• September 4, 2015

Changing the Way We Socialize Doctoral Students


Brian Taylor for The Chronicle

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Brian Taylor for The Chronicle

This month's column begins with the career of an academic I'll call "Jack." It ends in the classroom of a professional development seminar—a place where more graduate students need to be.

Jack got his bachelor's from an elite college in the early 1980s, and then began graduate school at an elite university. There he exemplified the national trend toward slow completion. He didn't get his Ph.D. until 12 years later, in the mid-1990s.

Like many other young Ph.D.'s then and now, Jack had bad luck on the job market despite a solid publication record. He didn't get a tenure-track job out of the gate, so he took a visiting assistant professorship at a major state university. With that appointment, Jack began a career-long migration in search of permanent employment. That passage took Jack from campus to campus, with his two longest stops lasting four years each; one of those stints was in the writing program of a major private university, and the other was a visiting professorship at a different private university. The visiting job took the form of a series of one-year contracts, so Jack never knew from year to year whether he'd be employed beyond May.

Through it all, he evolved from a committed teacher into a fantastically dedicated one. He struggled with mixed success to maintain a publishing agenda while testing the job market again and again.

After that last four-year stint ended, Jack failed for the first time to land on his feet at another university. Then, in what amounts to a cruel cosmic joke, Jack got cancer. His diagnosis gave him a new job, as caregiver to himself. That job, like all the others, proved temporary. He died this past fall.

The philosopher George Berkeley is credited (perhaps not rightly) with asking whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if no one is there to hear it. Jack's life and death generated no headlines, but when you look closely at his unfortunate career, his ups and downs say a lot about the way that we prepare graduate students for employment, especially in the humanities and in some of the social sciences.

Like most people with the gumption to complete a Ph.D., Jack felt that he deserved an academic job. Coming out of a top doctoral program at an elite university, he also felt that he deserved a job with a low teaching load and generous research support. Over the course of his years as a temporary faculty member, his sights gradually dropped—but his expectations always trailed them. In other words, the assistant professorships that Jack most wanted were always a little more desirable than the ones for which he could realistically compete.

Why, at a time when graduate students are lucky if they get a tenure-track job at all, should we focus on the travails of an unfortunate graduate of a top program?

Because the gap between Jack's expectations and his reality is full of significance for graduate teachers as well as graduate students.

Virtually all graduate students receive their Ph.D.'s from a research university. They get their first classroom experience there, and their dissertations are mainly guided by professors whose research occupies a prominent place in their work lives. We should hardly be surprised that dissertation advisers become the first role models for graduate students. Jack was no exception.

But most academic jobs aren't at research universities, and those other jobs look jarringly different to graduate students than the positions held by their role models. That disjunction ought to be blindingly obvious (and some commentators have noticed it here and there), but I was years out of graduate school before its import registered on me.

It amounts to this: Graduate school is professional school, but most Ph.D programs badly neglect graduate students' professional development. We spend years of their training ignoring that development, and then, only at the last moment when students are about to hit the job market, do we attend to their immediate professional needs. By neglecting their career goals, we allow their desires to coalesce from their immediate surroundings—the research university—and to harden over time.

We teach graduate students to want the kinds of jobs that most of them won't ever get. Jack was typical in that regard. Like most graduate students, he was socialized in a way that left him disadvantaged in the larger professional world that he sought to enter.

Unlike many problems faced by the academy today, this one can be solved in-house and at modest cost. Of course, dissertation advisers must shoulder some of the responsibility for teaching their students about the range of professional options, and I'll have plenty to say about the adviser-student relationship in future columns. But even before students choose an adviser, the department as a whole can meet this need in the classroom.

All of which brings me to the need for professional-development seminars. We accept that graduate teachers need to teach students the content of their disciplines, but our jobs don't end there. We also need to teach students about their disciplines. That means teaching them what the professional world of their field looks like and how it works, both inside and outside the university.

In other words, we have to prepare Ph.D.'s to seek jobs of all kinds—and that means more than just credentialing students to seek those positions. We also have to show them what those jobs look like, so they won't be shocked when they peer outside the research-university gates. In short, we have a responsibility to socialize graduate students in a consciously different way than most departments do now.

Professional-development seminars offered by Ph.D.-granting departments, and required of all doctoral students at a certain point in their careers, can do wonders to orient them to their larger milieu at a time when it's rapidly changing. Some departments have begun to offer such seminars, and they're an example worth following.

A professional-development seminar can be woven into a graduate student's early course work, or it can serve as a capstone class before a Ph.D. candidate advances to the dissertation phase. Either way, the mandate of such a course is to look around in many directions.

For example, the University of Michigan's "Introduction to Graduate Studies" requires that beginning graduate students in English and modern languages interview a senior professor in the department, thereby offering a look upward at a role model's career. But the course also requires an outward-looking "Alternative Careers Workshop."

Graduate students in a seminar offered by the geography department at the University of Minnesota are visited by a series of professors who discuss not only conferences, research, and publishing but also the choice of a career path, as well as gender and class issues that occur in some workplaces and family circumstances that affect students' progress to the degree and often past it.

Ultimately, a good professional-development seminar educates students about the culture of the profession.

Jack couldn't imagine himself as anything but an academic, but he might have seen his alternatives more clearly if he had been able to compare them with a wider set of professional choices both inside and outside of academe. There are many ways to show graduate students what their larger professional world looks like, but all of those ways start with the teachers: It's part of our jobs to show students that world.

Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University, writes in this space about graduate education. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers to lcassuto@erols.com.


1. jeconnery - January 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Very thoughtful. Couldn't agree more.

2. 22228715 - January 11, 2011 at 07:11 am

Gosh this newspaper is depressing to read. Only discussion in the Chronicle could make career exploration and life planning in higher education sound so pathetic, hopeless, and soul-crushing. If the goal is to scare off promising young academics, I imagine it should be working... at least on the ones who are sharp enough to read the Chronicle.

3. dotdidit2010 - January 11, 2011 at 07:44 am

I love this article and cannot thank you enough for sharing it.

4. pterodactyl123 - January 11, 2011 at 08:08 am

Thank you for this article. Like Jack, I attended an elite research university for my doctoral studies. Perhaps the difference is that I did not have pre-set ideas about where I would end up after completing my degree. The only thing I really wanted was the opportunity to teach and continue my research in a particular geographical region (I could not relocate). I found a position at a community college that is part of a major research university. It's not Harvard or anything, but I made close to 70K last year and that pays the bills (including my student loans, credit cards, mortage, etc). I am expected to teach well and to continue my research. I love the work and my colleagues. I know I am very lucky to have landed this position, and lucky that my advisors also supported me in everything I did, never looking down their noses at the choices I made. It's a blessing to be able to do what I always wanted to be doing.

5. 2011phdstudent - January 11, 2011 at 09:29 am

Perhaps some of this is based upon the fact that many PhD students have no previous professional work experience and therefore spend a lot of time around other academics. Prior to getting my PhD I was a full-time staff member in another office which recognized and supported professional development opportunities. This translated into my career as a PhD in which I recognize that not everyone gets a tenure-track job at the top schools. Of course, it would probably help if research institutions that granted PhDs demonstrated that there was value in teaching.

6. drj50 - January 11, 2011 at 09:33 am

Succinct summary:
We train graduate students to do research and then expect (most of) them to make their living as primarily teachers (without giving them any training in teaching) rather than researchers. Others will work outside the academy -- and we don't even tell them what skills they will need, much less provide any opportunity to develop those skills.
What is wrong with this picture? In what other field does the required educational background provide no formal training in the skills that are actually required? A very odd business we are in.

7. henry_adams - January 11, 2011 at 09:43 am

I appreciate Leonard Cassuto's ideas. Ideally, every Ph.D. program would invite back graduates who tried to land tenure-track academic jobs but ended up elsewhere. Such guest speakers could explain the job market to grad students, and they'd have more authority than professors who've never worked full-time outside academia. No university will do such a thing, of course, because they depend on grad students for cheap labor.

I really wish graduate programs would direct students to Versatile Ph.D., which exists to help people launch careers outside of academia: http://versatilephd.com/

8. judithryan43 - January 11, 2011 at 10:02 am

drj50: I don't understand why you say we "give them [graduate students] no training in teaching." It's true that graduate students will probably not have taught the full range of courses normally expected from an assistant professor, but we do give them training in pedagogy and, in some cases, experience of the administrative aspects of teaching as well.

9. butteredtoastcat - January 11, 2011 at 10:29 am


As someone who was an experienced teacher BEFORE going for my PhD--I taught for a decade at community college--I can attest to the fact that most research departments do NOT in fact do anything to prepare students to be pedagogues. This is due to the fact that most of the professors at research universities are lousy, lousy, lousy teachers. I can't tell you how many times I had to sit on my hands and bite my lip as a TA for professors who would get their facts wrong in lecture (no kidding!), drone on and on in class about their personal prejudices or home situations, lose student interest by relying on "park and bark" as their only method of teaching, and basically fail at transmitting important information for students who, by the way, were paying for all this and would be paying off student loans for years.

Later, these same professors would speak with contempt about their students after class to me, and, here again, I'd have to bite my lip for political reasons. How many times did I want to yell, "The problem is YOU, asshat. You can't teach, you waste class time, you focus on minutia instead of general concepts that students will need from this class, and, by the way, no one gives a flying damn about your divorce!"

Thankfully, I already knew how to teach before I went for a PhD. I knew how to plan a curriculum, create challenging and interesting assignments, and I knew how to vary class activities so it wasn't always a snooze-fest. I was taught by actual teachers and by my students' own reactions to my teaching over 10 years.

So guess what? I agree wholeheartedly with this article, but I think that the very WORST people to teach grad students about teaching are the professors in their degree programs. Being a TA usually just means being a gopher for your ego-driven prof and then slavishly emulating him or her in section when you are incoherent in front of your students and blame them for not being smart enough.

To better prepare students for teaching, require grad students in every field to take actual education classes (especially methods classes) and require every student to do a semester stint assisting a high school or community college teacher, i.e. someone who really KNOWS how to teach.

10. drj50 - January 11, 2011 at 10:44 am

@judithryan43: Of course, the opportunity to teach is not the same as training in teaching -- practice makes perfect only when you practice doing things well. I understand that there are programs that do provide formal training in teaching (it sounds as though yours may fortunately be one), but my impression (based on substantial anecdotal data) is that most programs do not (see butteredtoastcat's comment above).

11. aephirah - January 11, 2011 at 11:25 am

judithryan43: "we do give them training in pedagogy and, in some cases, experience of the administrative aspects of teaching as well." Not true, and especially not true across the disciplines. As someone who frequently hires wet-behind-the-ears PhDs, I know from experience that the disparity across the disciplines (and from institution to institution) is surprising. Some disciplines almost always give their graduate students a foundation in pedagogy and offer them teaching assistantship opportunities. Others only award research assistantships and those students never get anywhere near the teaching end of the classroom. And what about those graduate students who are not afforded any assistantship (or adjunct) opportunities at all?

12. dvacchi - January 11, 2011 at 11:49 am

As a first year doc student, I'm really glad to read this article - makes me understand I'm on the right path with my advisor.
Thanks for the insights!

13. catz1691 - January 11, 2011 at 11:59 am

In my disapline of theatre many of my former instructors could not get a job in as a professor of theatre outside of a research institution. Many of them have have no experience producing theatre (at any level) without which you simply cannot get a job in a theatre department that does not have the luxury of having a "research" area. Consequently advisors tell students to stay away from taking part in productions becasue they are "distracting" when having a 3-6 year gap in your production resume can criple you on the job market. I am sure other disaplines share these problems where research professors do not know enough about the professional or academic worlds they are supposedly expert in.

14. pannapacker - January 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Great points in this essay. One thing about moving from a major research university to a more teaching-intensive institution is that, for all practical purposes, you cease to exist to your alma mater. You will never be invited back to speak to their students about the kind of jobs that they are more likely to get. So, those students are socialized to believe that only a research position is acceptable, and the ones who are not in research positions can feel like failures forever (until they build a new set of values).

One doctoral advisor recently told me he only hears back from his R1-placed advisees. The rest are too ashamed to ever darken his door again. He doesn't encourage that, but the culture does.

15. consejera - January 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I'm in my second sememster of Ph.D. coursework. We had a required "Intro to Doc Studies" seminar last semester and it was invaluable. Each week a different member of the department visited our class to discuss his or her research as well as the challenges met on the road to an R1 institution. Some of my classmates found the harsh realities depressing, but I was quite pleased that they were honest with us about our prospects and the amount and quality of work required. Equal time was given to discussion of non-academic job prospects, which was an important eye-opener for students who think a tenure-track position is the only job a Ph.D. can or should obtain.

16. amwhisnant - January 11, 2011 at 01:40 pm

Thank you for this important column! In addition to offering the kind of professional development seminar suggested, I think departments ought also to look at their curricula and consider how opportunities to gain some "allied skills" that broaden one's portfolio might be built in. A one-off seminar on professional development, in other words, should perhaps be only the beginning. For the humanities (my field is history), how about flexing those language requirements to allow substitution of courses in skills like digital media, nonprofit administration, or historic preservation/planning? Or how about building in a required "practicum" or "field experience" such as exists in many master's programs that allows one to get some on the ground experience in various job settings while getting academic credit?

These things would go a long way both to re-socializing graduate students and to remaking departmental cultures in ways that value many paths rather than just one.

I would also second the suggestion that anyone interested in this topic check out Versatile PhD ( http://versatilephd.com/), whose very reason for being is to help PhDs consider all the things they are potentially able to do professionally -- and how to get there. I would also note that institutions can subscribe to Versatile PhD's "premium content" (lots of great career and professional development advice FROM PhDs working in many contexts) and thus offer it to their own graduate students -- a simple way for graduate schools to augment the professional development tools available to their students.

Finally, as pannapacker mentions, alums are another vastly underused resource by many departments (at least in the humanities -- again, my area). Those who go in "alternative" (e.g. non-faculty, or even non-R1-faculty) directions do often sort of disappear from departmental radars because of departmental cultures that value only one track. Yet these alums are probably a MAJORITY of the alums out there in many fields and are potentially a great source of mentoring and advice for current students. Yet most departments can't even tell you who they are or where they are.

17. holon - January 11, 2011 at 02:27 pm

Training graduate students in pedagogy is a great idea . . . except that it has to be matched by hiring expectations. I have kept myself current with pedagogical literature, won a teaching award, etc., and none of it matters unless I first publish (well and extensively) and have a strong research agenda. This is true not just of positions at research universities but also liberal arts colleges. There are very, very few jobs for people who use research to supplement their teaching, and there are those of us who, in contrast to the type of student mentioned in this article, are hoping for jobs with low research expectations and a heavy teaching load. We are not the ones being hired; most of those those who are taught once or twice, just enough to show they could.

How can we change the socialization of doctoral students when training strong researchers is the best way to provide us with career options? I'm not convinced that more pedagogical training will help nearly anyone on the market right now. It's a nice idea, and one I wholeheartedly agree with on principle, but in the current market, the 'best' thing we can do to help graduate students get jobs is to teach them how to obtain grant money that helps them forego teaching in favor of publishing. Or for hiring departments to put their money where their mouth is and hire (and promote) experienced, excellent, innovative teachers even without many publications.

18. hornej - January 11, 2011 at 03:17 pm

While a graduate student, I participated in the Preparing Future Faculty program, which attempts to address many of the problems noted in this essay. See:


Jackie Horne

19. bigtwin - January 11, 2011 at 04:03 pm

Great article. But I fear that universities can adopt all of the professional development opportunities under the sun and graduates will still have a very hard time selling themselves outside of academic settings. It's not just a question of having some extra skillsets listed on your resume - it comes down to how others perceive the value of the degree in the first place, which often isn't very good.

20. judithryan43 - January 11, 2011 at 04:05 pm

Well, my institution must be very different from those at which some of you teach. We have a special center that helps train new teachers by giving conferences on aspects of pedagogy before the start of each semester, providing many handouts on teaching problems one may encounter, and videotaping class hours and giving feedback on them. Course heads (the professors giving the lectures) are expected to work very closely with graduate students assisting in their course. Normally, a professor conducts meetings with TAs either once a week or once every two weeks. There used to be lunch funding for those meetings, but alas, the financial crisis has done away with that.
It also happens that I'm in a modern foreign language, and in such departments there is a language program co-ordinator who gives a required course in FL pedagogy adapted to that particular language.

21. rodneytoady - January 11, 2011 at 04:28 pm

I like the idea, but I think it needs to be implemented in some form or another to those applying to PhD programs. Most of the social science applicants I know are looking to get a PhD to conduct research and "teach if/because I have to." The message has to get out to these people before they even apply: the odds are against you.

22. hollytc - January 11, 2011 at 04:30 pm

Highly recommend: http://www.amazon.com/Exiles-Eden-Religion-Academic-Vocation/dp/0195073436

23. manitoga - January 11, 2011 at 04:32 pm

@judithryan43 - is this teacher training geared toward K-12 or higher ed? If it's in higher ed; and we know that in Higher Ed we don't have many tenure-track jobs; the question then becomes: what are you training these people for? Adjunct-purgatory?

I think that the culture of higher ed. needs to change as well; not just hiring Tenure Track research-heavy faculty, but hiring qualified tenure-track teaching-intensive faculty. THEN and only then will this training that is provided make sense. Otherwise, you might as well train your foreign language PhDs in translation and interpretation because that will be a much more useful skill in the "real world"

Dr. Pepper

24. manitoga - January 11, 2011 at 04:34 pm

@rodneytoady - I guess I am the minority ;-) I want to get a PhD so I can teach in higher ed; not because research floats my boat (it's a necessary evil as far as I am concerned. Good thing to do every now and again, but teaching should be the main thing AFAIC) :-)

25. artsvoice - January 11, 2011 at 05:43 pm

I agree with the author. I would like to add a similar situation occurs with MFAs. Several in my small public BA institution are frustrated that the students are not following an MFA track and continually attempt to alter the core curriculum accordingly. The end result is nobody is happy. While they are conviced that someday we will "grow" as a department into something like their graduate school (a pie-in-the-sky dream), or that the state will openly fund their creative arts agenda, they neglect to see the students for who they are, how they learn, and the mission of the program.

26. eudaimon - January 11, 2011 at 06:45 pm

I very much appreciate the intent of this article, but it inadvertently suggests a bit of false optimism by making it seem that the main problem that humanities Ph.D.s face is that they might have to settle for a tenure track job in a cozy private college in some lovely hamlet. I am sure many Ph.D.s wished that was their problem instead of having to find a new career in their mid forties and then spend decades crawling out of the financial hole that was their thirties.

27. mike_in_nm - January 11, 2011 at 08:55 pm

This essay might be a good description of the situation facing humanities and social sciences Ph.D.s. However, it's a lousy description of the situation for science, engineering, and mathematics Ph.D.s. Most of those graduates have plenty of options for great jobs both in and out of academia.

From the perspective of a tenured science faculty member, the idea that English professors should consider telling their graduate students that faculty jobs are difficult to get is completely obvious. I also think that most of your graduate students already know this fact.

One additional point - The Ph.D. isn't a "professional degree." Professional degrees include those that focus on applied fields, such as the M.D. or J.D. The Ph.D. (the Doctor of Philosophy) is an academic degree.

28. drmannered - January 11, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Over the years I have been blessed to have a dual career as an academic and as a development/advancement professional within higher education. I am afraid I bumbled into this dual career: some years ago, I was without a teaching position but was able to secure a position as grants writer and administrator. Eventually, I completed my Ph.D. while gaining additional experience in corporate, foundation and government relations. The combination of skills has proved to be an excellent "meal ticket" for me over the years, with institutions willing to hire me full time, with benefits, to work in both areas. (I have also had some experience in other areas of college administration.) Graduate programs might do well to provide exposure to university administration and management, as administration provides a number of additional appropriate opportunities for those possessing advanced degrees. I have also found that I enjoy the variety with which this dual career has provided me over the years. My current institution provides me with plenty of courses to teach, as well as opportunities to effect and advance the institution's priorities as a whole.

29. drmannered - January 11, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Oops - I mean "to affect." I do know better.

30. apsara728 - January 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm

As a PhD student, perhaps other PhD students should apply one of their main skill sets honed in graduate school to their own lives and not expect others to hand them opportunities on a sugar-coated spoon--in other words, do your own research about the job market prospects before making a decision to go to grad school and having a series of back-up plans when the tenured track doesn't work out. Of course, it is a leap of faith to go to graduate school and pursue a PhD, there are no jobs, tenure is dead--all we need to do is read one NY Times or Chronicle article to figure that out. But to expect our advisors--who are already overworked and underpaid--to continue to babysit us is just absurd. They are there to help us to get a PhD, inspire us, set deadlines for us to finish--not getting us a job. That is up to us to figure out.

Perhaps my cohort should step outside of the ivory tower and think about how their interests can transcend the larger world to better the world rather than hogging knowledge so they can pad their CV. Perhaps if a Grad student wants teaching experience, he or she should go volunteer at the local and impoverished school down the road and tutor students who come from broken homes and do not know multiplication tables in the 8th grade. If they can master those experiences, how hard can explaining post-structuralism to a bunch of privileged 18 year olds be? Just a thought.

31. fortysomethingprof - January 12, 2011 at 01:25 am

I agree with mike-in-nm (27) and I was a little annoyed at what appeared to be a attempt, on the the part of the essay's author, to hide the discipline in which Jack matriculated. It's very relevant. I'm in the physical sciences too, and all of the students I've ever graduated (except those who are also professors) have meaningful professional work *as scientists* and earn significantly more than I do (including those who only have MS degrees).

Two thoughts.

First, something that is *not* obvious to graduate students, including those in the sciences, is the extent to which many of us professors benefitted from pure luck in getting where we are today. The fact is, I just happened to get the right interview at the right time and in the right place and for some reason they liked me. Otherwise I'd be in industry too. But I'd have been happy there, and I think I'd have been successful, perhaps more successful than I am as a professor.

Second, in disciplines (e.g., archaeology or Russian literature) where there is no obvious private-sector job market, getting a tenure track professorship with loads of research funding is akin to succeeding as a professional violinist. Very few classical violinists earn a living just performing. Unless they have "day jobs," they have to teach, and most teach exclusively, even if it means giving private lessons mainly to children.

Anyone who goes to graduate school in history or sociology counting on a professorship later on is playing roulette with his future. And the stakes are high -- several of the best years of his life are on the line. Round and round she goes.

32. rambo - January 12, 2011 at 02:04 am

yes work experiences before entering a PHD program is very important. Work at a FFRDC and research the reports at http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/search/tr/str/guided-tr.html.

33. 3224243 - January 12, 2011 at 07:58 am

Thankfully, my PhD program included a seminar on teaching effectiveness and had good evaluations from students I taught while doing my graduate work. I received two tenure-track offers before my dissertation was complete.

34. raaghini - January 12, 2011 at 08:16 am

I am a Doctoral candidate at FIU and I totally agree with your article. With the credentials and guidance offered to us, I do not know if I ever will fit in any job market.

35. 11194062 - January 12, 2011 at 09:14 am

Like eudaimon, I appreciate the author's position, but it's that position that is the problem. Like anyone who has been in academia for more than 10 years or so, I think Dr Cassuto is a little out of touch with the reality on the ground. As a recent PhD on the job market for the past two years, I know my experience is pretty average. I'm not holding out for a tenure-track professorship in a research university, but willing to take anything that involved teaching - and unable to get it, because there are thousands more like me in the same boat. We're not settling for for a tiny liberal-arts college - we're begging to teach part-time at a diploma mill. I WISH I and others of my cohort were in our 40s coming to grips with the fact that we wouldn't get the dream job. Instead we're in our 30s applying for food stamps and trying to figure out how to start over. We don't need options outside the research university - we need options outside academia.

36. 11898203 - January 12, 2011 at 09:53 am

Since 1994, Howard University has offered the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) Program. PFF is designed for Ph.D. students who are planning to join the professoriate. Students are required to complete a “Faculty Roles and Responsibilities” course during their first year of the program; attend a two-day Teaching Assistant workshop, participate in one site visit to a partner institution per year, attend two PFF-sponsored career preparation seminars/workshops per semester, create a teaching/academic portfolio with the guidance of the PFF program and a faculty mentor, and complete an evaluated teaching experience. As a part of the program, students who have entered Ph.D. candidacy may apply to a Pre-Faculty Internship Program where they may be accepted to teach a course in one of the partner institutions while completing their Ph.D. degree.

Charles Betsey, Interim Dean
Howard University Graduate School

37. kathryntomasek - January 12, 2011 at 10:15 am

Excellent article. I look forward to future pieces in this series.

38. mappe_monde - January 12, 2011 at 10:20 am

Encouraging (and training!)PhD's to look for jobs outside academia is great advice. I know many PhD's who do a whole host of things, primarily as second careers after burning out on academia, and while they never regret earning the degree, they do regret trying to force themselves into the narrowly-prescribed roles often required in academia.

39. steilenm - January 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

"Unlike many problems faced by the academy today, this one can be solved in-house and at modest cost."

How? The problem as you described was not that Jack didn't want the job he got; it was that he couldn't find a tenure-track position--any tenure track position.

The problem can't be solved by an extra course in how to make your CV attractive to community colleges, or, how to teach to less gifted or motivated students. The problem can only be solved--really solved--by more jobs, or fewer candidates, or both.

And the fault for that lies, I think, not with Jack, but with the universities who train more PhDs than they are willing to hire.

40. duggerdm - January 12, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Exceptionally understated problem. Academic institutions are extremely disconnected from job demand - especially outside of academia. Your title "Changing the Way We Socialize Doctoral Students" says it all about academia's disconnect from reality. Your title should have been "Changing the Way We Lie to Doctoral Students - Regarding the General Lack of Demand for Their Skills."

41. eudaimon - January 12, 2011 at 12:26 pm

One thing that could be done in-house is to include some training on academic administration as part of a graduate program. Many Ph.D.s will end up in hybrid positions, i.e., administrators who teach. Skills gained will be marketable outside of academia, and it would be an opportunity for graduate students to integrate different skill sets. Internships would broaden the socializing process. In the end, I think a multi-disciplinary approach to the humanities is needed, especially because the humanities are so inward focused. But this would be a start. Persons educated in the humanities have a great deal to contribute to the economy, but they need bridge skills and knowledge to do so.

42. adventurekitty - January 12, 2011 at 12:32 pm

As someone in the trenches, I really don't see any of this changing. I wish it would. I truly do.

If you were to change the structure of graduate programs to include a standard level of teaching opportunities and professional development, you'd have to fight against the decentralization of graduate study. I mean big departments versus small departments, big budgets vs small, some who want it others who want to destroy the office that would suggest such a thing.

If you were instead to add programs (like Preparing Future Faculty for example), you're still fighting decentralization, but you're also dealing with having to hire staff/faculty (not in this econonmy!) and with administrators who are faculty who have mostly never been outside of academia. And, from my experience, have no clue what it's like to work a non-academic job and think of themselves as above people who aren't like them, or are there because their labs are doing well and they're waiting to retire on a higher admin salary, or want to promote their own careers on a national level and don't really care about the folks they're supposed to be in administrative service to. I could go on.. obviously.

There are faculty not like this, but in my experience at our big R-1, they aren't the ones in the administration who would make structural changes, or set these programs up and find funds to keep them going.

43. quidditas - January 12, 2011 at 01:07 pm

"But to expect our advisors--who are already overworked and underpaid--to continue to babysit us is just absurd. They are there to help us to get a PhD, inspire us, set deadlines for us to finish--not getting us a job. That is up to us to figure out."

I agree that you have to find your own job. But I disagree about faculty passivity. I find their narrow angle of vision on the world in which their OWN students need to function--never mind anyone ELSE-- intellectually flaccid and consequently not to be bourne. Who ELSE gets to be this narrow? Only the leisure class.

And, believe me, it's entirely possible for faculty at decent schools to get course release time to carry out extensive administrative or curricular reform tasks--if individual faculty and their Departments are willing to make something a priority and make a case to Admin.

The problem is that I have NEVER seen tenured faculty make a case to Admin on ANYTHING that was not primarily in THEIR own interests. Consequently, the only way to get them off their duffs and start planning anything in the interests of their students is to make them understand that they personally will bear the consequences of inaction.

This means external pressure, not the public sympathy they're always trolling for by bemoaning "corporatization" and complaining about "careerism"--so long as it's your career and not theirs.

44. quidditas - January 12, 2011 at 01:17 pm

In terms of making tenured faculty bear the consequences of inaction--it's not true that upper Admin has no means of doing so. In relative ordinary economic times, they get performance increases every year (or not), they get leaves approved (or not), they get department budgets increased (or not), they get approval for staff hires that make their lives easier (or not), etc.

The willingness of Admin to make ITS will felt is why faculty object to "corporatization." It's also why the argument that tenure grants "academic freedom" is increasingly a farce--no one is more timid than an academic looking to increase its annual 3%.

So, I would say that students need to bring external pressure to bear in order to unleash the Admin whip--although it is too bad it has to go down this way.

45. anon1972 - January 12, 2011 at 02:52 pm

What a load of old cobblers. First of all, tenured profs in an R1 PhD program are not the right people to instruct students about alternative career paths. They are the right people to advise academic research and teach academic courses, and for the most part they/we respect our own limits. Secondly, a PhD program is not a "professional" program in that way. Yes, some professionalization is involved, and in my (humanities) field at least I'm not aware of any PhD programs that aren't doing a fair bit of this; we're not blind to the realities of the job market, after all. We could certainly provide more focused pedagogy training, and I'd very much support that. But the degree is called "doctor of philosophy" (and not, say, "certificate of tertiary education") for a reason; it's a primarily intellectual pursuit, one rightfully viewed as an end in itself. That's why students are paid to do it rather than investing their own money as they do for "professional" degrees. (And any student who is investing their own money, and isn't independently wealthy, is getting irresponsible advice from someone -- but probably not from his/her R1 adviser[s].) Finally, what on earth does the author mean by "We teach graduate students to want the kinds of jobs that most of them won't ever get"? Are we supposed to teach graduate students to crave adjunct jobs with no security and minimal pay?

46. eudaimon - January 12, 2011 at 03:46 pm

Anon1972 describes a pyramid scheme for which R1 Ph.D. professors are uniquely and singly trained. But the question raised by the cobblers is whether this scheme is sustainable and ethically defensible. My advice above is to use the resources of the university to help prepare students for a broader set of career opportunities. I am not suggesting that humanities faculty would be of much use, however. I would also suggest humanities based programs that connect to other career paths.
I think universities do have resources that can be used to satsify the aspirations of persons wishing to pursue the intellectual life and find career paths that can sustain such a life. They just need to re-imagine how to organize and develop those resources. But that is not likely to happen until the crisis deepens.

47. m2eadams - January 12, 2011 at 03:50 pm

The real issue with the reported remedies is that they don't work: seminars in "professional development," with handouts and pieces of advice that everyone already knows, are hardly going to solve the problem for those who want to stay or those who want their PhD to represent a chance to enter other domains of public life. How is interviewing a senior professor really going to get someone a job? The entire act sounds like busy-work to me, the kind of stuff one hears about in revamped high school curricula: short on substance, cute on technique.

48. 22089159x - January 12, 2011 at 04:59 pm

Skimming through the comments, I'm struck by the emphasis on training in pedagogy as opposed to the problem Jack faced and, presumably, died from: a chaotic set of options for a well-credentialed individual with a lot of experience who died unemployed and without health insurance.

I've been down from the ramparts (retired) for about ten years now, but one of the things I noted in my ill-begotten English department was a PREFERENCE for hiring temps and part-timers with LESSER credentials. They were easier to deal with, easier to dismiss, easier to ignore.

I could not in conscience advise anyone to pursue a PhD in English then. From what I observe, I don't think I would do so even now.

49. zagros - January 13, 2011 at 06:12 am

Although graduate students are trained at R1 universities, a good idea would be to have each R1 university partner with one or more teaching-oriented universities and community colleges near them to offer their students paid full-time internships as instructors before they graduate. We aren't interested in hiring "fresh" PhDs at our university because we have our pick of those who have taught before--and acting as a TA or even being granted your own teaching section at an R1 does not cut it because they have no idea how to function at one of the non-elite universities.

In this manner, each year we would get a cutting-edge R1 PhD candidate at our university and they would get an exposure to how the real world of academic exists in (and a requirement to participate in) the "real world" of academia, complete with committee assignments, courses in which you must both teach and grade all of your students without graduate assistants, advising, an understanding of the level of research (if any) required at such schools, etc. The R1 faculty would get a connection to the community college/teaching university scene and the student would better understand what it means when they leave permanently.

Such an internship would explicitly be different from a standard visiting spot in that it would be known that it would be filled each year from the R1 university for a one year term only by someone who had not yet graduated. It would also require collaboration between the R1 faculty and the faculty and the teaching university/community college faculty, which would hopefully also engender more research opportunities for those faculty at teaching-oriented schools who wish to avail themselves of it.

Internships would be graded and this would serve as a potential additional indication as to quality in the teaching arena. Of course, since the person would be a known quantity, it would also make it more likely that the intern will be hired full-time if a search comes about at that teaching-oriented school (and the intern ends up doing well).

As for costs, the full-time internship would not be paid at the salary scales of visiting professors but would be somewhere between where graduate students normally are paid and the pay rate of visiting professors. This reduction in costs for the teaching university could also be used to allow faculty at the teaching university to be assigned to the R1 for a year as a visiting professor at the R1 so that a vibrant exchange on both teaching and research can result between the two institutions.

50. more_cowbell - January 13, 2011 at 10:44 am

Faculty are the least qualified to offer any real career development advice. None even have the formal training for teaching themselves! How on earth could anyone expect faculty to help someone build a work resume - not a CV - that would appeal to employers, many of whom, I add, despise academics and the academic lifestyle?

Another thing - the system wouldn't be as in such a bad state as it is if faculty didnt blatently mislead students, whether through their own ignorance or lying intentionally, about the actual value of a graduate degree, both inside and outside of academe. Fact is, faculty will say whatever it takes to get new advisees, grant money, publication, etc.

51. emerson_scholar - January 13, 2011 at 11:25 am

Until hiring committees, and tenure and promotion committees, reward teaching to the same extent they do research, the author's advice is well-meaning but mis-guided. In fact, paying more attention to pedagogy would be downright harmful for most aspiring and tenure-track faculty. Write your articles, write your book, ignore the students as best you can without completely tanking your evals. I think is a terrible system, but it is the system in which we are all trapped. Until tenured folks, and admins, wake up and change, don't take the author's advice, unless you want to bomb out of this profession.

52. mitdun - January 13, 2011 at 11:34 am

Speaking as a Ph.D. level graduate student in the biological sciences (with 10 yrs prior experience in public middle school), the assertion above that jobs for graduates in the sciences are abundant is only true if you mean perpetual post-doctoral slavery. Paylines for most NIH grants are now in the single digits (meaning over 90% are rejected, meaning in heavy-duty research universities you are toast if you don't score in the next cycle, which will include you, all the other rejects, and more). I am at a public state university, and we have interviewed multiple prospects in the past few years from Ivy-league schools, some coming with an R-01 in hand- and they did not get the job! I do not want to wind up like the man in this story, but it seems to be increasingly common. My committee was actually upset that my PI allowed me to perform some lab management responsibilities as part of the training process. He has assisted me in seeking out training and service opportunities that would look good on a real, working resume. I am truly grateful for that, and I hope that other PIs will either start helping their students train themselves properly, or re-label their programs as Entrances into Perpetual Post-doc Servitude. Just a student prespective.

53. deptofbiology - January 13, 2011 at 03:33 pm

Here at Idaho State University we have a Doctor of Arts in Biology degree, as well as a Ph.D. minor in Biology Education, for Ph.D. in Biology students. These graduate programs provide a series of seminars in "The Academic Career", "Preparing a College-level course" "Assessment", "Theories of learning", "Teaching with Technology", etc. Students also participate in supervised teaching internships and conduct publishable research dissertations. Over the past 10 years we have a record of 96% of our graduates with academic positions- at institutions that value effective teaching and expect a balance of teaching and scholarship.
I provide this information just to demonstrate that there are graduate programs that work diligently to prepare students for the types of academic positions that are both available and satisfying.

54. cravenfop - January 13, 2011 at 07:34 pm

The problem is the wisespread use of parttime and contract academics by institutions and not the professional aspirations of PhD students. When, as is often the case, half the academic teaching staff is on contract then the university is just shirking its responsibilities as an employer much like the permalance phenomenon in other industries. Tenured academics should be using their status to argue towards creating more full time positions and students should be demanding that they are taught by people who can actually give them the time they deserve.

I couldn't think of a bigger waste of a PhD's time than attending an alternative careers workshop.

55. yinandyang - January 13, 2011 at 07:40 pm

@judithryan43, drj50, and manitoga: I don't think the main point of this article was that we should shift grad students' training specifically from preparation for the research professorship to preparation for the teaching professorship. That might be one helpful step in a "new socialization" of the doctoral student. But the real problem is ultimately broader and more dismal than that: even t-t TEACHING jobs are extraordinarily difficult to land these days.

I read the article as saying: grad students ought to be socialized to understand that, quite simply, there are no guarantees in this profession anymore, so their expectations must be flexible... and "flexible" could mean it's better to expect a teaching career, but it could also mean they must prepare themselves for a life as an adjunct, or for a job outside academia entirely. (With exemplary pedagogical training and gratis lunches on their CV, or not.)

There was a very slight implication that "Jack" could have been tenured sooner if he had only gunned for the teaching job right away, instead of for the research position he had been socialized to want. But only very slight: after all, he became a better teacher and his expectations did in fact change, but still, he couldn't get a tenure-track job. Counterfactuals are unfair to the candidate, anyway, and let leaders (profs AND administrators) wash their hands of the responsibility to be honest about systemic unfairness in the university, as "Thomas Benton" has eloquently described in several articles.

56. merinoblue - January 13, 2011 at 08:59 pm

"Like most people with the gumption to complete a Ph.D., Jack felt that he deserved an academic job."

"Graduate school is professional school, but most Ph.D programs badly neglect graduate students' professional development."

You nailed it.

57. marketnow - January 13, 2011 at 09:20 pm

@yinyang: Thank you for your comments. As a newly minted Ph.D. in the humanities, I appreciate them a great deal. My institution prepared me to research and teach (and I have a number of top-notch publications and years of first-rate teaching under my belt) and I've landed precisely one interview this job season. One interview, that is, after fifty-plus applications. The issue is money, people; you're enrolling too many grad students, implying that if they keep their nose to the grindstone they'll get jobs, and you're profitting off their labor. By the time people like me wake up, we're already adjuncts. If you want to really socialize your grad students, then demand higher teaching loads for tenure-track faculty (3/3 or 4/4) and lower numbers of graduate-student admissions. Trust me, if you work hard, you'll still find time to publish: I'm publishing as an adjunct.

58. idano - January 15, 2011 at 02:34 am

It seems to me that if anyone needs to be socialized, it's tenured faculty that have seemingly no clue about the realities of the current higher ed job market, which favors cheap, flexible labor to which it bears very limited legal and ethical responsibility.

59. therammer - January 15, 2011 at 04:03 pm

Perhaps taking a step back and looking the business of higher education would be enlightening? Enrollment, tuition, and fees have sky-rocketed over the last 30+ years. I think those acedemics might be on to something.

60. whal9058 - January 17, 2011 at 04:51 pm

As a PhD currently on the job search I can relate strongly to the career trajectory Jack experienced. I also received my degrees, undergrad, Master's, and doctorate at elite college and universities. Unlike Jack I know my best opportunities and best academic work will be done in a non-research intensive academic home. I have some feeling of shame in not seeking employment at the same types of graduate schools from which I recieved my degrees. I did not receive adequate or cohesive professional development in my doctoral program. I am struggling to apply for academic appointments without being attached to an academic work site. I have been outside academe for nearly 3 years working "in the field". This work history will make my teaching and scholarship richer but it puts me at a disadvantage in my current job seeking. For example, I am scrambling to write a "teaching philosophy" to include with my applications to various schools. My lack of education and orientation to the academic world as a business enterprise is apparent to me each day.

61. angustias - January 19, 2011 at 05:22 pm

The professional development seminar should not only include interviews with their R1 university professors, they should invite community college, SLAC, smaller state university faculty to come and speak to them as well.

It is not just insufficient published research that derails many assistant professors, but the inability to transition from the lofty level of graduate coursework to the level of teaching the intro course in their discipline. And the subsequent "I'm too good for this place" attitude.

It's called the real world of academia.

62. blowback - January 20, 2011 at 12:45 am

I hope I am not the only one who finds it troubling that Dr. Cassuto's felt it necessary not to inform his readers that he teaches in a department with a Ph.D program. Dr. Cassuto makes clear that his friend Jack was like himself a graduate of an "elite" university program and so are we to assume that if Jack had just been an adjunct professor with a Ph.D from a less elite program that his plight would be less deserving of his sympathies. I hope this is not what Dr. Cassuto meant to suggest but nonetheless it leaves a less than precise impression. In addition, Dr. Cassuto would do himself and the issues he seeks to write about here far better service if he would admit that his own department did not always do a very good job in providing its own Ph.D students with the professional development he now claims is needed. And I wonder if Dr. Cassuto and the department he represents spend any time wondering about what happened to all those Ph.D students who graduated from this program without the benefit of this professional development. Jack's story is very tragic indeed and we should all feel the outrage against a system of higher education that is never forced to consider the ruined lives of so many so that it can contiune to ignore the real cost of higher education in America. But I am afraid to say that Dr. Cassuto has in his less than forthright manner here re-enforced a very negative view of the self-serving ways that higher education gets practiced.It might have been more effective to at least admit and examine how well this program has sought to keep its promises to the very ideas Dr. Cassuto has sought to outline here. And in regard to his ideas I must say that they show little insight beyond the same cliches that have been repeated on this topic for many years. Too little and too late. Having been an adjunct professor for many years--even in this very department for a short time--I do not need to be informed about what needs to be done. I know much more about these issues than Dr. Cassuto ever will. I suggest that he looks at my most recent comment at Pannapacker/"Success of Failure" so that he can be better informed. And if he is seriously interested in these issues then I suggest that his department and university organize a conference on the topic so that the Jack's of higher education along with adjuncts like me will be given an opportunity to provide the rest of you with a lesson that clearly most of you still need to learn about the critique of higher education that still needs making.

63. physicsprof - January 23, 2011 at 05:01 pm

If everything is as bad in humanities as the article paints you guys indeed need to make every attempt to better educate your students as to what your degree is actually worth. (Still they are probably grown-ups of some intelligence who should not be foreign to the concept that brains ought to be applied to planning their lifes no less than writing their dissertations.)

64. bookready - February 07, 2011 at 04:21 pm

I agree, mostly. 12 years to complete a PhD is beyond the allowed time at my current institution and all other institutions I have studied and worked at (5 in total). In fact at my current R1 university a special petition would be required to allow that amount of time to complete a PhD. So lets agree that the situation you describe is not ordinary and frankly to me a first red flag that Jack was not capable of meeting the requirements of an academic career.

Second, yes the job market is tough, but I am not surprised by that, I have been on the market twice in the last 5 years. I applied to almost 50 positions and had only a handful of interviews before finding my 'starter-school' position. I was not left with many choices in the that 1st position I accepted. I spent 2 years at the 'starter-school' in a part of the world I never planned on living in. It took hard work to landed my 2nd job at a R1 tenure track position, all while working at the 'starter-school', but by then I only applied for 3 other R1 jobs because having a 'starter-school' position allowed me to be selective, since I had a job with the prospect of tenure already regardless of location and institution status. My advisor never discussed the 'starter-job' strategy, but I knew that she and my previous advisor both got to the R1 school through that path.

What prepared me for all of this was the everyday knowledge that I needed to be better then all of my peers at my graduate R1 school to even make it into the candidate pool for a 'starter-school' job. Consider that there are about a dozen top R1 schools in my field and only a handful of them will be offering faculty positions in my field during my career that's the reality check I always had in mind as a student. That meant publishing my masters work, publishing research unrelated to my dissertation during my PhD, being involved in professional organizations and regularly working 80+ hour weeks. I also had a plan and landmarks along the way, such as publish 3 papers before getting a PhD and working at a research job for a year between each degree. I have never seen this model of HARD effort fail; ever. The students in my own graduate program that follow this advice are now in tenure-track positions. The ones who do not are struggling.

I have a well balanced family life, a child that I gave birth to in the last year and a very good chance at getting tenure at my R1 institution. I disagree that being me is hard, what I do is not hard, just persistent. I also think academia has always been like this, it's just our predecessors did not have the blogosphere to document the paths to their hard earned positions.

65. mchag12 - February 09, 2011 at 10:51 am

Okay, so I am not one of the bitter ones, I have a tenured job, although I can say it was obtained with really very little help from my mentors, who still don't seem to realize the state of the marke. On the other hand, I haven't had a raise in 4 years, I have a completely wacky dean, the school's administration is republican and hates faculty and couldn't possibly understand research, they keep on accepting more students with some fantasy that they will be reimbursed for them (which they never are), we have many students in classes that they did not choose and do not want to be in--but had no choice as they double class sizes and cut down on the required classes they need to graduate, the work environment is often toxic, and I won't mention the worn out statements about the quality or interests of the students. Something is very wrong, and it is not to be blamed on individual graduate advisors but on the entire system. I do not encourage students to go to graduate school because I know that their chances of getting a job are about the same as winning the lottery, Some listen, some think they are different and will be the exception to the rule. But while we write and blame each other for the sorry state of affairs that is American Higher Education, the ship continues to sink. There is some good advice here, and a lot of awful advice. What we need are Unions, social movements, a real discussion about why higher education is now being destroyed (secondary education has already been destroyed). I am not bitter but I am burned out. I like research and depending on the size of the classes and interests of the students, I like teaching --when the students are willing to pariticpate in their own education and have not already been so destroyed by their secondary school experience that they are too angry to be a part of their own education. But the mess we are in is not the result of individual blame--that is the old Blame the Victim strategy that has been used not only for higher education but for layoffs and the lack of jobs that continues to grow as the government uses our tax dollars from our jobs that we don't get raises in to bail out banks and provide corporate welfare. I teach at a State school in Florida, and we have just elected a verified criminal as our next governor and now have the most conservative legislature in the State's history. We need to join together to confront what is happening in out country's educational system-- blaming our advisors isn't going to solve that problem.

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