Sep 18, 2010, 9:46 PM
Post #1967 of 2090
Even if you are uncertain about wanting a PhD or wanting to teach as part of a very traditional academic sort of career path, I think that applying to programs is a hugely worthwhile thing to do. I think that my advice is a bit against the grain of how people have considered your thoughts over the last couple of months, but I do still very much believe that the PhD is one of the most amazing, life-changing, and expansive experiences you can have.
There are many people who doubt whether they want this degree once they are in their programs. There is something, though, about taking courses you never otherwise would have had the chance to take--and learning the things involved in them--that only adds to your sense of self, your confidence in your ability to pursue intellectual ideas that may not have otherwise been appealing to you, and your appreciation for the entire universe of thought, ideas, inquiry, experience, etc. that can contribute--sometimes in the strangest and most unexpected ways--to your creative pursuits. For me, in my program (I am at the University of Missouri), it has been a HUGE revelation to take classes in mathematics theory, to take poetics classes, to even take my required theory class and to learn that it's something I don't need to be afraid of (and can even love, given the right areas of theory). I've also developed a love of poetry criticism and contemporary poets--whose work I can consider intellectually and not only as models for my own poetry--who I may not ever have explored so closely, so seriously.
In a doctoral program, you will teach. You will also be exposed to the high-level administrative structure of departments and the university-at-large (which should be nothing new for you, since you've been exposed to the beurocracy and politics of even a community college). You might even be exposed to the university's publishing activities (Mizzou has publishing internships, and I spent time with Persea Books taking a publishing internship and finding, actually, a strange love of that industry and a strange confidence in myself reading unsolicited manuscripts, reading for contests, and working on pre- and post-publication publicity and tour management for some of persea's poets). You might have opportunities to work as part of your grad assistanceship in the writing center, or in other areas of the university that will expand and change your ideas of what the 'job market' could be for you and how the ideas of intellectual pursuit/academic scholarship and professionalization can work in parallel to each other, through notions of fortuitous intersection, and sometimes in happily diverging ways.
I've gotten so much out of my program. I went from my first year--having breakdown after breakdown and sitting in professors' offices crying uncontrollably because I (in my 30s, having spent 5 years on 'break' from school while I worked and taught...) didn't think I could do this, didn't think I was smart enough, etc--to now, my third year, considering the possibilities for intellectual pursuit, scholarship, and professionalization that are beyond anything I eve could have imagined for my life...and starting to read for comprehensive exams, which add a new and different level of confidence in myself as a thinker, a scholar, and just an intelligent person with something to say and questions to ask about the things I read.
Ultimately, I have no clue what the job market will be in a couple of years or what I will decide I can and can not handle about the job market. Maybe I will be lucky and find a great job--or even an OK enough job--in a town or city I like, or maybe I will have to think of a Plan B. But no matter what, the ways that I have grown as a person, a writer, and a thinker make being in my program PROFOUNDLY worthwhile.
I say apply. I say see what happens--if you get in anywhere or not--and then figure out what to do then. You can say yes. You can defer admissions. You can say no. See how you feel about it then, when it really is a question of whether or not the PhD is right for you to take on instead of a question of what happens if you take the time, energy, and money to send out some applications!