Here’s an article from today’s N.Y. Times by a professor of religion at Columbia on proposed changes to graduate education. He makes several interesting points, but I see two important ones from our perspective. The first is that most graduate students will not get a job in the field that they are being educated in. Schools take us on mostly to get cheap labor re teaching and RAing, and there will be no jobs for us when we get done. This has to be especially troubling to those of us who aren’t at a top-20 school. Yes, this doesn’t do us much good now, but if anything it underscores some of our recent conversations about the need to take more methodology courses, if only to try to bump out the Iowa State and Kansas and Missouri students who will be competing with us for what jobs there are.
Secondly, he argues that many dissertations are irrelevant to issues of any real importance, the reason (implicitly) being that too many people follow the normal science pattern of research where you look for a gap in the literature and then fill it. Grad students would be better off thinking about questions of importance and seeing what contribution they could make to solving it. AND this means, in all likelihood, taking an interdisciplinary approach. I’ve been thinking about this with regard to my research interests recently, and I’m realizing that sociology and economics both have large literatures on the questions I am interested in, and I have no idea what they say.
This second point echoes what Kristin Luker says in “Salsa Dancing into the Social Sciences” where she says we should frame our research projects in terms of questions rather than hypotheses, at least at first. If we don’t, we’ll get ourselves into dissertations we don’t really have any interest in, and we probably won’t do the job very well anyway.
Food for thought.