Poor Crommunist

Hopefully all you read Ian Cromwell’s terrific blog, Crommunist Manifesto. He’s going to need your support in the future. Today he got the news he will be enrolled in a PhD program. As most of you know, nearly two years ago I finished a 10-year sentence in a PhD program. I know what you’re thinking:

Whenever I hear of someone starting one I have a moment of panic imagining having to do it again. I have to remind myself that for the fresh faced new entrant it won’t be like it would be for me were I to have to start over. I have to remember that that their soul hasn’t already been ground into dust. So it can probably endure more than mine could were I now sentenced to such a program. But still, I wince for them.

You can share your condolences with Ian here.

Your Thoughts and Commiserations?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Stevarious

    That soul-dust sells pretty well on the satanist black market.

    Oh, you haven’t hears of the satanist black market? Well, I assure you, its just as real as soul dust.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It’s an expression. An expression. Please don’t tell me I’m going to have to answer 100 atheists wanting to make sure I know there are no souls. Please don’t tell me I’m going to have to answer 100 atheists wanting to make sure I know there are no souls. Please don’t tell me I’m going to have to answer 100 atheists wanting to make sure I know there are no souls.

  • Stacy

    That soul-dust sells pretty well on the satanist black market

    I’m allergic to soul-dust mites. Minced qi works just as well.

  • F
    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      SO awesome!! That’s going into the post!

    • ttch

      Watch the road, man! Jeez…

  • Ysanne

    Bwaaaaaah, 10 years? Wtf?
    Is this a PhD program or a slave contract?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The average in my department was (I’m estimating without hard data) 6-8 years from entrance with a bachelor’s to completion of the thesis. I took longer for reasons I shouldn’t talk about publicly (so I won’t).

      I’ve heard that England and America are different in that you guys are streamlined to get out more speedily but that the trade off is closer to half of you fail the PhD defense (but with less time invested prior to make it less tragic). In our case apparently we take longer but nearly everyone who defends is (by then) a lock to pass. Our attrition rate is just 50%, comparable to the 50% failing the defense over there.

      Now that’s just what I’ve heard so take it with a grain of salt (or correct me if you know otherwise!)

    • Ysanne

      I did my PhD in Germany, after completing a Diplom (roughly MSc-equivalent) first — it’s supposed to take 5 years if everything goes smoothly and you do the standard “combine existing results about a given topic into an academic paper” thesis, and possibly 1-2 years longer if you do original research. Then basically you can do the PhD as long as you want, your advisor wants you to, and you have some kind of funding — whichever ends first. ;-) The advisor usually makes sure that by that time your research is wrapped up into something that is acceptable as a thesis, and there is an exam/defense after that, but its purpose is to torture the candidate one last time, and failing them is not really an option. (A Russian prof at our physics department didn’t know this, and promptly failed his unlucky first examinee who apparently did worse than what you’d expect in high school, but of course the exam could be repeated, and the other professors were very upset about such cruel treatment of a student.)

      Apparently in Cambridge a defense (or viva?) is taken more seriously, but as far as I can tell, the worst practical outcome is that you have to do more experiments or re-write half of your thesis (which obviously takes time and needs funding that you may not have).

  • Riptide

    More like indentured servitude. Although with mathematics, it generally expires between 2 and 4 years, depending on how active one’s supervisor is.

    • Ysanne

      That’s what I mean: Mine was 3, maths, with a lot of procrastination; same for most of my friends at the department. (To be fair, +1 year of preliminary work while still technically undergrads.) At my sister’s lab in Cambridge, they’re expected to finish in 4 years.
      10 years is just WAY off…

  • InfraredEyes

    I think a great deal depends on which discipline you’re working in. I got a chemistry PhD in just over 3 years because (a) in the UK there is little or no course work for a well-prepared candidate and (b) I was lucky enough to get good results quickly in the lab. I can’t imagine taking ten years. I admire your tenacity.

    As for this:

    I’ve heard that England and America are different in that you guys are streamlined to get out more speedily but that the trade off is closer to half of you fail the PhD defense

    I’m baffled. Allowing a PhD candidate to fail the defence would be a real black mark against the faculty supervisor in any department I’ve ever known of.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    Yes, part of the problem is that philosophy is not always like the sciences where a grad student can slide right into the broader research program of the adviser and have a fairly well defined project that just requires someone to do the legwork. I guess a lot of analytic philosophers figure out a way to situate themselves within their advisers’ basic areas and define a nice narrow manageable problem. But I tried to do this whole ambitious comprehensive systematic novel reading of Nietzsche’s entire philosophy. I shouldn’t have chosen such a sprawling and poorly defined topic but I didn’t have a good sense of what I thought about anything and had to work it all out. I was still reeling from recovering from my fundamentalist Christianity and the entire shattering of my worldview. I just didn’t trust any philosophical certainties that I could hold as at least provisionally true while I worked out the specifics of some narrow problem. I had a personal impetus to work out my own overall take on everything. I felt the need to do this through interaction with Nietzsche. Only now do I really get the big picture of how I see the world such that I could focus in on a narrow topic and burrow deep in.

    So, my ten years in grad school are part of the fallout of my loss of faith. Being utterly deceived about key truths about the world throughout most of my undergraduate career did me few academic favors.

    • Ysanne

      This

      I shouldn’t have chosen such a sprawling and poorly defined topic but I didn’t have a good sense of what I thought about anything and had to work it all out.

      and

      Only now do I really get the big picture of how I see the world such that I could focus in on a narrow topic and burrow deep in.

      are so universally applicable.
      I guess that’s one of the things that you really need an advisor for: To give you a good estimate about the scope and manageability of your envisaged topic, and help you narrow it down to something that’s doable and still worthwhile and helps you get a good overview.
      Mine did that, and it seems to be less of a problem in lab-based sciences, but I know people who spent years of their life on a project only to realise that it’s too much and boils down to one of the really big unsolved problems of the field anyway — only to be told “yeah, I kinda saw that from the start, but it’s your choice so I didn’t want to discourage you” by their advisor. :-S

  • Desert Son, OM

    I congratulated Ian in his thread, didn’t want to rain on a parade there. I feel a little safer raining here, given the thread you’ve started.

    I wish Ian the best, hope it truly is an excellent, rewarding, good experience for him, much much better than my own is turning out to be.

    I’m in my 5th year of a PhD program . . . and I’ve reached the point where I hate it.

    I have only myself to blame. I didn’t do enough research ahead of time to know what this kind of academic commitment involved, and I’ve never “known what I wanted to be when I grew up.” I was leaving a job situation that was no longer good, and while I still hope to get the degree, I don’t know what’s going to happen when I’m done. I’ve not found a community, which also makes it hard.

    Nevertheless, for Ian, I have high hopes that it will be a great thing for him. Three cheers for Crommunist!

    Also congratulations to other grad school successes here!

    Still learning,

    Robert

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I congratulated Ian in his thread, didn’t want to rain on a parade there. I feel a little safer raining here, given the thread you’ve started.

      Everyone should always consider my blog a safe space for hating grad school.

  • Desert Son, OM

    Daniel at #8.1:

    Everyone should always consider my blog a safe space for hating grad school.

    Laughing, with thanks!

    I realize now that I phrased my opening poorly as it suggests that I don’t feel safe posting at Ian’s blog, and that is not true. I do feel safe posting at Crommunist Manifesto, love reading his work, love visiting and commenting there!

    What I didn’t want to do yesterday, though, was post something in his celebratory thread along the lines of “Congratulations. Oh, by the way, while you’re celebrating, let me take a moment to say how much I dislike the experience of grad school!” In a previous set of posts Ian made about good news, I had posted something that was along the lines of “Just wait, the good news will change!” instead of joining in his celebration of a positive. I felt bad about that, and didn’t want to do that again in a celebratory thread.

    So I do feel safe complaining about grad school here, and would feel safe doing that at Crommunist Manifesto! It’s just his representative .gif was so triumphant and celebratory that I didn’t want to show up to the party and complain that another party I went to had lousy food and miserable decor, especially because his experience may turn out to be fantastic, which I truly do hope is the case!

    Still learning,

    Robert

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I knew what you meant, Robert, I’m just taking the opening to open my arms to fellow sufferers.

  • Reverend PJ

    My PhD would have only taken about 5 years if I didn’t have to switch topics and then find funding after 9/11. I was cooking along on DOE soft money for my second topic in 2001. The group I was working with went from having a couple of million to play with to ten thousand dollars in the space of a coupe weeks. I basically went from funded work to getting a couple of jobs to finish my research, and the money that had been funding me blew something up. :(

  • aspidoscelis

    I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. Grad school is fun! (I say this as someone who graduated a year ago and… kind of wishes he were still in grad school.)

    • Desert Son, OM

      aspidoscelis at #11:

      I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. Grad school is fun!

      I’m glad you had a good experience, and like I said, I hope Crommunist has a fantastic one, as well. From his post it sounds like he has a good idea what he’s getting into, and that it meshes well with what he already knows he’s interested in and wants to pursue. In other words, he sounds pretty well-aligned to do something that is both helpful and interesting to his life, and he has some good preparation for it.

      As for what’s wrong with me, well, the list is probably pretty long, but with regard to grad school, some of the problems I am having come down to me. I didn’t do enough preparation before hand, for one thing. I also don’t know “what I want to be when I grow up” and I’m not sure I’ve ever known (I’m in the process of trying to adjust psychologically to the idea that I may never know, and some people do know, or find out, and that’s great, but that may not be what happens in my case. Statistically, I have approximately 40 years left to try and find out). It’s challenging to be in the level of focus educationally that grad school entails when you don’t actually know how you want to focus your life. I haven’t really found a community in this situation, either, and find it challenging when it feels like I don’t have much support network (although, in fairness, my advisor and some of my faculty are very supportive and helpful). Last night I lay awake for an hour stressing helplessly about the financial burdens of this process (my program is in the U.S.).

      I’m not doing well and psychologically I am in a place where I can’t see how to get better. I go to the university health service for counseling on a regular basis for help with my depression and my fears. It’s not that I can’t get better, but I’m just lost right now – within my program, within the field, and within my own life – and I find it very challenging to get through something when I’m lost. I’m already in my fifth year. If this was all 1st year, I could drop out and try and realign elsewhere with more ease. But now, I might as well try and finish the degree (maybe December, maybe maybe maybe I hope December).

      However, I am grateful and glad that you and many others have had a good experience, and I hope that graduate school continues to prove (and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t) a profound and positive experience for many other people. I anticipate good things for Ian at his future program, new and interesting opportunities unfolding that will enhance his lived experience, as well as challenges that have old and unfortunate familiarity for him relocated to a new academic setting. In the end, my hope for him is that ultimately the rewards outweigh any disadvantages and that it helps him along to realizing better what he wants and how he can get there, as well as proving a good opportunity for the academic setting to learn from Ian. If such has been the same for others, so much the better!

      Still learning,

      Robert

    • Reverend PJ

      My Masters was fun, the PhD not so much.

      My Masters took 2 years, I met my future wife during that time, and really came to terms with my discipline.

      After three years of work on my PhD I ended up abandoning my initial topic. There is nothing quite like reading a press release from well funded corporate lab describing a solution to the exact problem you’re addressing. My new topic was interesting, and I learned an immense amount in the process. While the entire experience was very valuable and I glad I did it, it was far from pleasant.

  • Desert Son, OM

    Reverend PJ at #11.2:

    My Masters was fun, the PhD not so much.

    Hindsight being what it is, I now think I should have gone for a Master’s, spent some time in that situation to get a feel for what further higher academic pursuit might entail, then make a more informed decision. The PhD is definitely, in my case at least, proving to be, as you say “not so much.”

    My Masters took 2 years, I met my future wife during that time, and really came to terms with my discipline.

    My PhD is taking more than 5 years, I’ve been in 3 failed relationships, and I’m really wondering if I might have been happier with a different discipline. LOL! I try to laugh, anyway.

    While the entire experience was very valuable and I glad I did it, it was far from pleasant.

    I’m hoping I can eventually say the same thing. By the way, congratulations, Doctor!

    Still learning,

    Robert

    • Reverend PJ

      Desert Son, OM,

      Thanks! I take a certain amount of pleasure in digging out the letter from one place I applied for undergrad telling me I probably wouldn’t succeed. Grad school is tough, and I hope in the end you get what you need from it.
      Cheers

  • Desert Son, OM

    Reverend PJ at 12.1:

    I take a certain amount of pleasure in digging out the letter from one place I applied for undergrad telling me I probably wouldn’t succeed.

    Victory!

    Grad school is tough

    As it should be: a feature, not a bug. My lament is that instead of relish, I have largely felt fear and despair.

    I hope in the end you get what you need from it.

    Thank you for the kind words and encouragement. I share your hope.

    Still learning,

    Robert


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