Friday food fights! Plus evidence of my evildoing, with links.

What’s your pleasure?  There are lots of snarling fights all over the place these days:

  • Tenured Radical returns to the U.S. from her travels and mulls over the question, “How Should Graduate Schools Respond to the Bad Job Market,” and gets accused of and blamed for all sorts of crimes she never committed and things she never said.  (So does Historiann, in the comments!)  Yeah–because Tenured Radical has never, ever offered any helpful advice or a sympathetic ear (or shoulder) to graduate students negotiating the job market.  What a horrible, horrible person!
  • Katherine Franke at Feminist Law Professors, in “Marriage Equality:  The Old Fashioned Version” schools us on what’s wrong with feminism today:  “Among the things that drives me to the highest levels of frustration when I consider the state of feminism today is the way in which women, particularly mothers and wives, have given up on men. Not so long ago we had a rich, systemic and unrelenting critique of the ways in which fathers and husbands felt little or no obligation to do domestic work – whether it be taking care of kids, maintaining the household – even clearing the table – or other “reproductive” work. The fact that men felt entitled to and received a free pass when it came to this work received a thorough working over by those who cared about dismantling the second class status of women.”  Just go read the whole thing–especially the part where she participated in a networking breakfast among women lawyers from their 20s to their 60s.  “Perhaps the most interesting moment was when the more senior women asked the younger women whether they would call themselves feminists. ‘No’ most replied – ‘it’s not something for our generation. We feel burdened by feminism – it means we have to do it all, but we haven’t been given any tools to pull this off: be successful lawyers, mothers, and good wives/partners.’ What emerged from the conversation was a sense that the younger women didn’t see feminism as opening up opportunities for women, but rather heaping on expectations. The older women in the room were shocked.”

Yeah:  feminism created all of those expectations!  Things were so much easier when upper-class white women just had to find a husband–the children and the Valium addiction were so fulfilling and relaxing, not to mention easy.  Did I mention that they were relaxing too?  Sorry–I just can’t keep anything in my tiny little brain any more!  Because as an employed historian with tenure in an M.A. granting department, I’m just a huge part of the problem for frustrated graduate students these days too, here’s just a taste of just how I have used this space to heap burning coals on the heads of graduate students everywhere.  (And this is only a partial list:)

85 thoughts on “Friday food fights! Plus evidence of my evildoing, with links.

  1. Wow, impossible to catch up with this interesting thread this far into it, but just as impossible to ignore it and still hope to sleep, so I’ll just add a tiny mite. I think pretty much everything that could be said has been said here, on most sides of all substantive questions. I spent much of the day in the company of a large number of fairly advanced dissertators and early stage post-docs and heard more than a little about searches, convention interviews, and what not else. And I also attended a practice job talk by someone with an on-campus trip next week to a place I’d probably go to right now for, say, $1 a year, plus benefits.

    I’ll just take a shot at Historiann’s question about her advisor, and my own (who I’m pretty sure is the same as John S’s). Historiann, your advisor evolved a good deal in the decade before you got there in terms of realizing that the old Ivy-Network effect wasn’t going to get it done, and also that a job outside the research-factory loop was still something that you could be proud of. This was largely, I think, a result not just of being responsible for his own students, but for the many from dozens of other grad. schools at the center he ran, and seeing their travails, their resilience, and their adaptability. When I first got there some of the old boyz (not him) would admit that the job crisis was real enough, to be sure, but that it would *never* lap high enough to wash away anybody at dear old BFU. That faculty generation couldn’t very well advise us too much. They didn’t know what a convention interview was and had never heard of a “search committee,” because they didn’t EXIST (save maybe for university presidents). Some of them evolved and your advisor was one of them, to his great credit. The history profession (I know that a number of people on this blog are from other disciplines and/or walks of life) doesn’t really do any better of a job than the law, medicine, or engineering, do–in their respective fields–of educating its generations of newcomers about the history of the history profession. (Beyond a few adages about conflict v. consensus, progressive historiography, the Annales School, and tired workhorses of that sort).

    As for what he would have said on the “feelings” question, I smile… I think JJO has it down pretty well, except I would add maybe a reflexive and involuntary “sniff” in there in that chain of initial, awkward, one-word sentences. But when he got that chapter, it would come back extensively commented on.

    As for my advisor, I think John S. got it pretty much right. He was more prone to the two hour talk, if you wanted or needed it, only it wasn’t about “feelings.” More just a blindingly multi-perspective analysis of the different ways you could look at a given thing. He never told you what to do, just how you could consider or understand a sitution. He also practiced a form of academic planned parenthood. He would never turn away a potential advisee, but he also never sought out or took students just for the sake of having them, and he never sought acolytes. It was years of prowling the stacks of the library before I found a signed dissertation by him in what the world would have considered “his” narrow subject area, but many that he signed on other subjects. He was almost everybody’s second or third reader, and sometimes got more profuse praise in dissertation acknowledgments than did the director of record. He gave as much time to undergraduates as he did to his own graduate students. He never refused to give advice just because you had ignored his last piece of advice, and that seemed pretty rare. I could go on. I had every version of every possible conversation along these lines, more than once. Dropped out, dropped back in, hung out, hung in, rested up, took the gigs and opportunities he sent my way, and finally got it right. Hopefully.

    John S., we’ll be looking for whatever it is you FedExed to Philly, although in truth, if it’s later than Sunday, I’ll be heading the other direction, into the Tall Trees!


  2. I have to agree with Paul S., don’t graduate students talk amongst themselves? I had no idea about the job market when I began my PhD, but certainly by the time I was studying for my comps I had been apprised of the situation by grad students further along in the program than me. Quizzing the recent hires produced the same results, even if my own adviser had a rosier view of the market than warranted. (although to his credit, when he finished his PhD back in the 70s he said there was ONE job in the entire country for him to apply to, so maybe anything since has seemed better.) So I knew what was up well before I had invested a lot of time and made my decision with open eyes.


  3. Hi everyone–sorry to have had to check out for most of yesterday. (More on that later.) I want to thank everyone commenting here for keeping it friendly and civil. (You guys are the best!)

    Like Indyanna, I appreciate the many excellent points raised in this thread, from both the faculty and the graduate student perspectives. I also appreciate History Maven’s call for trying to understand both perspectives. As she says, tenured professors weren’t born that way, nor did most of them have their careers handed to them on a silver platter. This is something I of which I still have to remind myself, when I think about the “stars” in my field. One thing that’s really helped with understanding this perspective was getting more involved with the Berkshire Conference, where one can meet and network with women from 22 to 90 and learn all about their careers. As it turns out, everyone I think of as a “star” in my field has her story of being denied tenure, of being bullied on the job, of having a baby or two held against her, etc. There are no charmed careers–not at least among the women scholars I know of. At the same time, people who get tenure-track jobs appear to forget pretty quickly the struggles of the grad student years, because they’re on to the next struggle (tenure, getting a better job, etc.). A little more humility and perspective from faculty who don’t hate their jobs and are no longer eating beans & rice every night is necessary, too.

    I am concerned to hear from some of the grad students in this thread (like thefrogprincess) that they’re still being reassured that everything will work out for *them* if they study in the right programs with the right advisors. This is magical thinking. My guess is that the faculty advisors who are spreading around that kind of fake sunshine either are extremely arrogant, or are suffering a kind of status anxiety themselves and need to believe that they have the magic keys to the kingdom of academe. (Or both, perhaps.) This is malpractice. Full stop. As many have suggested already (Paul S., Nikki, and others), your fellow graduate students and more specifically, the ABDs and recent Ph.D.s from your program have better and more realistic intel about your future job prospects. Don’t discount them or assume that everything will be different very soon–they are you in a year or two or three, and as I and many others have commented in this thread and in recent posts on the AHA, the job crisis in history employment is nothing new.

    Geoff and thefrogprincess note the ways in which the academy reproduces itself, because of the many hurdles to a career in academia that are difficult if not impossible to negotiate if one is a first generation college student and/or from a working class background. I think this is an excellent point, because the struggles of the job market tend to weed out students who don’t have a family/financial cushion to fall back on. Even in the “golden years” of the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was lucky enough to get my jobs, it was de rigeur to have at least a year or two of adjuncting or teaching in non tenure-track jobs. (I did 3 semesters like that and had my Ph.D. in hand before I got a t-t job offer. It was already unusual for ABDs to get job offers.) But, not everyone has the time or money to try the job market again and again. Many people have family responsibilities, geographical mobility issues, financial pressures, etc. that mean that they can’t keep going back indefinitely until their number comes up.

    This is the harsh reality that ends up weeding people out–and as TR suggested and many of you agree, these people would be better served if they had training in skills beyond research and teaching (such as admin, public history, etc.) That’s all I think she was trying to suggest by initiating this conversation.


  4. I guess my response to thefrogprincess is yes, departments keep accepting more students than will get jobs. Some of that is about natural attrition. In my cohort at Grad U (fairly prestigious, but not an Ivy), the department usually brought in 12-15 fully funded students a year (we came in with 4 years of funding), plus a few MA students and 2-3 people willing to pay their own way and not willing to take no for an answer. Generally, 1-3 students left after their first year, because grad school wasn’t what they’d hoped for.

    Now I do realize that this is far different from the bigger campuses (or even English Departments) where there is also a need for labor. And I agree that bringing in cheap labor is not a good reason for admitting people to grad school. But again, when I was looking at grad school admissions, I was offered a place with TA-ships that were not guaranteed, a couple of places with just tuition (where I had stupidly applied just to the MA programs rather than to the PhD programs), and to Grad U, which offered a nice package to pretty much all its PhD students. But again, isn’t that something that incoming grad students should be looking at? The information for graduation and employment rates compared to students admitted is not that difficult to find.

    I think one of the issues here is that many students going into grad school think of it as more school — and it is. I know I did. I had no idea of what else I *could* do with a degree in History, so grad school and being a professor sounded pretty cool. But if you think of it as professional training, which it is, then I think a lot of the feelings that the system let you down go away. Except for some of the medical professions, any sort of professional training produces more qualified people than there are jobs.

    But then again, I am still boggling over the idea that people will pay to go to grad school (unless it’s in the UK — and only at certain unis –, where there aren’t really many bursaries and the prestige of the degree and the specific training in research really can help to justify the costs). But a lot of the people complaining about betrayal have also said that they came from non-traditional backgrounds, and nobody explained how it worked. Well, so did I, and it never occurred to me that I could go to grad school, because I didn’t have the money and was not about to take out $100k in loans I had no idea how I’d repay. My undergrad advisors gave me little direct advice about grad school or the job market, but they did tell me that good programs had funding, and that I shouldn’t go unless I got the funding (which of course, they said, I would).

    But the idea that we suffer and suffer and give years of our lives for a job we may never get? I may get the best job in the world and get cancer and not be able to keep it. Or even just not get tenure. But if a person’s entire identity as a useful human is wrapped up in only one goal, and nothing else will do, then I have to question the wisdom of the person.

    Analogous to this — look at astronauts. Talk about people who have to do some serious training, including graduate degrees. And the number of people who get those degrees and go through the training compared to the people who actually get to go into space is pretty large. Yes, the non-astronauts are employed, and they may be some of the best minds of their generation, but no one ever guaranteed them a spot.


  5. ADM (and others above): great points about the funding and the foolishness of debt. I tell my students (few though they are) who want to get a Ph.D. that it’s unacceptable to go into debt for the degree. (None of these folks had inheritances, to my knowledge.) I’ve had three u/g students in my career (14 years) enroll in a Ph.D. program. All three won fellowships, however: winning a graduate fellowship is no Golden Ticket. Here’s the rundown: I think one dropped out ABD, one has finished her Ph.D. and is a non tenure-track instructor, and the other is still a graduate student (second year). My guess is that these numbers are probably comparable to my peers teaching in departments that don’t award Ph.D.s.

    Dr. Crazy made this point above, and over at her place in response to this post and the one at Tenured Radical, to wit: there is a point to (and value in) learning beyond a direct route to employment. However, even she (like most of the faculty in this thread, I’m guessing) is adamant that she won’t bless students who want to get a Ph.D. by going into debt.


  6. I don’t think it’s true that new PhDs aren’t going to get a job. It appears that the vast, vast majority of you aren’t going to get the job you thought you were training for: tenure track teaching position at the research university of your choice. But you’re probably light years ahead in getting a job.

    But, hey, new PhDs I’ll revisit your inability to get a job when you start joining the army and going to Iraq because there’s no other work available for you.

    Re: Unis hiring adjuncts while taking PhD candidates: It’s about the money. Period. It isn’t a program-specific issue, it isn’t going to be solved by reforming programs, admission policies, disclosure policies, or even whole universities. It’s a society-wide problem and until it’s looked at that way the commodification of everything will continue.

    You’re mad b/c you’re being treated like just another commodity, just like every other line worker that makes money for the business owners. The Ivory Tower privilege of being special has pretty much worn away for everybody. You ARE a line worker and you’re just as expendable as any other line worker. Is that unethical? Maybe, but it’s not something a University is in any position to fight because it’s the way of the world. Change the world, the U will follow.


  7. ADM, I don’t think we disagree all that much. I do view graduate school as professional training rather than just more school or a pleasant holding pattern, an approach that, incidentally, hasn’t done me any favors. (On a side note: at least among graduate students in my program, appearing to be too concerned with professionalization is a strike against you.) But I do think viewing this process as professionalization means different things to different people. For me, it means that, while I am in the field because I have questions I want answered, I expect to have a decent job, with decent benefits and a decent salary; and no, that doesn’t mean an R1 job for me. If I didn’t have those expectations, I’d have skipped the past five years that, frankly, have been pretty miserable (for reasons unique to me).

    Again, nobody owes me a job. And maybe I’m too young and my friends haven’t had enough bumps in the road, but I don’t know anybody who went to medical or law school who isn’t employed in the medical or legal professions currently. (What is happening, at least on the law side, is that firms have hired a lot of people and then are paying them to not work while the market sorts itself out. I’m assuming that some of these people will be laid off but again, that’s an issue of this recent economic downturn, not the status quo for the past few decades.) Moreover, my friends in other professions are frankly horrified when they hear about the job prospects in academia. I’m sorry but I just don’t think the comparisons to other postgraduate-degree-requiring professions hold up.

    Also, cohorts of 12-15 people sound reasonable to me. It’s the 25-30 group that seems ill-advised.

    Totally agreed on the funding point and the strongest advice I did receive was on just this point. This message I do think is getting out loud and clear: don’t go to graduate school unless you’re being paid to do so.

    I may be blogging about this later over at my place because I have some thoughts not immediately germane to this conversation.


  8. Because my field is law I’m not at the center of this (fascinating!) discussion, but I had an experience on point two years ago when one of my former students from 11 years ago decided to quit being a lawyer and seek a liberal arts PhD. He asked me, along with two of his undergrad profs who obviously went back even further, to recommend him. I complied, warning him of the job market and telling him under no circumstances to pay tuition. His applications went 0 for 8. He applied again this year to a wider set of schools and I think he’ll get in.

    For me the interesting part has been his reaction to my warnings about his job prospects. He has told me in no uncertain terms to shut up. I’ve e-mailed him some informative links from this blog and TR; he asked me nicely to stop. As for validating his feelings, he thinks I’m a complete failure because I have expressed ZERO sympathy re: his misery and frustration practicing law in today’s terrible market.

    So, a propos of Historiann’s question about who exactly is promising the rosy scenario: If I’m coming across to him like a mean old boor, then his undergrad recommenders must be telling him nothing about his job prospects?


  9. I wonder if one reason why some profs still offer encouraging words is not out of arrogance or ignorance but because they hate confrontation or to be the bearer of bad news? It’s still not acceptable, even in that case, but it seems like a plausible explanation to me. I can see how hard it would be to have to fill someone in on the gory details of academic employment, so maybe they just take the easier path of “oh, sure, it will be okay.” But it’s hard for me to say since I don’t have experience with this problem.


  10. LadyProf: Wow. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. When he e-mails you in 8 years to bitch about his job prospects in the humanities, just delete him.

    What’s the line between “give me an accurate view of my prospects in this profession” and “don’t harsh my buzz?” I don’t know, but my instinct is that most professors try to be encouraging and suppportive while also being realistic. Smart students will realize that different proffies have different personalities and different experiences, and so will have different advice for them. But if a students comes to someone seeking advice about grad school and/or seeking a recommendation letter–well, if ze won’t listen to our advice, what makes hir think our letters of recommendation have any value whatsoever to an admissions or hiring committee? (LALALALA–I can’t hear you!–LALALALALA–hands over my ears!!!)

    Since you were asked for a letter of recommendation, you were just doing your due diligence. Your former student is clearly someone who wants to get a Ph.D., and damn the consequences, but I don’t understand the expectations that you commiserate with him about the crappy job market in the law now without wanting to be aware of the even crappier job market for humanities Ph.D.s.


  11. My advisor at my Fancy Pants grad program was aware of different types of institutions (i.e., didn’t suggest that everyone would or should or would want to end up in a R1 university, and seemed respectful of those who took, for whatever reason, a different path, including a non-academic one). He also kept a file of rejection letters, and would sometimes bring that out and share with students. These are two of my favorite things about my advisor, and two of the most helpful.

    However, I work with some people who I think contribute to the myth of Work Hard and Succeed. This is all the more distressing since we have a lot of first generation college and MA students, many of whom don’t have the cultural capital or connections elsewhere to compensate for this. And I think Historiann offers a good explanation when she suggests they “are suffering a kind of status anxiety themselves and need to believe that they have the magic keys to the kingdom of academe.” It takes self confidence to admit publicly that you have experienced failures and are lucky to be where you are.

    I also gained a lot of experiences (outside of my grad program) while I was in grad school that made me more competent at all aspects of my job and (I think) would make me more qualified and marketable outside of academia (which isn’t, of course, to say that this would be an easy path). It also contributed to me having a manageable amount of debt. However, I suspect that this also worked against me, directly and indirectly, in the academic job market. Directly, because the experience isn’t high-fallutin’ enough to appeal to elite departments, and indirectly (and more importantly), because all that outside work means I finished grad school with fewer publications than many of those who focused exclusively on academic research. I don’t regret these choices and I think they made me better at what I do (and relatively debt free). But they were choices with consequences. In comparison, I have friends with much more prestigious jobs and a much higher debt, because they made different choices.

    Which is to say that I think there are consequences of trying to keep yourself marketable in multiple arenas. I agree it’s a good idea, but also it’s one with (potential) costs.

    Similarly, I think TR”s suggestion to not admit anyone less than 3 years out of undergrad is a good one. In retrospect, I would have benefitted from this. (though, I think the chances are high of me not taking advantage of those years and the chances of me never going back to grad school. The latter might be part of the point, though it reinforces the perpetuation of a very homogenous and privileged faculty). And, the reason I didn’t do this (I remember one undergrad professor recommending this) is because I was too young and immature to do so. Which of course is the reason I should have listened. But I agree with those people pointing out that many people go against the odds, because *they’ll* be the ones to succeed and that many people don’t want to be told what to do, particularly when it looks like they’re being told they’re not good enough (i.e., the successful academic telling the students the odds are against them).


  12. I’ll chime in on Bookbag’s point with a slight defense of graduate advisers. Training grad students can be a tough job. Moreover, it’s not one that people prepare you for. It’s not something that they can teach you how to do in grad school, and in many departments they just seem to assume you know how to to do it right off the bat. I’m not saying this as a “waaah! waaah!” moment but merely to point out that there’s a learning on the job factor here, even as you’re helping other people get jobs. You can try your best and get it wrong.

    Relating to Bookbag’s point: sometimes grad students don’t want to hear it. They hear the news about the job market and are convinced *they’re* the exception. (I mean–200 applicants for one job is tough, but somebody’s got to be the one, don’t they?) You warn them that there will be fewer jobs in upcoming years and they fire back with an anecdote about a professor who was replaced with two new hires. (True story–happened to me this term.) You have to tread a fine line here between nurturing someone’s enthusiasm and urging them to be realistic.

    Moreover, we’re not omniscient; sometimes people who seem less promising turn out pretty good and do buck the trend. Historiann’s adviser has an impeccable track record–but he also once dumped a student for picking a “bad” dissertation topic that eventually secured said student employment at One of the Oldest Universities in the World. Grad advisers are as fallible as everyone else.


  13. argh. Part of this is that so many students go through their college careers thinking they are exceptional. It’s the Lake Woebegone effect gone wild. When I started college, and when I went to grad school, I was used to being one of the smartest kids in the class. Note: I went to school in California in the 60s and 70s, and they put all the scary-smart kids together, so after 6th grade, I was never *the* smartest kid — everybody was smart. When I was in college and grad school, I gravitated towards the smartest, most interesting, funniest people, and we shared our lives, commiserated, and competed with each other. The same is pretty much true of my academic friends and close colleagues (most of whom I know through blogging or conferences). I tend to want to hang out with people who know as much or more than I do, because they make me work harder (even though they totally let me feed my imposter complex).

    I think there are a lot of academics who also derive joy out of hanging out with the other smart kids and don’t see it as taking away from who they are.

    But there are a lot of my students who are used to being the smartest in class, and getting away with a lot as well, who don’t handle it at all well when they find that they are now surrounded by other smart people. And in grad school, there were rather more people like that than I would have liked. People who had been very good and considered top in their UG programs, but had never really thought about the fact that, in grad school, everybody else had also been a top student. And those people seem to be in denial about having to work hard once you get through the door.

    I see it in my students, who think that, having made it into college, they don’t need to up their game. I saw it in grad school, where there was more resentment of those who did well than self-reflection on how their assumptions that they were superstars might not actually be true. And I’ve seen it in my colleagues, at SLAC and in the field, where there are incredible snots who seem to think a book is a big deal (it is and it isn’t — we’re professors, dude, we are all supposed to publish). If you have the luck (and hard work) to get the job, the contract with the right press, the right connecetions, you get validated. If you don’t get those things, and were never ok with being one of many of the best, then I can see how you might really be pissed off at the system.

    The funny thing is, at least in my field, some of the scariest, best-known scholars are also the people least likely to judge a person based on where they teach, or even whether they have a full-time job. They are interested in you if you are doing interesting work.

    I have no idea where I was going with this. Damn. Except that a lot of this conversation really seems to be rooted in how we see ourselves and our own qualifications, and what they should mean. And I think a lot of the people who sound very entitled have never really figured it out that the competition just gets tougher the higher you climb. That’s a good thing, but it sucks sometimes.


  14. ADM says, “the competition just gets tougher the higher you climb.

    Amen, sister!

    It’s true not just of life in the humanities, but also in the sciences and medicine. Interestingly, a friend of mine (a Ph.D. microbiologist) has recently left bench research for law school, and another friend left pediatrics to train in peds ICU and has found that she has substantially FEWER job opportunities at that level of training. Of 5 friends (inc. me) in college, the 2 friends described above were bio majors, and another was a chem major who went to med school and trained as an OB/GYN. The last 2 of us were history majors (me and a friend with a public policy M.A.) And yet, it’s the two bio majors/MD/Ph.D. who have retrained in early mid-career, not the 2 history majors or the OB/GYN. We’re still working in the fields for which we trained in college and/or grad/professional school.

    (It’s nice to have an MD to fall back on, but not everyone wants to treat sniffles and RSV in primary care the rest of their careers.)


  15. I like this thread. Not the news mind you, but a lot of great comments. I snuck into the office to make a couple more revisions on my tenure portfolio before I heave it over the transom… but I cannot resist contributing my 2 cents!

    Graduate Advisors are not omniscient – check! but the good ones do give you a realistic appraisal of the possible (whether its your dissertation or your career prospects).

    Recent PhDs and ABDs in your own program have a more realistic appraisal of the job market. – Yes and No. They can tell you what is going on in the short term –what’s the market like this year– but very few of them have long term perspective. Which is where your grad advisor should help, because plenty of them know former students who bounced around several temp positions before they landed a tenure track job. Thats what they mean when they say, “good people get jobs.” Mind you not every good person gets a job, but some people eventually do.

    Emma and ADM (and TR) have it right. Most people with a PhD get a job. For most PhDs its not going to be 2/2 at an R1 – the job your program supposedly trained you for. It might be in a library, it might be a 4-4 at a state uni. It might be selling cars, but you will find a job. Neo-Liberalism doesn’t get any better than that.

    Fraud, Deception? Maybe. I agree with Historiann, nobody is out there putting rose colored glasses on the fresh scrubbed faces of undergrads urging them to get a PhD in the humanities. And certainly grad students have a marvelous capacity for self-deception (I know I did).

    But, so long as R1s and even some R2s bring in graduate students to teach undergraduate courses as TAs and grad instructors, I can see how graduate students feel cheated or abused. Frankly these History Departments are participating in a scam. Graduate students are cheap labor; the academic equivalent of the 18-year-old working the fry-station at McDonalds. Period. Your job as a grad student is to grade tedious blue-book exams and serve up those discussion sections ‘hot-n-fresh’ so your advisor does not have to. The university does not have an obligation to you after your three or five years of funding (or indentured servitude) is up. It should say that in the graduate catalog.

    As far as not taking loans out goes, that is absurd advice. Ten years ago, as a grad student I received a 10 k stipend and a tuition waiver for two semesters. (No summer money). You couldn’t live on that in major metropolitan area then and I doubt that those stipends have gone up. Rent has, along with almost every other expense (how much do your students spend on books & copies for seminar? anyone?). I advise students who plan to go to grad school to take out as few student loans as possible and be creative with the side work and living arrangements.

    There is an upside – when I started paying back my own student loans, I had a much better feel for how venality of office worked and felt during the Ancien Regime.

    Off to force my way into the bastion of tenure! Failing that I am going to get white shoes, a white belt and start selling cars…


  16. I’ll just second ADM’s point, based on my experience with someone from that field in my department. One of our medievalists retired two years ago and we held a little celebration for hir in which we read little testimonials from hir former students and friends. And I remember hearing one that started “Back when [my Senior Colleague] and I were Assistant Professors at Harvard…”

    I remember almost doing a spit-take in front of the assembled crew. I’d never heard my friend once mention that s/he’d gotten a job at Harvard out of grad school. Once. How many people in academia would creatively find ways to drop the fact that they had once worked there into as many conversations as possible? Pretty much 97% of my department, I would wager. (And I have two colleagues who would work it into *every* conversation.) But then, my Colleague Emeritus/a always treated the adjuncts and assistant professors s/he encountered here with the same level of respect s/he treated the tenured profs here. I’d be shocked if s/he discriminated based on where one worked. As s/he told me once, in a perfect world, everyone who does important work would get a t-t job, and the people who do the best work would be at the best universities. But that’s not the world we live in, and treating people as if academia worked like that leads you to make all kinds of faulty judgments.


  17. but I don’t know anybody who went to medical or law school who isn’t employed in the medical or legal professions currently.

    I know several people who went to law school who aren’t working in law.

    I know LOTS of people who went to the local top 10 law school and aren’t working on Wall Street making $500,000 a year, i.e. the equivalent of an R1 institution AFAICT, and haven’t yet paid off their school loans. As for those law firms paying 1st year associates not to work: compare the number of law grads who got that (with no guarantee that they will actually be employed by that firm this spring) with the total number of law grads in the 2009 class. It’s a very minute portion of grads being paid not to work. And, in fact, most of them still have some training other responsibilities to their firm in the “off” time.

    Further, these grads are NOT being paid their full salary. One person I know was paid $20,000 for 11-12 months and out of that was expected to pay for bar exam, food, housing, etc. etc. In New York.

    The grass is always greener, I suppose. But there’s plenty of law grads wondering why, 10, 15, 20 years on, they still haven’t paid off their school loans and aren’t as wealthy as they were led to believe they were going to be if they just went to the right law school, worked hard, etc. etc. etc.


  18. One thing that I think should be said is that part of the problem is the point of bottlenecking. That is, in many fields, the bottleneck occurs at the apprentice stage or below. For instance, how many pre-meds get weeded out in the first year of UG? Then, they are further cut down during med school and most med school grads get jobs. Of course not all the equivalent of R1, but I don’t know a realistic grad student who does not think that getting a job like that would be like hitting the lottery or the rookie baseball player who hits a home run in their first at bat. Statistically possible but highly unlikely.

    Now humanities grad programs also weed out some folks in only accepting some of the people who apply, but after that, there is not really a point at which they get pushed away until the job market. And, to be clear, we are not talking about people not getting the job of their dreams; we are talking about people not getting any jobs. So, in my opinion (so take it for what it’s worth), the problem is not people being told all their lives that they are exceptional, it is that these are really smart people who took a shot and are disappointed that it is not working out (and pretty specifically not working out due to circumstances beyond their control). I don’t think that it is right of them to lash out, but I can see where their coming from.

    I also think that there are two things going on here. One is the economic crisis has made work outside of the academy very hard to come by. There are no soft landings for those leaving. Second, leaving for a while because of the economic crisis basically means that you are giving up on all that you worked for for years. And there is not a get out crisis free card. Not getting a job in the first couple years out because jobs fell by half over two years is just bad luck. But if things improve, no one is going to let them back in. Nor are they trying to help them now. Maybe I am wrong and people can get back in. So, in short, there are a lot of folks in the humanities without jobs who would have been hired in previous years. It is not that advisors are necessarily blowing smoke up peoples $#@es. There really are people just plain getting screwed and there really is nothing we can do about it.

    For the record, I am not yet one of those people. Does anyone remember the study a few years back that correlated success in academia pretty specifically to whatever job people landed in the first year out? I remember reading it and finding it chilling with the roll of the dice that is the job market every year. I am too busy at the moment to look it up.


  19. Anon is very right on the (second to) last point, above. I *hope* this crunch isn’t going to turn out to be another “snows of yesteryear” debacle of the sort I survived, but if it does… the bad news is that this isn’t an industry that has *any* taste for retrieving survivors on the battlefield. When the lost generation market did begin to glacially improve in the mid-1980s, one of the lessons I learned was that institutions far preferred to reload and move on with new people. And by “survivors,” I don’t mean people who were merely still breathing. I mean people who had cobbled together many successive years of temporary, visiting, or adjunct teaching; holed up creatively in public history situations, invented the sphere of “independent” scholarship, published things, and the like. For the academy to have scoured the ocean where the Titanic went
    down to pluck such people out of the water would have only prolonged the *institutional* crisis, as opposed to the individual crises. So it was better at the institutional, programatic, and departmental levels to just hit flush and rebuild, or so the thought went. The only reason I survived is the length of time I dawdled at the ABD level, with the help of some public history institutions, and–per Historiann’s very astute point somewhere upthread (can’t even find it at this point), some *very* indulgent familial circumstances.


  20. Emma’s right: law grads are in dire shape these days. My own school is ranked just below the top quartile–nothing great but historically solid enough–and most of my students who graduated last June don’t have jobs.

    As Anon and others, including Historiann, have pointed out, the terrible macro-economy looms over us as we try to advise our students. Let’s say these advisees sensibly abandon all hope of a Ph.D. What other work can they pursue? Few of us have enough wisdom about the gloomy big picture to say something like “Given the bad alternatives plus your serious talent, it’s worth it for you to take a shot” versus “If I were you, I’d go for the crappy B.A. job [or law, business, etc.] because your prospects will be even worse out of graduate school.”

    And that assumes we’re willing to harsh their buzz. I am, but I know I come across as rude. In the USA it’s considered unkind and wrong to tell a young person not to follow hir dreams.


  21. To pick right up where LadyProf left off, I think there’s a false dichotomy in academic t-t job = dream and law or business = crap. I don’t believe LadyProf really thinks that, but she is certainly reflecting preconceptions in many academic humanities departments.

    If a student’s only dream is tenure track, they should go back to the dream drawing board and consider a few alternatives. Here’s what I’d say to the student considering grad school: “You have strong oral and written communication skills, and your work in this discipline shows a high ability to research problems, analyze them and come to an independent conclusion. Your affinity for academia likely reflects a respect for intellectual integrity over financial gain. Unfortunately many talented people like yourself fail to find secure and satisfying employment in academia. Fortunately those qualities which might serve you well in academia will also distinguish you in the private sector or civil service. While we in academia take pride in our roles, there are hundreds of thousands of other professionals working in innumerable ways to meet society’s needs and solve its problems. While venturing into today’s job market is daunting, if you focus on your core affinities and competencies you are likely to find a role that is at least as satisfying and more secure than academic teaching.”


  22. The more I think about it, the more lucky I realize that I was, even though I didn’t end up following the path that I had originally planned. Like I said above, I was lucky enough to get to know fellow students who were older, further along in their studies, and wiser about academic life and employment in general. I was also lucky in that I left grad school in 1998, and although academia already had a lot of the job issues that it has now, the economy in general was as good as it’s been in my lifetime, and one could get a decent paying office job quickly. There are other ways that I was lucky, too, related to support from my parents, but I should probably write about that on my own blog.

    I can see where almost everyone is coming from in the comments both here and over at TRs blog. It frankly sucks for anyone who has planned for their future based on what turned out to be unrealistic assumptions, and it sucks even more when one is faced with an economy in which getting a professional job of ANY kind is difficult, even one that’s not related in any way to the degree that you just spent years of money and effort acquiring. In their situation, I’d probably feel somewhat betrayed or at least upset, and I would be tempted to want to lash out at anyone who seemed to be blaming me for my own situation – especially if the faculty I had known had been less than forthright about the difficult career prospects ahead. If I had been born 10 years later and my life had followed roughly the same kind of path that it did, I would be one of them now. On the other hand, I can see why faculty who have to deal with quite a few students who have inflated views of their own abilities and future prospects, and who refuse to listen to good advice, just get tired of hearing the same complaints, and resent the implication that they are somehow to blame for the fact that there is now a shortage of academic jobs and a glut of applicants for those jobs when these things are outside their control. I suspect that there are both too many students with expectations that are divorced from reality, and too many faculty who unwittingly help perpetuate these unrealistic views. Combine this with trends in academic administration and the overall economy that squeeze both faculty and students harder, and which neither group has much control over, and you have an ideal climate for making lots of people touchy, anxious, and ready to point fingers. (This last part is just a vague thought about the overall situation, not referring to anyone here.)


  23. There is a couple of contradictions here: one is the implication that the glut in the PhD market is caused not just by a lack of jobs, but by people who are not really *good enough* doing PhDs against advice. At the same time, everybody who has blogged recently about being on a job committee is commenting on how impressive and even over-qualified all their candidates are for the position. Perhaps, the fact is that there are plenty of people who not only make good, but great PhDs and lecturers. And, while they are few and far between, jobs still exist in academia and somebody needs to fill them- why not you? So, how do we decide after u/grad which ‘special flower’ gets to pursue *that* career [which also presumes PhDs do not have merit outside academia, when they do!], when there are lots of equally gifted people competing- especially when being a good lecturer does not always mean having exceptional grades as u/grad?

    And the other side of this coin is that grad school is BIG business! Universities make big money from grad school tuition fees- which pay for jobs. So, in some ways, discouraging PhDs just makes the pool of money for jobs even smaller.


  24. Funny how the shocks about feminists and post-feminists faded in this discussion, but the discussion of grad school hijinx goes on and on and on….

    Maybe a separate post?


  25. Feminist Avatar: I don’t see people saying that the glut is a result of people who aren’t good enough getting PhDs going to grad school. You’re right there are many more good, qualified people than there are jobs (but I think the main posts and at least most of the commenters know this – that doesn’t mean the odds are against all of us).

    It also occurred to me, though, that we all have to go against the odds to be successful. We submit to the journal with 10 % acceptance rates, we try to be the few that get university press contracts, etc. etc. Being successful in academia takes the tenacity and the determination that would likely make one not take advice to think of other options.

    I also loved ADM’s last comment above.


  26. I’m only going to weigh in to support thefrogprincess’s points. Here’s my background in a nutshell, and yes, I realize this is only *anecdotal* evidence:

    2000 – Was a history major but not sure what I wanted to do (this was sophomore year), and my advisor said I’d need to get an M.A. to work in a history field of any sort (museums were my first choice at that point). NO MENTION was made of the job market in the academy at any point in my undergraduate career, even once I had changed to thinking about being a professor. I was uniformly encouraged from all fronts.

    2003 – Entered M.A. program at Fancy Public Ivy and was, once again, never told about the job market’s perils, and since I was only a first year student I didn’t form friendships with the ABDs who’d by this point moved away, etc. Advice from other grad students was non-existent.

    2005 – Entered Ph.D. program at Top Public University and was only encouraged with sayings like, “The market’s tough, but you’ve got what it takes to succeed.”

    2010 – Technically, though I’ve received more honest advice in the past year, I have yet to be told that I won’t be able to get a job. Perhaps this is because my uni has a really excellent placement rate, but all I am hearing is encouragement. This is coming from mentors, my advisor, and people from my program who’ve already landed a t-t job.

    And before people trot out all the objections (i.e. I should’ve done more research, I am entitled, etc.), those are categorically not applicable to me and 90% of the students in my program. The concept of working outside academia is appealing to many of us (and I’ve applied for those positions), and none of us would ever, EVER say that we feel entitled to a position once we graduate. None of us come from privileged backgrounds and consequently we’re all up to the challenge when it comes to hard work..

    Let me emphasize that: I did not believe that there would be a job just sitting there, patiently waiting for me once I graduated. I am the only academic in my family (only one of my parents graduated from college), so the concept of hard work is something I saw modeled for me each day. Yes, I am white and that accords some special privileges, but my family is lower middle-class and the opposite of elitist. Overconfidence does not run in my veins.

    From where I’m sitting, the graduate students who feel betrayed are being misunderstood, and while perhaps that is their own fault in some ways, this is the crux of the matter: while we don’t feel entitled to a sweet t-t gig, there is something fundamentally wrong with an educational system that is so completely out of touch with reality. Yes graduate advisors are only human, and no one I know is studying history with the hopes of making it rich, but in what other profession is it acceptable to train for 7+ years and then be told, there are simply no jobs available!

    My comments are probably incoherent at this point and I really am just summarizing what others have said. But, I do want to point out that the market is especially bad this year, so complaints about how terrible it has always been fall on somewhat deaf ears. Yes, it sucked ass three years ago, or five years ago, or whenever. But can anyone who values quantitative data really claim that this year isn’t the worst year in the last few decades? The statistics are becoming available so this isn’t an exaggeration on my part.

    I don’t want this to be a “who had it worse” game–’cause frankly the market is always a crap shoot–but I would also encourage everyone to remember the reason why we are having this conversation in the first place. Thanks to the f-up workings of academia, combined with the economic crisis, this is a challenge to job seekers that is unlike any that a young t-t assistant professor experienced in the early 2000s. I don’t mean for this to be a condemnation of any one comment or any one person. My thought is that we need to keep some perspective and understand why this conversation is taking place right now and why students are panicking.

    Lest I be the annoying person who will “check back 100 times a day to argue with everyone else in the discussion,” I will leave it at that and not comment further on the matter.


  27. What would people be doing if they weren’t in a PhD program? It’s not like there’s some other surefire path to a job that people passed up to go to grad school.


  28. I think that the posted comments by some of the graduate students & PhDs on this thread and the one over at TRs point to a big problem with this discussion. There are plenty of people saying that they got bad advice and therefore, somehow, the system, or someone else, is to blame because they are not getting their t-t job. My question is this, what about your own Agency?

    Lets translate the grad school decision into another realm of life. If you were buying a car or house would you just go on the advice of a few car-salesmen or real-estate agents? Probably not. If you were smart, you would go to consumer reports, edmunds, etc to research cars. Or you would spend a few months learning about the real estate market in the town you were planning to buy in. If you didn’t and you just took what was offered to you on the lot or in a couple of open houses, then you would be to blame if you ended up with something less than satisfactory. Buyer beware.


  29. Please, please, please everyone remember: the job crisis in academia is nothing new. Students and recent Ph.D.s who are convinced that they are graduating into a uniquely bad job market are being willfully myopic. Review Robert Townsend’s recent data to see for yourselves.

    To say that “this is a challenge to job seekers that is unlike any that a young t-t assistant professor experienced in the early 2000s” might be true, if the comparison is to that one moment in time. I have repeatedly commented on my good luck in looking for work, but we can’t abstract one bright moment where things were slightly less crappy out of the past 40 years and use that as a comparison to the current moment. The vast majority of faculty commenting in this thread were looking for work in the 1970s, 1980s, early 1990s, and more recently. (And IMHO: the collapse of the job market for 1970s Ph.D.s was much more traumatic, because their advisors truly couldn’t have predicted the end of the party.)

    This is not a new problem. That doesn’t make it any less of a problem, but we can’t hope to find solutions without acknowledging the long history of this ongoing crisis.


  30. This discussion is going nowhere but I’ll venture in one last time. Why, Matt L, the assumption that we didn’t do our research thoroughly? Couldn’t be any less true, in my case, or in the case of anybody I know. I find the idea infuriating, once again, that because I didn’t know every intricacy of academia, I didn’t do my research. As I say over at my blog, you can’t get answers to the questions you didn’t know you were supposed to ask, especially when the field itself is very invested in not stating the truth clearly.

    As for agency, I own the decision I made to go to graduate school and I don’t know anybody who isn’t owning their decision. That doesn’t preclude me from recognizing that my department wasn’t quite straight with me about their less than stellar placement rate. I can still recognize the many, many times I haven’t heard the phrase “you might not get a job” when I should have. The History Enthusiast says it well in her comments above. The message isn’t getting out to graduate students as clearly as you all think it is: academia couldn’t survive if it did. And for what it’s worth, I already know graduate students who think it’s fine to continue to encourage/persuade undergrads to go to grad school (which is different from supporting people who’ve made an informed decision to go).

    Finally, I do have to wonder. It seems like at some point, if I somehow manage to get a job in the field, a switch is going to flip and suddenly I’m going to think it’s totally fine that the field as a whole is bringing in people with the promise of a certain kind of job, only to say after 7-10 years, no dice. I hate to think that’s the kind of person I’ll become.


  31. That doesn’t preclude me from recognizing that my department wasn’t quite straight with me about their less than stellar placement rate. I can still recognize the many, many times I haven’t heard the phrase “you might not get a job” when I should have.

    Those are two different things. I thought people just alway understood that they might not get a job, regardless of what job they were training or applying for.


  32. I’m very very very late to the party, but I think thefrogprincess has put her finger right on something very sad: the dynamic in which profs with jobs are varying degrees of cavalier about “oh, you should have known better” and seekers are varying degrees of “oh, you should have told me more!”

    I’m surprised no one has (I think — I did read down the thread but may have missed it) mentioned Marc Bousquet’s book, _How the University Works_, which does (to my mind) such a persuasive job of showing why we should stop pointing fingers at one another and start looking at the fact that while undergrad enrollments have grown and admin has mushroomed the share of the university that consists of t-t faculty doing teaching and research has been dwindling toward nothingness. That’s a broad social problem with broad social consequences and the more PhDs with jobs and PhDs without spend their time forming circular firing squads the less we are dealing with it.

    In my view, the university is getting staked in the heart and it’s not by clueless profs nor clueless grad students, and the bad consequences for society at large go way, way beyond us. I’d love to talk about that instead!


  33. Pingback: Academic Job Market Doldrums « the anxiety of influence

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