Highly desirable

All graduates from this MPhil should emerge as highly desirable candidates for policy, corporate and academic careers.

This line comes from a poster currently advertising the MPhil course in Multi-Disciplinary Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge.

All graduates should. I wonder if much thought was given to this wording. This is the kind of matter that philosophers and characters in Alexander McCall Smith books ponder for hours on end. Saying all of them should doesn’t guarantee that all of them will. It’s a neat get-out, but it’s still a get-out.

What would have been the most balanced, considered wording of this sentence?

Most candidates will? No. The problem here is that most denotes a specific, quantifiable number, i.e. the majority of the group, and that surely cannot be guaranteed.

Many candidates will? Well, that assumes that many candidates will do the course in the first place, you might argue. What does many mean anyway? And on the basis that many is a less emphatic word than most, it is to be avoided. Hints of the weasel word.

Some candidates will? You might as well write All candidates are capable of failing the MPhil. It’s a modal minefield.

I think, all things considered, I’d have gone for Some candidates won’t. Not only is it brutally honest, but if you go into the MPhil expecting the worst, everything’s a bonus. An approach that has worked for me all my life.

Who wants a policy, corporate or academic career anyway? I don’t know what two of them even are. Policy isn’t an adjective, and corporate sounds very woolly. The assurance that the completion of the MPhil might leave one unfit for a vague future career in the pen-pushing industry would doubtless increase its appeal. I’m tempted to draft an application.


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