Just got these gems at the Princeton University bookstore. Quite a large literary theory/Western philosophy section in which I spent far too much money. I’ve also pretty much decided on Princeton as top choice for my PhD. Any suggestions otherwise?
It would be silly to suggest that Princeton is not an excellent choice but I want to add one thought: where you get your degree is often important when you matriculate and go out of the job market, but during the many years it may take to get that degree, the people your work with, and especially your degree advisor, will make or break your effort.
I have known people who found the degree track hard enough but when a lousy advisor was added in, they eventually gave up.
Incidentally, Princeton was in my stomping grounds until I retired to South Carolina: it’s a good area to live the life of an intellectual (although I still prefer Columbia). My daughter got her PhD from Emory but I was chased out of St. Louis (Washington University) by the Vietnam draft and never finished.
Beverly sounds like you enjoy book shopping! Have you look at the selections on gutenberg.org?
Princeton would be a great choice. I spent my senior year of high school at Boston University Hospital and my tutor was a retired professor from Princeton. He was an amazing person and fluently knew 22 languages His wife filled his pockets with scraps of paper she had written fragments of poetry on. He would unfold a scrap of paper and read the line, then recite the complete poem from memory.
I hope you keep, “To A Dusty Shelf We Aspire” running while you are studying so you can share your progress – I think it would be very interesting.
Why do you want to get a Ph.D? Is it a career choice? Because a Ph.D. in philosophy or literary theory (even from Princeton) won’t provide a career of any significance. Graduate school is a strange form of self-torture. Unless you are being really well funded it will cost money (even if you have a scholarship), take lots of time and ruin your love of learning. If you actually like literature and philosophy the last thing you want to do is sour yourself on it by making it into a job. I could link to about half a dozen recent pieces by academics about how bad an idea it is to go to grad school, but I think that’s overkill. Anyway, for some of the people you admire (based on the reading lists and pictures) the Ph.D. was an afterthought. Derrida didn’t finish his Thèse d’État until he was 50, and it was really just a silly formality. Skip the Ph.D. and just write a book instead. It comes to the same thing. In fact, you will probably come out ahead…
I want (need) to get my PhD because I enjoy and want to publish critical writing at this point in my life rather than fiction. Also, it fits the necessities for my career path. I don’t want to teach high school forever and would like to one day—even if in the distant future—work at the college level. But more than that, I honestly think I would enjoy it. I know it is a tiresome process, but it would take A LOT to “ruin” my love for literature and learning.
Consider the fact that having a PhD is no guarantee that you will not be teaching in a High School. Colleges and Universities are getting really tight—why pay a full professor when they can hire a graduate student to do the same job for pennies on the dollar?
My daughter’s experience suggests that getting a teaching position in an American University is problematic. In her “class” she is the only one to find a job in this country; one classmate took a year to eventually accept a job for very low pay in the Middle East. Two others are teaching in Turkey and Abu Dhabi; the others are still looking for work, accepted jobs outside of teaching, or are teaching in High School.
Also, it is very true that the effort to get a PhD can sour you on both your subject and also the desire for learning. It is common to hear that the best thing about any PhD thesis is that it is finished: you may start out excited and full of energy but by the deadline (they do exist) you are tired, angry, and only want to get it over (an emotion usually expressed by your advisor too).
But don’t fall for the suggestion that a degree in the Humanities is a waste of time: Philosophy, Literature, Music, etc. are the hope of the future of our civilization; Engineers, Chemists, Computer Scientists, etc. are capable of destroying our civilization … can you imagine if we went to war and threw poems at each other?
stick with your dreams, and make sure you search for grants – there are those who believe in funding the dreams of serious students wanting to achieve higher education.
i already believe your books will educate others…
There is a good point hidden here: nowadays most graduate schools select candidates for the program and cover all tuition during the time (usually in exchange for a teaching commitment). When my Kid went off to undergraduate school she made the final choice based on how much the college wanted her, both monetarily and expressed interest (they were calling her from upstate New York two or three times a week to see if she needed anything). When it came to graduate schools, every positive response she received included tuition and a monthly stipend. One University flew her down for interviews and wine-and-dined her for a few days; she met the professors, visited the department, brought home the T-shirt … and then waited to see if she was chosen.
She was and nine years later she had her PhD in Comparative Literature. Her specialization, I always tell people, was 19th Century French literature and modern Japanese slasher movies. Right now she’s teaching Film Noir in a summer session.
Not trying to sour you…Just handing out a dose of realism. I wasn’t suggesting that Ph.Ds outside the humanities are much better. And as far as the future of civilization is concerned, I agree. I guess if you want to move beyond teaching high school it is worthwhile…But as far as writing non-fiction (literary theory, lit crit., etc…) you can do that without a Ph.D. If what you write is good, and gets past the peer review process, it doesn’t matter what kind of degree you have…But what Mike says should be a serious consideration — the job market in academia is abysmal. I’m six years out of a Ph.D. from McGill University (the “Harvard of the North”), did a good post-doc, published a bit and am still a fixed-term instructor at Michigan State. Granted, that’s a top-research university, but there’s no job security and the future is always uncertain. So, not only is the Ph.D. process exhausting, but so is what you face afterwards.
All that said, follow your heart!!
I appreciate the advice, truly, but all of the “realism” you are explaining to me I have already heard ad nauseam. I know why I technically shouldn’t go to graduate school, but I also know that this is what I’ve wanted to do all my life; thus, I’d rather fail at it than succeed at much else. Statistically speaking, I will probably not become a professor, or perhaps even finish my doctorate. Nevertheless, I will try… And just maybe I will be the “one in my class” to actually succeed.
You will finish your doctor. Why, because you will be doing something you desire to do. There is a difference between finding job security through a PhD than doing something because you love to do it and you love fulfilling the dream you have mentioned here.
When I think about job security, I think about the domesticated Canadian goose sitting by a farm pond such a lonely life – just as those boring jobs we trade for security, sacrificing our life long dreams.
Now do not toil any longer – go and fulfill that dream!
I think you’ll do just fine. Maybe (obviously) some of what I say here is a reflection on my own Ph.D. path. But I remember the time in school — the friends, the conversations, the beer — and I wouldn’t trade it. It’s just that it feels so monumental you are left at the end saying “now what?” Or at least I was. Judging by your reflections here, I have no doubt you will be the “one” in your class to succeed!
The pursuit of knowledge, like travel and the gathering of true friends is never wasted.
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