Semenza: Graduate Study for the 21st Century

Semenza, Gregory Colón. Graduate Study for the 21st Century: How to Build an Academic Career in the Humanities. New York: Palgrave Macmilian, 2010. Print.

[Chapters 1-5 so far]


Humanities, Professionalization, Graduate Study, English

One Sentence Summary

Be sternly forewarned: life as an academic in the Humanities is arduous on the best days, fiercely competitive, and undervalued yet rewarding and worth it if you’re all in; here’s some advice.

Crucial Quotes

“Continue to view academic success as the result of superior intelligence or innate know-how and you will probably struggle as you move up the ranks; learn to see it as the result of hard work and the accumulation of practical knowledge, and you will find it easier to excel” (11).

“In short, a strong dissertation prospectus should grow directly out of your comprehensive examinations and feed directly into your dissertation” (49).

“Systematic emulation of sound published work might with some degree of accuracy be called the starting point of all written research” (93).


A lot of sound advice here. Some of the discussion proffered in the first five chapters resonate well with advice I’ve received from mentors in my MA program. I read some passages and thoughts from this text  (bend seminar work toward your own interests, listen and interact generously first, get it done) and I hear Derek Mueller’s voice. I’m grateful some of this already seems like a bit of review.

The playful description of departmental denizens is handy in a broad sense; mostly, it seems to me, it’s handy as a guide to check myself (Who am I as a teacher? As a student? As a committee member? At extracurricular activities? At holiday parties? In the hallway with a colleague?) Laying bare the process (as much as possible in a generic sense) of entrance through job hunting is helpful as well.

Maybe it’s just me, and perhaps I missed some (or there’s more beyond ch. 5), but I sense a bit of a dearth of the affective side of PhD-ing. There is attention to exercise and hobbies and warnings about family intrusions, but the emotional impacts, and how to deal with them aside from externalizing (exercise and hobbies) or avoiding (don’t have kids/get married, and if you do, spend some time but not too much). I like that Semenza takes the role of advising and raises it to the level of the research, teaching, service trinity (again, I feel lucky to be hearing this as echoes from my MA program thanks to Mueller and folks like Collin Brooke), and I wanted the discussion to do the same for the affective challenges of graduate study.

[More to add/edit soon]

Further Reading

The Chronicle of Higher Education

College Composition and Communication

Present Tense

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