Dear Fellow Graduate Student,
As you well know, this is a rough time to be pursuing an advanced degree. We are underfunded, overworked, exploited, and devalued by a society that (to take just one recent example) attempted to tax our tuition waivers as income, which would have made graduate education untenable for most of us and available only to the wealthiest students. There are gross disparities in funding for M.A and Ph.D. programs. Many of us face a job market that looks nothing like the landscapes our advisors experienced. And yet, the world needs M.A. and Ph.D. recipients now more than ever.
This system is deeply flawed and I earnestly hope that our generation will be the ones to overhaul it. As part of that project, I want to pass on some insights that helped me navigate my institution towards a successful dissertation defense and a job.
One reason I write this is because I was lucky to have wonderful peers, colleagues, and professors who supported me throughout this journey, though I’m continually meeting grad students who haven’t been so fortunate. As Annemarie Pérez’s recent post (“A Radical Idea About Adjuncting”) showed me, being explicit about the ways we’ve been lucky is part of a larger project of building universities that don’t rely so heavily on luck, but rather, are structured for the flourishing of diverse students and faculty, and engaged, urgent knowledge projects that serve the public good.
I also write this somewhat selfishly. I want to live in a world in which everyone has, in Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s words, “everything that they need and 93% of what they want–not by virtue of the fact that you work today, but by virtue of the fact that you are here.” I believe that the hours you spend reading, thinking, writing, teaching, organizing, working to change your classrooms and institutions, learning so that you may improve the lives of others, and taking to the streets to demand change will help bring that world to fruition.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind. This was the single best piece of advice I received going into graduate school. Don’t be afraid to learn new things, to become obsessed, to fall in love with different subjects. You don’t have to leave graduate school pursuing the project that you identified in your application materials. Take courses with the faculty members who students can’t stop talking about, even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the subject area. Kyla Wazana Tompkins put it best: “we aren’t here to learn what we already know.” We are here to do research: to be unfaithful to the known.
Read the full post on HASTAC.