Skip navigation
Margin Notes

So you want to do a PhD in the humanities?

Animated short poking fun at student’s dream goes viral, spawns copycats.


A while ago I saw a hilarious little vignette skewering the naïve hopes of graduate students in the humanities everywhere. I have read many sober analyses about the plight of PhD students, but this 4½-minute animated short sums up the situation more clearly and pointedly than any such report, and with devastating whit.

The naïve student announces her intention to undertake a PhD in literature and declares that “I’m going to be a college professor.”

The jaded professor shoots back that she will waste away in a library for up to nine years of grad school “trying to say something original,” only to get a job as an adjunct earning less than a janitor at a college in Alaska, where she will work 65 hours a week “trying to publish an obscure article that no one cares about in an obscure scholarly journal that nobody will read.”

The video, “So You Want to Get A PhD in the Humanities,” has unsurprisingly gone viral, with more than half-a-million views. It has also spawned copycats, such as “So You Want to Be an [Academic] Librarian,” “So You Want to Be a Historian?” and “So You Want to Get a Ph.D. in Political Science.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently tracked down the woman behind the online animation, Leslie Allison – and yes, she is a doctoral student in the humanities, studying 20th-century American literature at Temple University. “No need to burst her bubble,” reads the article, “Ms. Allison … has already done more than anyone in America to poke fun at this particular aspiration.”

The Chronicle article also details the particular technology behind her creation, a do-it-yourself cartoon-video Web site called Xtranormal. The company’s simple text-to-movie technology – “If you can type, you can make movies,” goes the slogan – is “gaining a wide following among educators as a tool for both teaching and satire,” according to the Chronicle.

If you aren’t yet among the half-million who have seen the video, do so, especially if you’re a graduate student or faculty member. Let us know what you think.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to fill out a quick survey