MAPH Week 22: Two-thirds Done

Hello all, first off, thank-you for sticking around through the last few week’s decidedly tenuous blog-posting schedule–if too few posts published sporadically over too many weeks can be considered a “schedule.”  As of today, I am recovering from eighteen hours spent driving to and from a funeral, and looking forward to this week’s Spring Break–or as MAPH students are referring to it: “Thesis writing Catch up week.”  However, despite a still over-filled schedule, Maphmatically Yours is going to do its dead-level best to put up some interesting and noteworthy posts in the next coupe weeks.

In order of their likely appearance:

1) In honor of the delivery of my “New Ipad” this afternoon, a review of Apple’s new tablet with an eye toward the needs of a academic.  Expect a discussion of whether the New Ipad makes reading teeny-tiny foot notes any easier or helps to relieve eye-strain over long stints of required reading.  Also, expect much whining that I still cant’ buy a 128GB model.

2) Another installment of the “Driving in Chicago” series that you are unlikely to believe is actually based on common driving habits.

3) Another installment of “These are a few of my favorite things” focusing on the joy of collecting and reading vintage mystery books.  Expect some fantastic art deco jacket art and a heavy dose of nostalgia.

4) A very special MAPH Second Quarter retrospective with at least one special guest–and perhaps more.  The focus this time around will be on the thesis creation process including adviser and topic selection, balancing homework and thesis creation, and the things we know now that we wish we’d known then.

5) An awesome post by Bill Hutchison on the topic of Critical Writing offering his contribution to the classic Maphmatically Yours topic of “stuff you ought to know before you get here.”

So, with a full-scale multi-part, multi-author series on the horizon, I don’t want to take this post to write extensively about my feelings on MAPH Quarter two, but I do have a couple thoughts worth putting out on the table early.  First, the second quarter of the MAPH program is frequently referred to as “reading quarter” by those familiar with the program.  The notion behind the name is that while Colloquium and first quarter’s “Foundations in Literary Interpretation” has student’s reading a couple hundred pages a week, by second quarter students are taking three “real” classes–as opposed to the Core course plus two grad classes–and working on thesis development.  So, between the assigned readings for those three classes and the reading necessitated by a thesis’s literature survey, students spend most of their time balancing a book in each hand and a pen in their teeth taking notes.  As I’ve already written here and here, my approach to second quarter made it more of a “writing quarter.”   Now, that is not to say that I didn’t do a lot of reading, but my reading was closely tied to, and in support of, my writing.  Either way, second quarter is frequently referred to as “the hardest quarter” in the MAPH program–which, as their are only three, it stands an excellent chance of being for many MAPHers.  In my experience, however, first was much more difficult than two.  I struggled in the first quarter to find the rhythm of UChicago life and beat my head bloody against those damnably difficult–and frequently ill-defined–analytic expositions where, by contrast, second quarter found me comfortably ahead of the curve in most classes and with a good sense of what was expected of me and by academic work.  I suspect that some of the folks that left or delayed their second quarter likely did so out of fear–a fear born of the sinking feeling that Colloquium and the Core course were just a bit over their heads.  In my experience, I would argue that if you can manage to make it through first quarter’s acclimation period, you can likely settle into second quarter’s onslaught without difficulty.

Second, a sentiment not infrequently expressed by those advising would-be grad students is that “grad programs in the humanities are a scam” (GPITHAAS).  The way the idea was most often expressed to me as an undergrad was through a rigid cost-benefit analysis.  That is, if the cost of a graduate program exceeds the amount of money that it contributes to one’s earning potential, then it is a scam.  I heard this maxim most often lobbed at English majors that intended to become professional writers–the implied argument being that a student–capable of being a writer in the first place–with a BA could craft as good a book as one with an MA or a Ph.D.  While I question even that application of the maxim GPITHAAS, it is a little more defensible when one is talking about a professional career outside academia.  It is nonsensical to me that GPITHAAS if ones career goal is academic: is it possible to be a full professor teaching Masters students without a Ph.D.?  Is it possible to be even an adjunct–long-term–without a Masters?  Certainly, there are cases where a BA grad can adjunct briefly before continuing on in the academic system–I almost pursued such an opportunity before I was admitted to Chicago–but having a real, long-term position as a professor in the humanities–in all but the most unlikely circumstances–requires grad school in the humanities.  Now, if your career path lies outside academia, then the MAPH–or any other non-funded Masters of Ph.D. programs–is an even greater risk than it is for those of us that absolutely must have advanced degrees.  So the short version is this: if you want to be a writer, critic, artist, curator, or intend to occupy any other professional career loosely affiliated with the humanities, then it is possible that GPITHAAS–but remember that often a degree–or the lack of a degree–decides whether one is seriously considered for a position or not.  If you want to be an academic in the humanities–then GPITHAAS if and only if you’re upset because you didn’t get a job.  If that bothers you, brush up on your necessary and sufficient conditions: an advanced degree is the necessary condition for tenure at an institution of higher learning, but it is not the sufficient condition of the same, therefore joining the MAPH–like any other unfunded grad program–is a necessary step toward a career in academia, but does not constitute a guarantee that one will find such a career.


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