The Case Against Grad School


| 11/4/2008 12:47:08 PM


Tags: essay writing, nonfiction, arguments, academia, education, literature, memoir, graduate school, Lapham's Quarterly, April Bernard,

laphams quarterlyBART [mocking a man with a ponytail]: Look at me, I’m a grad student. I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year.
MARGE: Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They’ve just made a terrible life choice.

                                                                                           —The Simpsons

JACK: We may not be the best people.
LIZ: But we’re not the worst.
JACK and LIZ [in unison]: Graduate students are the worst.

                                                                                           —30 Rock

Mocking the idea of graduate school is a pastime enjoyed most, it seems, by grad students themselves. That’s true for me, at least, having recently completed a Master’s of Fine Arts program and masochistically relishing every joke about the usefulness of those extra three letters on my resume. The feeling among many fresh out of grad school, especially in the arts, is equal parts accomplishment and ambivalence: “Well, I’m glad I did that. What the hell do I do now?”

April Bernard makes a more measured case against graduate school in “Escape From the Ivory Tower” (excerpt only available online) in the Fall 2008 “Ways of Learning” issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. Actually, to say she is “anti-graduate school” is not entirely accurate; rather, she provides sound reasons why graduate school isn’t for every person—or every discipline. Speaking from her experience with an unfinished English PhD from Yale, Bernard describes the tedious seminars, sexist milieu, and post-structuralist myopia that characterized her time there.