"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Monday, January 30, 2012

Invitation to Help Develop Grad U Graduate Writing Website

The following found its way to my inbox today. I found it amusing. I thought you might, too:
Dear recent Ph.D.,

In Fall 2010, Dr. Very Important Campus Administrator established a Graduate Writing Task Force to devise a plan to enhance existing graduate writing resources and the quality of graduate student writing. The task force’s recommendations included the creation of a writing resources website that focuses on general resources, but also discipline-specific needs.

Because you were previously selected for Prestigious Graduate Fellowship and thus identified as an outstanding doctoral student who has acquired useful knowledge of the dissertation writing process, the Graduate School invites you to participate in a focus group that will help determine the design and content of the Graduate Writing Resources website. We anticipate convening the focus group sometime in February.

If you are willing and available to serve as a focus group member, please contact me by February 3.

 Postdoctoral Associate for Graduate Education Administration
Hmmmmm. Well, I guess it isn't exactly a surprise that just because you're a graduate student working on a dissertation you're necessarily a good writer. I can cut the STEM folks some slack in this area. They just need to write well enough to communicate their research. However, while I can't speak for the social sciences, it seems that the primary fields in which writing really matters are the humanities. In the humanities, because your work engages so closely with other written texts, what you have to say (your research) is intimately caught up in how you communicate it to others.

Sorry, I'm rambling. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this seems like campus administrative bloat to me -- another attempt by overpaid campus managers to justify their existence (just reread the job title up there -- couldn't make that shit up if I tried). Such a resource for undergrads makes sense, and many such sites already exist, at Grad U and other institutions. But for graduate students? If you're a STEM person and your writing is so bad people can't understand you, you should hire a tutor and possibly an editor. You deserve to have to pay extra if you're that horrible. If you're in the humanities and you can't write, you probably should drop out long before you finish your diss and hit the job market ... because you will be TOAST. Burn your early diss drafts and maybe give business school a shot.

Maybe I'm being overly harsh and judgmental. Why not help graduate students? A website of writing resources that targets dissertation writing could be just the support some poor struggling ABD needs to get through to the end.

Except ... did it occur to Dr. Very Important Campus Administrator that, since I haven't adjuncted at Grad U in a year, I might have some other job, like, off campus and during normal business hours? How in the world would I be "available" to commute an hour each way for a one-hour focus group? And I should do this, even if I were still adjuncting or otherwise working on campus, as a form of "service," I suppose??

Hey, I got news for you, you high level college administrator types, "service" only counts if you're on the tenure track. Can we work on converting some of those adjunct positions maybe? In my old department, adjuncts outnumber tenure-track faculty 2 to 1. If you could do that and pay me, oh, roughly what I'm currently earning as a freakin' secretary, and offer, maybe, if not tenure, at least multi-year renewable contracts so I'd have some job security, I might consider coming back and doing for a living what you are here acknowledging I'm very good at.

Then I'd be happy to participate in your focus group ...


  1. But of course, no matter what job you were asked to do, you'd just absolutely JUMP at the prospect to help Grad U, right? Others should be so lucky as to be offered the chance to have even the briefest contact with the hallowed halls of academia again...

    Pardon me ... I have to go vomit.

  2. Yeah, you 'bout nailed it. There are just all these things in academe that are job functions and treated as such -- and paid as such -- outside academe. But inside? No, it's fur teh luuuuv.

  3. Our department has started instituting A LOT of writing help for its PhD students, especially dissertation writing assistance. It has struck me as incredibly odd--as you say, if you're getting a doctorate in English shouldn't you probably be able to...I don't know...write?

    The other thing that's rampant is dissertation chairs heavily, HEAVILY editing (ahem, re-writing) student writing. In many cases, this seems to be because the professor wants X student to publish or win a fellowship, thereby giving the (in most cases young) professor a feather in his/her tenure portfolio/student advising cap. It's a really messed up system.

  4. Wow, I didn't observe any such "editing" in my dept at Grad U, but that doesn't mean it wasn't/ isn't going on. Ugh. How many more signs do we need that grad programs need to stop admitting so many doctoral students? Inability to complete writing requirements seems a pretty good reason to me.

    Sometimes I feel like I'm being ungenerous when I hear about "opportunities" such as the one in the post and react the way I'm reacting. But outside academe, when a business, law firm, government agency, or some other organization invites someone to share their expertise, whether at a single meeting, or on an ongoing basis, it's called "consulting." there are all kinds of consultants: marketing, investment, software, political, management, fundraising. And, yes, writing. And it goes without saying that your expertise is valued and that you're paid for sharing it.

    I've said before that being in a "relationship" with academe resembles a bad romance (I'm too lazy to link but go look ip my post " We Are All Waldo"). What this invitation feels like is running into your ex on the subway a year after ze made you dump hir. You loved hir but ze treated you like crap and you had no choice. Now, ze tells you ze misses you but doesn't want to get back together. In fact, ze tells you, ze has been fucking all sorts of other people since you left. But ze misses you. You were the best! Ze whispers in your ear, "Babe, will you let me suck on your nipples just one last time?"

  5. I wasn't in English, but it was also common knowledge in our department that for at least a few students, their published works were more or less articles written by their advisors with the students' names on the byline.

    I don't know how much of it was line-item editing, but it was rampant. And of course, those students were among the group who kept winning fellowships and who had no problem finding jobs.

    In at least one case, it's resulted in people being confused about why so-and-so hasn't published anything since getting their faculty position. I think I know why!!

    LOL at your analogy. But it's so immensely true ... all of the work that you'd be paid for in the outside world is expected to be nothing more than donated labor to academia. Since we're all supposed to think it's the greatest profession in the world and that we should all willingly donate our time.

    And then, of course, those of us who decide we want to get paid for our hard work get belittled and shunned and insulted. What a system.

  6. Re the email: if you have nothing to lose, I would answer back saying saying how flattered you are they thought of you because of your amazing writing skills. Then say that you'd be thrilled to help them develop their website and that your consulting fee is "X" dollars the hour (insert whatever number would be the professional rate). See how they react.

  7. Ahahaha! That's great. I did plan to reply politely declining, but now I think I will try out your suggestion. Stay tuned!