Lately, I have been pondering about what graduate school should have been. Sure, I am far enough removed from that
awful chapter of my life. I have taken on bigger battles than I could have ever envisioned as a grad student. But, to the extent that my first semester as a tenure-track professor has been fucking miserable challenging, I am increasingly aware of where my graduate training failed me for this job.
Here are the questions that have crossed my mind. Please keep in mind that, even while speaking generally, these questions are informed by my own experiences and perspective.
- What if graduate training programs empowered their students? That is, rather than slowly and systematically tearing down their self-esteem and self-worth?
- What if graduate training programs encouraged students to speak up, not shut up?
- What if graduate training programs encouraged students to keep their heads up, not down?
- What if grad students were encouraged to make a difference, rather than deradicalized or made to feel guilty for wanting to serve the(ir) community?
- What if grad programs prepared students for careers at research-intensive universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, private and public schools? Tenure-track positions and non-tenure-track positions? And, jobs outside of academia? Even if all of these cannot be offered to all students, what about having training available for multiple career paths from which students can choose? And, without prioritizing one over all others?
- What if grad students received training for research, as well as teaching and service?
- What if foundational courses, like theory, did not end where the “classics” ended? That is, including critical and interdisciplinary perspectives, and the work by marginalized theorists?
- What if multiple methodological approaches were taught, encouraged, and supported (including financial support)? That no grad student ever has to look outside of her discipline to find training or support?
- What if diversifying the graduate student body, staff, and faculty was actual practice rather than pretty little lies?
- What if more effort was made to retain graduate students? And, to learn from those whose departure is completely unavoidable, rather than dismissing them as lazy, weak, stupid, or “quitters”?
- What if graduate students’ health and well-being was considered a departmental priority?
What if graduate school didn’t suck? What if it didn’t feel as though I traded my confidence, authenticity, mental health, and happiness for a PhD? I do not regret my decision to pursue an academic career. But, as I slowly recover all that I lost in pursuing one, I have to wonder — did it really have to happen this way?