Yesterday I wrote a post about a student advisee who told me she was planning to get a phud in English, and then in another field. Mostly, I focused on my amazment (in the Spenserian sort of sense) that anyone would want to, or that phud programs would want a student seeking a second phud. Partly my response came directly out of how miserable I was dealing with some aspects of my own grad program.
And thanks to my commentors, I stand corrected. There are, indeed, as Jo(e) and Marcelle Proust pointed out, good reasons for some people to get a second phud, and this student may end up being one of those. (And can I just say, isn't it cool that Proust comes to visit; now if only Chaucer would!)
On the other hand, as others noted, this student, being an undergraduate and all, doesn't really know what graduate work is about. NegativeCapability mentions that my advisee probably thinks of grad work as a sort of second major. And indeed, this student is planning to double major in the two fields.
The student, when she came to talk to me, was in her first semester of college work. She'd already declared her majors, so I do indeed get the feeling she's very focused, or focused and anxious. And who can blame someone for being anxious! But also, she's just beginning her undergraduate career, and at a place without phud programs, so it's really unlikely that she has even the smallest idea of what a graduate program looks like. We have tons of first generation college students. How could they know what they're getting into?
Reading the responses made me think back to my own starting out in college. I, too, declared my major during my first term, and terrified went to meet with my advisor as mandated. I had NO clue what college was about because college is pretty much like a visible secret society. There are colleges and universities all over the place, but unless you're in one, you probably don't know much about how it works. And if you're in one as an undergraduate, you only see one level of how yours works.
I was thinking, it's like being arrested. I've never been arrested. The closest experiences I've had with being arrested are watching TV shows (yeah, that's realistic). So, if I'm ever arrested, I really won't know how to act, except that my deep-seated fear of guns and people with them will probably make me meek and obedient. And then I'll ask to get a lawyer. But I don't actually know any criminal lawyers, so I guess I'd call a friend and hope s/he could find someone decent?
When you're an undergraduate, you mostly see the effects of other people's decisions, but not the decision making process at all. You see that you can't get into certain classes because they're already full; you buy books someone ordered; you fulfill requirements. There's lots of information available about the decision making, but hidden in archives or discussed in meetings you're not even aware of, and if you were, you'd be too busy with just trying to do your thing.
When you're a grad student, you may do some book ordering, and teach classes, so you begin to see how those decisions are made. If you're lucky, someone mentors you about writing your syllabus, planning a semester/quarter, and so forth. If you're really lucky, someone mentions FERPA to you, so you don't do something illegal because you're clueless. But you still fulfill requirements, can't get into some classes, jump hoops, and mostly don't see how decisions are made. (Some schools are more open than others; some allow grad students on hiring or grad acceptance committees, or on curriculum committees.)
When you're on the market, seeking to move to a faculty position of some sort from grad school, you likely become really aware of how little you know about how hiring decisions are made, contracts negotiated, and so forth.
When you're a new faculty member, you probably become way more aware of how curricular decisions are made, start learning about budgeting and scheduling decisions, and so forth. You begin to get a sense of the inner circle workings, if only because you see the effects more closely.
I, for example, don't see the big wigs on my campus talking to legislators or the board of trustee types, but I hear about those discussions. I don't know the exact numbers (I could look them up), but I know that my department's decisions about hiring adjuncts, the college's decisions about tenure lines, and whether we can actually add this or that class or program are driven by budget issues. I don't know without asking how many of our students are on probation, or how the dorm housing "works." I have vague ideas about how decisions are made over at the library, but the student health center's a cipher. I doubt many people really have a great grasp on the interweavings of how even a smallish campus such as mine works.
And unlike if I'm arrested, I at least have a clue about who to call or email here to ask questions of whatever sort.
There's a mystique to colleges and universities; I think we faculty folks sometimes embrace that mystique. But in the larger sense, it's a mistake because the people who really have power don't like feeling left out or uninformed.
In the Northwoods, the state government, especially the legislature deeply distrusts the university. Supposedly, if you talk to local representatives, they all say that their local Northwoods campus is doing great work and is the exception; they trust the local campus. But they don't see the system as a system of local campuses, but instead as the SYSTEM, and the system is untrustworthy.
If we were more transparent in our activities, our decision-making, would the elected folks see that we do indeed do good work in all sorts of ways? Would they budget accordingly, and make fewer rules for the sake of making rules?
And would our students come in with more realistic expectations?
We don't explain ourselves well to the public, but when we try, we're competing with so many other voices and advertising that we seem drowned out. I don't know how to solve that. People only have so much time, energy, and attention, and we're all pulled in myriad directions.
I'm being pulled to Love's Labors Lost at this very minute!