Sunday, June 03, 2007


In lieu of an actual post, I direct you to Dr. Crazy's recent thoughtful post about the process of becoming an "academic" in the psychological sense. I always enjoy Crazy's writing on the ethics of advising undergraduates to continue on to graduate school, the essential question being, "given how unfulfilling and ultimately unsuccessful academia will be for the majority of those who choose this route, why do we encourage our students to go on to graduate school?" Entering graduate school because you want to be like your tenured advisor at a fancy pants school, who seems to spend all of his or her time thinking great thoughts and enjoying long summer vacations, is a recipe for disaster.

I have a number of students, graduating seniors, who plan to apply to doctoral programs in musicology next fall, so I've been thinking about this a lot. I think I know these particular students well enough to tell myself that they are indeed suited for academia, and will do well both intellectually and emotionally. But with any of my students who ask me about graduate school, I try hard to be both encouraging ("Yay, you like musicology and are really smart!") and realistic ("Just so you know, all of your TAs have been living below the poverty line for the last five years"). Not that I kid myself that the advice I hand out is that important. Honestly, I didn't listen too closely to my professors about such things when I was an undergraduate, and I know perfectly well that they probably aren't either.

For me, there is also another aspect of this ethical question too. I, for one, believe that musicology would be a much better discipline if its members came from more diverse backgrounds. Therefore, when I have a student who is a student of color, or the first in their family to attend college, or is even from some interesting musical subculture, there is a part of my brain that thinks, "I should encourage this person to enter academia, so that academia will be better." And then, the other part of my brain responds, "Okay, so academia will be better off for having this kid, but will this kid be better off for being an academic?" Obviously I can't really answer this second question for another person, but I think it is an important internal dialogue to have with yourself.

Hmm, so much for "in lieu of an actual post." Back to work, Barnet Bound!


Terminal Degree said...

Great post.

There's another issue, too--small schools don't always have t-track jobs for specialists. For example, my job is about 1/3 applied/studio teaching and 2/3 musicology. (The irony, of course, is that I don't have a musicology degree--my background is performance and music ed.) When my performance majors ask about grad school, I try to encourage them to make sure they can teach more than one subject (oboe and theory, or clarinet and music ed, for example) to increase their chances of getting jobs.

But it's still a big crapshoot, and I do try to warn them of the odds.

sushipjs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sushipjs said...

Sorry, I had to delete that comment. Thanks for directing me to read Dr. Crazy's comment. I can't help but agree that our discipline intensely needs more diversity, but like you I wonder if maybe something more radical should change in the system itself. Maybe it's all wishful thinking.

Caroline said...

I would have serious problems referring ANYONE--musicology--to a job field where there are about 1/4 as many jobs as applicants. I did a search for "market" on that page and found only a passing mention (which I can't understand w/o reading through more of the blog).

If they feel like they have to do it, or they would regret not doing it (how I felt), I would advise them to take at least 2 years out of school (to pay back loans, see the real world, etc.).

Finally, I agree about diversity, but not for the sake of diversity.

Caroline said...

That last comment I made I hate, and disagree with (well, the last six words). I've been thinking about it all morning and will post something on livejournal later.

BBound said...

Yeah, if there is one thing I definitely advise these kids is not to go straight onto grad school. Best to start grad school with both perspective and savings!

Although I have noticed that sometimes time in the real world can produce a boomerang effect. It goes something like this: Person graduates college. Person gets job. Person discovers that jobs are not fun, and you no longer have summer vacation. Person starts idealizing college life. Person thinks (and here's the big mistake!) that graduate school and then academia will be like college. Person applies to grad school. Person becomes deeply unhappy years later.

You (being Caroline!) might enjoy some of Crazy's previous posts on this subject. She definitely does consider the market a lot. She's in English, so it's a bit different, of course.

Dr. Crazy said...

BB - I struggle with the whole diversity issue, too! This IS a great post, and yes, it's different in English, but not so terribly different. Neither of us are in especially "hot" disciplines, after all :)

(Ah, if only I had been able to get better than a C in macroeconomics....)