holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)
[personal profile] holyschist posting in [community profile] academia
[personal profile] ithiliana posted a link to an interesting blog post at Tenured Radical, which had a link to another post that generated some pretty heated discussion. I thought both of them raised some very interesting points (understand, I'm pretty unhappy with my grad school experience and wish I'd received more honesty and less spin at certain points).

Anyway, I thought these provide some interesting fodder for discussion. What do you all think? Do you agree with any of this? Do you think it applies to fields other than the humanities and how?

Playing The Blame Game: Or; How Should Graduate Schools Respond To The Bad Job Market?

In fact, I don't know a single form of professional education that guarantees its graduates a job, whether the market is good or bad, and why Ph.D. granting programs have a special moral responsibility to do this is unclear. But on the job wikis and the blogs there is an emerging consensus that the jobless should have received a waiver of liability with the letter of admission (which Brown University actually used to send its graduate students in English back in the sad old 1980s, and most of us who knew someone who received one were horrified by the practice.) Resentful job seekers , in other words, speak in the language of fraud rather than regret. This I find astonishing, given that an hour of research prior to applying, or accepting an offer of admission, could tell any prospective graduate student what their academic job prospects might look like six to seven years hence.

The only thing that makes this phenomenon less astonishing is that today's prospective graduate students were yesterday's undergraduates, and undergraduate education has been trending towards nanny-ism and false guarantees for several decades. But what is it that graduate programs and professional associations could do to intervene in this situation? I have three suggestions.

  • Ph.D. programs should not allow graduate students to matriculate within three years of having attained the bachelor's degree.

  • Ph.D. programs should not allow graduate students to matriculate within three years of having attained the bachelor's degree.

  • Professional associations, particularly in history and literary studies, need to think about accreditation of graduate programs.


Like Sands Through The Hourglass, So Are The Days Of Our Lives: Having The Courage Not To Go To Graduate School

However: the idea that life will pass you by if you actually take time to live it (as opposed to studying it, or acquire more education to enter life at a higher level than ordinary folk) is worrisome to some of us who watch talented people graduate from our universities only to return a year later to say that they want back in. I worry that it is a symptom of being part of a generation of over-scheduled overachievers raised to believe that the sands of time run quicker if you aren't writing a memoir about your alcoholic mother, starting your own film production company or scoring big time with your new band in those crucial twelve months after graduation. The concern seems to be that living life is an uncertain proposition at best, a huge waste of time at worst. Those of us who advise contemplation and acquiring experience outside the classroom are perceived by Generation Adderall as hopelessly out of touch.


There is much more in the posts, including explanations of each of the ideas I quoted. I'm really curious what other people think.

P.S. [personal profile] ajnabieh, would you be comfortable with community members being able to add tags? Right now it's set so we can't.

Date: 2010-05-03 04:22 am (UTC)
majoline: picture of Majoline, mother of Bon Mucho in Loco Roco 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] majoline
Is there anyway except computers to make above the poverty line in a way that doesn't involve grad school?

I'm not being sarcastic. Is there? I mean, I guess you could start a small business. Or take the bar?

Date: 2010-05-03 04:40 am (UTC)
egret: egret in Harlem Meer (Default)
From: [personal profile] egret
Community college nursing or medical technician program.
A friend who is a medical technician has matched my academic salary for years.

Date: 2010-05-03 05:20 am (UTC)
majoline: picture of Majoline, mother of Bon Mucho in Loco Roco 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] majoline
Considering I know the wikipedia article on Mississippi is an understatement, yeah, I don't know about whether any of those jobs would pay well here.

Date: 2010-05-03 05:59 am (UTC)
majoline: picture of Majoline, mother of Bon Mucho in Loco Roco 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] majoline
Considering we'd probably bring our income up about 5k, we'd probably not be as desperate, but we'd still be shopping at the dollar store. And owe loans :S

*wants to find the magical money tree*

Date: 2010-05-03 06:59 am (UTC)
majoline: picture of Majoline, mother of Bon Mucho in Loco Roco 2 (Default)
From: [personal profile] majoline
True! That's why I subscribed here, for discussions just like this!

I would love to go to grad school but for me, it may be something that I do when I already have money and can go back to school or it may be something that may wait until more programs are on online.

It is however not reasonable to expect insta!job post-degree, nor should previous returns be considered indicative of future success.

There does seem to be some sort of meme that one can only succeed with a Master's probably because there are no jobs and Master's students often get some slight recompense in TA'ing classes.

Date: 2010-05-03 07:48 am (UTC)
yvi: Kaylee half-smiling, looking very pretty (Default)
From: [personal profile] yvi
Keep in mind that I am from another country where this question would never be asked (decent job training will get you well above the poverty line here), I would think that physics, mathematics and engineering students are pretty well off with a Bachelor's degree.

Date: 2010-05-03 02:05 pm (UTC)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
From: [personal profile] ajnabieh
Well, but there are multiple definitions of "grad school" at work here. An MBA or a master's that leads to a teaching certification or a JD or or an MD or some other sort of professional degree strikes me as a different thing than an MA in an academic subject or a PhD, right? Because a PhD in a humanities field really only prepares you to teach that subject at the college level--there's slightly more openness in the social sciences, and more still in the physical sciences, but it's still pretty tight. So even if the MA is the new entry-level degree for some professional jobs (which is a little bizarre, let's agree), it still doesn't mean that getting a PhD in English that you pay for is a good idea for your financial future.

And, yeah, this ALL depends on where you are and what the economy looks like.

*needs to remember to port over a professor-icon to this account...*

Date: 2010-05-03 02:06 pm (UTC)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
From: [personal profile] ajnabieh
I am fine with it...I will just have to figure out how to make the settings, er, do that. N00B MOD WARNING.

(I have to run to the store, will have a longer comment when I return...)

Date: 2010-05-03 03:57 pm (UTC)
troisroyaumes: Painting of a duck, with the hanzi for "summer" in the top left (Default)
From: [personal profile] troisroyaumes
I actually did go into grad school after receiving advice to take (at least) one year off before matriculating and with full knowledge of job market prospects (my undergraduate thesis advisor was applying for tenure-track faculty positions at other universities, and the post-doc I worked with had made the decision to move from academia to industry). That being said, it's still really hard for me to admit that it would have been better for me personally to have waited after getting my bachelor's instead of jumping straight into a Ph.D. program. I don't know if I would have done anything differently the second time around due to other circumstances beyond my control but I do think a year off would have helped.

I think I am mentally prepared for the prospect of not necessarily having a career in academia, but the institutional culture certainly promotes feeling like a failure if you don't "make it" and "sell out" to a different career path.

Date: 2010-05-03 05:25 pm (UTC)
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I think both these posts are talking to the small subset of humanities Ph.D. students. Certainly I have no doubts that my friends going into science Ph.D. programs will have no trouble finding a job somewhere, though it may not be within the academy--and they'll make more money, in funding, from the day they start graduate school, than I will.

I was frustrated by the Tenured Radical post, though, because she frankly admits that her own tenure-track job was a fluke but then castigates readers for making the same choice that she did, namely, to go to graduate school. I question what her alternative job solution is, too, given how awful the job market for the younger demographics is now--people just graduating from college are at an enormous disadvantage. As an incoming humanities Ph.D. student, I have no problem with the fact that my job prospects are uncertain at best (and I chose my program, which has less funding but better job placements, with that fact very much in mind), and I'm quite comfortable with the idea of leaving the academy if I have to after I complete my degree. But I do wish people within the academy were a bit more honest about the realities of the situation.

That said, I don't regret my choice to go; I'm willing to take my chances, and I'm doing it knowingly. But for the same reason I was very clear that I absolutely had to have full funding for my Ph.D., because otherwise I would be shooting myself in the financial feet for the rest of my life. I was lucky in that I had two programs making me the offer I needed to choose from.

Date: 2010-05-04 02:49 am (UTC)
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Well, I'm speaking from a relatively privileged position even within the humanities, because I did score one of the rare funded slots thanks to a combination of factors. But my Ph.D. is unequivocally being financed on the back of paying M.A. students, which is an uncomfortable truth.

What I really think is that graduate programs need to only admit the people that they can fully fund, full stop, and not give people who don't get full funding the opportunity to hang themselves with their own aspirations. And a graduate degree is definitely not necessary to get a decent job, but undergraduate institutions and advisors need to be a lot stronger on that message (especially for people who want to go into English literature and MFA creative writing programs)--most undergrads and people considering grad school don't read the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But, yeah, the thing about that Tenured Radical post for me is that she goes on about half of her Ph.D. cohort having left the academy but doesn't ennumerate what sort of jobs they hold now, and I didn't get the sense that she understands the desperation that is driving people my age (25) back into grad programs, mostly unfunded. Objectively speaking my generation is pretty much screwed no matter what we do, of course, but that's another can of worms.

Date: 2010-05-04 02:04 am (UTC)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (Default)
From: [personal profile] ajnabieh
(OK, now to say something substantive...)

I'm a longtime reader of TR's. I do think she brings up a good point about the necessity of being very, very honest with prospective grad students about the state of the field, and also about what else you can do with a PhD. For some folks, the answer really is "not much." For others, the answer is "these ten other things, many of which you might find interesting." And I think it behooves professors to remember to tell their students this, and prospective grad students to have thoughts along this line. So I went into my PhD program knowing that, though I'd rather be a professor, I'd also be happy working for a thinktank, an NGO or IGO (non-governmental/intergovernmental organization), or somewhere else where I was influencing the policy debate. (In some sort of ideal universe, I'd love to work for the US government--I just have yet to see a US administration where I'd be able to implement the policies I would be told to implement without moral reservations.) And if this next round on the academic job market doesn't work out, well, I have options. Occasionally I worry that my grad school career makes me less marketable than I would have been if I'd taken a more traditional route, but I followed my intellectual passions and it's not worth apologizing for that.

At the same time, TR does a really poor job of acknowledging the "we are not brains on sticks" problem, i.e., that academics are also people with human relationships leading embodied lives, and that we are entitled to take those things into account. She's given advice which basically amounts to "if your partner wants to put geographical limitations on where you can apply for jobs, then you should basically admit that you're sacrificing everything you ever worked for just to please another person," and has also been vaguely grumpy about accommodations for folks having kids. And this is the sort of shit that makes me stabby. Academia, despite the similarities, is not actually the priesthood or the CIA; we did not actually sign away our entire lives to this, and we are entitled to want to be able to accommodate multiple aspects of our lives simultaneously. (In fact, I damn well think it's feminist to want to do so.) This is all to say that I don't think she takes the "I need to be out of school and able to support a family before I'm 35" point seriously. From where I'm sitting, as someone whose wife lost her job right when I lost my funding, and when we had a three-month-old infant, these are things that matter.

Is anyone else tired of these conversations? Maybe I spend too much time reading the academic blogosphere, but it seems like there's a lot of handwringing around OH NOES WHAT WILL THE GRAD STUDENTS DOOOOOOO? I suppose my answer is "get jobs; not get jobs; figure out other jobs." Maybe it's that I go to a school where lots of people fall into the "get other jobs" category, and do so willingly. IDK.

Date: 2010-05-04 09:12 pm (UTC)
ajnabieh: The text "My Marxist feminist dialective brings all the boys to the yard."   (3w4d)
From: [personal profile] ajnabieh
the You Must Sacrifice Your Live to Academia was very much a part of the pressure I got to not take time off and decide whether graduate school was really for me.

Oh yeah, this definitely cuts both ways--this isn't a question that has one solution, but that requires taking things into consideration. I also feel like she hasn't responded to the thoughts that these issues are different for first gen college attenders and POC. (Maybe she has by now; I've been grading, not checking the thread obsessively, which I do sometimes!)

I definitely have had moments like that about my program. Our administration is disgustingly mercenary. It's made worse by the fact that we have a really, really high-level faculty of top scholars, all of whom are politically committed and argumentative, and then an administration who thinks that all we really need to do is make more money off our undergrads and starve out the grad students worse. My incoming MA class (I went straight through) had thirty people in it; I think fewer than ten of those are still in the program. Everybody else was there to pay their $15K a semester (some of them didn't make it to semester #2) and get ripped off. And because funding is so poor, I have two friends who've taken over a year to advance to candidacy, because they don't have the support they'd need to get their damn proposals done and get to work. This is just unethical.

I don't mind having this convo again--I'm totally glad people keep having it! But I suppose I'm at the point where I want some ACTION, you know? I want BULLET POINTS and THINGS TO DO. This is me.

Date: 2010-05-04 02:53 am (UTC)
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Occasionally I worry that my grad school career makes me less marketable than I would have been if I'd taken a more traditional route, but I followed my intellectual passions and it's not worth apologizing for that.

Yes, exactly. I would have been put on salary at the hourly job I have now if I hadn't been clear that I was starting grad school in the fall when I was hired, and had I gone on salary I could be office and most likely practice manager (it's a doctor's office) in the next two to five years. But it's not what I want to do with my life. And I am willing to gamble on doing what I like, at least for now.

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