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Pre-1L Gap Year Reading

8 Jun

Among other things, I was an English major in college. (I was also a Political Science major and a borderline alcoholic. Red wine helped me write papers a la Hemingway.) I have read a lot of things I never wanted to read and will never read again. I have not read a lot of things I want or wanted to read because my time was spent reading and re-reading The Tempest. (Three times in three semesters.)

For the next two months while I am an unemployed college graduate, I am going on a reading bender. It started with Lords of Finance, which I recently finished. Having absolutely no background in finance or economics (I read The Tempest three times in college. Do you think I have any affinity for numbers?), some of it was hard to muddle through. I caught myself repeatedly thinking, “OK, so deflation is a general decrease in prices. What does that mean for the real cost of money? Uh…” But the book’s profiling of the major central bankers of the period is very easy to follow and quite interesting. I shouldn’t mind seeing a similar work done about the central figures of the most recent crisis.

I am now blitzing through The Nine, which is easier for me to understand more in line with my interests. The book profiles members of the Rehnquist Court, though it also provides some background for other justices. I am very impressed with the author’s seamless flow from one story and anecdote to another while integrating important information about the mood of the country and political movements. Overall, the book is a joy to read. Although I am two years late (thank you, English major, for ensuring that I read nothing of interest in college) and most people who were ever going to read this book probably already have, I feel an obligation to insist that my readers (Hi, Mom! … My mom totally doesn’t read this blog. Nor does anyone else.) pick it up.

End Public Service Announcement.

Digital Aging

19 Nov

Last night before bed, I downloaded Free Mind, an open source mind-mapping application. I had never even heard of mind-mapping before last night and this list of law student lifehacks. I’m itching to play with the software, but I have to be at work in an hour. (Thursday is the only day of the week where I could be considered “busy.” And I mean busy in the most air-quotey sense.)

I have little idea what mind-mapping does or is intended to do, and because I am a meticulous planner of the old school (paper outlines, long hand note-taking, etc.), I am so interested to see if this software will work for me. I have faith in it. I am fighting the tendency to become “old” and disdainful of new technology–like I was when the iPhone debuted. I will not be prematurely old and scoff at new technology that actually takes a long time for me to understand relative to the young whippersnappers who gleefully click away while accomplishing absolutely nothing of substantive value.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..

30 Oct

People who share my academic focus (broadly, liberal arts and social sciences) know that a general rule floated about by academic advisors and career services employees to hand-wringing freshmen and despairing seniors is, “Well, Major X doesn’t specifically qualify you to do anything, but it does not disqualify you from doing most things. It is a very versatile degree.”

Ah, versatility. There’s nothing wrong with versatility. I like knowing that my “versatile” degrees (which have provided me with the following skills: writing.. and that’s all) certainly don’t preclude me from most industries. Most freshmen probably tout their future versatility to their skeptical parents, who rightly wonder how one might market a degree in Far Eastern Folklore to a potential employer.

If I and my fellow pie-in-the-sky liberal arts scholars are so marvelously versatile and primed for employment in any number of well-oiled industry machines, the number of us who feel compelled, usually in sophomore or junior year, to choose between a life in academia or a life in the law is curious. I challenge you to find an English major who is not planning to continue to graduate school or a professional program. 

Obviously, my choice was to parlay my degrees into one useful, socially meaningful professional certification. I am anxious about the state of the legal market and its implications for my employability in four years, but I have a strong conviction that I want to be a lawyer. In other words, I am not going to law school because I’m not sure what the hell else to do with my degrees. 

That seems to be the cardinal rule for making the decision whether or not to live in casebooks for three years: Don’t go just because you don’t know what else to do. Assuming that our Far Eastern Folklore and English majors do decide to heed this rule, and that they then decide to head into the rarified air of doctoral training programs, let’s consider their career prospects. (Remember that we are specifically addressing the concerns of PhD students in the liberal arts and social sciences.)

I once saw a funny ecard that said, “If you go to law school, you will probably have to become a lawyer.” (Har, har, har). This is very, painfully (if you don’t want to actually be a lawyer) true. The same could be said about PhD programs: “If you get a PhD in English, you will probably have to become a professor.” Because once you get that PhD, you’re an expert. An expert in a mind-numbingly narrow field. An expert who is expected to conduct research in that narrow field, publish works, and impart your expertise to sprightly eighteen-year-old minds. An expert who is vastly overqualified to do a lot of other jobs, like teaching The Great Gatsby in a public high school.

For all the crying we future attorneys do over the state of the legal market, we have nothing on our peers who are attempting to break into the academic job market, those students we brushed shoulders with in Literary Critical Practices until our paths diverged, some of us pursuing the path toward social and monetary capital and the rest of us surging forth to the stacks and the beginnings of a six hundred page dissertation. The sacred cow of the academic world is the tenured teaching position. For reasons I won’t go into but that you can check out here, tenure in academia is critical. It also creates a world in which academics stick around because they’re so damn hard to get rid of and turnover is so small as to be negligible. It’s like the Supreme Court: They ain’t goin’ anywhere until they kick it, and your chances of filling one of those seats when it does become vacant is basically nil, statistically speaking.

So if tenured positions aren’t opening, and new ones aren’t being created due to budget cuts like this one happening at schools across the country, a pretty picture is not being painted for future academics. The possibility of funding for doctoral candidates makes such a program slightly less scary than the six figures of debt many law school students saddle themselves with, but, again, that kind of funding is disappearing for PhD programs. I think I can confidently say that I would prefer spending three years and $150,000 pursuing a career path that may not be as plush as it was before September 2008 to spending eight years conducting research that no one will ever read only to find myself overqualified for everything but positions in academia that no longer exist.

In other words, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and instead of taking the one less traveled by and spending the rest of my life in my parents’ basement alternately mourning and cursing the demise of the academic job market, I took the road well traveled by, which included a calculated risk, six figures of debt, and the hope of being employed before I am thirty.”

Raising the Bar

27 Oct

As with so many of my fellow Children of the Digital Age, I have a self-diagnosed case of Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, known colloquially as “I was raised in a world with eight hundred plus television channels, live streaming video feeds, and mp3 file sharing and thus I have not developed, or I have allowed to stagnate, skills of the concentration and focus variety.”

I’ve noticed in the last few years that my interest and attention is held by ideas and activities for a much shorter span of time than when I was twelve. This bothers me. A lot. It is not unlike realizing that your hey-day of physical attractiveness began and ended five years earlier. Fortunately, intellectual curiosity and commitment to intrepid thoughtfulness, or even just a commitment to anything requiring extended contemplation, need not decay irreversibly, a la the collagen supporting a wrinkle-free complexion. With that hopeful belief, I am committing myself to blogging about something thoughtful every day for the next month.

I expect this journey to be fairly bumpy, and I know not what the next thirty days of blogging may bring. I appreciate any and all support as I attempt to resurrect the critical thinking and practical application skills that have been eroded by three years of training in the liberal arts and social sciences  during which I have discovered the secrets to getting As in college without learning a damn thing besides how to conduct research without setting foot in a library most efficiently use an online research database.

Please note that this does not preclude any entries that may fit into the Vain Girly Things header. I am still vain. I am still a girl. I am simply attempting to be a smart(er), vain girl.

Approaching the Finish Line

25 Sep

One of the best things about being almost finished with undergrad is being almost finished with undergrad. I am very bad at being an undergrad. I don’t go out during the week, and if I do, it is on Sunday evenings for half-price bottles of wine and live music at my favorite grad student/townie/old person bar. I go to all of my classes, and sometimes I even speak to my professors as if they are human beings. I have not woken up next to someone whose name I did not know and whose face made me want to die. I wear pants when I leave the house, and when I say pants, I am am distinctly excluding leggings as a form of pants. 

Also, I go to a state school that is located approximately between Nowhere and Moderate-Sized City that Keeps Showing up on Rankings as One of the Most Livable and Affordable Cities in the U.S. Because No One Actually Wants to Live There. Have you ever spent a not-negligible amount of time on the campus of a large state school? If you haven’t, congratulations. Being on the campus of a large state school feels something like this:

The classrooms are filled with kids who didn’t get into private schools and chose an out-of-state public school to keep up appearances (and bursar bills, apparently), the computer labs are always packed, and no one is familiar with umbrella sidewalk etiquette, particularly  the raising of one’s umbrella before plowing through a group of bystanders, thus avoiding poking any eyes out.

And people wonder why I hate undergrad.

Opportunity-Cost

9 Sep

I run across people, in real life and through Internet forums like TLS, who have done, bluntly, pretty impressive stuff. They’ve done research (independently or in assisting positions) on things they care about. They have great insight into and familiarity with particular areas. They write dissertations and give panel presentations. Even as undergrads, they took on research responsibilities and began learning how to be real academics–not exactly on par with the “try not to plagiarize your ten-page term paper” instruction I receive in my upper level courses.

I don’t want to be an academic, but this knowledge is disheartening. Because what have I done?

I’ve taken a standardized test, and I did well. I’m proud of this. I am.  I completely devoted myself to test preparation, but it feels absolutely empty now, three months later. I almost wish I had undertaken an honors thesis instead, but if I had, my LSAT score may have reflected that choice. In the long run, a few points on the LSAT is worth more than fifty pages of original research to an admissions committee. Those few points are the difference between ninety-ninth percentile and… everyone else. The difference between T6 and… everyone else. The difference between BigLaw and… everything else.

So in terms of opportunity-cost, maybe I made the right decision. I sold my academic and intellectual curiosity for the ability to determine whether the stegosaurus can be mauve or whether it must be yellow. I hope it’s worth it.

Undergrad. Go.

31 Aug

This:

When your student chooses to party instead of study, grades are going to slide. Many kids will wake up in time to get things back on track before they have to mail home a transcript that sets off alarms, but this is something parents should be looking at before final grades come out. Most school administrators aren’t proactive about contacting parents until there is a serious problem, and they don’t always welcome inquiries from concerned parents. But you can insist that your freshman keeps you informed throughout the semester about projects, tests and papers, and you can work together to keep things on track [Emphasis added].*

Or you can not be a helicopter parent and allow your child to crash and burn and learn hard lessons on his own. Seriously. This is ridiculous advice. If you are footing the bill for your child’s education, I think a succinct, “If you screw this up, you’re on your own,” should suffice. And if that doesn’t work, send him over to top-law-schools.com and make him read the admissions forums. Instill him with the fear of God being a splitter.

College=no more hand-holding.

*Original Post

Welcome Week

22 Aug

Freshmen have begun moving in.

This forces to mind a couple things:

  1. Holy crap, these people were born in the early 1990s. Holy crap, I am getting old.
  2. It is time to stock up on vodka, gin, and tonic water because I will not be leaving my apartment for any reason until the freshmen have drunk  themselves into stupors and are hungover in the dorms, removing them from interaction with the non-campus dwelling community.

It only took me three years to figure this out! Only three!

21 Aug

Somehow, after three years and seven book-buying opportunities, I still manage to wander through the campus bookstore looking confused enough to warrant offers of help from bored student employees. Maybe if the books were organized according to any sort of comprehensible method, I would look less confused and be left alone. Wishful thinking, indeed.

Today, though, I was not on a book-buying mission. Instead, I was blatantly covertly copying down the ISBN numbers of books I need for class (I’m not sure how other schools operate, but at my university, it is virtually impossible to get a book list for classes. The only viable method to learn what books are required for class is to go to the bookstore and find them on the shelf. Flawless, I’m sure.) so that I could then buy my books online.

My book-buying adventure, by the numbers.

  • Time spent copying down ISBN numbers while intermittently swatting away pesky employees: 30 minutes
  • Number of said pesky employees: 4
  • Number of classes I successfully found books for (in the bookstore, not online): 3
  • Number of classes for which I have zero books and zero idea where to find said books: 1
  • Number of books I rented at chegg.com:  5
  • Price of books I rented at chegg.com: $163.13
  • Price of books at the bookstore: $227.06

Usually, I enjoy being a humanities/social sciences major at the beginning of the semester when my books cost hundreds less than those of my hard science friends. I enjoy being a humanities/social sciences major less at the end of the semester when I sell my novels back for approximately a quarter each (no, seriously). This semester, I’m going to enjoy A) spending less on my books and B) skipping the agony of not receiving enough cash for my books to buy a Like It-size Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some at Cold Stone.