To PhD or Not

“Do it!” Eirik and Miranda said unequivocally.

AJS asked, “What if there is another route towards being a public intellectual?”

Pepe said that PhD programs are not nearly as fun as MFA programs. That the writing you do is “boilerplate.” He told me that PhD students have a lot of dental issues resultant from stress, but said it still beats any job.

JR said universities aren’t so much sites of active learning as they are “scholarship factories.” (We talked about speed reading.)

Mustafa said the academe will always try to reinforce disciplinary boundaries, which isn’t separate from the ways that universities are historically colonial institutions.

Katherine said the question of whether to pursue my curiosities in a PhD was related to the questions I have about how to be in service to others.

Cathy said I first need to formulate questions that are academically intelligible.

Irene said she supported my journey.

Peter (via Ethan) cautioned against PhDs in departments which rely on graduate students to do all the “grunt labor,” and spit you out with a degree after five or six extractive years. And I was like, Yeah, I already know about that.

I talked to Nina about making a YouTube channel instead of going to school, as if those two were interchangeable: methods of actualizing an audience, some incentive to research and articulate that research. We also talked about how making a YouTube channel could be a part of whatever happens next.

In an email to Miranda, I wrote, I’m currently swarming in the mild chaos of drafting my personal statement and trying to pin down a working set of research questions that’s academically intelligible, but I think I’m getting there. Broadly speaking I hope to study the circulation of knowledge about the body and care practices outside of scientifically legitimated channels–especially how the connections between mind, body, and context might be differently understood on radically different terms than biomedicine. And in what ways that difference requires a negotiation with spirituality, or an attempt to identify the forms it takes in this neoliberal context. This would be my academic way of trying to think about why institutional medicine isn’t more medicinal, and also the potentialities and risks or losses in the separation of autonomous care-taking practices (like herbalism etc) and biomedicine (particularly psychiatry). 

Miranda wrote back, This is a great time to be embarked on these studies–anytime would be a great time–yet particularly now of course with this public health crisis the etiology of which is inextricably politically, socially, economically, ontologically, metaphysically, historically, culturally, and ecologically meshed. 

Ethan said the more he thinks about it the more sense it makes to go to school. He thinks I should apply, even though it’s geographically inconvenient (among other things).

I often go to bed thinking it all sounds like a great idea, and then wake up hung over from that confidence. But the more I think about it the more sense it makes, like I’ve been circling around these questions for years, and now that they’ve almost come into view as “academically intelligible” it feels wasteful not to go for it. Or like there’s something I could offer by doing so, which made me think about Katherine’s identification of the questions I have to ask myself: what does it mean to me to be in service? And what kind of service are we talking here?