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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

How to Succeed in a PhD program in the Humanities

1. Realize that you might not be prepared. In your undergraduate program you were probably one of the smarter kids, so your professors liked you. But that makes you no different from any one else in your program. That does not mean that you are well-prepared for graduate work. It is very unlikely that you have read enough. I had never had a class in the BOOM so the summer before Grad school I read all the novels of Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar, and Mario Vargas Llosa. Later I realized a lot of Latin Americanists don't even like these writers, but that's another story. The undergraduate degree in Spanish does not prepare you for Graduate Work. It just gives you a small taste of what it's all about. The same could be true of other fields.

2. Realize that the profession you've chosen is brutally competitive. You won't get anywhere by just being an average student in an average program. Choose a field in which the ratio of PhDs to tenure track openings is reasonable. Like Spanish. Even in this case, you have to be one of the better students from a better program to get one of the better jobs.

3. Take care of the basics. If you are doing a PhD with a language in its name (Spanish, French) then master that language. You will be teaching it your whole life. If the language is English, then make sure you have "got prose." Mere competence is the key, because, look around you, not everyone is going to be able to transform themselves from bright undergrad to competent scholar in six years.

4. Begin building your cv at the beginning of your PhD program not toward the end. (Added after reading comment by Clarissa).


Clarissa said...

I have another piece of advice: remember that your job application process for a tenure-track job does not start in the last year of your PhD program. It starts on the very first day of it. You need to start constructing your CV from Day 1.

profacero said...

"The undergraduate degree in Spanish does not prepare you for graduate work."

This gives me pause as I did not know it. I thought only the ones we don't think are prepared for graduate work, aren't prepared.

Knowing this I want to advertise the MA in Hispanic Studies at LSU, seriously, nationwide. It will take people who are not really ready for a PhD program and get them ready (or identify them as not suited). Seriously. People should know about it and use it. And they really do give enough TAships and pay TAs well enough to live in BR without taking loans.

Jonathan said...

Some are prepared, but the undergraduate degree is not enough for quite a lot of them. I should have said the undergraduate degree in Spanish is not necessarily sufficient preparation if the student has not read more than two or three novels in Spanish.

profacero said...

"... if the student has not read more than two or three novels in Spanish."

Hmmm, I guess you *can* finagle your undergraduate electives so as to avoid that kind of reading. Ours can't avoid the Quijote or the Boom novel, and I keep giving 19th century, so maybe we are a good program even though I consider us spotty.

It occurs to me we should make a reading list for Spanish majors intending to do graduate work.

anthea said...

I'd also add be prepared to play academic politics brilliantly from Day 1 or if you don't know them be prepared to learn them as you go. But once you've mastered the skills you'll be set for life since it's well known that academic politics is the worst since there is so little to gain.

Jonathan said...

No. Don't do that.