MAPH: In the Balance Part 4

The existence of an “academic network” is one of those concepts imported into academia from the “Grey Flannel Towers of the Business” and graduate education is frequently charged with facilitating the creation of a network of established professors, people in publishing, and a wider field of resources that students can draw upon later in their academic lives.  The MAPH program then, while not necessarily being expected to provide the same depth and breadth of academic networking possibilities for its students as a Ph.D. program, is nevertheless understood to facilitate connections between MAPHers and the UChicago’s many excellent faculty.  The question, then, becomes “to what extent can a super-intensive nine month program accomplish that task?”

A Social [Networking] Experiment

MAPHman:

One of, if not the most, significant attractions of a top-shelf institution like the University of Chicago is the chance to study under, work with, and make connections with the guy that wrote some of the books you loved as an undergrad or the woman in whose path you’d most like to follow. UofC is The University of Chicago not because it has the most invasive foliage, the pointiest of Gothic Revival windows, or even the most previous winners of the Nobel prize, but because it has some of the most influential and interesting scholars working in academia today teaching classes and advising students. When I applied to UChicago’s Philosophy Ph.D. program I was really applying to work with Jean Luc Marion and Ted Cohen. (If you don’t believe me, revisit the earliest “Prolegamena” posts.)

It is, therefore, with a sad heart that I submit to you that students in the MAPH program will be unbelievably lucky if they manage to actually engage and make lasting connections with any of the University’s most prestigious and influential folks. I did have many conversations with Ted Cohen, took three classes with him over the nine months of MAPH, and even had the chance to have him read my thesis–though he was not my adviser. However, when I sheepishly brought in a couple of books to have him sign after our last class he had to ask my name. He knew me by my appearance and consistently remembered the facts I’d given about my life, my interests, and my new professorship, but clearly the connections made are unlikely to have a shelf-life once I’m no longer actually in his classes. And, quite frankly, the circumstance of professors remaining interested in MA students only so long as they are in their classes seems fairly universal. I found professors teaching classes that I was currently in were generally open to spending office hours and scheduling informal times to meet with me, but once I was no longer taking a class with them, they were unlikely to even respond to my emails or keep their appointments with me.

The relationship that every MAPHer has the highest hopes for is that special bond between a thesis adviser and their advisee. Here, I think the results are mixed. I know that Robert Pippin, my Rock Star adviser wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a line-up right now–let alone years down the road. As we’ve heard Vincent Manella and his adviser had real difficulties working together and that friction ultimately lead to a very unfortunate outcome. It seems like Bill has retained a great relationship with his adviser and that might very well help him down the road. The reality of situation is that the six-months of a MAPH thesis project are not sufficient to build anything like the relationships that are commonly understood to come out of a Ph.D. thesis process. The professors at UChicago are busy people and treat their jobs very pragmatically–spending time and energy where it is most needed and most likely to bear fruit. I don’t blame them, but it is a little heartbreaking all the same.

Bill:

I don’t understand networking, and that might be a problem. If I feel like I am “networking,” I feel like I am faking it. I have heard (and said!) that networking is crucial, but I feel like I would be better at alchemical transmutation than pulling of proper networking. But I do like talking to people one-on-one an awful lot.

I spent a fair amount of time in office hours with most of my professors. I want to do what they do, so it helps to know who they are. Several young professors — Hilary Strang (she of MAPH, and well beloved by most), Richard So, Hillary Chute, Benjamin Morgan — offered me the best conversations about the reality of doctoral work, and perhaps their proximity to my position is near enough that they really remember it. They have been very supportive. My thesis advisor has also been spectacular. I don’t know if it is anomalous, but in my experience, most professors remember you if you talk to them in person, as a person. Don’t have something prove. Have something you want to learn from those meetings. Even meeting with people I didn’t take any classes with gave me a chance to ask real questions of these very real people.

If I believe that my most admired professors will remember me, it is not because of anything inherent to myself as a scholar, but because we got to sit down and have some number of one-on-one conversations. I have this theory: if you get to know a professor only in a classroom situation, it is more difficult for them to distinguish you from other students. If you get to know them as a person in meetings, even if it is always in the context of being a student, having had that kind of eye-to-eye interaction does something important in maintaining that connection.

*****

While I hope both Bill and I will have left UChicago with at least one or two Rock Star relationships (of varying expiration date), I know that the social network that I have relied most upon during my time at MAPH and the one that I have the highest hopes for is the one composied of other MAPH students.

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