[This is an invited post by Tony Waters. Waters is a Professor of Sociology at California State University, Chico, and occasionally blogs at ethnography.com. His application for a PhD program in Anthropology was rejected in 1988 because he was unable to put together the appropriate charms needed by the admissions committee at an unnamed western United States university. In an attempt to please the gods of the tribe he has since offered up his first-born at the altar of an unnamed Anthropology PhD program in the eastern United States.]
I made a somewhat off-hand comment one of Ryan’s posts about graduate education. I think I warned graduate students about “fetishizing” various types of grant sources like NSF, NIMH, Fulbright, and the various others sources of grad student funding which students compete to get. This initially got me a deserved sharp rebuke from Ryan. After all, who was I as a fully tenured, overpaid, and underworked full professor to complain about graduate stipend which (obviously) are few and far between? Well that question is fair enough—but Ryan has also graciously offered me a chance to elaborate.
First my backstory. One of the reasons I am not an anthropologist is that in 1988 after eight years working in Thailand and Tanzania mostly with refugees (which is what I wanted to study), I would need at least eight years to become an anthropologist. In large part, it was explained to me that this was because (obviously) fieldwork is required for a doctorate in anthropology, you might need to try two or three times before success. But never mind while waiting for the grant to come through you would need to work 2-3 years as a t.a. waiting to strike gold. It was sonorously explained to me that to do field work, you would need pre-research visits, protocol visits, and finally what was in the early 1990s a $20,000 grant from Fulbright or NSF to buy your plane tickets, fly back to places you have already been, collect the data to do the field work. The field work would then take another year or two to do the write-up, and so forth.
So I ended up in Sociology, and completed a PhD in 5-6 years, without fieldwork and wrote a dissertation based mainly in the library. I also heard that I would never get a job unless I:
- Could get a grant, preferably one via NSF or one of the other federal agents which pay “overhead.”
- Curried favor with letter writers (i.e. they themselves) who controlled the job market via social networks.
- Delivered multiple papers at conferences, preferably those organized by their networks.
- Made a theoretical break-through in your dissertation, which they would sign off on. Continue reading