Since I left academia in 2013, I’ve had a part-time job as something called a “dissertation coach.” I work one-on-one with a stable of about a dozen private clients, and help them manage both their workload and the emotional vicissitudes of graduate school. And no matter their field—I’ve worked with scientists, engineers, sociologists, psychologists, historians, and literary scholars—one thing remains the same: My services simply would not be necessary if the faculty advisers of the world saw fit to do their jobs. So, thanks academia, I guess!
This is absolutely not to say that my clients demand to have their hands held, or that hand-holding is the duty their advisers are neglecting. In coaching sessions, I am brutally honest about the place of harsh criticism in academic life. Anyone who has attended a conference or a job talk, or been peer-reviewed, recognizes that sharp critiques come with the territory. And most also realize where academics learned such behavior: from the flayings many of them received during the dissertation process (“From you, all right? I learned it by watching you!”).
From the moment future Ph.D.’s tiptoe into that first colloquium and observe senior scholars in their natural habitat, these students learn that, to many career academics, research-based transgressions are nothing less than crimes against humanity. By the time graduate students have been properly socialized—the diss, the conference circuit, the job market—they are equally well versed in the arts of research methodology and scathing intellectual takedown. This is the behavioral culture that academia has chosen, and if grad students want to be a part of that world, at very least, they must learn to withstand the blows. <Read more.>