Is American higher education as horrible as ‘advice’ posts make it sound?

I read a lot of higher education blogs. One genre that you encounter from time to time is the ‘tough but fair advice to grad students’ post. This often offers advice on conferences or career planning. It tends to be slightly facetious and adopts a tone of demythologisation. These posts irritate me because they often appear to be perpetuating things I suspect are myths while purporting to be doing the opposite.

They also make American higher education sound horrible. They leave me with a mental image of American conferences as filled with hoards of angst-ridden grad students, desperately surrounding established academics, projecting fixed smiles and simultaneously doing their ‘elevator pitches’ while trying to shake hands en masse. My point is not that I think conferences in the US are actually like this. But these advice columns implicitly suggest that conferences should be like this.

I’m also wondering to what extent these notions are projected by people with a vested interest in graduate students being anxious: the growing class of freelance PhD advisors. I’m thinking about things like this. Some of the advice might be accurate and there might be people who will benefit from it. But something about the tone of it really bothers me when it’s conjoined with taking money from the most anxious amongst the group described.


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