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Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't...Ask for Advice

I thought I should include a few words here about something rather unsettling I have been encountering here as I trot around telling people I want to be an English professor. 

Take a look at these articles:

If you don’t have time to look at them now, here are the titles:  "Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go." "Dodging the Anvil." "The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind.'" "Is Graduate School a Cult?" "Wanted: Really Smart Suckers."

These were all sent to me by a current first year PhD student in the English department who just finished an MDiv at the Divinity School.  I asked him if we could chat about transitioning from YDS to an English PhD, hoping for guidance on how to shape my masters degree to situate me well for the next step.  This guy spent three entire hours at a coffee shop with me the day after sending these, so he deserves some sort of grad school mentor medal of honor, but these articles were a giant slap in the face of my enthusiasm for joining the professoriate. 

What do we make of these?  On one hand I don’t want to be one of the na├»ve young people these articles describe, but on the other hand I really want to do this.  How do we balance the desire to follow what we love with the knowledge that it probably won’t work out the way we’re hoping?  I suppose you just have to look at entering academe like moving to Hollywood to try to be a movie star, as one of these articles suggests.  No, the statistics are not in your favor, but would you really be happy if you didn’t give it your best shot?  I don’t know.  But this sentiment is raging, both here on campus and in the few visits I’ve made to explore PhD options.  One professor in a Medieval Studies department began our meeting by wordlessly holding up a graph that plummeted sharply downward along an x axis of the past twenty years.  After an uncomfortable silence he said, “Do you know what this is?”  “No.” “This is the job market for English PhDs right now.”


  1. Catherine,
    Your blogs are riveting. This one hits home for me. As I struggle through the medical school application process I find myself coming across multiple signs that I should turn the other way. While sometimes I ask myself if it is not God's will for me to become a physician, I continue to arrive at the same conclusion- that I couldn't live with myself if I did not at least try. I think that instances like these are meant to prompt us to exceed beyond normal effort. These moments are temptations to discourage us. If you love something, you must try with all your might to succeed. You of all people will achieve what you are meant to. I have no doubt that, though the job market for English professors is dismal, YOU WILL beat the odds. I hope one day we cross paths again. Until then I look forward to your future blogs:)


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