed on the settee; this dog is not only allowed to sleep there whenever she wishes, but actually has cushions rearranged under her head to keep her comfortable and make sure she doesn't fall off.

Anyway, now I'm home and ill, and catching up on all the unread blog posts that have been stacking up in my reader for the past couple of months, which was what I wanted to talk about in the first place. Most especially, this latest from Rate Your Students about how humanities PhDs should just stop complaining so much, are you people in this for the money or something? I have about five thousand things to say about this insidious annoyance, but for the sake of brevity will cut them down a little.

The argument goes like this:
1. Academic jobs should only go to people who are both very clever and very devoted to their subject.
2. People who are very clever would already know that the academic job market in the humanities is bad.
3. People who are devoted to their subject would enjoy the work in and of itself without needing a payoff in the form of financial security or a guaranteed academic job.
4. Therefore, people who complain about the trials of PhD and post-PhD life as if a) the job market came as a surprise to them and b) 'the hours [they] spend discussing ideas with [their] students, peers, and mentors' weren't rewarding enough to make the whole thing worthwhile shouldn't even be here in the first place.

Okay. No.

1. Academic jobs 'should' go to the people who can do the job. While being relatively bright and interested in the work you're doing are obviously going to be a bit part of that, 'I love my subject!' is never going to outweigh, say, publications on the job market. ("So you've never taught any classes at all?" "No, but I really love talking about literature to everyone else in my office!" Yeah, good luck with that.) Loving your subject - really, truly loving your subject - only seems to be the most important thing in the discussion when the discussion is about telling new academics to just put up with whatever it is they're complaining about. Funny, that.

2. People don't know the job market is this bad. Partly because it's not obvious unless you're looking: senior professors don't know the job market is this bad, for crying out loud. (Before I got the job I'm doing now, I had more than one very smart, very well-established scholar tell me that yes, it was a real shame about the job market, and maybe I should try applying for 1-year posts, as if when I said 'There are no jobs' I didn't actually mean 'There are no jobs.') PhD students? The same PhD students whose only job advice from the people who should know - the academics who are convincing them to stay on for PhDs in the first place - has been 'It's difficult, but if you really love your subject it's worth doing anyway, and the only people complaining are the ones who shouldn't be here in the first place'? Oh, come on. When they find out, it'll be by accident.

3. Hell, yes! Who needs food when you can read Derrida? You philistine mercenaries, with all this talk about 'job security' and 'I can't pay my rent' and 'something is seriously wrong when I'm working 80-hour weeks for below minimum wage and being told that objecting to another pay cut makes me ungrateful'. Tsch. You're in this for love, not money!

4. Therefore, shut up.


  1. Autumn Song Says:
  2. Love the puppy pictures!

    I was writing a response here to the job market stuff, and it got so long I moved it to a post of its own on Falling Leaves. But the short version is, I agree: "shut up".

  3. Laz Says:
  4. I'm stealing the puppy. I've never seen a brown collie before (her) and she's just the sweetest thing. Just to check though - your parents have her house-trained already, yeah? Good, good...

    You already know what I think of the "shut up and be grateful for what you've got" lot so I won't rant for hours and hours here. Did I tell you what Jean in my work said when we lost holidays? GRR!!!