Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mister, You're on Fire, Mister

I'm trying to ride out the 'Oh fuck!' feeling that invariably overtakes me sometime in the first few weeks of the school year. It usually sets in around the 'Welcome Back (Though You Shouldn't Have Ever Left And Stopped Working) Reception' when the advisor catches my eye, walks over, asks what I did on my summer vacation (kissed four girls at sleepaway camp!), then, chuckling at my response, quickly shifts gears towards my dissertation and begins presumptuously asking for completed work and about meetings while I choke on my drink and spit a little on his shoes.

And while I'm usually able to weather this storm or at least walk it off and convince myself that I'm really not fucked, this 'Oh fuck!' moment is different. Not only did it come even sooner, it came with the force of an ACME one-ton anvil on the head, which is to say, it hit me like a ton of bricks in my face. With the placement committee telling me I'm not going to get a job unless I spent the whole summer crafting an impenetrable job market dossier that would be like Kryptonite to the ability of search committees to not give me a job, the advisor catching me BEFORE the beginning of the year and telling me to get my shit together, and the prospects of my office being flooded by students born in 1990, the 'Oh fuck!' quickly escalated into the 'Oh fuck; I'm fucked; Oh fuck; Shit, I'm fucked!' feeling before the summer even began.

And this time, after a few months of feeling this way, I'm not so sure I can walk it off. Because, you know what? I think I really AM fucked.

--STBJD

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd say you're lucky to have an advisor who pushes you. I mean, yeah, if you like wallowing in the I'm-fucked feeling then sure, you're fucked. But maybe it's nice to know that somewhere (my alma mater, for example, where people would get to n-year and then suddenly have their funding yanked because no one told them precisely how fucked they were), someone is more fucked than you.

While I'm at it, can I send a shout out to Skidmore? "AOS: Open. AOC: Open, but candidates must take primary responsibility for teaching History of Modern Philosophy (Descartes to Kant)." That's eminently sensible, and I'm sure they'll get someone good. A lot of schools reason, hey, we need to get someone to cover History II, let's advertise for someone with AOS in Modern, and, oh, AOS in biomedical technology ethics and AOC in Chinese philosophy. I'm sure there are a lot of those out there.

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

You're right, I am lucky. And I'm glad my advisor does push me and has my best interests in mind. That's good, but it doesn't make the pressure any easier to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Can I trade advisors with you? Mine has some vague standard called 'good enough' which I simultaneously manage to be and not be but which changes every time he reads my work. Perhaps I am Schroedinger's grad student.

Anonymous said...

As we enter a new year - I do look at what my students did over the summer - I'm advocating a new standard in our dept - after comps, 2 yrs of funding, ..then if you are not done...you can leave with an MPhil and flip burgers.

Anonymous said...

STBJD = lazy fuck?

Anonymous said...

I sympathize a little with 10:13. My advisor is very supportive but pushes when I need it, but (and I can't remember if I've used the phrase here before) the PhD is starting to feel like a moving target. "Okay, just swim to this buoy...good job, you made it! But, oops, that's just a fake buoy facade. Here, swim to the next buoy...good job, you made it! But, oops, turns out we're in fake buoy country." I gotta say, I feel pretty confident I'm going to finish, but to extend the metaphor, drowning is a worry.

Anonymous said...

I'd switch advisors with you in a heartbeat: mine is yet to give me a single comment on my dissertation, which i'm about one month away from finishing...

Anonymous said...

I can really relate to Anons 12:17 and 2:44. This time last summer, my advisor was talking like a defense date was just around the corner. Now my advisor is talking about lots of revisions. But I hardly got a single comment until I have a complete draft.

Anonymous said...

"I think I really AM fucked."

I think you're right.

Anonymous said...

How long are PhD dissertations expected to be in the US? Down here (Australia) a PhD is about 90,000 and a MA/MPhil about 35,000.

Surely Anon 12:41 would not expect 90,000 words in two years?

Captain Obvious said...

Jeez, I was being ironic!

I have no official opinion of STBJD..

Anonymous said...

2:34am - writing 90,000 words in 2 yrs is a fair work load - I'm basing this on writing 51 weeks a year - with 1 week off which is standard for phd students.

Don't whine kids - you don't derserve any more time off untill you are done.

Anonymous said...

I think of a philosophy Ph.D. as being around 50,000 in the US -- longer if it's history, shorter if it's math-y.

But maybe that's shorter than other programs?

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:34: I just completed my dissertation here in the US, and it wrapped up at 73,000 words.

FWIW.

A Guy who finished his Diss said...

If you haven't already discovered this way of procrastinating, you should try it:

Read a book such as _Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day_ (Joan Bolker), or _Writing with Power_ (Peter Elbow) or _How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation_ (David Sternberg) or _Professors as Writers_ (Robert Boice) or _How to Write a Lot_ (Paul Silvia).

The last two are perhaps my favorites. After reading them, you'll realize it isn't so hard to finish a 100,000 word dissertation in 2 years. Well, its hard in the same way its hard to lose 10 pounds over 2 years. It requires long term discipline - but its easy as far as how much work you really need to do in a given day if you keep to your schedule.

Anonymous said...

Or you could just write it. I wrote mine in 18 months. Ended up with 3 publications out of it (in the likes of Phil Studies), and was even approached by a publisher to turn it into a book . It was also good enough to land me a TT position my first full year on the market. And I'm not even from a Leiterific department.

Rabbit said...

Another book on writing: 'How to write a thesis', by Rowena Murray.

philo said...

I hate those Welcome Back "parties". I feel like they should serve coffee, not alcohol, at those events. Gotta be on your toes! And not just with faculty...other graduate students can be difficult when stressed the hell out. Scratch the coffee then -- maybe they should serve Chamomile.

Also, FWIW, my dissertation was around 70k words. I agree with the idea expressed by a good number here that some sort of daily discipline of writing is essential to getting your chapters together. Also important (at least for me) was finding ways to make the process not feel foreign. Aside from being plugged into my laptop -- and iTunes -- for several hours a day, this daily discipline also meant carrying a blank book with me at all times for thoughts on the road (or in a pub). A fair bit of what was written in that book (when suitably edited) made it into the dissertation...I take a little pride in that.

Anyhow, good luck STBJD.

FWIW said...

I just finished (top 20 U.S.) and mine was around 60,000

Anonymous said...

I finished my dissertation in one year and took an extra semester to polish it up. But it was a bit light...130 pages or so, as I recall (last century).

It's like working out: once you get in the habit of doing it, it gets much easier and is nearly automatic.

Anonymous said...

5:02 You've now made me feel bad about avoiding my dissertation and about avoiding the gym. Thanks.

The Secret? said...

Smoke dope, lots of dope....

A-158 said...

79,000 words -- written grudgingly in fits and starts.

Anonymous said...

Avoiding dissertation = lazy fuck who likely wouldn't survive the demands of a tenure-track job, or at least suffer it well. Please reconsider your career.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 5:27: Shut the fuck up.

Seriously.

Anonymous said...

5:59,

Why don't you make me?

Your friend,
5:27

Anonymous said...

Six years past the degree, I'm a productive philosopher with tenure at a good place and a decent rep in the profession.

However, writing the diss was very difficult for me. I look back on those years as the darkest and most difficult period in my life (and I've had a Dickensian life with my fair share of bad luck, loss, disease and poverty).

Writing the diss I gained 30 lbs and a ton of debt and am still working both of them off. I nearly broke a great marriage and icing on the cake, I nearly ended up addicted to some pretty sketchy substances.

So why is it so hard for some of us to write the thing?

Of course there are practical challenges; it is tough to balance, one's health, relationships, adjunct teaching and diss writing. But the practical stuff is relatively trivial.

The real source of the difficulty isn't time-management per se, it's the pressure to demonstrate competence and originality. Even if you have a good advisor, (and mine is one of the greatest) these can seem like moving targets.

Competence and originality are tied to our identity and self-evaluation as philosophers. But when these are moving targets then we're in trouble. Working with graduate students today, I think they set unrealistically high standards. I recognize that I was guilty of this too in my time.

So here's my advice: Take a weekend to read/skim other dissertations (by prominent youngish philosophers) to see the level of work that they have done. The bar is not as high as you may think.

I would argue that this advice extends mutatis mutandis beyond the dissertation and that the rhetoric around quality and rigor from philosophy's opinion-makers is exaggerated. But that's something for another thread.

Anonymous said...

The dissertation is a crucible. Yes, it can be very difficult to get through, but once you do, you will have learned much about yourself. One of those things is whether you're cut out for research-oriented positions or teaching positions. Research isn't everyone's cup of tea, yet the disseratation is a clear test for the capacity, fairly or not.

Anonymous said...

I echo Anon. 10:34's thoughtful comments, though I would add one more source of stress: If you're writing a dissertation on something very meaningful to you in a way that it opens up the whole of philosophy (and maybe even meaning itself) through your question, then you'll certainly suffer at times from the weight of it all. However, on the flip side, you will also have some joy, because you'll recognize that your dissertation isn't just about a "problem" held at arm's length, but instead reminds you of why you love philosophy in the first place.

I just finished my dissertation, and that was my experience--moments of dark and moments of light.

Anonymous said...

Fer cryin' out loud, stop your whining about the dissertation! If you're still whining, I would agree with previous posters that you are a lazy fuck!

You enter grad school knowing you're going to write a dissertation, right? Your first couple years is practice, if not 1-2 chapters of your dissertation. So you signed up for exactly *this* (as well as job market prospects), and you should have a headstart...and now you have the balls to bitch about it? Lazy fucks.

FWIW, I finished mine in under 2 years from a top-20 Leiter school and am now tenure-track at also a top-20 Leiter school. When I serve on search committees, I question the work ethic and productivity of someone who takes, say, 7 years to finish a Ph.D. -- you better have some journal articles published as well.

Anonymous said...

The "you lazy fucks" line is easy, but not helpful.

Congratulations to Mr top 20 and his top 20 job. But seriously, taking more than 7 years for a PhD is not unusual and a quick look at cv's on the webt will show that there are a number of excellent philosophers who went well beyond 7.

Instead of listening to assholes who tell you you suck, I'd go back to anon 10.34's advice about standards. It's pretty stunning to see what has passed for a dissertation at top 20 places in recent years.

Anonymous said...

2:50, you have a marvelous way with words.

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

In the interest of constructive, spirited debate (and administrator transparency), a few of my comments and others have been removed. Why? Partially because I can, partially because of a stupid grammatical mistake on my part (swapping 'you're' for 'your'), but also because comments that were less defensive and vindictive than my comments address the troll situation quite nicely without inflaming it.

Enjoy commenting without fear now. I'm done censoring.

Anonymous said...

in terms of taking a long time, i think james conant at u chicago is supposed to have taken a long time. would certainly not call him lazy.

Anonymous said...

If your (get it?) a philosopher and you believe censorship among adults is ok, then you need to switch professions. Maybe McCain-Palin's campaign is hiring.

A-158 said...

I wonder about the quality of anon 2.50's speedy work. Where can we read it? What have you written that is worth taking a look at? I'm not doubting that good work can be written quickly, but a lot of work written quickly isn't good work. So, anon 2.50, let's see your cards.

Anonymous said...

If you can't see the difference between what happened here and real censorship, maybe you should think about a new profession. Maybe the McCain/Palin campaign is hiring.

Anonymous said...

Mr Top 20 in his Top 20 job should take note of the following statistics on time taken to complete the Ph.D
http://insidehighered.com/news/2008/09/09/gaps

I'm sure he doesn't want to claim that women and non-whites are lazier than might white men and foreigners

Anonymous said...

Oh, anon 11:13, I love you for your certainty. But I wouldn't bet on it. Have you seen some of the comments on this blog?

So what are folks doing now to gear up for the job market? And whose advisors are batshit crazy??

philo said...

Aside from having my document templates (cover letters, cv, teaching philosophy statements, etc) pretty much together, I'm trying to get my game face on. Even during a successful year on the job market, one might get rejected outright from 90% of the positions for which one carefully compiled application materials. That can be tough on the ego! So for me, the trick is being sufficiently detached from the process that the rejection doesn't get to me (too much), but not so detached that I don't actually apply to the positions.

Anonymous said...

So I'm in my first semester as a TT Asst Prof at a no-name school in Texas. I am the only philosopher and I have a 4/4 load with no possibility of a reduction ever. Think I should go on the job market this fall? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Pros: Unlike last fall, I have Ph.D. in hand and an edited book coming out in spring.

Cons: I didn't graduate from a ranked program, I don't have a super awesome CV, I don't work in a popular area, and although I have a few articles floating out there at less-than-top-tier journals I probably won't have any more pubs to my name going forward.

Oh yeah... and I have a 4/4 load which, in case you're not familiar, is pure unadulterated hell. Short of developing a speed addiction or being some sort of ubermensch, there's no way anyone could pursue any serious scholarship with these kind of teaching responsibilities. (Not that scholarship is required for tenure at this university anyway - it's not, really.)

So I'm trying for at least a lateral move. I figure anything less than a 4/4 - and the possibility of not living in north Texas - would be a godsend at this point.

Moral of the story: last year I thought all jobs were created equal, that I would take anything that came my way, etc. etc. To an extent this was true - I *would* take anything that came my way. However, I now realize that I will never be able to do what I want to do if I stay in this job. Not to be a downer, but some of you guys should probably be prepared for similar outcomes. I totally understand now why academia is such an itinerant lifestyle. It's hard to find that direction of fit!

Anonymous said...

anon 10:43, your cons are not cons, they are reasons why it may be difficult to do, or do well; but i don't see any cons in your situation. good luck!

keatskeatskeats said...

"FWIW, I finished mine in under 2 years from a top-20 Leiter school and am now tenure-track at also a top-20 Leiter school. When I serve on search committees, I question the work ethic and productivity of someone who takes, say, 7 years to finish a Ph.D. -- you better have some journal articles published as well."

waving the rankings like that, you must have a real mindfuck when you encounter someone from princeton or harvard.

Oh, I can feeeellll your anger.

keatskeatskeats
"because it sounds like skeet skeet skeet"