Advice to a Postulant-Professor

If I could tell every first-year graduate student in America one thing, it is this: The campus is not a calling, it is just another career.

If university teaching serves your purposes, come and join us. If not, follow your star in a different firmament. In graduate school, learn in order to sell your knowledge and make a living. And make your living in ways that sustain your interest. The challenge of life to people with intellectual gifts is to avoid boredom, to remain engaged. Others do not need what you do. That is what has drawn you forward to graduate school, that curiosity and a will to know. Then, if it serves your personal purposes to get a Ph.D. and go on to work as a professor, do it.

When I aspired to life as a professor, it was for three reasons: to learn, to teach, to share. The learning went better than I hoped, the teaching much less well, and, with few exceptions, I have known little sharing. If you see the life of teaching and scholarship as a mode of service, as an expression of idealism, your vision discerns what is not there. That calling—a vocation to civil debate and discussion about matters of reason, and that commitment to teach through discovery and to impart knowledge through engagement of mind to mind—those ideals out of a distant, gentle past today do not serve. They are not even wanted. If you do come to the campus with that calling to reasoned inquiry, you will suffer derision...

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