Hi, I’m james bliss and I’m the person writing or curating this blog. There’s a post on what you can expect to find here, and I’ll do my best once I’ve covered all the things on it to make it all easily searchable.
If you’re interested in my personal information, I’m a white cis-guy from (semi-)rural Southern California and I’m working class to poor depending on the pay period. My goal is to make the application process easier for ‘historically underrepresented groups’ (which is what you’ll be calling yourself in your diversity statements) by disseminating the information I’ve acquired along the way. But it isn’t just me, I’ll be doing my best to consult with and collaborate (guest posts!) with fellow travelers who have different insights.
This isn’t one-stop shopping, though, insofar as I’m centrally focused on how to apply to research-based programs in the humanities and social sciences. So this blog might not speak to folks who are looking into professional programs, such as Master of Social Work, Library and Museum Sciences, and various Education, Public Policy, and Health-related fields. Those are all great options, but they’re not what this blog is about.
Now, I hesitate to call myself ‘qualified’ to write this blog, but I’m giving it a go nonetheless. I’ve been through the application process four times in different ways, two were aborted attempts and two I went all the way through with. I did my undergrad at the University of California, Irvine and graduated with Bachelor’s degrees in Political Science, Women’s Studies, and African American Studies. I also did a one-year Master’s degree in Social Science at the University of Chicago doing research in Black feminist critical theory. My most recent application process resulted in funded offers from PhD programs at UC Irvine and UC San Diego, and you’ll know where I’m going right around when I know (i.e., April 15th).
Besides being an amateur student (on the verge of going pro), I’m also a blogger, which is somehow a profession in today’s world. And besides being a blogger, I’ve also been involved in different types of activism and advocacy, most of which revolved around either expanding access to higher education or keeping people in school.
I really want this site to help demystify both the application process and the academy. Graduate school is a job, and being in the academy is also a job, which is to say that it’s odious and soul-killing and generally awful. But, with that said, it’s just as soul-killing to be a lawyer (when there are way more people with JDs than the market needs) or a line-cook or a kindergarten teacher or a registered nurse or hospice-care provider (which is one of the largest growing fields of employment in the US). There’s no such thing as a ‘good job’ as long as you’re selling yourself just to survive.
So I’m not one of those folks who will tell you point blank not to pursue a PhD in the Humanities. Yes, you won’t necessarily make money. Yes, there likely won’t be any jobs when you graduate. Yes, you’re already in debt and you’ll go further into debt. Yes, you may likely be on food stamps. Yes, you’ll be exploited by the universities you work for. Yes, the university as an institution may well be dissolving before our eyes… Well, welcome to white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. There isn’t an outside to capitalist exploitation, just like there isn’t an outside to antiblackness, just like there isn’t an outside to cis-supremacist heteropatriarchy. The academy isn’t a safe haven and shouldn’t be mistaken for one.
Let us be clear. Universities keep huge endowments, money on reserve, because they are supposed to keep money. They will always tell you they cannot afford you. They will not spend their money to save the life of a Black feminist. Poet Laureate though she may be. Let us be clear. The universities that we mistakenly label as our bright quirky only refuge for Black brilliance have worked our geniuses to death, and have denied us help when we asked for it. The universities that employed June Jordan, Audre Lorde and so many others, watched cancer eat away at our geniuses, as they simultaneously ate away at black women’s labor. An institution knows how to preserve itself and it knows that Black feminists are a trouble more useful as dead invocation than as live troublemakers, raising concerns in faculty meetings. And those institutions continue to make money and garner prestige off of their once affiliated now dead faculty members.
The university was not created to save my life. The university is not about the preservation of a bright brown body. The university will use me alive and use me dead. The university does not intend to love me. The university does not know how to love me. The university in fact, does not love me. But the universe does.
When you enter the university you must understand that you’re entering a hostile space that requires that you resist while you’re working with and through it. You constantly have to re-evaluate your relationship to the institution because it’s very easy to come to rely on it. The university does not care about you, especially if you’re Black, and it will use you to death if/because it can. Once again, in this way it’s just like any other workplace of comparable size. Making it through the university requires that you be organized, that you work collectively with your peers, and that you be supple. This last point can’t be overstated, because the university is just like an ocean wave, you can’t just stand up against it because it will knock you down. Sometimes you have to dive under the wave to get past it. And that means getting wet.
But enough metaphors and terror. You have some idea of what you’re getting into, right? Are you still here? Okay, then let’s see what we can do.