Aspieness, Truth-telling and Grad School in the Humanities

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pamplemousse
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19 Oct 2009, 12:49 pm

I am wondering if there are any other Aspies out there struggling with grad school in the humanities.

I realize that Aspies tend to be drawn to Science/Math/Engineering fields -- and so was I for a while. I'm a self-diagnosed female Aspie who got her undergrad degree in Computer Science back in the 80s. I also worked for a while as one of the few woman software engineers in a mid-sized computer graphics company. Then, I got married and decided that, as analytical as I was, what I really cared about was Philosophy/Literature/Languages/Music, so I went back to Grad School to get a Ph.D. in a Foreign Language Literature. Well, everything went very well for a while, but I have gradually come to realize that most humanities research is not about learning the truth -- not about broadening our knowledge of a certain field. Instead, it is a highly politicized affair, where a search for "truth" is characterized as "fascist," and what counts is basically doing what everyone else does -- but with slight differences (bringing widely accepted, unquestioned, yet ridiculous assumptions to yet another text) and the de rigueur rhetorical flourishes and eloquence.

So, anyone else in this situation? Anyone else dealing with advisors who insist a) that one "extend the discourse" rather than seek the truth b) that the "truth" even with a small "t" doesn't exist as such -- that everything is political c) that a "good disseration" is a done disseration, regardless of how much sense it actually makes, regardless certain deep incoherences?

If so, what are you doing about it? Are you finding a way of making the appropriate compromises? Or not so much?



starygrrl
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19 Oct 2009, 2:10 pm

I should note, I am in the humanities (well was) in history in undergrad, I have an advance degree, but its professional, so its a little different.

You have to realize that humanities is about the discourse, there really is no small t "truth", are there facts involved, absolutely, but so much of it is dependant upon personal interpratation (and sometimes in literature this is fully intentional, sometimes discourse is the goal of the author). Its not that everything is so much political, its that nothing is literal. And yes, sometimes dissertations are incoherant, thats just the nature of the beast.

I was kind of wired a bit more for figurative critical thinking, I did quite well in my philosophy and literature classes, because when it gets down to it, its a fine art of BS (quite literally). The question gets to how well you come up with a certian interpration, because at the end of the day, thats all it really is, a personal interpratation. There is no one truth, if you are thinking that way, I can see why you are having problems. It is not necessarily about politics, its just literature and philosophy respectively are very open to interpratation, there is no truth, just the readers impression about what is written, and its this interpratation that pushes the discourse.

I mean that is the problem, your aspie mind wants there to be "the truth" but its literature, there will never be one. Thats why people gather in Joyce reading groups, he played at this concept heavily. Literature is not written to be an absolute, with "the truth" it is filled with allegory and things that are always open for interpratation. The very fact you are complaining about there being no "truth" in a Ph.D literature program is just the nature of the beast, literature all about advancing creative discourse. When it gets down to it, it has nothing to do with the "truth" because the "truth" for one person is nothing more than a personal interpratation.



Last edited by starygrrl on 19 Oct 2009, 2:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.

bicentennialman
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19 Oct 2009, 2:15 pm

I spent two years getting a master's degree in technical communication, and it was a big struggle. In fact, my difficulty with it (and the whole "life on my own" thing that came along with it) was what drove me to the realization that I had Asperger's syndrome.

In some programs, technical communication falls under the science/technology category, where the focus is on teaching you a skill. But in this master's program, it was treated as under the category of humanities, so it was a lot more about theory than practice. One thing that made it difficult for me was that I had not studied technical communication before, so I didn't really even know what it was when I started, and some of the classes only made it more confusing!

I identify with some of the issues pamplemousse is talking about. The idea that a technical communicator's job is to convey the truth as accurately as possible was usually treated as an outdated way of thinking, for two reasons:

-- No one believed that it was possible to convey a message without some bias creeping in from the person transmitting it. In my opinion, this is true; 100% accuracy is never possible in this world. That's why both the sender and the receiver of information need to understand how things can become biased. But just because our ability to receive and transmit the truth is imperfect, I do not believe that means that there is no truth or that it is not worth trying to be as accurate as possible.

-- The other reason was the reasoning that if technical communicators see themselves as mere transmitters of information, that lessens their "power" to affect things; you could see them as little more than machines. This was a point of view that I found depressing and exhausting everywhere I read it. So many of the writers I read were convinced that everything in the world is about humans exercising power over others. Government, religion, work, words, deeds, love-- all of it boiled down to nothing more than power. This naturally led to the reasoning that if there was nothing more to the world than power, how can we say that anyone is wrong to want to increase their power? (We can't, without admitting that our statement that they are wrong is nothing more than an exercise of our power to define things so people will agree with us.) So in the end, the attempt to make technical communication out to be more than pointing to or transmitting the truth is an attempt to ensure that technical communicators hold onto their power, so that they can be seen as valuable, so that they can be paid accordingly, so that....

I find it easier to evaluate these things and understand why I disagree with them now that I am done with the program and can look back on it. At the time, I just found it bewildering to be turned loose into an enormous argument of critics criticizing critics endlessly.

One way that I handled it was that I acknowledged the ways that the reasoning was correct-- there were things I could learn from it even if I didn't agree with it in entirety. In the past, the point of view would have been that the truth exists, and we CAN know it 100%, which I think is just as wrong as the opposite extreme and can lead to people being blind to what biases them.

In the end, though, I am more interested in expanding my knowledge of the truth rather than expanding the argument-- I liked the way you put that. I'm not interested in playing power games; I usually lose those anyway. I think learning is fascinating, even if it's focused on some tiny detail that no one else cares about.



pamplemousse
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23 Oct 2009, 4:56 pm

bicentennialman wrote:
In the end, though, I am more interested in expanding my knowledge of the truth rather than expanding the argument-- I liked the way you put that. I'm not interested in playing power games; I usually lose those anyway. I think learning is fascinating, even if it's focused on some tiny detail that no one else cares about.


Ah, power! Did you happen to read (suffer through) Foucault by any chance?

Yes, I agree with your first point -- that nothing can every be completely unbiased. But, I am just sick to death of what you touch on in your second. There's seems to be a very short step for lots of humanities profs from "It's impossible to be unbiased. But I'll try my best" to "I'll just write on whatever is the hottest topic in the slickest prose and produce the most complex, sophisticated and politically correct argument possible. Meanwhile I'll keep my nose to the grindstone and not say anything truly controversial ... until I get tenure. Then, I'll go ahead and be an a$$hole."

Sometimes I think it's only my (surprisingly) good relationship with my advisor/committee members as well as others' (my husband's) expectations that's keeping me going at this point.



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23 Oct 2009, 7:05 pm

pamplemousse wrote:
I am wondering if there are any other Aspies out there struggling with grad school in the humanities.

I realize that Aspies tend to be drawn to Science/Math/Engineering fields -- and so was I for a while. I'm a self-diagnosed female Aspie who got her undergrad degree in Computer Science back in the 80s. I also worked for a while as one of the few woman software engineers in a mid-sized computer graphics company. Then, I got married and decided that, as analytical as I was, what I really cared about was Philosophy/Literature/Languages/Music, so I went back to Grad School to get a Ph.D. in a Foreign Language Literature. Well, everything went very well for a while, but I have gradually come to realize that most humanities research is not about learning the truth -- not about broadening our knowledge of a certain field. Instead, it is a highly politicized affair, where a search for "truth" is characterized as "fascist," and what counts is basically doing what everyone else does -- but with slight differences (bringing widely accepted, unquestioned, yet ridiculous assumptions to yet another text) and the de rigueur rhetorical flourishes and eloquence.

So, anyone else in this situation? Anyone else dealing with advisors who insist a) that one "extend the discourse" rather than seek the truth b) that the "truth" even with a small "t" doesn't exist as such -- that everything is political c) that a "good disseration" is a done disseration, regardless of how much sense it actually makes, regardless certain deep incoherences?

If so, what are you doing about it? Are you finding a way of making the appropriate compromises? Or not so much?


...I just feel sorry for myself :cry: because I don't even have a BA , even , or did I really " go to college " at all :cry: .
And nobody will help me ( I'm not referring to financially here . ) . :cry: At all .
They just want to repeat inanities , " Oh , I saw a TV movie with Whoopi Goldberg , she was an admissions officer and she got someone in ! You should do that ! " :cry: .
:cry: :cry:



ASS-P
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23 Oct 2009, 7:06 pm

pamplemousse wrote:
I am wondering if there are any other Aspies out there struggling with grad school in the humanities.

I realize that Aspies tend to be drawn to Science/Math/Engineering fields -- and so was I for a while. I'm a self-diagnosed female Aspie who got her undergrad degree in Computer Science back in the 80s. I also worked for a while as one of the few woman software engineers in a mid-sized computer graphics company. Then, I got married and decided that, as analytical as I was, what I really cared about was Philosophy/Literature/Languages/Music, so I went back to Grad School to get a Ph.D. in a Foreign Language Literature. Well, everything went very well for a while, but I have gradually come to realize that most humanities research is not about learning the truth -- not about broadening our knowledge of a certain field. Instead, it is a highly politicized affair, where a search for "truth" is characterized as "fascist," and what counts is basically doing what everyone else does -- but with slight differences (bringing widely accepted, unquestioned, yet ridiculous assumptions to yet another text) and the de rigueur rhetorical flourishes and eloquence.

So, anyone else in this situation? Anyone else dealing with advisors who insist a) that one "extend the discourse" rather than seek the truth b) that the "truth" even with a small "t" doesn't exist as such -- that everything is political c) that a "good disseration" is a done disseration, regardless of how much sense it actually makes, regardless certain deep incoherences?

If so, what are you doing about it? Are you finding a way of making the appropriate compromises? Or not so much?


...I just feel sorry for myself :cry: because I don't even have a BA , even , or did I really " go to college " at all :cry: .
And nobody will help me ( I'm not referring to financially here . ) . :cry: At all .
They just want to repeat inanities , " Oh , I saw a TV movie with Whoopi Goldberg , she was an admissions officer and she got someone in ! You should do that ! " :cry: .
:cry: :cry:



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20 Nov 2009, 10:11 am

Gratz on Comp Sci back in the 80s! That's inspiring. My Comp Sci class of a couple hundred in the post 2000's only had 5 girls, we counted, and me the only non-asian. :lol:

One of my Arc. teachers in first year stated outright that one's success in the Arts/Humanities is directly proportional to the amount of bullshit one could breath and that the University experience intends to condition individuals into areas of accepted socio-politico discourse. The trick being to use the Democratic process to do what you wish and further your careers. :roll:


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20 Nov 2009, 10:18 am

As Aspie's we often find ourself outside looking in which allows us the advantage of a unique perspective and an alternate truth. While this helps us it also acts as a road block because the wider body of our peers are inside and often cannot accept that there are other truths and are given no motivation to challenge the accepted norm.

"Sometimes our means secure us and our mere defects prove our commodities."

We definitely must work harder at the same tasks because we are constantly asked to see both our own realities and everyone else's.


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Philologos
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09 Feb 2010, 12:45 am

Ah. Me, long career [NOT easy] in a field which is either humanities or Soc Sci depending who is talking.

Constant uphill struggle. Accused [like it is bad] of being data oriented. When you are just supposed to be "testing the theory". Professor tells me "doesn't matter if the answer is right, you did not properly follow the model [the grad school version of "show your work". Conferences of people talking drivel. Students who have NO interest in the subject matter. The case where we decided to uphold some appealed grades. Students threatening to sue, the Dean comes in, Pleae change the grades. One colleague says, "How can we change our decision without compromising our standards? Dean: "The art of university administration is knowing WHEN to compromise your standards," And they ALL except me voted to change grades so noone would make waves and upset the administration.

And so forth. I have seen and heard, what happened to female colleagues I now recognize as fellow Aspie is even worse.

As has been said of other professions - don't do it unless you cannot imagine doing anything else. Hey, the topic was and is my special interst. I eventually took early retirement [now privatre consultant - and made myself and the rest of the department much happier.