Friday, September 7, 2012

The Way Things Could Be

Janet Stemwedel does a wonderful synthesis of both Daniel Lametti's Slate column and my response* and responds thusly:
Graduate students are not receiving a mere service or commodity from their Ph.D. programs (“Would you like to supersize that scientific education?”). They are entering a relationship resembling an apprenticeship with the members of the professional community they’re trying to join. Arguably, this relationship means that the professional community has some responsibility for the ongoing well-being of those new Ph.D.s. 
Here, I don’t think this is a responsibility to infantilize new Ph.D.s, to cover them with bubble-wrap or to create for them a sparkly artificial economy full of rainbows and unicorns. But they probably have a duty to provide help when they can. 
Maybe this help would come in the form of showing compassion, rather than claiming that the people who deserve to be scientists will survive the rigors of the job market and that those who don’t weren’t meant to be in science. Maybe it would come by examining one’s own involvement in a system that defines success too narrowly, or that treats Ph.D. students as a consumable resource, or that fails to help those students cultivate a broad enough set of skills to ensure that they can find some gainful employment. Maybe it would come from professional communities finding ways to include as real members people they have trained but who have not been able to find employment in that profession.... 
It’s useful to have discussions of how to navigate the waters of The Way Things Are. It’s also useful to try to get accurate data about the topology of those waters. But these discussions shouldn’t distract us from serious discussions of The Way Things Could Be — and of how scientific communities can get there from here.
 More later, but go over there and read the whole thing.

*I think Janet groks this blog to a degree that I find really heartening.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds disturbingly rational.

    It would probably help if everyone involved looked at each other as people (and not as whiny grad students, foreign visa holders, BNU/LNU grads, professors/slavedrivers, greedy capitalists/brave businesspeople). Of course, wrt jobs, HR seems to need to depersonalize people who apply for jobs or who have them and won't anymore, and schools seem to view students either as expendable quantities with infinite capacity for work and a small and finite capacity for sleep. Much of the ability to disregard people is built into systems to make them runs and to make it possible for people to collect their benefits without having to be aware of from where they come. We haven't done this anywhere (particularly in politics, where we need it badly).

    It would also help if we recognized that we were helping to create knowledge. I didn't do enough research in undergrad, and so the jump to trying to actually make knowledge that is reliable and useful was rather large. Unless we get caught lying, the role of students in knowledge is generally not regarded much, if at all (other than, perhaps, the telomere Nobel). It would help some wrt both the expendability/irrelevance of grad students and the feeling that the Ph.D. is a ticket to punch (that it's an end and not a means). It also might actually imply that later on, all those outsourcing folks and BS/MS people who work on your project are not entirely expendable, that we are all in this together. Probably if that had been the case, events like Sangji's death (let alone the man who was killed at Sepracor Canada) would be less common.