The Paradox of Scholarship: There is no Great and Powerful Oz
I’m trying to write my conclusion right now. I’m looking over my notes from my last meeting with my adviser, which occurred sometime during the paleolithic era.
It’s funny, but going into that meeting, i felt so confident about my thoughts. I kind of finally felt like I knew what I was talking about and was happy with my ideas. But I wasn’t that surprised when adviser went, ‘yeah but……..’ and then did a 5 minute rant that appeared to say the opposite of everything I just said, but using way fancier language (which is probably obvious from my own use of phrases like ‘way fancier’). So I wrote down everything ze said and yes sir’ed it up.
But something felt different this time. Instead of feeling disparaged and slightly humiliated, sweaty and sick with the knowledge that I
could never produce this kind of genius on my own, I felt like I just saw Toto part the emerald curtain. And now I truly know that my adviser isn’t the Great and Powerful Oz, a big floating face full of flames and a voice that should bring me to my knees in a sadistic combination of fear and reverence. Ze is a person who is phoning. It. In. And using the aforementioned props to keep me submissive and off hir back. This time, I knew my ideas were good. It was just clear that my adviser had to contradict what I said because I came up with it.
The really interesting part (to me, anyways) was that I could finally employ that internal critic to deconstruct everything my adviser said. Instead of simply cursing how stupid I am and wishing I came up with this stuff on my own, I heard my Adviser’s own fucking voice in my mind pointing out all of the obvious flaws that ze would have said if these were my ideas. And lo, the Great and Powerful Oz was just a short fat guy with a handlebar mustache in an ill-fitting suit.
Also, as I sit here now, having cooled off a bit from the meeting, I’m realizing that most of the “yeah but” rant is not that different from what I originally said. So why frame the conversation in a way that makes me appear like I am still just a dumb apprentice who can only be trusted to make tea, and even then I’m probably Doing it Wrong?
This brings me to the point I’d like to discuss today: the paradox of scholarship. We are constantly told that academia is a apprenticeship scheme, like the middle ages or renaissance fairs, where you’re attached to a cobbler or blacksmith or roaster of ye olde turkey drumsticks, and you shadow, study, and observe your chosen craft until one day you too learn the secret handshake and can set out as a master yeoman or whatever. And while the Master Executioners say they want you to develop your skills until you are comfortable to operate a guillotine on your lonesome, in some cases, this is just disingenuous lip service. They don’t want you to make it. They don’t want you to be out on the road fixing shoes and training horses. These meaningless platitudes escape one side of their face, and on the other side, they tear down everything you say in a disparaging manner. And, ok at the beginning of your studies, i kind of get it. Like I’ve said previously, I think there’s a more civil way to engage in this kind of criticism than outright hazing, but I do understand that learning how to think differently is part of the process. But when submission is just around the corner and you are trying to get this shit over with? What’s the purpose of it then?
I’m not saying that my adviser feels threatened by me– in fact, I’m sure ze doesn’t. To misquote Lena Dunham, I know I’m not the voice of my generation. But ze certainly doesn’t give enough of a flying fuck to ‘train’ me properly in the art of preparing Offal Stew for 300 people. I’m a nuisance, an unwanted interruption from hir important fucking schedule of reading and writing books on other more important shit. And since we already know that phd programs are Ponzi schemes designed to allow departments to run 20,303 sections of undergraduate classes, I guess that’s my answer. I never was part of an apprenticeship scheme. There are no jobs and my adviser has no interest in my future or what the fuck happens to me after the school stops profiting from my existence. So why take the responsibility of turning me into a ‘scholar’ seriously?
When your adviser is phoning it in and they can’t be bothered to actually read your shit and make helpful suggestions so that you’re ready for submission, it’s easier to use their crizazy vocabulary, confidence, and position of power to tear you down and dismiss you. Send you scurrying away to your garret to Write and Think and burn your previous diplomas to keep warm. And maybe by the time you come back, either your thesis will be so improved that they really won’t have to comment on it anyways, or else maybe they’ll have more time/feel like reading it then (but not.)
Crooked advisers say they want you to function on your own, and they really do because then you wouldn’t be bothering them anymore, but if you need some actual concrete help to get to that point (like I do because I am not Galileo or Steve Jobs or Russel Brand), they continue to tear you down in a non constructive manner until you quit, die, or just submit the damn thing without telling them.