Tuesday, December 17, 2002

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Students to professors: drop dead!!

David Brooks seems to publish a "State of the Student" essay every year or so. His latest is in the Weekly Standard. It's a good, rambling read, although many of the mating rituals he describes were in place when I was an undergraduate twelve years ago, so I don't know how much has changed there.

The more disturbing passage is as follows:

There is, one must always remember, a large cultural gap between the students and the faculty. I met few students--alarmingly few students--who seriously contemplated a career in the academy. They thought of becoming high school teachers or reporters or even soldiers. Academia just never came up. And if you focused their attention on the professorial life, they would talk about what they saw as the pedantic specialization of academic research, the jargon and the impenetrable prose, the professors' cloistered remove from the real world. Academia seems stale to many of them, not a place that allows for exciting inquiry.

Sigh. Brooks is right about the lack of student interest in academia. It's always depressing when my best students ask for letters of reccomendation for admission into law school or B-school -- not that there's anything wrong with those choices, but there are more than two flavors of career in the world. Even as someone in the ideological minority, I love my job. I get paid to sit around, read, and think deep and not-so-deep thoughts all day. On regular occasions I'm asked to impart my thoughts to some students, who actually write down a lot of what I say. I'm something of a specialist in what I write, but I'm certainly not a specialist in what I read. The hours are flexible, the dress code is minimal. It's a good life.

On the other hand, perhaps it's best if fewer students enter the world of academia, because the job market can be brutal for newly-minted Ph.D.'s.

posted by Dan on 12.17.02 at 03:40 PM