what’s up with academia, from the whiny graduate students

16Jan10

It’s that time of year again, folks. The perfect storm of MLA/AHA meetings/interviews and graduate school applications have once again thrown up a series of blog posts about how to deal with the fact that graduate schools churn out significantly more PhDs than jobs available, particularly in the difficult-to-transition-into-the-nonacademic-world fields of English and history, departments that are often bigger than religion or comp lit programs. So this week there’s been several posts on the subject and lively comments all round, starting with Dean Dad, then Tenured Radical, then Historiann, Dr. Crazy, and Sisyphus.

But although the original intentions of Dean Dad and Tenured Radical may have been to begin to think about ways to address head on these thorny issues about academia that bubble up every few months, the comments took on another tone as irate graduate students were pretty much told to get over their grievances. Granted a few of these posters were on the hysterical side but more seemed to be struggling with the mess we’ve found ourselves in after being told academia was something else. To that, the “professors” of the commentariate largely said you knew what you were getting into when you joined, professors have been saying this for years, you should have been paying attention. Nobody owes you a job.

Well no, nobody owes us a job but that doesn’t mean we’ve haven’t been lied to, or at least if not lied to, the truth has been masked. After all, the field has to replicate itself somehow and it couldn’t do so if it said the following. “Come join academia and spend 6-10 years in graduate school either getting low pay or racking up debt. Maybe you’ll get a job, chances are fairly decent you won’t. But if you leave, it’s not clear how well your skills will translate to other work, in fact you’ve probably overtrained. Also if you leave, you’ll feel like a failure and your advisors will likely see it as such. But it’s all right if after 10 years of graduate school you don’t get a job because you can do a whole host of adjunct stints, which is why the field wants you anyway. And hey, you’ve learned, so don’t complain about the loss of earning potential or the myriad ways you’ve put your life on hold while you’ve gotten a degree in the middle of nowhere.” All of this is what 22 year olds were supposed to know when they applied; somehow I don’t think that’s the message that got out there.

So no, I’m not going to let academia off the hook because I should have been able to deduce all that. I did thorough research for two years, spoke to several professors and graduate students, did all the right things. But you can’t find out answers to the questions you don’t know you need to ask and I’ve found that there’s no way to understand how screwed up academia is until you’re in it. And undergrad is not being in academia.

But there are other concerns as well. Graduate students who piped up, especially over at Tenured Radical but also at Historiann, just in a calmer fashion, were categorized as naive, whiny, not used to not being number 1, or having an overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Really??

How is it exactly that people who see the trainwreck coming down the pipeline despite hearing from idealistic advisors and colleagues that it’ll all be fine are now entitled? How is it entitled to question the way a field markets itself to attract students who provide cheap labor by promising a meritocracy when really it’s more of a crap shoot? Why isn’t it more entitled to blithely assume everything’s going to work out because Bigshot Advisor at Bigshot School says it will? Yeah those students might not be “whining” on blogs but maybe that’s because many of those students either haven’t given a thought to contingency plans because they truly are naive or they don’t need to anticipate future bumps in the road because they have enough of a safety net for it not to matter.

But let’s set that aside: I’ve already made peace with the fact that academia is a better fit for people with a different disposition (i.e. idealistic) and with different racial and class backgrounds than me. Whatever.

The question remains, though: what, if anything, can be done about the fairly unethical way the humanities is running itself at the moment? It’s always seemed to me that the real sticking point is the length of time it takes to get a PhD. Although there are people may speed through a PhD program in 5 years, very rarely does that happen without some sort of terminal MA. So in reality, it’s 6-10 years of schooling beyond the bachelor’s degree (and that’s 6-10 years from the beginning of graduate school, not from the end of college). Part of the reason academia is so isolating and so self-selecting is because the time it takes to get a degree which doesn’t teach you how to save lives makes no sense to anybody not in academia. So is all this time necessary?

As things stand now, yeah it is. The bar is so high: depth of archival research, breadth of historiographical knowledge, preferably some decent teaching experience. Dissertations aren’t getting any shorter and some of us are being told that we need to have articles as well. It’s not feasible to do all that at the required high level in four or five years and, depending on where you’re doing research and what languages you’re doing research in, it’s not feasible to do it in six. I was of the school that you needed to race out of graduate school as quickly as possible and I’ve backed off that approach. It wasn’t realistic that I was going to go to graduate school straight from undergrad, having done very little in my new field of specialization, and be done and hireable  in five years.

But spending more than half a decade in school has serious costs. Some or many aspects of one’s life are put on hold for the better part of a decade, whether it be savings, stability, relationships, or children. And all too often the nature of these sacrifices don’t become clear until you’re in the middle of the program. We all make a gamble: we put on hold certain aspects of our life in exchange for becoming a professor. I now know I never had a hope in hell of getting into a relationship while I was in graduate school. I’m aware of that and I continue to take the calculated risk that I will reap the benefits of my sacrifice.

Except that my risk wasn’t so calculated because I’ve been getting a bunch of funky facts. Turns out my program’s placement rate isn’t quite as good as I’d been told. Turns out that generation of soon-to-quit boomers isn’t going anywhere. Turns out it doesn’t really matter what school I’m at, or what advisor I have. It’s a crap shoot, not a meritocracy. And what sticks in my craw is just how much of my life has ticked away in pursuit of a sinking ship.

And so I wonder, is it possible to lower the bar (at the structural level) so that graduate school doesn’t have to be so long? [Disclaimer: I’m writing this as somebody who hasn’t finished her dissertation, hasn’t published an article, hasn’t written a book, hasn’t taught her own courses. I’m aware how much I don’t know so these ideas are more speculative rather than prescriptive.] At the moment it seems like dissertations have to be halfway to a book because at research universities, books are the standard by which professors are measured. Could the monograph’s importance be lessened? Could articles be more important or a more widely used medium for seminal works? Under such a scheme, the level of expectation for graduate work could be taken down a notch or two and graduate school could be 4 or 5 years, not 7 or 8, or 9 or 10. This has numerous benefits. Four years is less onerous a burden and people might not feel quite as aggrieved if things don’t work out as they justifiably do when they’ve spent 9 years at something. But more importantly for me, the length of graduate school seems to be one major deterrent to people from more diverse backgrounds than academia usually attracts; I believe having a more diverse professoriate is crucial and this might help. To combat the sacrifice in breadth and depth that comes from shortening a program, postdocs could be a more traditional route to a tenure track job, like the sciences (and yes, I know there’s a lot of money behind the science postdocs).

Maybe something like this won’t work. But as it stands, academia survives only by promising people a lifestyle that doesn’t exist. Individual professors aren’t necessarily to blame, although too few have the kind of frank and informative conversations with their students, even with students who ask, that are necessary. It’s a flaw of the system. But what cannot happen is that graduate students who are the most vulnerable members of this group (depending on stipend provisions, may be above or below adjuncts) are criticized for being realistic and for wondering, “what the hell were you people on about when you said this was a good gig?”

[A final additional note: Too much of the discussion over the past week has focused on the current economic downturn and certainly it has tightened the market severely. My colleagues and I are those who will likely suffer the most as we form a backlog of candidates who couldn’t get hired during the downturn and who get passed over in a few years for the fresh ABDs. So yes, I’m aware of the severity of the current economic moment. But I think focusing too much on it when discussing the structural issues of academia continues to perpetuate the idea that there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with the profession. Nobody has to take responsibility for anything because one can always point to the economic crisis that nobody could have predicted. But, as a few people at Historiann’s blog noted, the job market has sucked for years (decades), well before this current climate. And when the economy swings upward, the market will continue to suck. Let’s not get too sidetracked by the economic crisis and miss the more insidious problems that will be there when the market loosens again.]

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27 Responses to “what’s up with academia, from the whiny graduate students”

  1. I’m really glad you wrote this post, because I would have said about exactly the same thing! I’m not sure if the gap between admissions to graduate school and tenure-track jobs is the same in Psychology as areas of the Humanities, but I suspect it is.

    You’re completely right in the fact that it is impossible to know answers to the questions you don’t know to ask. When I went to graduate school, I think it was for all the right reasons: I love learning, I love research, I love teaching. I wanted access to a type of job that required a graduate education. And part of me was also attracted to the lifestyle and respect of academia.

    But when I started graduate school I was 23 years old, and I knew nothing about ‘Academia’ or job placements. I don’t even think I new what an adjunct was, and if I did it was only vaguely. These are not things that occur to you until you are IN academia – probably, I would argue, if I decided to join the military (using another organization with a culture as an example) there are a million questions I would need to ask that I would have no idea about until I joined. I don’t think it’s as easy as saying “You knew what you were getting into” because in a lot of cases undergraduates (even with work experience post-BA) don’t.

    • 2 thefrogprincess

      Agreed, psycgirl. I had a vague notion of what adjuncts were before going to graduate school but I thought you became an adjunct mainly by being a trailing spouse. And so I planned to combat that by not becoming a trailing spouse and by not getting married to an academic. Little did I know that not getting married to an academic would be easy because there would be no one of interest but that finding someone outside academia would be hard. I certainly had no idea that tons of graduates from great programs spend a few years, at the very least, trotting around the country doing adjunct work, with few or no benefits and meager salaries. I could beat myself up for not knowing that at 22 (or really at 20-21 when I started the process of moving towards applying) but that’s just senseless. The “you knew what you were getting into” line seems to me to be a systemic copout, designed to assuage guilt for welcoming in the unsuspecting students so desperately needed to boost prestige and teach courses.

      • I had NO IDEA what an adjunct was when I went to grad school. None. (Partly because my undergrad was a SLAC where you’re not supposed to see adjuncts. I know now they were there, but you weren’t supposed to be able to tell the difference, because your parents were paying obscene gobs of money for you to work with “real” faculty!)

        Of course, I’m also old enough that I got told it was a GREAT time to go to grad school because there was going to be a shortage of professors, so perhaps my own experience is an unfair comparison. But I’ll bet you that even when I *was* an adjunct, most of my students had no idea what an adjunct was. I was employed teaching them, wasn’t I?

  2. 4 Deborah

    Thank you for this post, especially for emphasizing the point: “you can’t find out answers to the questions you don’t know you need to ask.” This is true whether someone starts grad school at 22 or 28 or 37 or 45. Until you’ve been on the inside of academia or unless you come from a background with people on the inside, you don’t understand how it’s structured and so you don’t know what to ask. Like psycgirl, I had only a vague notion of what an adjunct was when I first started (and I was a little older than the average person and can’t blame mere youth), so how would I even formulate questions like these: “What percentage of graduates from this program end up teaching as adjuncts after they finish? What percentage quit the program before they finish the dissertation? What percentage end up working in other fields?” Not thinking to ask these questions does make me seem ignorant but hardly entitled! I find that’s one of the most toxic sentiments expressed on the other blogs, the equating of ignorance with entitlement. Seriously? I did inquire about tenure-track job placements, but when these numbers (fairly good in my program in comparison to other programs) were not set in contrast to the numbers of those who did not get such placements, I interpreted them in a much more positive way than I should have. And no one suggested I do otherwise by volunteering the additional information I didn’t know I should be asking for.

    Oh, there’s so much more I could add, but I’ll just thank you also for always insisting on the importance of diversity, something else, no one else is talking about enough. And I’ll add disability to race and class, because when you enter academia with doubts about your ability to succeed in a program that stem from your differences, the first thing on your mind might not be “How will I fare on the job market 6-10 years down the line?” It might be more along the lines of, “How will I get through my first semester of coursework when there’s no one like me – no one who understands where I’m coming from – among the students and faculty in this program? How will I ask for the support I need? How will I survive a culture in which my differences are dismissed?”

    • 5 thefrogprincess

      Thanks, Deborah, for bringing the issue of disability to my attention. Academia can be so hostile to anybody who isn’t white, male, rich, straight, and able-bodied that those of us not fitting that mold have to spend a lot of energy just getting through the program. It’s a bitter pill to think that energy could be for naught. Good luck!

  3. 6 whitheramp

    thanks for posting about this! i wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything you say here, as well as with the previous comments by psycgirl and Deborah.

    in particular, i’m glad that you keep insisting that this is a systemic issue and that, while pointing to personal responsibility has some place, the solutions nonetheless need to deal with the systemic nature of the problem. i think part of what disappointed me about Tenured Radical’s post was that 2/3 of her suggestions were about how to change the students going to grad school and/or the type of training they receive. but it seems to me that the problem really won’t be fixed by narrowing/educating the students who go into grad programs — in fact, the specific idea of having them wait 3 yrs seems like it would only make the profession more white, wealthy, and male, given that i doubt most working class students are going to be willing or able to screw around for 3 years fiddling their thumbs, while their peers are off backpacking through Europe and picking up 2 foreign languages. I think TR’s suggestions would render fewer disappointed or narrowly trained phds, but at what cost?

    in the end, i think the focused training i received in grad school was fine enough: i went to grad school to learn to write, teach, and do research, not to master excel spread sheets. The problem is with the system more broadly. and i agree that one step is to limit the number of spots offered in these giant phd-producing machines. beyond that, i also think much more transparency about the field and job options is necessary, and i think we simply have to address the high number of adjuncts with meager salaries and benefits who take up the slack for underfunded departments and/or celebrity faculty.

    and i totally second the idea that phd programs need to be shortened (while recognizing this isn’t feasible in the current arrangement). The suggestion that grad students work for a year in an admin post, while interesting, seems like it would contribute to lengthening the program, which isn’t the right direction, in my opinion.

    • Yes, I completely agree about the systemic v. individual points you make. Again, I sympathize with TR and to a certain extent, when you can’t change the system, individuals do have to change, but still, recognizing the systemic nature of the problem is important.

      I also agree about shortening programs, though I think recognition of sub-disciplines is important here. I took the horrifying 10 years to finish my degree, but my field also required knowing Latin, other European languages, studying paleography, and traveling to Europe to look at research in archives. Given that undergrad programs aren’t instilling these skills (no one is required to take Latin!), students who study in non-US areas have to learn them in grad school. And it would be a real shame if people just decided not to study non-US areas because they take too long/are too “difficult” (I’ve had a number of students who said they wanted to study medieval history and then when they found out they needed to know Latin, decided on US!).

      But that’s not really a criticism of the central point — just a comment that the length of program isn’t always super-negotiable (and kind of a response to TR’s original post, since I am one of the horrifying 10-years-ers!).

      (Granted, the people I knew who took the longest to finish – 17 years and 14 years – were both Americanists…)

      • 8 whitheramp

        New Kid,

        Yeah, I totally agree that some fields simply do require longer periods of training. At my university, all humanities students receive the same package, and it does seem almost unfair that Americanists (like me) doing all our work in English (though not all do, of course) have the same funding as colleagues trying to master Arabic or Chinese, in addition to the usual French and German, etc, etc.

        i think this in part ties back too, to the class issues that previous people have mentioned — in my uni, a decent number of the people working in fields that require intensive Greek and Latin, or Asian languages, come from pretty good background where they learned the basics in prep schools and then mastered languages at Ivies before even enrolling in grad school. people without these backgrounds, or who are coming to these topics later to the game, are always playing catch up.

        i’ll admit that i’m probably an Americanist in part because i didn’t think i could sacrifice the yrs needed to study other languages in the depth required.

  4. 9 The History Enthusiast

    I agree with everything you have to say about this debate; you’ve said it much more intellectually and more clearly than I’ve been able to, so I may point people to this post, if that’s okay.

    Your use of the word “entitlement” really hits the nail on the head. This whole debate, in my mind, is just an extension of the privilege that tenure-track professors embody which makes them tend to look down on those who haven’t landed that enviable job. Now, there are plenty of profs out there who don’t embrace that privilege (like Dr. Crazy), but the commenters on all the main posts just smack of elitism to me. The luxury of telling us what to do when they know nothing about our family backgrounds, economic circumstances, intellectual ability, etc. is endlessly frustrating.

    A commenter on my post from today (http://historyenthusiast.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/lost-hope/) also pointed out that many of the people involved in this debate who have t-t positions are being hypocritical about this whole mess. Sort of a “do as I say, not as I do” situation, since they either a) entered academia knowing the risks, or b) were “duped” in the same ways that some grad students are today.

  5. 10 The History Enthusiast

    I forgot to mention that this whole debate–where graduate students encourage reform and some professors don’t see a problem–reminds me of other reform movements like the women’s rights movement, where anti-suffragists claimed that women brought problems on themselves, they needed to stop whining about not having the right to vote, etc. Obviously our little internet spat is not even on that scope, but when considering the privileged positions of many professors the similarities are striking. Anyone who challenges the status quo (including some of the sympathetic professors) must be silenced or belittled.

  6. 11 bardiac

    I followed the link from the History Enthusiast to read this.

    I found the comment about how some suggestions seek to change graduate students, while we should be focusing on changing the structure of graduate and post-secondary education more broadly.

    I really like the idea of shortening the time to degree. I think one of the best ways to do that would be to fund grad students better, so they had a couple years of full funding (say first and last year), and two years of teaching (or lab work, where appropriate) with solid mentoring. I don’t think students need to teach for five years to be ready to step into a tt teaching job, but some teaching sure helps.

  7. 12 thefrogprincess

    THE, I just cannot agree more. So much elitism from people who know absolutely nothing about us. I saw you mention your background over at Historiann’s and I’ve gotta say: I think the issue of class doesn’t get nearly enough focus as a line along which academia really struggles to diversify. Also there was this weird competitive thing going on, as though because my situation is better off than an auto worker, I’ve lost my right to question what’s going on. When I’ve chatted about academia with my working-class friends from high school, they too wonder what’s up. They may not understand why I’m in school for so long but they too expect that I’m getting a job when it’s all over, or else why would I have bothered in the first place? The whole thing (barring Dr. Crazy’s post) has really left a bad taste in my mouth.

  8. 13 The History Enthusiast

    Here here for better funding opportunities! My university does not have a single internal fellowship for history ABDs. An affiliated institution has one open to humanities students, but the funding here is really abysmal. Having 5 years of teaching experience (4 as a full instructor) has its benefits now that I’m on the market, but it certainly makes for a long trek toward graduation.

    Bardiac, I hope you don’t feel attacked by any of our comments! There are plenty of professors out there who aren’t taking sides or who are sympathetic to graduate students and so don’t interpret our ranting as an attack on all professors of all stripes. (Frogprincess, sorry if I overstep my bounds by saying that).

  9. 14 The History Enthusiast

    Frogprincess, you are so right! Gosh, my parents’ combined income is $40,000. And that’s with my mom working both a full time and a part time job during about 4 months out of the year. My aunts and uncles are well off (lawyers, etc.) but my branch of the family has always struggled to make ends meet, so my childhood was very different from, say, my advisor’s. He went to your institution and has wine and cheese parties for colleagues, his family has a summer home, etc….growing up it was common for us to eat SPAM and instant potatoes (and that wasn’t just b/c my parents had two young kids). I’m not knocking my parents at all, though, because I would much prefer my humble background!

    • 15 thefrogprincess

      We ate a lot of Spam/tinned corned beef at my household so I’m with you. And for different reasons (my parents and work weren’t hand in hand) we had roughly the same income. Being working- or lower-middle-class isn’t an insurmountable hurdle but it does make certain things more difficult and it’s just not being recognized.

      • 16 The History Enthusiast

        In some ways my class background isn’t a hurdle for me, because my family has always put a lot of stake in college and thankfully the concept of graduate school (while not something my parents were interested in) was not one that I had to defend. And, I’m not saying that all people who come from a working class background are opposed to higher education, just that sometimes they aren’t in a position where grad school looks like a practical or viable route. Education has always been a HUGE priority in my family (including my extended family, and including female members not just the male cousins). My family is middle class and has some of the “perks” that go along with that.

        In other ways, though, grad school and my interactions with profs who went to Ivys has made me feel a bit like an outsider. I didn’t really realize that I was “lower” middle class until I saw how academics and intellectuals live and how my advisor sees the world. Our worldviews and expectations are just so fundamentally different (this is partly due to my Christianity as well). I see nothing wrong with hanging out with what he would call “poor” people, and some of my best friends growing up lived in trailers, or had three kids and two parents squashed into tiny rentals, or whatever. What mattered to me as a child, and to my parents, was that we were happy and that we came to realize that earthly possessions can’t bring true happiness. If my advisor knew more about my background he would probably think I was “low class,” but thankfully I don’t care what he thinks. Sorry to navel gaze, but I am just continually more aware of my status as an outsider. Thankfully I’m at a public institution where many of my cohort come from similar backgrounds. I have no useful suggestions for how to change this class “bias,” but it is an interesting issue that should be addressed by someone more qualified than I.

  10. 17 thefrogprincess

    No worries, History Enthusiast. You’re absolutely right, we’re not attacking all professors. I don’t think the back and forth is particularly productive but I just couldn’t stand down when we’re being told we’re entitled for questioning what’s up.

    Bardiac, I’m with you about funding. Especially since steady employment in the field might not materialize quickly, steady funding is vital. The only thing that concerns me is what I alluded to in the original post. Time-to-completion rates can only decrease across the board when the expectations for what a decent job candidate looks like decrease accordingly. If the standard is a few years of archival research (for historians, obviously), an article or two, teaching experience (both TA and full instructor), and a dissertation that’s halfway to a book, then it’s impossible to do that in four or five years. Louis Menand had a good article about this a few months ago:

    http://harvardmagazine.com/2009/11/professionalization-in-academy

    One highlight is this quote: If Ph.D. programs were determinate in length—if getting a Ph.D. were like getting a law degree—then graduate education might acquire additional focus and efficiency. It might also attract more of the many students who, after completing college, yearn for deeper immersion in academic inquiry, but who cannot envision spending six years or more struggling through a graduate program and then finding themselves virtually disqualified for anything but a teaching career that they cannot count on having.

    He has several other gems in there as well that get to the heart of the matter. It’s well worth a read.

  11. 18 The History Enthusiast

    One strength of the Ph.D. program at my M.A. institution (not where I am now, I should clarify) was that the program was very structured. All the students took their comps at the same time (even the same month!) and then everyone ended up being ABD together, and most everyone taught their own class at the same time. That uniformity broke down during the last year of so of the program, but early on the structure was great for my friends who stayed at the institution for the whole shebang. This is really critical, I think.

    A real weakness of my department now is that no one is on the same schedule and there isn’t a lot of pressure to move the exams along (although there’s pressure to get the diss written). This is why time to degree is an issue here. I’ve talked to some professors about this and I totally agree that Menand’s article can provide some useful points to consider. Of course, as lowly graduate students, it isn’t my place to make changes at the institutional level. If only I had some power!

    P.S. I think I read a version of this in the NYT, though, so I’m not sure if it’s the same as the one you linked to.

  12. 19 bardiac

    No, I didn’t feel attacked at all.

    You’re right about the expectations for new people coming out. In English, at my school, we certainly don’t expect a dissertation to be halfway to a book. But at R1s, I have no idea.

    I don’t know how to change the expectations issue, given that it’s one of those things where the person who “does more” has an individual advantage in doing so, and the school that expects more may feel it’s got an advantage as well. We may be able to all see that it’s a problem, but as long as there’s an individual advantage to doing it, enough people will do it to make reform difficult if not impossible.

    And the problem carries through to greater expectations for tenure/promotion. Even at my school, we expect more and more in terms of publication, teaching, and service. And we don’t do a good job tenuring people of color or women, in general, at my school. (My department seems to do pretty well, but…)

  13. “the fairly unethical way the humanities is running itself at the moment?”

    This. Right here. I sense people passing responsibility in this conversation because they don’t want to stare down the barrel of the fact that they are imbricated in a deeply unethical system and they benefit from that position, however marginally.

    I do think it’s a little too much to feel duped, but there is a kind of do as I say not as I do quality to the advice as well. How seriously does one take advice like “There aren’t jobs, you probably won’t be hired” from someone who has a position? It worked out for you. Are you saying I’m not quite as good as you are? Well, no. Typically your mentors aren’t. And so even if you process what they’re saying, they are standing there living proof that sometimes it works out. Are we really so wrong for assuming, consciously or not, that everything will be alright…just maybe it will work out? When we’re surrounded by people for whom it did work out.

    Maybe if we spent more time around bitter career adjuncts. I don’t know.

    I also completely agree with you that we talk far too little about class as it relates to graduate school.

  14. 21 The History Enthusiast

    Bardiac: You are so right! My friends who’ve been on the tenure track for only 2 years are feeling so much pressure, even though they teach 4-4. As long as some of us (myself included) feel like we must do anything and everything we’re told, the system will always appear to be a meritocracy. Perhaps that’s the best advice to give students wanting a Ph.D.: tell them that this is NOT a meritocracy.

    Anastasia: You are so right! A prof at my school said something a few months ago about how no one will get a job this year. I responded with, “well, lots of people won’t get jobs, but some people will be hired!” That kind of hyperbole struck me as odd because, while our chances are slim, there are still jobs out there. So, it is working out for some lucky people! Why can’t that lucky person be me? Sure the odds are slim, but it isn’t impossible.

    I really have no room to talk, since I’m only ABD and this is my first year on the market, but it seems to me that for PhDs who’ve been on the market for multiple years it is especially frustrating to hear the “do as I say, not as I do” advice that some profs pedal.

    • 22 whitheramp

      THE, like you, i’ve been on the market for the first time this year as an ABD, so I don’t feel quite the same pressure and frustration that people who’ve been on multiple years feel. it’s so funny how little things, like just getting a call back or interview, can be so motivating at this stage, even if nothing ultimately pans out this year — there are all these glimmers of hope that keep us going, telling us maybe *I* will be the lucky one! hahaha. i’m not sure that’s a good thing, but i hear ya.

      • 23 Deborah

        THE and whitheramp, I’m ABD and on the market for the first time, too, but I’m coming to believe that hope is a dangerous thing for us in these times. It feeds the adjunct machine, which, in turn, contributes to this job market which looks increasingly like the lottery. I’m adjuncting this spring while I finish up, but I have also begun actively looking for work outside academia. Although I will probably go on the market for a t-t job again in the fall (and this time with more publications and the degree in hand), I don’t think hope will contribute one way or another to my fate. I guess I’m being a little hopeful in planning on another job search in the first place, but I’m also trying to be more pragmatic than I’ve been in the past. Yes, my goal is still to become a professor (and may remain so for the next few years), but if I’m gainfully employed as a writer/editor or communications coordinator or whatever, not getting that coveted interview won’t feel like as much of a loss. Heh, and if I do get an MLA interview, at least I’ll be able to afford the plane ticket.

  15. 24 Won Dum Joo

    The Academic Job Search: A Love Story

    (Keeping the faith through pure hell).

    Won Dum Joo

  16. I’m probably even less inclined to listen to the “you’ll never get a job” saw having been offered a t-t position as an ABD candidate. It can happen! Not to undercut the reality but the hyperbole of “no one will get hired” is not helping.

  17. 26 thefrogprincess

    Wow, I step away for a few hours and things are on and popping over here. Thanks for all the great comments.

    On the issue of hope and hyperbole, I generally fall on the more pessimistic side of life and so phrases like “I’ll never get a job” fall off my tongue pretty easily. But I do find that people tend to fall either in the camp of “I’ll never get a job” or “What’re you talking about, of course something will work out.” But nobody’s making serious backup plans. Maybe that’s what’s needed: maybe professors don’t need to say, “you ain’t getting hired” but maybe they should say, “How are you going to support yourself once your funding runs out or during the several years you might be an adjunct?” Even if they just say that once and then send you on your way to the career center, at least you now know it’s a conversation that can be had with your advisor.

    Deborah raises a critical point when she says “[hope] feeds the adjunct machine.” This is where the arguments about personal responsibility fall down for me. Academia cannot survive without adjunct labor; adjunct labor has to have a PhD since virtually all students at the elite universities demand to be taught by professors (as New Kid notes); and so academia (as a whole) has a lot invested in continuing to produce PhDs. Saying that students not already in academe already knew what they were getting into is not only false, it shifts blame away from the adjunct labor issue.

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