Jump to content

another doubtful rookie

Stan Gentle

Recommended Posts

I've been a lurker here since application season last year, so I know that there are some insightful people around this forum. Hopefully you'll give your two cents.


My problem, in a nutshell, is this: This is my first year in a Ph.D. program. I'm in a continental department. I love the work but find the social climate immensely stifling, and additionally, I'm worried about future job prospects/present financial precariousness. Other options, should I choose to leave philosophy, might include trying to switch to a cog-sci program or leaving academia altogether. I could, like the other doubtful poster, tough it out until getting my master's and leave then.


In more detail:

1. The work:

I love continental philosophy, though don't want to get too specific about my interests on here. Suffice it to say that I never feel more alive than when I'm reading and writing about ____. My department has all the expertise I could want in many of the topics I've been interested in. The professors are knowledgeable, open, and engaged. No significant problems as far as the course material is concerned. Never been happier with my homework.


2. The climate:

I'm a white, straight, cis-male from an upper-middle class background (and a certain religious community). The grad students in my department are radically politicized. Every meeting and event, to say nothing of every casual interaction, is dominated by the silent specter of some kind of politically incorrect infraction--or at least, that's how I've come to feel. I've been let in on some pretty terrible gossip about other graduate students who have been labeled 'problematic' by the controlling clique, which makes me believe it's only a matter of time before I fall from good graces. At least, it's always a threat.

Does this make sense? It's hard to describe to someone who isn't in it. Essentially, the grad students act more like a soviet than a community of scholars. And I'm guilty until proven innocent, by dint of my census data. If I have the 'wrong' 'idea' about something, I'll be ostracized. It's very hard to have a serious intellectual discussion with someone who is on a hair trigger, ready to spit on your name and declare you an enemy of the revolution at the slightest twitch.

I've had a thought that perhaps I'm simply intimidated and green. At first, I think I really was. But as the year has gone on, the initial awe has worn off, and I've come to know behavior from older graduate students that I think is simply bullying or controlling. Worse, I see this behavior entrenched in the institutional structure of the department. I know details are lacking here, I apologize for that.


3. The professional future:

Brian Leiter doesn't believe my department actually does philosophy. For better or worse--this is another issue entirely--most people seem to hold the PGR in high regard. I already have doubts about the value of being a professional philosopher in the world today; I don't want to start off with an irremediable handicap within the profession for having come from some black sheep of a program. But I could easily get over whether or not one influential professor respects my department if I were sure that being a professional philosopher could mean anything without being involved with a community of scholars. It's the prospective lack of community that I find most unnerving--as far as I see it, it's the community that would make being a financially-strapped professional philosopher better than being a more well-off professional [whatever] with a philosophical hobby.


I could say much more if anyone would like to hear. I really hope someone can offer any kind of input here.


And if you're from the department, and you're reading this...don't rat me out.

Edited by Stan Gentle
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have much to offer you, but it's worth asking whether you've tried to build a social network and life outside of the department (e.g. with other members of your religious community, people who share your hobbies, people from other departments, or even with people from other schools [through, e.g., conferencing]). I know of a number of graduate students who are unhappy with their departmental climate, but who've made things work for them by building networks outside the department itself.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.