From Student to Scholar

I know there are more pressing matters in the world today, but I want to spread the word about a little book I just read, having picked it up from the Columbia University Press table at the SPEP meeting last week.  (That’s the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy — doesn’t exactly slip off the tongue like “SPEP”.)  The book is From Student to Scholar: A Candid Guide to Becoming a Professor.  I think it’s safe to say that I’ve already traversed this path, but I still tend to wonder whether I missed anything along the road.  Having finished the book, I can say “no,” nothing new here.  But that is only because I had a lot of excellent advice along the way, and I was outgoing enough to network a lot, and had enough hubris to try to publish with great publishing houses (like Columbia).  I think a lot of others never learned these lessons, or learned them too late, and many graduate students are just beginning on the road.  For all those just beginning or still at the early stages prior to tenure, I highly recommend Cahn’s book. For those who mentor graduate students and junior faculty, I recommend that they read this as well.

It’s a pleasant, short read at under 100 pages. The ten chapters are these:

1. Graduate School

2. The Dissertation

3. Networking

4. The First Interview

5. Dramatis Personae

6. The Second Interview

7. Tenure

8. Teaching

9. Service

10. Research

and then a finale and an epilogue.

It’s a good read, chalk full of sage advice on how to navigate the journey successfully from someone who made it all the way to being provost at CUNY.

This blog of mine gets lots of hits from people curious about the rankings of philosophy departments. If you are a student worried about your future, hell bent on picking the right graduate school that will ease your path, I suggest that you worry less about the rankings, focus more on finding the place that will prepare you to do what you love, look for faculty members whose work you admire, and buy and consult regularly Steven Cahn’s fabulous little book.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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