Thomas H. Benton argues that succeeding as an English Ph.D. entails giving up the things that attracted you to the subject in the first place.
In a course I taught last spring, after three months of tracing the development of literary theory from humanism to structuralism to poststructuralism to the dilemmas of the present, I finally asked my students the question: “So, why do you want to study literature, knowing what you now know?” I wondered if studying a century of cynicism had altered their motives in the slightest.
They were all considering graduate school, but their answers had little to do with what I knew they would need to write in their application essays. Sitting in a circle in the grass, backed by purple hydrangeas, they offered the following motives:
Formative experiences with reading as a child: being read to by beloved parents and siblings, discovering the world of books and solitude at a young age. Feelings of alienation from one’s peers in adolescence, turning to books as a form of escapism and as a search for a sympathetic connection to other people in other places and times. A love for books themselves, and libraries, as sites of memory and comfort. A “geeky” attraction to intricate alternate worlds such as those created by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George Lucas….