For students in the social sciences and humanities the announcement that we will now receive year-round funding is music to the ears. This increase in funding is not only a solution to financial concerns but also affirms the importance of our work.
In the past, humanities students have worked year-round but found it difficult to fund themselves during the summer months. It is true that during my time at Yale, the summer funding package increased from $3,000/summer for the first two summers to $3,700/summer for any three summers, but this still left us piecing together support for the remaining two summers.
Furthermore, even with the increase, the amount of summer funding never equaled what we made during the year. In other words, the approach of summer — the time of year when our teaching responsibilities are done and we can really get to work on our projects — was a time of anxiety. Students scrambled to apply for scholarships, teaching positions, or summer jobs. Admittedly, few people ended up waiting tables, but students often worked in libraries or taught during the summer months.
Personally, I’ve done a combination of going home (Mom’s House B&B is free, though the library’s not so great), teaching and student loans. Sure, I made it work and the teaching experience was a great opportunity, but it was hard not to turn a little lime-colored when friends in the natural sciences walked by.
Most of us understood, of course, that much of the funding for scientists comes from large governmental organizations like the National Institute of Health or the National Science Foundation.
However, this knowledge did little to salve our feelings since it said loud and clear that our nation and our society does not value our work. It tells me that designing better body armor or discovering proteins that regulate immune response is important, but studying gender relations in medieval France or the tonal structures of 20th-century music or the languages of aboriginal peoples is not.
While I appreciate the work my friends in the sciences do and I’m thankful for advances in technology and medicine, I cannot help but think, “What’s the good of making civilization healthier and more secure, if you don’t take time to appreciate the fruits of that civilization; if we don’t study the intricacy of human relations, the way we express ourselves, our understandings of beauty and truth?”
Believing that such attitudes seemed to prevail, those of us on the Graduate Student Assembly still pushed for 12-month funding in the humanities and social sciences, though we thought it was unlikely to appear any time soon. The announcement that we would receive $25,000 dispersed over 12 months, in other words, year-round funding, is a marvelous advancement and well rewards our work. It was wind in my sails and an affirmation of my work. I’d like to think that this is a sign of more general changes in attitude; I’d like to think that the U.S. government might start to spend more money on things like the National Endowment for the Humanities (maybe starting in 2009?).
Regardless of what the rest of the world might think, the increase in funding makes clear that Yale values my contribution to the life of the University, the importance of my teaching and research. Yale has a long tradition of excellence in the humanities: Our programs are top-rate, our libraries are some of the best in the nation, and our art collections are some of the best in the world.
Providing year-round funding to Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences is an important step in ensuring the future of that tradition. And that, I find truly gratifying.
Bobbi Sutherland is a graduate student in the Medieval Studies Department. She is the president of the Graduate Student Assembly.