Monday, August 14, 2006

PhD Student Rant #1

After almost two months of not ranting about graduate school, my advisor, or how hopeless and *pointless* at some level this whole "get a PhD" endeavor seems, I've had a change of heart. Maybe I just woke up a little feisty this morning. The Twins have been squabbling for days too. Maybe there's something in the water. I actually heard myself say out loud this weekend, "There's no fighting in this house!" As if some mandate handed down from above ever succeeded...

This morning I had to write back to an established researcher whose work I admire and whom I'd like to publish with in the near future. I contacted this person last week when I realized that if I didn't do anything, inertia would leave me in the same spot I've been in for YEARS as a graduate student: publicationless.

I'm bright, have a solid scientific mind, can write well, and have no lack of research ideas. So then WHY do I still have ZERO publications after 6 years of graduate school?

I'll have to set aside my strong tendency toward accepting responsibility for my own predicament and my knowledge of how pervasive the self-serving bias is to do exactly that: blame someone else. Who gets it?

My advisor, the department, the institution, the structural inequality that breeds discontent but provides no tools to get ahead.

See, I am a first generation college graduate from a working-class, single parent home. I had the audacity to think that I could make it in academia. I want some kind of affirmative action too. I don't know how to negotiate my way in academia. I attended graduate school with kids of professors who know exactly what to do and when they don't, they have mommy and daddy to steer them. I've gone to graduate school with students whose advisors let them ride their coattails onto the royal road of publications. My advisor publishes textbooks and was already heading toward retirement when I came along. I don't think my advisor has published a research article in 15 years. I was assigned TA position after TA position - never an RA. Why not balance it out a little? Everyone in my program is fully supported by a tuition waiver and a stipend in exchange for serving as a teaching and/or research assistant. If it hadn't been for that, I would never have signed up for it. The least they could do when making assignments is to make sure that everyone gets both TA and RA experience.

I'd better not start on the program that got me to apply there in the first place... I have opinions on that too.

Recently I looked at my bank account, my CV, and my goals. Where am I? Motivated to get that dissertation done so that I can *at least* have those 3 virtually worthless letters behind my name. What do I want to do with my life? Teach the material I love at a small, private selective liberal arts college in a small town with a dry, sunny climate. I don't even need to make a lot of money. I just want to be able to 1) live comfortably, not luxuriously, 2) pay off my student loans from going to just that kind of school, and 3) have enough left over to travel to an exotic place occasionally. Before I get too old to be able to thoroughly enjoy the experience, I want to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda. I don't think I'll be able to do that while pouring coffee like every other PhD who couldn't make it. And I certainly won't be able to look back over my life and feel like I've made a difference.

I am a teacher. It is a calling.

If I want to live up to that, the way I see it, I have to get a publication. I haven't done it by relying solely on myself, my advisor, my department, or my institution so I took a chance and am now trying to get something going with an established researcher.

It's a lot like dating but just different enough that one cannot rely on instinct alone.

I could use some good advice from those who've been down this path and succeeded.


ScienceWoman said...

First, submit this post to tomorrow's carnival of gradual progress...someone might have some really good advice for you.

Second, I know the frustration of being publicationless and, without a mentor, writing your first pub seems impossible (I have none from my UG or MS research). So the best advice I can give you is to find a mentor other than your advisor who can help you figure out how to turn a thesis chapter (or some other bit of writing) into a pub. Find someone who regularly publishes and knows something about your field. A committee member?

Third, if you can't find a mentor, maybe this will help. I assume that you read journal articles in your field. Take your favorite piece of writing, decide what is the most appropriate journal for it based on content not style, and then work on molding the style to that of the journal. At worst, you submit and get rejected, but hopefully you get helpful reviews that will lead to improvements. And in the meantime, you can list the pub as "in review" for your CV.

I don't know if that's helpful. But it's how I'd go about it.

psychgrad said...

Good advice sciencewoman. I'm still a student, but I would recommend seeking out professors who offer RAs (those with funding).

Definitely sounds like you're on the right track with contacting the researcher. I know it can be a challenge to figure out how to go about making these contacts.

Holly said...

I submitted to the carnival. Thanks for the advice about submitting to a journal. I've tried at two journals and did get helpful comments that I've used to rework my manuscript. I think it has improved. Submitting to another journal would certainly not hurt.

As far as getting an RA, it's too late for that now. I've used up my 5 years of guaranteed funding and am no longer actually at my 'home' insitution. I wish I had known then what I know now!

Now I am finishing my degree in physical isolation from my committee. In many ways I think this is wonderful, but it has its drawbacks.

ScienceWoman said...

I've been wondering what grad-degree-granting institution was in Walla Walla, so your "physical isolation" comment makes more sense. Maybe I should read your archives.

Francois Rivest said...

I salute your courage. I whish you all the best and hope you will be able to complete this endeavor soon.

What's is your area of research exactly?