Why do I even still read the Chronicle’s career columns?

All I have to say about "Lagretta Gradgrind"’s column in the Chronicle of Higher Education on why she’s no longer advising graduate students is this: Thank God she wasn’t my adviser.

Some of the grad student behaviors she objects to are eminently objectionable. But what chaps my hide is that along with the dissertation-plagiarizers, sloppy researchers, litigious blackmailers and overfriendly boundary-lacking types, she lumps in students who change their minds about what they want out of life:

Another familiar type is the student who swears she wants a career
at a major research university where she can become a leader in the
discipline and where she, too, can work with graduate students. So you
throw yourself into guiding her, and she constantly enlists your help
in preparing for that career. … Then, out of the blue, she announces that she has accepted a
position at a nonresearch, nontenure institution, claiming she finally
realized that teaching meant more to her than anything else.

A variation of that type is the student who claims to want a plum
academic career but who, upon completing the Ph.D. and landing a
research position at a major institution, suddenly leaves the
profession, insisting that family considerations were paramount after

Those unreliable, ungrateful career-changers! How dare they reevaluate their priorities? How dare they change during their grad-school years? How dare they have families in the first place? ("Dr. Gradgrind" notes at the outset: "Over the years, I have compromised my personal life and my research productivity to nurture and guide my many doctoral students." She seems to resent the idea that some of those students might choose not to compromise their own personal lives for the sake of an academic career.)

No, apparently, the only course of action is to stick to the plans you made when you were a brand-new graduate student and never deviate from them. All else is "the apparent deceit of would-be scholars enticing you to help them
become the field’s next superstar, only to discover that it was all
bluster and empty talk."

If "Dr. Gradgrind" had been my adviser, my leaving academia would have been a hell of a lot more traumatic than it was. If I’d thought my actual adviser would react to my change of heart by accusing me of "deceiving" him all along, the last semester or so would have been strained and miserable for all concerned. Fortunately, his first reaction to my decision was to tell me I should do what made me happy. To this day, I’m grateful to him for saying that.

"Dr. Gradgrind" apparently thinks that grad students who change their career goals do it on purpose to spite her and waste her time. She seems to forget that teaching is, most of the time, Not All About You, but about helping the student move toward the future, even if that future doesn’t replicate the adviser’s own career.

As the Little Professor puts it, "Has Prof. Gradgrind not heard of people changing their minds–or even, perhaps, becoming aware of their own limitations? And then there are those who become disillusioned…" As one of the disillusioned ones, I say: hear, hear.

[Edited to add: Much more good commentary at New Kid on the Hallway, who says it better than I can.]

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