• September 2, 2015

They're Mad as Hell

Pursuing PhD Illustration Careers

Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

When I wrote last month about the need for professional-development seminars for graduate students, my only intention was to offer some straightforward advice to the profession. Instead, I tapped a vein—no, an artery—and released a lot of pent-up emotion in readers that went way beyond the subject at hand.

Foremost among those emotions was anger. In the comments section of my column, one reader lashed out at tenured professors who have "seemingly no clue about the realities of the current higher-ed job market." Another complained that "the system wouldn't be in such a bad state as it is if faculty didn't blatantly mislead students, whether through their own ignorance or lying intentionally, about the actual value of a graduate degree."

I will venture to say, backed by common sense if not not by quantitative data, that such comments represent the views of many current and former graduate students nowadays. Unemployed, or fearful of becoming so, they are feeling more than a little enraged at their advisers and their institutions for failing to hold up our end of the deal. Have we?

No doubt it varies from professor to professor, and from campus to campus. But collectively, at the very least, we have failed to help graduate students in the ways that they have expected us to. There is a yawning gap between what we've been doing and what many of our graduate students believe we can and should do. That gap points to a failure of understanding. How many of us sit down with our graduate students and ask them what they want from us? The default assumption is that they want to be like us—but some do not, and most will not. One of the fundamental problems in graduate teaching right now is a failure of communication, and the results are hot to the touch.

That failure rests absolutely on us. We're the teachers, and the initiative is ours. The communication gap between graduate teachers and graduate students is an intramural version of the crisis facing academe writ large: Professors are only lately waking up to the need to take their assigned part in the continuing and necessary discussion of the role of the university in society today.

We need likewise to rethink our role in the education of our graduate students. Professional-development seminars, which I discussed last month, help stake out common understanding between professors and graduate students, but communication only starts there. Advisers need to advance it. We shouldn't wait for students to ask what's out there careerwise. It's part of our job to tell them. To mend the gap, we must mind the gap—or else corrosive anger will widen it.

Last month's column provoked more than anger. I also got a hatful of personal e-mails from graduate students asking me for guidance: "Here's my situation," one wrote. "Should I get a Ph.D.?" Or: "I have a Ph.D., and now what? What should I do?"

Their questions made me wonder what I should do. They also provoked some survivor's guilt—as well as the recollection that the job market was a lot better for my own teachers than it was for me. Ultimately, I resolved to advise the people asking me for help as a teacher would.

Such advice is unavoidably personal. In last month's column I told the story of a frustrated Ph.D. named Jack who imagined himself as a tenure-track professor but never reached his goal. This month I'll speak of a different Ph.D.: myself. Everyone comes from somewhere, and my background and goals contrast with Jack's in some important ways.

I went to graduate school for its own sake, not necessarily to get a tenure-track job. Academe certainly looked attractive to me when I enrolled in the early 1980s, but the job market wasn't very good then, either. Moreover, I wasn't sure that I would be willing to relocate to wherever a job was, so I concluded before I began that I might well wind up taking my degree, whether M.A. or Ph.D., in search of nonacademic employment.

I had spent a year working as a computer programmer before entering graduate school, and was confident that I could find interesting work someplace, somehow, eventually. That confidence later helped to sustain me. But before all that, I thought that graduate study might be fun.

Every year that I was in graduate school I asked myself, "Is this still what I want to be doing?" And it was. I loved teaching, and I found a dissertation topic that I enjoyed working on (or perhaps I should say that it found me). After a few years it became clear to me that I would certainly finish the Ph.D.

Like so many graduate students, I didn't start thinking carefully about the job market until it was upon me. When I got a good job, it felt less like an achievement than an improbable success in the lottery. (I recall my father saying soon afterward that if he had known how horrendous the academic job market was, he would have tried harder than he did to talk me out of going to graduate school.) My professional life lacks the arc of a heroic narrative but it does offer an example of thinking outside the library carrel.

One of the readers of last month's column refused to blame professors or the academic workplace for the diminished employment prospects of graduate students. It's "absurd," that reader wrote, "to expect our advisors—who are already overworked and underpaid—to continue to baby-sit us." Their job, the reader continued, is "not getting us a job. That is up to us to figure out."

I'm not sure I'd let the teachers off the hook so easily, but we should pay attention to the reader's larger point, namely: Graduate students, as well as their professors, have responsibility for the choices they make.

School is a place where teachers tell students what to do. At the same time, school is supposed to prepare students to make choices for themselves. In between those two realities lie a lot of teaching and learning—and professional development. Both professors and students have to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions before us: We both must learn how to work together so that our students can leave us with every possible advantage. We all need to keep our eyes open.

A Ph.D. may not prepare a student explicitly for any one profession, but it remains a credential that people respect, and it frees its holder to live creatively outside as well as inside the university walls. There is good counsel to be had about how to do that, but all graduate students—like all lawyers and business executives—must enter the world on their own terms, whether inside or outside the usual workplace that corresponds to their training. It's a personal journey. Store some patience for the trip, and watch the view change with every step you take.

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


1. 11194062 - February 06, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Hi, Leonard. Can I call you Leonard? I'm Gabe.

See, I don't like being called Doctor because it's slightly humiliating. Sometimes I feel like the defrocked priest in every "dark" Western who doesn't want to be called "Father." But I'm not defrocked, just unemployed.

My mom wonders why I still haven't framed my last diploma. I say, Why, so I can put it in the closet with the other ones?

I'm one of the angry ones. Or, more precisely, I'm one of the frustrated ones. Anger has a certain energy to it; frustration, only paralysis.

I was a little hard on you in a comment on your last article. I said you were out of touch. I apologize for that. Reading this article, reading the previous one again, I see you're a kind person who wants to encourage those of us who feel like we fell through the cracks.

The trouble is, at this point in the debate, we're tired of being encouraged. We need practical guidance. Let's face it - most of us in the humanities are here because we're not the kind of people who take risks against terrible odds. Otherwise we WOULD have gone to LA to become actors, or moved to New York to write plays, or hit the road in an Econoline with our band.

No, for one reason or another, we chose what looked like the reasonable, responsible path of academia. It was a compromise - we could do something we considered meaningful and stable (sharing the thing we love with young people), and in exchange we would live with the tedium of committee meetings, commuting, and sucking up to administration.

Nobody told us it would be easy. I never met an advisor who was such an outright liar. We thought we would struggle a few years. We thought we would have to change jobs a few times, move ourselves and our families to a couple of states. We might not be professors at an R1. We might be in a teaching college, or a small liberal arts college, or a community college. It would be okay, because we'd have stability.

So I always thought those were my options. I knew I wasn't going to be a star at Harvard; I knew tenure-track at an R1 was a long shot. But I didn't expect to be told, as the head of my grad program told me in my last year (when the recession hit), to stay in grad school as long as possible. I didn't expect to be told, as the professional development advisor told me (when I decided that advice was unacceptable), to consider going into another profession.

Other things I didn't expect: I didn't expect to be begging just to tutor part-time. I didn't expect my wife to have to apply for government assistance. I didn't expect coffee shops and supermarkets to throw away my applications. I didn't expect to be LITERALLY unemployable.

I knew the odds were bad. But if I'd known how bad they really were, I'd have tried to be a rock star instead. I would at least have had an adventuresome decade in my 20s before finding myself broke and lost in my 30s. Instead, I got disciplined, buckled down, burned myself to the nub professionalizing - and find myself broke and lost in my 30s. And I don't even have any awesome motel room-demolishing stories.

It seems to me the old rule of academia have changed, but no one can figure out what the new ones are. Not the tenured professors who are secure in employment and afraid to crack the can of worms that opens when they start questioning the system; not the tenure-track professors relieved to have a shot and anxious of missing the brass ring; not the burned-out adjuncts, lecturers, and instructors who do their work seething with frustration while still hoping the system will reach down and pluck them out of the basement (hey, I was there; my MA advisores told me to get the PhD); and least of all not the ones who apply to adjunct positions that get cancelled, who desperately attend bait-and-switch interviews with diploma mills, who wish they had anything to fall back on (me, after taking that advice).

To the naysayers - I don't have a sense of entitlement. I don't even have a sense of justice. I'm just damned tired.

2. hoytmirbeau - February 07, 2011 at 01:41 am

Sorry ... but in a competitive environment like academe, it seems totally reasonable to me that you wouldn't earn a tenure-track position. Since you have been so forthcoming about what a compromise graduate studies was for you (which you have decided to project onto "most of us in the humanities") and the myriad responsibilities that makes life as a professional academic a drag, I feel like I have met you before ... perhaps in graduate school ... perhaps several times over. And indeed most of you seem to have had little luck in tenure-land. [?!?!] I don't feel bad about that simply because I would rather work with people interested in the actual work that professional academics do (all those distracting responsibilities) because that is when work actually gets done in a department and real change and growth ... um ... occurs. I can't say this is always the case, but it seems like many of us folks who get jobs (especially these days) consistitute another type of graduate student enthusiastic (or very convincingly feigning enthusiasm) about the real work out there in academe (including the committees [often quite productive], administration [often earnest, intelligent, and well-meaning folks], and long drives [that often turn into productive rehearsals for meetings and classes]). Boring? How about this?: I didn't study literature because I loved to read and wanted to share my love with my students; I studied literature because I was good at it and wanted to develop a set of pedagogical skills to effectively teach students how to think critically in a crazy/tough world; I don't even understand what people talk about when they say that they miss being able to just enjoy a book without a pen in hand. I'm serious.

Sorry, Gabe. Maybe this post is less for you and more for people considering graduate school: consider it more seriously, keeping in mind what the job you are going to be competing for actually entails. When you're a TA, pay attention to how these professionals actually spend their time and whether you would like doing their jobs. While a graduate student, you can always walk away. On the bright side, if you're practical-minded enough to actually be a good fit for these jobs you're competing for, chances are that you will have more than one contingency waiting in the wings (read: alternative career). Being a practical, organized person isnt enough though of course; you should also be awesome (read: however you want). If you are a Gabe, you should find something else to do that you love cause we're talking massive and endless compromises for you here ... or find some less competitive industry (there are some), get a library card, and move on.

Gabe: I am sorry I couldn't have been there to deliver this advice. Would you have listened? Dunno. If you're tired, take a rest and move on. Next time: do more research about what you're getting into and/or be honest with yourself.

3. tribblek - February 07, 2011 at 02:27 am

I think Gabe's tiredness and pain struck a chord with me. I am 42 and earned my PhD 10 years ago. It was easy to continue (even when it was difficult) because the work is interesting and everyone was "so proud" of "all I was accomplishing." I am working (at the same technical college where I was working before I completed the PhD), but have not moved "up" the ladder one inch, and only earn about 10% more than when I started in '99.

I remember a series of articles that I once read about people around my age bracket (X-ers). It wasn't very encouraging... it said things like "Generation X is the first generation since the Civil War that cannot expect to meet or exceed the standard of living that their parents enjoyed." I think the message for me (it has taken a couple of decades for it to form in my brain) is that the times, they are a-changin'.

It is extremely frustrating to grow up with one model (my dad worked as a college professor; my mom was a housewife; and we lived in a luxurious six-bedroom, two-kitchen lakehouse), work to duplicate the circumstances, and -- no matter how hard you try and how many degrees you earn -- you cannot begin to approach what you once respected as "middle class" (much less a home on the lake).

I don't mean to whine here... I guess I see the issue is NOT that PhDs are angry because they aren't achieving what they thought they would. No, I see the issue (and Gabe's comment gets at it) is that MANY of us worked our butts off using a model that we (only now) see as obsolete. I went into education (I'll admit it) in part because I'm not competetive, I'm not highly ambitious... but I wanted STABLE employment with GOOD benefits. That was ALWAYS the promise, explicitly stated. But, everything has changed... now, full time work in academia (especially where there is no tenure) is not at all stable, and the benefits are only moderately good (comparable to most businesses).

Of course, this is nothing new. My granddad trained for years as a road-builder, and just as he was getting his credentials, asphalt came along and made his new piece of paper worthless. He had to either go BACK to school (putting his family into more debt) or just get another career. He did the latter.

Me, I'll keep going for a while. I'm extremely lucky to have a job right now. And my colleagues are a pretty good lot.

4. actlibrary - February 07, 2011 at 03:52 am

Looking forward to the student loan bubble bursting...

5. 11159786 - February 07, 2011 at 07:07 am

There is some combination of dishonesty and laziness among folks in my field- physics. It seems only fair that departments keep track of the careers of their graduates, but this is rarely done. I urge grad students to inquire of prospective thesis mentors about the subsequent success of their former Ph. D. students, but they are reluctant to do that (apparently because the question implies a challenge to the faculty member). The situation is also aggravated by the abundance of postdoctoral positions at "leading" institutions, so we can advertise that our Ph. D. students went off to the "best" places. Only later do these students realize that regular jobs do not follow these postdoctoral gigs.

6. 3224243 - February 07, 2011 at 08:01 am

Graduate faculty are there to teach, not advise. If a student makes it all the way to a PhD program without the wherewithal to assess the job market in that field and graduates without any job prospects, that's the student's fault, not the faculty's. However, graduate schools do bear some blame for accepting more students than there are jobs, especially in the liberal arts and humanities (where the most likely, but nearly impossible to get, positions are in higher ed).

7. cleverclogs - February 07, 2011 at 08:09 am

Leonard, thanks for this very rational series of articles.

What makes me mad as hell is that I did indeed ask everyone I could find about job potential and what they told me turned out to be dead wrong. I choose to believe they are ignorant so I don't have to believe they are liars.

I think it's important to keep in mind that the call for faculty to change their attitudes toward non-R1, non-TT and/or work outside academia is extremely recent, or at least faculty heeding that call is. As little as three years ago, I was telling my professors and colleagues that I would be looking outside the professoriate for work, and the reaction was bad - dumbfounded, scared, defensive. I worried the department might collectively throw me in the river to see if I float.

I suspect those attitudes are changing and will continue to do so, but there is a sort of lost generation (of which I am a part) who have a ton of monetary and psychic debt they have to work their way out of, in a very bad economy.

I think part of the problem is that academia can't decide what it actually does. Either it confers professional degrees, in which case it should offer professionalization in many, many fields, or it offers a (rather expensive) opportunity for personal and intellectual development, in which case it should stop shoe-horning students into narrow ways of thinking about "the discipline" by making absurd prohibitions against topics and methods of study.

Either way, faculty need to stop pretending that they are preparing us for a job as faculty, because it's just not happening for the vast majority of us anymore.

8. velvis - February 07, 2011 at 08:54 am

@ 3224243 - Actually grad faculty's job IS to advise, or so says every single job posting I have ever seen.
I think between the months of waiting and the knowldge that if I don't know something in the next 2 months I'm going to have to go back and teach high school, it's literally causing me to have panic attacks. (Not because I hate high school but because I've wasted my time and a lot of money).

I started applying to schools in OCTOBER, only to hear nothing, until December. And in Decemeber to be asked if I'm interested just to have it still be FEB and not have it scheduled yet, but still getting emails saying "We're Interested."
If they're not interested, I think we should be given at least a generic email saying so.

I started my PhD with the hopes of getting TT because teaching high school can be a will sucking vortex (not the kids fault, the adults). I've studied some awesome things and had amazing experiences but I feel like I'm on vacation, which is quickly coming to an end and now it's back to the grind stone, not with a tan but 40k in additional debt and just a pretty piece of paper to put on the wall.

9. drj50 - February 07, 2011 at 08:55 am

"A Ph.D. . . . remains a credential that people respect." Well, some people, some of the time. I currently work as an administrator in higher education, but during my last job search I also explored some other opportunities. The unanimous advice of HR and job search professionals was to keep the Ph.D. off my resume because it is seen as a negative, a combination of "egghead" and "really wants to work somewhere else." I am not angry, have no regrets about getting my degree (in mid-life) and clearly understood the realities of the market. But outside of higher education, a Ph.D. is not always a plus.

10. socialnature - February 07, 2011 at 09:07 am

It's been over three decades that the academic job market has been in disarray, and now at this late date to find that the issues of adjunctification, lack of benefits for temporary faculty, lack of positions for even highly qualified applicants, and the general withering away of tenure are all the rage comes off as ludicrous.

The saying "a day late and a dollar short" comes to mind, though 30 years' interest on that dollar ends up being a considerable sum.

Fact is, there is no collective sense of urgency on the matter, largely because the collective in this case is distributed across hundreds of individual campuses, each of which has its own history with faculty.

For those with TT jobs, the temptation to see competition in meritocratic terms is no doubt appealing but very wide of the mark. Of the 11 grad students on the market this year in my dept. (top-15 English) only 3 got MLA interviews, with 2 getting on-campus interviews. My cohort is published, active in conferences, has substantial teaching records and interesting, productive projects. What they don't have is an actual job market.

I'll believe that the industry is serious about doing something when I see industry-wide work stoppages. Until then we're left, it seems, with beautiful sentiments about the choice to go on to grad school and deepest sympathies for our loss of career.

11. henry_adams - February 07, 2011 at 09:23 am

Bravo, socialnature.

I recommend that people who have doctoral degrees and can't find work in academia visit Versatile Ph.D.: http://versatilephd.com/
There you will find advice about getting started in other careers.

I don't expect TT people in R1 universities to begin a mass movement in telling the truth, especially when it runs counter to the myths of their institutions. I do think, however, that those of us who advise undergrads that want to pursue graduate study need to inform them fully. I recommend that you tell all such undergrads to read Professor Pannapacker's column about not going to grad school: http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-in-the/44846

I also recommend you show students Lee Skallerup's blog:

Finally, I invite you to send advisees to the Academic Bait-and-Switch columns I've written in the past couple of years:

Henry Adams

12. victoria12 - February 07, 2011 at 09:24 am

What actlibrary said.

13. lolabn - February 07, 2011 at 09:31 am

As a recent Ph.D. (and soon to be unemployed), I have to say, it is *never* up to our advisors to get us a job and never has been! Yes, we all need recommendations, contacts, and someone to support and toot the horn for us, but honestly, anyone who expects someone else to find them a job needs to get a reality check.

14. quidditas - February 07, 2011 at 09:33 am

"Other things I didn't expect: I didn't expect to be begging just to tutor part-time. I didn't expect my wife to have to apply for government assistance. I didn't expect coffee shops and supermarkets to throw away my applications. I didn't expect to be LITERALLY unemployable."

I have sympathy for the grad student predicamemt but as you surely know, thanks to the best and brightest on Wall Street, vast armies of people are currently "literally unemployable."

Not that taking a job at Whole Foods to tide them over is something I saw a lot grad students doing before either, in contrast to the formerly omnipresent retail option as exercised by other likewise "overqualified" temporarily unemployeds I've known.

Should the US economy actually recover--although it promises to be a long slog at best-- I'm confident something of the sort will open up for you or your spouse.

15. mjcurry - February 07, 2011 at 09:35 am

Since the 1990s the lack of jobs for humanities graduates in academia has been widely known, so I don't understand why people are whining about it now. After graduating with an English degree and working in publishing for 8 years I got a master's in Teaching English to Speakers with Other Languages and a PhD in education. Education is a growth field; there are shortages of qualified academics in many areas of education, so perhaps people might look earlier at the practical applications of their scholarship before going into humanities?

16. quidditas - February 07, 2011 at 09:49 am

"Either way, faculty need to stop pretending that they are preparing us for a job as faculty, because it's just not happening for the vast majority of us anymore."

I agree. The problem for future grad students is that most tenured faculty in the humanities are constitutionally incapable of advising grad students to go outside adacemia. Most TT faculty have spent their entire lives on campus and except for the few who assume arduous administrative responsibilities, they are all effectively perpetual grad students. You'd do better "helping yourself."

That said, I don't think that's all that can be done.

The traditional adjunct was a person from outside academia, with significant outside experience, who was hired to bring that experience to bear on the traditional academic curriculum. There is no reason not to hire such people in humanities programs today other than the insufferable attitude of the perpetual grad students who insist they--and not the administration-- run the asylum (only they never do).

17. graniteman - February 07, 2011 at 09:54 am

Why do we continue to graduate armies of doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences when few tenure-track jobs await them? One reason is that we professors tend to be vain personalities who want to clone ourselves. Another oft-noted reason is that doctoral students serve as poorly-compensated indentured servants who help their masters publish peer-reviewed articles that few people will ever read. This is not a good use of society's talent.

18. drgarysgoodman - February 07, 2011 at 10:17 am

Having a keynote speech the next day at a Las Vegas hotel, I drifted across the street to buy a $10.99 steak special. Facing a line, I winced and another "single" asked if I wanted to share a table.

"Only if you promise not to talk," I deadpanned. What followed, naturally, was a fantastic, career-affirming chat.

He was in Vegas to act in a prison movie with Wesley Snipes. I whined that I wasn't looking forward to my talk, because my pay was way under-market. Mostly, I was there to launch my new book, a few hundred of which had been purchased by the event's producer.

My table mate gave me some sage advice about faking enthusiasm, and then went on to tell me how he was cutting his own deal with Hollywood, which I offer to the job-challenged doctoral folk, here.

"The way I stay busy is by writing screenplays, and naturally, in each one I write myself a serious supporting part, as an actor. If they want my movie, I earn several paychecks."

This package-deal enabled him to take the famine-minus out of the feast equation, and he was even able to pay cash for a place on the Jersey shore.

I had been doing something similar for many years, devising my own seminars, pitching and booking them, delivering them, transmuting them into books, audios, videos, and corporate consulting.

The net of it was that I could "teach" through multiple modalities once I had untethered myself from being a conventional college professor. I was doing what I loved, my way, just as my Vegas pal had been doing Hollywood, his.

I had no right to whine. I accepted the speaking gig, which I had created by writing my 12th book.

My advice is to write yourself a new part to play. Where the action takes place, well, that's your call.

19. artificial_flipper - February 07, 2011 at 10:22 am

I am a graduate student in the middle stages of PhD work (in exams), and thought a lot about the job market before I entered graduate school. Here are my thoughts:

While I certainly believe there should be greater emphasis among faculty advisement with graduate students, I think it would be a mistake to believe that a shift in this culture would ultimately shift a) graduate student satisfaction and b) the job market culture.

1) The main reason I think faculty advising is relatively useless in terms of tenure-track job obtainment is that it erases the REAL inequality of the tenure track job market, which is that most tenure track positions are awarded to a handful of graduates from elite schools. You can have the best faculty adviser, a strong CV, and a great introduction letter, but that won't matter at all if the job committee only considers candidates from certain schools, and tosses your application packet as soon as they realize you come from X state school. This DOES happen -- even at "less prestigious" schools, because they DESIRE to be seen as elite and selective. Until there are policies that guarantee EVERY application will be reviewed thoroughly -- and perhaps even a policy where the committee promises to read every application with the applicant's institution made blind to them (admittedly, this might be an impossibility), then the inequality of tenure-track job placement will remain utterly tilted in the favor of elite schools. This is obvious by going to ANY faculty website from ANY department with tenure-track positions. You'll see the same graduating institutions over and over again.

2) The people you are asking to advise students are the ones who essentially "won" the lottery. Unless they are the rare tenure-track professor who suffered on the job market for a few years, had a NTT or adjunct position at first, and THEN finally worked their way up to a tenure track position through sheer grit, then they're going to have a very skewed perception of how the market "really" works for most people. This is true even of younger, more recently hired TT faculty. Most recently hired tenure track faculty were hired ABD or with one year on the job market, and most - again, don't want to beat this to death but oh well -- come from elite, prestigious schools, both with their undergrad and graduate school. So it may seem perfectly natural for them to advise their students "just really think through your project" or "make sure to talk to so and so at X conference" because, for them, those were the elements that made the difference. That, and their very well-known dissertation adviser being able to pick up the phone and "make a call."

Students from less prestigious graduate schools (which are MOST graduate students) should have, in addition to receiving advice from TT faculty, the opportunity to meet with NTT professors, ask them how they found their jobs, and seek their advice as well. Most students fear this because they see an NTT job as a "failure." But even if a graduate student is dead set in viewing it this way, they would at least be able to compare: how was the career track of this NTT different from my dissertation adviser's career journey? Are there things I could be doing to make my path look more similar to the TT professor? I think receiving advice from NTT and adjuncts could make more of a difference than advice received from TT faculty.

20. eberg - February 07, 2011 at 10:23 am

Or, following graniteman's thread, some of us fear having one day to teach the hordes of undergraduates that our TAs now succor so that we may continue to advance our own research agenda. Not exactly a Ponzi scheme, but grad students get the impression they too can enjoy the precarious balance now visible throughout the humanities and liberal arts disciplines. A clear conflict of interest arises when it comes to giving sound advice to potential grad students.

21. lesliemb - February 07, 2011 at 10:25 am

Goodman's advice to "write yourself a new part to play" is terrific. I wish my graduate program had taught me how to do that, as it was a skill I had to learn rather painfully on my own.

I will say that after five years on the job market--during which I had one interview, which thank goodness landed me a t-t job--I felt terribly duped by my interdisciplinary humanities Ph.D. program. Yes, I went into it with open eyes, but just about every single professor there, and especially those on the program's advisory committee, were waaaaaay too optimistic about the job opportunities for humanities scholars holding Ph.D.s outside of traditional disciplines.

For financial reasons, during grad school I worked part-time outside the academy, so I had some skills to draw on during the years I was looking for a t-t job. I'd like to see humanities graduate programs provide structures that enable students to do internships in nonacademic fields.

22. bizdean - February 07, 2011 at 10:50 am

My PhD supervisor was dedicated to finding jobs for his students. Not just because he was a kind man with a lot of contacts, but because it benefited him to have the world's universities and corporate labs seeded with his former students. (I won't enumerate the benefits that accrue to the supervisor thereby; you can figure them out.)

Many problems noted in comments above stem from the student not wisely choosing his/her supervisor. A supervisor who's not willing to counsel and seek jobs for graduates has lost her/his own career fire. What does that imply for the likelihood the supervisor will push you to a leading-edge and important dissertation?

23. atana09 - February 07, 2011 at 10:56 am

Professor Cassuto has made some good observations about the anger and frustration of those who've followed the primrose path of academic promise (which happens to lead past the toxic swamps of financial ruin, disillusionment, and regret).
However the statement that " Graduate students, as well as their professors, have responsibility for the choices they make" does present some substantial ethical issues. Graduate students do need to own up to their choices, however the choices they made are conditioned by the obscuring of information within academe. How many professors are willing to clearly state that within certain fields (humanities and arts especially) terminal degrees have about as much practicle use as a chihuahua on a Alaskan dog sled team? And for those who do have that courage, how many end up pilloried or soon ex to be professors?
The major portion of the problem is that academe has become closely meshed to lenders profits, and the flow of money from lenders has blinded academe to the real costs of being reliant on these sources. So programs are sold which are sometimes worthless, and students who trust academe are sent down the debt river. Professors who desire to tell students to be very, very careful when entering certain fields-often dare not do so because of the debt they themselves carry. So they withhold comment on what they have personally experienced as a dysfunctional system.
However this series of dilemmas will resolve itself albiet by means which will be systemically detrimental to academe and the common. One aspect will be that an increasing number of students will avoid terminal degrees in fields where the payback is minimal. The other is that the great collapse of the student loan debt bubble is coming...and although the financial sectors which has rampantly speculated in that arena will no doubt be bailed out (again)...the crash will destroy public confidence in academe for generations. Along with the financial stability and future of millions. And when this happens somewhere in the ether Tom Paine, Booker Washington, WEB Dubois, John Dewey, and Claiborne Pell will be gnashing their teeth in anger about what we have allowed to happen to higher education.
If we are to have seminars perhaps holding these so all the realities are discussed would be the best alternative. But that might present some major issues for the college recruiting offices and professors who'd have to admit what is really behind the curtain.

24. climate_change - February 07, 2011 at 10:57 am

I find this conversation fascinating, but I still don't understand the level of anger expressed by some. When I finished my Ph.D., I faced a horrible job market and had to scramble a lot, with post-docs and other jobs, including non-academic jobs, for years before succeeding. This was almost 30 years ago. Even when worried about the future and the need to pay off student loans, etc., I never felt that someone owed me something, or that I had a right to be angry. I went into academia because I wanted to. What's changed here? What's next--every kid who was encouraged to have dreams of an Olympic gold medal now gets to bash their parents because it didn't happen? Sorry, but I am pleased and proud to continue to advise my students to continue on for a Ph.D., assuming that that's what they want (and yes--I ask).

25. notpc - February 07, 2011 at 11:00 am

The market place in Science and Engineering has been "tainted" and manipulated by the horde (~50% of PhDs) of foreign nationals hunting down American TT jobs with a vengence. They don't whine, get depressed or blame the system, like the spoiled American kids, and their persistence is paying off. Just check any average S/E department, which will have 80 to 90% foreigners as Professors (they especially like to get control as Head of department, so they can control hiring).

So, buck up laddies, or get out of the way. Mickey D is hiring.

26. tuxthepenguin - February 07, 2011 at 11:04 am

When I started looking at graduate school, now almost two decades ago, I was clearly told that the job market in the humanities was ugly, that even if I was lucky enough to find a job, it would be for low pay in a place I didn't want to live. Not one person told me different. I didn't study the humanities because of it.

I feel bad for you but please don't play this game that you were tricked. I had classmates who were told the same thing but went to grad school in the humanities anyway.

27. coyabean - February 07, 2011 at 11:12 am

I'm just a little confused about the comments and at whom graduate students are mad and why. As a current doctoral student I know full well the risk I'm taking leaving an early/mid-career to earn a PhD.

But, then, the idea of risk seems to be part of the issue, at least with tribblek who admits:

I went into education (I'll admit it) in part because I'm not competetive, I'm not highly ambitious... but I wanted STABLE employment with GOOD benefits. That was ALWAYS the promise, explicitly stated.

Who the hell made that explicit statement is what I want to know?! And more importantly why did a person who professes to want a career as a critical thinker not question such a promise. It's like the slap chop guy sold you on a career in academia and you never questioned if the infomercial was using trick nuts in the demonstration.

And I think the statement is partly disingenuous. In the same breath as admitting to lacking in ambition tribblek says s/he wanted a "stable" job with "good" benefits. If that is the case why not mechanics school? Or cosmetology school? It seems more likely, to me, that this particular student wanted PRESTIGE+stable job+good benefits, all without being ambitious or particularly competitive. I'm not sure when that was ever going to be a viable formula.

It is a difficult economy for everyone. I find that many students and recent graduates who find themselves angry do so because they expected the degree to do all of the work for them. Perhaps this is where being a minority becomes useful. As a result of the dominant culture expecting someone like me to always be overqualified to be underemployed I have no concept of there being an unambitious, uncompetitive road to a "good" job with benefits. I always expect to invest ambition, to work on being competitive, to have a back-up plan for my back-up plan and even then I accept the inherent risk in a competitive market.

So, perhaps all of these angry, disillusioned PhDs should take a class in RACE-D 101 or some course that disabuses them of any idea that a social contract exists that will inoculate them from all competition and risk.

If you have the skills a PhD is purported to symbolize -- critical thinking, researching, writing, effective communication -- and you are incapable of finding a way to at least eek out a living during a tough economy until opportunities for which you will be, undoubtedly, more qualified to take advantage of than your lesser educated counterparts then I suggest that those who lied to you aren't your advisors but your cultural griots who sold you a story of an easy street that hasn't existed for 20 years.

28. lacusfphd - February 07, 2011 at 11:42 am

Thank you for this. I am currently pursuing my Ph.D. while working full time at a university. Luckily, I can do this but not as well as I would like. I have delusions of someday finding a teaching position in academia but I do not feel that my journey has been for no reason. I decided to pursue this degree because I can and I love learning. If my dream job comes to fruition, that's great, if it doesn't I will keep plugging away.

29. ianderso - February 07, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I have two things to say.

1.) At the end of the day, the United States simply does not value education. We can't seem to drum up tax dollars for our K-12 institutions, and Ph.D.s are seen as "elitist." Unless you want an MBA (which are plentiful and QUITE easy to "earn" these days) or an M.D., there seems to be little point in pursuing an advanced degree for education's sake. A degree is simply another item to be bought and sold here in the States. It's sad, but it's true.

2.) I returned to graduate school in pursuit of a terminal degree (MFA in my field) because I specifically feel a calling to teach. And...I'm teaching. At a horrid hellhole where I'm one of only three full-time faculty with a terminal degree, where I'm earning less money than I was 10 years ago, where there is no rank OR tenure, and where anti-intellectualism runs rampant. It's awful and I'm looking for other jobs. No big deal. I'm SPECIFICALLY looking for work at teaching colleges, small liberal arts schools and community colleges. See, I'm in it to actually TEACH. It's fulfilling, I'm good at it, and I touch the lives of young people. I couldn't care less about an R1 university. I'd rather be judged on what really matters to my students: my teaching abilities. To make a long story short, those of you who are in pursuit of (or have earned) a Ph.D. with the intention of landing a cushy, stable academic job with great pay and benefits don't deserve any pity, particularly if you have the audacity to look down upon those "lesser" institutions for which teaching is of paramount importance.

30. johndoe98398 - February 07, 2011 at 12:04 pm

The problem is larger than the job market.

The problem is that most fields in the modern academy prepare you to work in one sector: the modern academy.

The modern academy has turned so far inward that its purpose, other than teaching, is entirely opaque to the rest of the world. A Ph.D. is a liability when applying to the private sector, or to the government, unless it is in one a very small number of technical subjects which are recognized to convey high levels of skill (e.g. physics, economics, math).

The academics has responded, in turn, not by trying to find ways to make their work more accessible, important, or relevant, but by insulating themselves within a tenure bubble. "Everyone not in the academy is a moron," is an unstated but generally believed idea, "and everyone who leaves the academy must not be able to 'cut it.'"

We've defined the life of the mind in terribly narrow terms. We've encouraged people to focus on originality of research and thus created a publication glut. We have at least twice as much output in the humanities and social studies than is appropriate. Everyone thinks their own work is important but their colleagues work is pointless. That's a bad sign.

The current job market just makes the problem more obvious, but it his not a new one. The problem is systemic, and directly related to the fact that our current academic model, which MAY have made sense as a labor model when it was created a century ago, certainly cannot scale in a post-Sputnik era. We have too many undergrads, so this means we admit too many graduate students, but we don't have the money for giant faculties of tenured professors. So like all Ponzi scheme, some significant chunk of participants are going to get screwed one way or another.

It's a systemic problem. It requires a systemic solution. Unfortunately the institution of tenure would seem to push against any hope of real reforms, because who would want to give up infinite job security?

31. sand6432 - February 07, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I served with a group convened by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation almost twenty years ago to investigate this problem of career guidance for graduate students, and it appears that little has changed since then, when the professoriate was being roundly criticized for their ignorance of real conditions in the job market, their ignorance especially of alternative non-academic careers to which their subject of study related, and their tendency to focus way too much on thinking of their students as following on the same career path they themselves had. Graduate students have every reason to feel frustrated at being let down by their professors, but they of course should not think of themselves as blameless either because they have a responsibility also to educate themselves about the marketplace and make decisions rationally in response to it. What I do see new today is similar frustrastion expressed by undergraduates who feel they have been oversold by their universities on the benefits of a college education and are especially bitter to be bearing such heavy debt when job prospects are so poor. That is a new and very disturbing phenomenon to which colleges should be payting much more attention. The future of alumni giving, among others things, depends on it. ---Sandy Thatcher

32. hank6512 - February 07, 2011 at 12:50 pm

The greatest disappointment of my life was not being able to find a tenure-track position in English after graduating from a Big 10 school with stellar recommendations from internationally renowned faculty, publications on the way, outstanding student evaluations, fairly good classroom teaching skills, and a willingness to move anywhere at any salary.

That was nineteen years ago. After stumbling from one non-TT post to another at state universities for five years, I finally decided I had nothing to lose by exploring the options in the for-profit sector of higher education.

One thing morphed into another in that world, and eventually I gained enough experience and know-how in institutional effectiveness and assessment to be able to move back to a well regarded state U. as Director of IE for a salary that is much the same as I would have enjoyed had I found a TT slot and published my way to that blessed state of tenured English professor.

The desired outcome for me was to become a valued member of the university community and to help students succeed, and I feel fortunate that I'm able to do that while making a decent living.

The moral of my story, and my advice for Gabe and all of the other PhDs who feel that they've gotten the ultimate raw deal in the current job market, is for them to consider all of the employment possibilities inside and outside the academy where their skills and talents might form a good fit.

As many others have already remarked, those tenure-track jobs have gone away and likely aren't coming back. I suppose that those of us who missed the train have had and will have few alternatives but to channel our anger and disappointment constructively into finding our way as best we can.

It's not fair, but what is?

33. amnirov - February 07, 2011 at 12:58 pm

The situation could be greatly improved if we returned to a mandatory retirement age of 65.

34. gob1983 - February 07, 2011 at 01:14 pm

I am currently finishing up a PhD in finance, so I have little understanding of most humanities programs (other than my friends in such programs). I must say, most schools I looked at were very open about the purpose of their programs. Whether they sent grads to TT research schools, TT teaching schools or industry, they were up front about it (including exact placement of previous graduates).

Maybe I am being too harsh about it (and sorry if I am, I don't mean to be), but if you attend a PhD program that pushes research TT jobs but can't place graduates at research TT jobs (not knowing where their graduates go is the same as them not going to research schools) can you expect anything but dissapointment when you yourself graduate? I agree, schools (in aggregate) need to be more open about jobs outside academia. But if you go to a PhD program that tells you up front they only want their graduates to go into academia, should you complain when they discourage you from considering jobs outside academia?

This isn't the stone age. There is enough easily accessible information about the job market (and individual PhD program quality) over the last decade that there is, in my opinion, no excuse for being surprised.

35. obnubilator - February 07, 2011 at 01:14 pm

The current job market for humanities PhD's is a black hole. Part of the reason for this is that universities can get by with legions of low paid, no benefit, adjunct positions. Yes quidditas, the 'traditional' adjunct may have been someone from outside academe, but no longer. With >70% of faculty now contingent, TT will a thing of the past and the business model from which the current structure is taken will eventually destroy tenure and deprofessionalize the PhD. The Ivies and a few other top-tier schools will continue to have research faculty and the rest will become teaching schools with piece work laborers. If you're thinking about getting a PhD in the humanities the best advice your advisor/professor can give you is: don't.

36. harry - February 07, 2011 at 01:14 pm

There are a couple of problems with just ensuring that the students are advised that "the job market is terrible." The first is a sort of "lottery winner" mentality, something amply demonstrated in the case of tenure at the Ivies, where the presumption is--especially for those students who have never really "failed" in school--that while the general job market might be bad, it won't be for me individually. That's a matter of knowing vs. truly experiencing.

I suspect also that the length of Ph.D. programs magnifies the difficulty of taking such advice--if the time to degree averages seven years then we're asking someone (usually in their 20's) to imagine what his or her life will be like much further down the road. That's a hard thing for anyone to do, and it's made more problematic if a student has never worked before full-time in the labor force.

I wonder if it would be more helpful to speak in much more concrete terms about the job market, such as asking a prospective graduate student, "The market is particularly bad and will be for some time. Are you willing--because you must be--to relocate anywhere in the U.S. for a job, even if that job is nowhere close to family and is in a small rural town of 10,000 which has no airport, no Target, no Trader Joe's etc. within two hours?"

As one poster pointed out, just saying the job market is bad isn't enough. I'm at a rural, public R1, and postings here attract maybe 80 applicants rather than the 200+ you might get elsewhere. Other related fields, like education, get even less. (I've heard if you're willing to do math education, for example, you can write your ticket to many jobs across the U.S.)

37. 11194062 - February 07, 2011 at 01:27 pm

johndoe98398 - You're right. It astounds me that, especially in the humanities, we hear so many people espousing a (slightly) more sophisticatedly-worded version of "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." Or, alternately, "If you're so smart why aren't you rich?" (Or tenured, as the case may be, since none of us get rich.) Most of those who found their spot are too quick to think they got it because of merit or hard work alone. And, though you can hear anyone in the humanities pointing out broken systems everywhere - government, business, primary and secondary education - there are only a handful who dare to point out that their own system is fundamentally unsound.

Then they say "You should have known better." They say "Everyone saw it coming. Why didn't you?" So if we should have known better, and everyone saw it coming, why didn't anyone try to fight it?

@tribblek - This is what we have learned, too late - the middle-class life you grew up in (and that I envied) was only the bubble of post-WWII prosperity - not sustainable for more than a few generations, and not repicable.

@hoytmirbeau: "I didn't study literature because I loved to read and wanted to share my love with my students; I studied literature because I was good at it and wanted to develop a set of pedagogical skills to effectively teach students how to think critically in a crazy/tough world."

How are those things different, aside from wording? I'm disappointed that you didn't actually read what I wrote. I chose to pursue teaching because I'm good at it. I wanted to develop a set of pedogogical skills to effectively teach students how to think critically in a crazy/tough world. I pursued a PhD for all the reasons you did, and for my own as well - that I didn't want to depend on the whims of a profit-driven factory system like my machinist father; that I wanted to work in a career that valued its workers and treated them fairly; that I wanted to live up to the dreams of the people in my little country church who called me "Perfesser" because I liked to read. Such rank entitlement, I know.

I didn't expect, or demand, tenure in a R1 university like those in which I earned my degrees. I understood the heirarchy - my R1 professors came from the Ivy League and the top-tiers, Berkley, UVA, Chicago. I would be at a state school, or a liberal-arts college, or a community college. But I would be somewhere. I wouldn't be trying to figure out a new career in my 30s with a family.

38. writual - February 07, 2011 at 01:38 pm

Other things I didn't expect: I didn't expect to be begging just to tutor part-time. I didn't expect my wife to have to apply for government assistance. I didn't expect coffee shops and supermarkets to throw away my applications. I didn't expect to be LITERALLY unemployable.

Thank you, Gabe; your comments are "right on." My PhD has not only not been worth the piece of paper it's printed on, but it made me LITERALLY unemployable. If I leave the degree off my resume, as suggested above, then I am lying by omission on my applications, and risk termination for that falsification. If I include the PhD on the applications, no one wants me; seemingly because 1) they think I won't stay on the job, which seems to be an obvious (and temporary) compromise on my "real" strengths and goals in life, and/or 2) no one wants to hire someone with more education and ambition than they have. Who can feel "secure" on the job in this economy; so why risk hiring someone who may take over your own job one day. I have long received the max in food stamp benefits each month. THAT is the reality of earning a PhD in the US of A.

39. romaryka - February 07, 2011 at 02:00 pm

Thank you, Leonard Cassuto, for a thoughtful and informative response to your previous article. I read it with a particular eye toward how I can best advise my own graduate students - both those who are on the cusp of finishing and going out to try their luck at the academic job market, and those in the earlier stages of their graduate work.

I am never sure what to tell them. I, like you, started my PhD at a time when the job market was dismal at best. Professors in my senior year of college tried to discourage me ("19th-century lit?!? You'd have a better chance of getting a job as a medievalist"). My dept chair that first baffling semester of graduate school tried to discourage me ("We admitted you, but the reality is that there are no jobs"). But I had had a taste of research, and a taste of what it meant to study literature, and there was no dissuading me.

It took me a long time to get my degree. Life intervened. I got married, then divorced. I moved around the country and then out of the country. I got bogged down preparding for my qualifying exams. I did other things - taught technical writing, took up karate, produced translations, directed a choir. Along the way many things about the academic life seemed futile. I worried that I would not be able to make enough of a difference in the world, by just reading and teaching Balzac. But when I turned in my dissertation, and when I walked across that fabled stage in my regalia, I had a feeling of accomplishment - and responsibility - unparalleled in my life until then. And, as my karate sensei had told me, the PhD was, like a black belt, something nobody could take away from me.

I did not get a job right away. (I earned my PhD in 2003, and began my first faculty job in 2006). There were a few extremely lean years of worry and frustration. People told me, back then, "it takes three years." That advice, even though it proved true in my case, was far from consoling when I, as a newly minted Ivy League PhD, could not pay my rent on a studio apartment in France and had to call my dad to ask for - yet another - loan. Eventually I moved back to the States, got a tasky job doing administration in a university department and another job as an adjunct teaching French, and kept putting my application out there, year after year. I was turned down by the very place where I was working as an adjunct - they wanted a medievalist. I think that day was the lowest point. I remember crying to a friend that I didn't know what to do, if all the years of hard work turned out to have been for nothing. "I'm not even good enough for the people who hired me," I remember saying. "How can I think I'll get a job somewhere else??" Only that friend and my father knew how close I was to giving the whole thing up, that time around. (They both encouraged me to hold on and keep trying.) At the time this rejection letter came in I had already started my life over half a dozen times. I looked half-heartedly into other degree programs, other employment opportunities ; I applied whole-heartedly for post-docs I did not get and visiting positions scattered across the nation in places I did not want to move to. It didn't happen that year. I picked up a couple summer jobs and an extra course for the following fall and set back to plugging away at it, with revised-again expectations and very little hope. And got a job. And I write this realizing that even with all the struggles I went through to get where I am, I am one of the lucky ones.

That's what I tell my graduate students now. A condensed version of my own career narrative, and the realities of today's market. An inner Dirty Harry asks smokily, "do you feel lucky? Well, DO you?" I ask them the question countless people asked me, while I was in grad school : "can you see yourself doing anything else?" If the answer is "yes," I encourage them to investigate all possibilities open to them - to plant a lot of seeds, because something will grow. But if their answer is "no," I tell them to keep holding on. Do other things while trying. I tell them that the "three year" rule is now, given the economic situation and the dearth of jobs (especially in the foreign languages), extended to five years, maybe six or more. I tell them to be absolutely mobile. Nobody (well, few people) begin grad school with the dream of a career at a branch campus in a rural town in the midwest, population 600 - but that is a job, and that little community may well be paradise. One of the traps of grad school in a prestigious R1 university is that we see our advisors as models for our own careers - but many of them are there to end their academic careers, while we are just beginning ours. There's no harm in aiming high, but I caution my students to keep in mind that everyone in academia has to *start* somewhere.

I don't want to dismiss Gabe's comments, his exhaustion or frustration, with my own rosy determination. (The reality, while I was in Gabe's shoes, was far from rosy, and far from determined.) But Gabe, I do want to offer you a different picture. Several of my grad students decided to stay in school for an extra year or more because the job market was (is) so dire. If your university will support you for that extra time (or at least hire you as a TA or adjunct instructor, as many places will), why not take advantage of that? The exasperatingly bald truth is that you will not always be one of the lucky ones. Years may go by before "your" job comes up. Can you picture yourself doing anything else? If so, this may be the time to reevaluate your career objectives and do them. (And why not start a band now? At the very least, music is extremely good therapy.) If not, do other things in the meantime, but keep trying.

40. camgray - February 07, 2011 at 02:01 pm

What I read in so many comments is that people were unaware of how ultra-competitive, cut-throat, and networked academia would be. They thought it would be open and fair. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps professors just look comfortable and mild mannered in their offices. Perhaps because we all talk a good equality game. Truth is that academia is a tough career path. You need to go the right school, study and serve time under the right professor, publish in the right journals, and network at the right conferences. You have to be professional, personable, and connected in addition to smart and well-read.

It was made clear from the time before I started my MA that I becoming a favorite with the right well-connected, well-published faculty member was cruical to success, publishing early and often in the correct journals was essential, and that even with all of that, you better be networking your tush off at every conference possible and serving on every committee within your discipline associations on which you could get named.

All of this would guarantee you nothing, but would at least make getting a shot at an interview a possibility. It was also made clear that you had better be willing to move anywhere.

I was also made aware that moving with an academic spouse would almost guarantee that one person would suffer professionally. The best bet was to marry someone outside of academia with a good career who could move easily and support you should your career not take off. I was also told that if I had my kids before I had tenure, my chances of getting tenure diminished significantly (I'm a woman).

Many of the people I saw come through our graduate program had no chance at a real career from day one. Many tied themselves to the least networked or untenured faculty. They researched topics that were not going to get them in the top journals. They did not begin to publish their graduate work early, if at all. They never networked with key discipline players at conferences. They didn't volunteer to do any extra work for faculty members or their departments.

Outside of graduate school, they didn't work to create a likable professionalism that would endear them to people in other fields. They dressed like academics. They didn't sell themselves and what they could do. Not one of them consulted, wrote, or worked outside of grad assistant jobs to get any workplace skills. They put all of their eggs in the academic basket.

As for being literally unemployable, if you believe that you are leaving 10+ years of higher education without the skills to do any other form of work besides writing research papers and teaching undergrads, then perhaps you need to talk to your alma mater's career counseling center. If you have been in academic limbo for more than three years, your chances of jumping into a tenure track job are slim and slipping more each year. Move on into administration, grant writing/management, student services or another field. Teach for fun on the side and know that there is happiness to be found in the outside world, even if you have a PhD.

41. davi2665 - February 07, 2011 at 02:36 pm

In response to amnirov (#33), the idea of returning to a retirement age of 65 is as ridiculous as it is discriminatory. The REAL problem is TENURED older professors whose cognitive capabilities and scholarship have ended 25 years ago. The way to end that debacle is to eliminate tenure that permits non-functional faculty members to continue well past 70 without any hope of a performance review, and return to limited term contracts. The contract can be renewed for those who are still functioning well, and terminated for those who are not functioning well, and probably would not even be competitive for a starting position. The best dean I ever served under with well past 70.

42. rambo - February 07, 2011 at 03:33 pm

However the ideological conformity of the faculties at universities is so rigid that Joe Stalin would be impressed. Few teenagers have the independence of thought to take this route , so disdained by the entrenched Left. The real problem is the complete and effective seizure of the faculty hiring process so that only the hard left is considered for employment. This self reinforcing feedback loop in probably unbreakable in our society. Look at the bright side, at least these leftists are reduced to a self absorbed ghetto where their ultimate influence is actually minimal. Thus those who are anti-capitalism and anti-business cannot hacked it in the real world......

43. manitoga - February 07, 2011 at 04:04 pm

@writual Re: Lying by omission by not including PhD credential.

Your resume is not your CV. Do you include jobs like pumping gas and waiting tables on your resume? If so, you are doing it wrong! Your resume SHOULD be tailored for the job that you are applying. To this effect you ONLY list skills that you have, jobs that you've had, and degrees that you hold, that are RELEVANT to your current job application.

44. impossible_exchange - February 07, 2011 at 04:13 pm

I'm always a little wary of folks pushing the mystical truths like "it's the work" or "it's the life of the mind," etc. that I adhere to, thus I am where I am, while folks who are of a "lower" mindset fail to achieve what I have achieved.

They say things like, "I got my TT job because I didn't care about it."
The subtext: I was pure, you are not. Thus you don't have what I have.

Like Bill Gates protesting that he doesn't care about money. If he doesn't then why does he have so much of it?

Sorry professor Cassuto but you planned to be a professor all along. You can believe the lie that you didn't but I cannot. Everyone who has a PhD, who has tenure or tenure track is proud of it and wanted it, wanted it very very badly. It is too hard to get otherwise.

There are a lot of bad reasons to do this thing: Ego (PhD and professor are accomplishments that boast for themselves), the easy life, money, boss young people around, etc.

However, those reasons seem pretty unlikely to sustain someone through graduate school applications, coursework, comps, research and dissertation, and the job market.
I think it is pretty damned unlikely that anyone getting a PhD doesn't love thinking about their field of study enough to do it for free, which is basically what they have been doing as a graduate student. To suggest that there is some mark of distinction between the tenured and the untenured is to reinforce a meritocratic lie.

Prove that it is a lie?
Look around your departments, find a genuinely ugly person (someone who was ugly at the time of they go the job and promoted). Sure, you will find them. But if your department is in a major university the odds are that everyone in your department will have some attractive quality. This is a quality, it goes without saying, that has nothing to do with the person's intellect but probably helped them interview stronger, etc. Of course, that is just for starters. One could also do a socio-economic background check on one's department. It should be no surprise that precious few of our colleagues grew up in slums, trailer parks, and the backwoods of where ever with uneducated parents, etc. And again, the more competitive the department the more rarefied the air of privilege becomes.

Merit has very little to do with it.

45. manitoga - February 07, 2011 at 04:20 pm

What it really comes down to is this: If you are independently wealthy and can pay for a PhD out of pocket without incurring any debt (and without having that sum of money that you paid adversely affect you) - go for it!

If you work full time and your employer is willing to pay for your PhD, again go for a PhD.

If you need to quit your job and/or get loans to go for a PhD - guess what, it's not for you! There are ways of educating yourself without incurring such debt. Sure, you won't have the PhD, EdD, D.Phil, DBA (or whatever) after your name, but it seems to me that most PhDs out there seem to be getting a PhD for the love of knowledge.

Do I have a PhD? No.
Do I want to get a PhD? Yes!
Can I afford one? No...but I might be able to find an employer who will!
Do I need to start a PhD program right here, right now? No - I am content getting reading lists from learned faculty and self-studying for the time being.

46. ejb_123 - February 07, 2011 at 04:24 pm

Writual wrote in post 38: "Other things I didn't expect: I didn't expect to be begging just to tutor part-time. I didn't expect my wife to have to apply for government assistance. I didn't expect coffee shops and supermarkets to throw away my applications. I didn't expect to be LITERALLY unemployable."

I've said if before when I read about people complaining about not being able to find a job and I'll say it again: spend a little time and money getting a secondary level teaching certificate and teach high school. Yes, it's not the same as teaching at a college or a university, but it sure beats working at McDonald's or not being able to find any job at all. Plus, you'd be teaching the subject matter and the content that you love.

47. books4jocks - February 07, 2011 at 04:30 pm

Professors need to have guidance for bright undergrads who come to them asking about grad school. I was such an undergrad, with starry-eyed notions of how special and smart I was, and how the only place that intelligence could be cultivated was grad school. My advisers should have given me about ten different options besides humanities grad school. They should have spoken frankly about job prospects. They should have encouraged at MOST a master's, never direct entry into a PhD program. They should have been practical, direct, and probably heart-breaking.

48. jadee - February 07, 2011 at 04:38 pm

I definitely feel Gabe's pain! As a grad student, I too looked at the world of teaching with rose-colored glasses and was thorougly surprised and pleased when I got a job right out of grad school. Like any new graduate, I wanted my job search to be as short and painless as possible, and therefore, I felt truly blessed and honored that right out of the starting gate my hiring university wanted me to be a part of their humanities department. Well, you know that old saying, "Be careful what you ask for, you might get it?" At the time I was hired, I was S0 naive and SO happy to get a job SO easily. Ironically, I had spent seven years sacrificing and diligently working on my Ph.D., but I had not spent less than seven days researching this hiring institution or the god-forsaken town in which it was located (just researching the town alone would have saved me a lot of heartache). In the end, I could only take working at that umiversity for two miserable years. Those brief two years, however, soured my outlook on teaching, and I may never, if the Lord wills, return to academia.

You see what happened there was that I quickly learned that my PhD was not to be used for teach students anything--the REAL reason I was hired was because hiring as many teachers as possible with a Ph.D behind their names made the department look good and made parents feel their were getting more bang for their buck. I was hired to be a "talking head" and to keep students and their parents happy at ALL costs so the tuition would keep coming in to the university--a university which I have sadly discovered is nothing more than a glorified, overpriced paper mill factory. If I had known then what I know now, I would have run, not walked, away from this job opportunity.

Currently, I am happily and optimistically looking to put my hard-earned degree to use in a non-academic setting, even if I have to "write myself a new part to play."

49. bookready - February 07, 2011 at 04:41 pm

Every PhD should be introduced to the concept of the 'starter-school'.

On top of that PhD programs should have a life-plan section in their graduate school application. If otherwise qualified applicants have not demonstrated in their life-plan the inherent understanding that they are about to climb a very steep latter with limited room at the top they should only be given admission at their own cost...that would weed out the lazy free riders that go to grad school because they don't intended to find a real job. And before you scream that's unfair to minority groups or other disfranchised individuals... Don't worry about us, I am a minority female in sciences, I knew my only chance to get into grad-school was to work hard enough to get a fellowship and I made sure I outperformed my peers to give myself that chance. As for those who think this would only make academia accessible to the rich (able to pay out of pocket), don't worry about that either, top faculty such as myself prefer to advise talent I could care less about the amount in your trust fund.

50. suzannewayne - February 07, 2011 at 04:47 pm

I walked away from my humanities Ph.D. program after completing my comps because I had recently married and felt that the ordeal of job search + 6 years (minimum) on tenure track would not fit in with the plans I had for my new marriage and hopes for children. It just didn't offer the quality of life I wanted.

I am glad I got out when I did (1998). The irony is that I now work in marketing and communications at the same university, using skills I developed in my 2-year stint as a grad assistant developing web sites and newsletter for an institute on campus.

I realized how lucky I was a few years later when a friend who was a ph.d. and tenured professor reflected to me that as soon as someone earns a Ph.D., they become overqualified for 98% of available jobs.

I imagine this is salt on the wounds for so many. I feel your pain and frustration.

51. 11232247 - February 07, 2011 at 04:51 pm

Life is about choices. There are good choices and there are bad choices. More importantly, however, is that we all learn to own those choices that are, and have always been, ours alone to make.

Otherwise, how does it feel being an adult, so far?

52. manitoga - February 07, 2011 at 05:00 pm

@suzzanewayne writes: "I realized how lucky I was a few years later when a friend who was a ph.d. and tenured professor reflected to me that as soon as someone earns a Ph.D., they become overqualified for 98% of available jobs."

Coming from an HR background, I know that one shouldn't consider someone overqualified, but at the same time there is a liability that is something better comes along, that person will leave and you'll have to go through a job search again, and break a new person in again, and that entails a lot of paperwork and lost productivity. Guess what, my HR background ALSO tells me that I don't need to list every single merit badge I've ever earned, every job I've ever held, and every skill I have. Resumes SHOULD be tailored to the job you are applying for, they are not meant to be full CVs.

Do you have a PhD and it's not required for working as wait-staff at a restaurant? Just say you have a BA, simple!

53. culture_vulture - February 07, 2011 at 05:20 pm

About 6 years ago, I was convinced to transfer universities to one of the top ranked in Australia after talking to a potential employer.

When I enrolled at the university, I was told that because of their ranking, a degree from this university is a golden pathway to a job in the public service or research. Fast-forward 18 months, and I had six months to go before graduation. My rejection letters were beginning to build. I used the CV from the careers advisor, laid it out, had every resume targeted towards each job, still nothing.

Out of sheer frustration, I went to the careers service and explained my situation. I needed answers and I needed them now. "Most public service roles these days require a masters degree, spend some time on one of our computers and tell me which one you would like to enrol in and we'll fill out the paperwork here."

Then the penny dropped that I was sold a dud. I kept on pursuing public service roles to no avail and I spent 12 months working a dead-end retail job. The thought kept running in my mind that I had spent 4 years at university to do a job I could have had when I finished high school. Eventually, I bit the bullet and completed a secondary school teaching degree at a much lower ranked institution. Now I am full-time employed in education, but I am much more wary of the sales pitch coming out of universities these days. Cavaet Emptor.

54. sand6432 - February 07, 2011 at 05:21 pm

One of the 2% of jobs you would not be overqualified for with a Ph.D. is working in scholarly publishing, which boasts among its ranks many Ph.D.s--and also ABDs like me, who after two years of grad school (in Philosophy at two Ivy schools) bolted for the publishing industry and has had a wonderful 40+-year career in it.---Sandy Thatcher

55. occidentalir - February 07, 2011 at 06:11 pm

Comments 11 and 47, about advising bright undergrads, hit the nail on the head. The responsibility lies less with the graduate program, and more with the undergraduate programs. When students come to me with bright-eyed visions of grad school, the first thing I do is warn them about what they unknowingly may be getting themselves into. (And this is in a field, economics, with relatively bright employment prospects for PhDs.)

So I'm somewhat concerned about Comment 24: "I am pleased and proud to continue to advise my students to continue on for a Ph.D., assuming that that's what they want (and yes--I ask)." That's fine, as long as you're also telling them about your experience from the beginning of your comment: "When I finished my Ph.D., I faced a horrible job market and had to scramble a lot, with post-docs and other jobs, including non-academic jobs, for years before succeeding. This was almost 30 years ago. Even when worried about the future and the need to pay off student loans, etc. ..." (Also keeping in mind that the job market appears to be worse, permanently, than it was 30 years ago).

56. abelragen - February 07, 2011 at 06:43 pm

Professors probably do a bad job advising graduate students on their dismal job prospects. Then again, what can they say beyond, "Your job prospects are dismal and I have no idea how I myself fell into a tenure-track job when so many of my classmates didn't?"

What faculty members could actually do is vote to close their graduate programs. Few administrations will be brazen enough to keep a program if its faculty ask that it be shut down, even if it provides cheap labor.

Why don't professors who fein concern for jobless graduates do just that? Because they will lose caste if they are no longer part of a graduate program and--still worse--because they will have to teach more basic courses, maybe even the soul-destroying composition courses that even rhet-comp professors teach rhet-comp theory courses to avoid.

57. quidditas - February 07, 2011 at 06:56 pm

"And when this happens somewhere in the ether Tom Paine, Booker Washington, WEB Dubois, John Dewey, and Claiborne Pell will be gnashing their teeth in anger about what we have allowed to happen to higher education."

Well, some of those people might get upset, but Tom Paine was an autodidact.

He did, however, make girdles.

58. raw123 - February 07, 2011 at 06:58 pm

I now feel that encouraging people to become actors or musicians and encouraging people to get PhDs in the humanities are similarly risky. The statistical likelihood of people having the lives they want can be quite small. On one hand, I do think students have some responsibility for recognizing the reality of the field, but they only can if we advise them seriously. Here are my guidelines:1.) If a student feels that this is the dream job, I don't discourage them, but I do try to give a very realistic sense of what the profession looks like. 2.) Given the difficult financial circumstances at a number of universities, funding can sometimes be tenuous. As i teach in the humanities, I tell people that they ABSOLUTELY CANNOT take out loans for their humanities degrees. If they live their lives while in school, working for low pay doing something they enjoy but don't take on more debt, they'll come out better on the other end. 3.)I tell students to professionalize as much as possible in the profession, but also build a profile that can prepare them for another job at the university or some other work. Digital humanities, composition, student services, academic advising. . . Some students do volunteer work or other kinds of labor that positions them to do other work outside of the academy, and I'm now actively encouraging my advisees to get other credentials outside of their degree.

And as faculty, we need to discourage the use of adjuncts, lessen the number of grad students we accept, and stop telling them lies like, "with all the retirements, there will soon be tons of jobs." That is not responsible, and we do have some control over that.

59. quidditas - February 07, 2011 at 07:16 pm

"Who can feel "secure" on the job in this economy; so why risk hiring someone who may take over your own job one day."

I don't want to burst your self inflicted PhD bubble here, but they don't not hire you because you *could do* that, they don't hire you because you already *think* that, without ever even having done it.

If they're afraid of hiring people who could take over their job someday, there's far better candidates for that working under them already.

Jeebus, people. Get real.

60. deptlanguages - February 07, 2011 at 07:24 pm

#33, The situation would be greatly improved if profs now in their late 50s would have a pension to retire to. (I don't consider a 401k plan a pension you can live on even if you put 20% of your gross income in it, like I do).

So dream on. Moi, at least, I will never retire until my 401k plan yields something close to my salary as associate professor, when I'm 95. (Iam not factoring social security).

I will be happy to move from my office to the glue factory.

61. atana09 - February 07, 2011 at 07:26 pm

Quidditas: True Paine was someone who obtained his knowledge without the bliss of academe. But given the restrictive nature of universities of his era he'd likely would have nothing to do with them.
What Paine would find appalling about our higher education system is how the model established with the GI Bill and Pell Grants has been subverted by edudebt companies, and academe into a perverse means to subordinate the common man by the very system which was initiated to elevate that common man.
Paine would no doubt write that our current system of higher ed, in which our best people have to immerse themselves in debt to some of our societies worst and richest people in order to attain the knowledge which should belong to the people as a common right is unnatural and immoral condition.
And that could by why so many graduate students are so very angry. They followed the belief that in the American system education is a elevation, but so many find that they have become little more than a educated sharecropper to student debt. This may not be a concern of the children of our elite but for those coming up from working or lower middle class backgrounds it as a form of betrayal which can be very difficult to reconcile... Especially when they are living on ramen noodles and fearing phone calls as a result of their belief in what higher education promised but in all too many cases did not ever intend to deliver.

62. gadget - February 07, 2011 at 07:30 pm

I think that many comentators are missing the fact that the tales of dashed dreams and unfulfilled promises are the new American universal. Everyone in the US is struggling with the same issues--the employment pathways that worked for the postwar generation are dead. The high school graduate who once could have taken a decent factory job and built a solid home and family is now working part time at Taco Bell, while his sister, who believes that education and working hard guarantee a middle class job, is a cashier a Walmart and a future substitute teacher once she earns her BA.

The issues are much bigger than grad students who have seen their dreams dashed--it's the whole frigging political and economic system and those who benefit from it. And that isn't you and me.

When I entered graduate school at a public ivy in the middle 70s, I was told that the job market in academia sucked by all my professors, who also told us that it was going to get a lot worse. And I wasn't in the humanities.

I don't know who these people are who haven't been able to see the huge transformation in the US economy over the past forty years. But wake up! The rich have gotten a lot richer, the middle class is going away, and the poor are losing ground faster than even the middle class. This is a tidal wave up against us, and not the fault of our academic advisors clinging to the same illusions as we do. They are not lying to you, they are dreaming the same dream that we all want to dream.

63. americanist40 - February 07, 2011 at 08:16 pm

I do not question at all that many incredibly talented PhDs are un- or under-employed, and that this is both an urgent matter for faculty to address and a sign of a larger social and political crisis. There are many outstanding candidates for every job. Let's also acknowledge that graduate school is funded *not only* by the student's labor (sometimes under exploitative conditions, though often not) and through loans, but by stipends as well. Most PhD students receive at least some grant support beyond the cost of tuition to do the work they (presumably) love. The stipends represent an investment on the part of a graduate school in the promise of that student (not that the investment is entirely selfless: the institution expects an augmentation of its prestige in return). Grad school guarantees the opportunity for intellectual exploration and the *possibility*--not the guarantee--of a professional career. Perhaps people should begin to see it that way rather than as something they will risk life, limb, and loans for on the chance of getting an academic teaching job. I advise my students not to even try for a PhD if they can't get into a program wealthy enough to offer a decent living stipend on top of fee remissions.

64. idano - February 07, 2011 at 08:18 pm

I'm glad that Professor Cassuto has kept this particular conversation going, and I'm pleased that he read (and partially quoted here) my comment to his last piece.

Like many of my peers, I am not so much mad as I am worried and full of regret. Neither my partner nor I have been able to secure employment in or out of academe for the past two years, and the longer we remain unemployed, the less desirable (of course) we look to any employer. He is not eligible for unemployment because his last job was as a TA, and I cannot file for UI this semester because I fear that the college I adjuncted at last semester will snatch away the Summer course 'carrot' they've dangled before me. Still sadder, we have not been unreasonable or 'picky' in our job searches. We have been rejected for tenure track jobs at R1s, SLACs and community colleges across the nation; my partner recently failed to make the cut as a janitor at a nearby pet daycare. The temp agencies to which we've applied have never once contacted us with a job. We might consider getting our teaching credentials were our credentialed friends not facing layoffs and their field's own special brand of employment turmoil. Plan B is simply not as viable an option as those who've never truly had to face it would have you believe.

Anecdotally, while teaching the requisite social justice unit as an adjunct, I was making less than minimum wage and hoping beyond hope that I didn't get hit on my bike commute since my status as a part-timer did not entitle me to health care coverage. Sometimes the irony was too much to bear.

65. quidditas - February 07, 2011 at 08:21 pm

"True Paine was someone who obtained his knowledge without the bliss of academe. But given the restrictive nature of universities of his era he'd likely would have nothing to do with them.

Paine would no doubt write that our current system of higher ed, in which our best people have to immerse themselves in debt to some of our societies worst and richest people in order to attain the knowledge which should belong to the people as a common right is unnatural and immoral condition."

Restrictive? I think Tom Paine would take one look at our narrow universities today and tell everyone to hurry up and de-school themselves.

My point about Paine's autodidacticism is that he didn't think he needed pedigreed a-holes to tell him what it was okay to think or to give him permission to write. To cite #18, he just devised a new part for himself to play. (Granted, he did have to learn how to write).

What Paine would find outrageous is the 5-6 figure tollbooth that *employers* have erected in the path of every common secretary and X-ray technician. For what???

In terms of erecting education tollbooths around citizenship, as American conservatives have always been quick to want to do, I've never really seen Paine get the vapors over the idea that people should rule themselves instead of deferring to pedigreed a-holes.

I think you're confusing him with John Adams. Now there's a person who thought you should be in the possession of a particular kind of political history you could only get at Harvard and in the MA Assembly. He's the guy you want, if you want fedgov to fund the narrow tollbooths.

Tom Paine made girdles.

66. babbalouie - February 07, 2011 at 08:39 pm

You go, drgarysgoodman! You wrote, "My advice is to write yourself a new part to play. Where the action takes place, well, that's your call." I say, Amen.

As a 58-year-old male who is about to complete his doctorate in adult and higher education, I have difficulty putting myself completely in the shoes of a humanities PhD candidate or graduate. However, I did go into this venture with my eyes open, researching the field and considering related career options that could be enhanced by the degree.

A doctorate has always been something I wanted to achieve since by undergrad days. The degree did not represent the promise of a lofty job, it represented a level of challenge and level of learning that I wanted to experience sometime during my life.

I've done plenty of other things in my life, including working as forklift operator, logger, a newspaper reporter and editor, a corporate trainer, continuing education administrator, and a mental health counselor. I can always go back to one of those careers, I suppose, if I really need to.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on one's view of life) I had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass five years ago. It caused me to pause, reflect, and consider the lunacy of continuing to pursue the stressful lifestyle that a full-time job in a four-year or two-year college or corporate setting offered me. I contimplated the rewards (punishment) that a TT position provided: uncertainty; departmental politics; working with folks with anti-social, bipolar, borderline, and narcisistic personality disorders trying to hide in academic garb; stress; and attempts by others to foist professional and personal diminishment upon me. Heck, I could have found all that in the dysfunctional world of human service and healthcare organizations which I left after my cardiac event.

My point is you are laboring under a considerable misunderstanding of the role of faculty if you expect him/her to guarantee you a job once you graduate. In this economy there are damned few fields outside of nursing and some other technical types of work where instructors/advisors can successfully follow through on the promise you'll find employment. At some point a person has to deal with reality and admit to the use of unhealthy defense mechanisms, lack of motivation, and/or sense of entitlement and move on. Talk to a career counselor. Research alternative career options where you can use your transferrable skills.(You do have some of those after all this time in school, don't you?)For example,the training and development field welcomes those with advanced degrees and teaching and course development skills. You can consult, coach/mentor, write, teach as an adjunct. All at the same time. Perhaps you'll find that multiple jobs provides a more meaningful and rewarding existence than a tenure-track life would.

Sure, consider the life of a full-time TT position. But don't get stuck on it. The world of work and what constitutes "employment" has changed. If you wait too long and dwell on your resentments a satisfying professional life may pass you by.

Of course there appears to be a continuing need for telemarketers.

67. babbalouie - February 07, 2011 at 08:44 pm

I contemplated, not "contimplated."

68. atana09 - February 07, 2011 at 08:47 pm

Actually it seems we are in agreement of kind rather than specificity. Paine would dislike the 5-6 tollbooth (which is what I was driving at regarding how high educational costs have risen even for such as trades degrees let alone advanced degrees) and he would have disliked the fact the a educational system intended to be a means to elevate the common man has been co-opted by the postmodern equivalent of pedigreed orifices. Corporations are our aristocracy.

This is not necessarily an blanket indictment of the professorial class, but of the corporatist elements which have largely invaded academe by gaining control of its funding, to benefit of no one but their own massive profits. Like it or not, SMC, NNC and like companies have had more effective control over who gets educated, and what they may be educated in,and what they can do with that education than all of us tweed jacketed idealists. We can claim the 'life of the mind' or advise our students to pursue their calling but after the words fade away the beasts of debt still wait. And that perhaps is as noted earlier, what drives so much of the rage and frustration for graduate students.

Tom Paine did make girdles, but he also advocated pensions for the elderly and disabled, burial stipends for the poor, and eventually revolutions. And I'd like to think he'd be one of the mob who recently accosted the Rolls Royce in the student protests in England.

As far as the fed gov funding education, it should have done so in a manner that higher ed could be affordable to those who demonstrate the ability. The system we've had until recently was the fed gov funding massively rich corporations to sell government money back to students (after they 'liberated' more money via the 9.5% scandal). In that regard its not all that different from George III in that the the US model of educational funding has been demonstrable madness.

69. skaking - February 07, 2011 at 09:18 pm

triblek had a very good point early in the thread. his grandfather trained in a profession going obsolete. so he retooled and retrained and got on with his life. one of the recurring themes here is that a lot of people who have trained in the humanities (or social sciences or whatever) have found there are no jobs for them. like triblek's grandfather. unlike triblek's grandfather, though, they have not retooled and retrained, or at minimum, walked away from a line of work that is not open to them. so why not breathe, realized you had (hopefully) a good time in grad school (at least you have three extra letters) that no one can take away, and figure out next steps? people change careers all the time. why are these academics so special that they can't? forget that you may have been duped or you may have been young and naive when you got into. you're older now and hopefully wiser -- what's your next step?

70. 11194062 - February 07, 2011 at 09:46 pm

@ ejb_123 - re. teaching high school - I'm not proud. I tried. The district I live in has had a hiring freeze for over a year, and the week before I was to start the certification program, announced that because of a budget shortfall of over $100 million they would be not only continuing the hiring freeze, but laying off over 400 employees, consolidating or canceling classes to avoid hiring replacement teachers, and closing as many as 12 elementary schools. And it's not just my district - it's every district within commuting distance.

No wonder I was told in a job interview at a high school (just before the announcement) "We can't really make hiring decisions right now, but we're hoping..."

Look, this is what I'm saying: the Plan B's don't work anymore. It's no longer a matter of being too proud to accept anything but a tenure track at an R1 uni. It's a matter of hundreds of people desperately applying for every job that comes up, whether it's in Slippery Lizard, Arkansas or Cornfield, Kansas. It's not about a PhD from a research university who can't bring themselves to teach in a community college or high school - there are just too many people for too few jobs.

Of course, academe didn't cause the recession. The recession just left us without options.

71. idano - February 07, 2011 at 10:09 pm


That was a nice story, but a false analogy. Presumably, his grandfather did not spend 5-10 years training to build roads and taking out loans to learn his craft. Also, our profession is not falling into obsolescence; more Americans than ever before have a college degree.

72. mindliberations - February 07, 2011 at 10:12 pm

The grad students I know are not "mad as hell" or resentful of the faculty. Those would be sophomoric responses, and graduate students are not sophomores. They are adults, many with partners, children, and parents to support.

Some are sad and blue. Some are determined and ruthless to see out the tenure track goal. Good for them, having the ambition and will to carve out their success within a broken system. Something positive could come of it, and not just for themselves.

A few, like myself, are preparing to undergo a lesser variant of what liberation theorist Amilcar Cabral theorized as "class suicide."

The shock waves going through academe, brought on by neoliberalism and engineered economic cataclysm, are experienced even more acutely by those who lack the social capital of baccalaureate degrees, for whom the collegiate experience is inaccessible. There are many such people and the primary difference between they and the graduate students is that the latter expect something out of the future while the former had no such dream--or illusion--to begin with.

The resources put into my phd training are partly my own, and partly public funds (channeled in strange ways through the university system). So it seems right to put my skills and resources directly back into the benefit of the public, at a time when higher education is closed off to wider swaths of the public, at a time when the public is transformed from a class of decently educated and skilled workers into the lumpenproletariat.

There isn't much support for class-suicide intellectualism and praxis from the academic institution, not from faculty, the graduate school, or graduate students on the professional development trajectory of leadership.
That's been a competing tension between the ideal of democratized access to education, and the university's collusion in global and national class-stratification.

But I'm also comfortable with being weeded out as a failure. People are fired every day for any reason or no reason at all, because the corporatized workplace is a dictatorship.
For a class-suicide intellectual in the 21st century, the location for real, transformative learning is not going to be the university classroom. It will be on the streets and in the prisons, and maybe some on the internet until the telecommunications lobby pushes through its resctrictions.

If you are faculty with tenure, you could also help graduate students in an economic crisis by exercising your academic freedom and pushing back against the deformation of academe which I have described above.
Graduate students are a disposable labor force, like adjuncts. They are the canary in the coal mine.

You can bet university executives are working like dogs to convert tenure track professors into something similarly disposable, and not just by retirement phase-outs.

My point is that every person deserves to advance along the path to remunerative employment, non-alienated labor, creative expression, secure retirement, health insurance. There's something wrong when such a path is so far out of reach that it's more accurately described as a "lottery" or a "market." Smart people with an ethical compass and some intellectual training could put their energies into this problem.

73. skaking - February 07, 2011 at 10:15 pm

@ idano

not a false analogy, just limited. but still applicable. gramps spent x amount of time to learn a trade, so do grad students (ok, x + Y). gramps figures it out, retools. i guess that's where it ends. grad students/phds who aren't getting the TT of their dreams (not all, but judging by comments on this and similar articles in the chronicle and elsewhere) figure it out (ok) but are not retooling. higher ed is not obsolete, but the jobs (TT anyway) are just not there. so yeah, similar to gramps.

74. hobbit - February 07, 2011 at 10:24 pm

manitoga, your comments in #43 and #52 suggest that you may not be aware of hiring practices in the US.

In the US, an applicant for most companies must show an uninterrupted chronology of positions held. If you were a TA or research assistant for pay for several years, but did not include that information to avoid putting the graduate training on the resume, there would be a gap that would prompt an inquiry.

If you chose to write instead that the years spent in the grad program were actually spent traveling, starting a family, or whatever, the employer has every right to terminate your employment for failing to declare all your previously held positions. Even a gap of a month or two prompts inquiries.

Thus, it is very hard to leave a PhD off your resume unless you did nothing for pay or stipend during the graduate program.

Second, many people who say that the PhD will eventually lead to a job outside academia for those who are creative enough to find a niche are kidding themselves. There are few jobs in or out of the academy, period. Employers can select the person who most closely fits the open position. PhD degree holders who apply for other positions may be considered to be desperate, planning to bolt at the first opportunity to use their training, or who will lord it over their peers and perhaps the managers, too.

If that isn't bad enough, a PhD three years out is considered tainted if one has not been working in the field.

Thus a PhD can literally make one unemployable without some very lucky breaks, retraining in something marketable, or self-employment, with all the risks that can entail.

Given the current state of affairs, professors don't owe their students a job, but their departments certainly owe students the truth about where the graduates end up. In my former department, that information was not gathered for a reason: no one except the independently wealthy would have pursued the degree, and then where would those professors be?

75. blowback - February 08, 2011 at 12:39 am

Reading many of the comments above there just seems to be the same uncritical echo chamber from people who present themselves as being something they are not. At least I hope they are pretending because the lack of critical thinking and critique is a sad commentary on the state of discourse that this issue needs but never seems to get. For any one who has followed this debate in the Chronicle for a number of yeas as I have one can only conclude that one reason nothing changes in this discussion is because too many people who comment on the issue like Prof. Cassuto seem unwilling or unable to bring some precise thinking to the issues of higher education.

How many of you actually went back to the Cassuto's previous essay and read the comments left there by previous readers? Not many. If you did then you might have come upon my response to Prof. Cassuto who has taken another(or more precisely has been given another) opportunity to continue his discussion BUT WHO HAS FAILED ONCE AGAIN TO MAKE CLEAR TO ALL HIS READERS THAT HE HIMSELF TEACHES IN A DEPARTMENT WITH A PH.D PROGRAM. And so why has Cassuto once again failed to acknowledge this to his readers. As I suggested in my previous comment it is somewhat disingenuous for Prof. Cassuto to pretend his comments are based on a set of abstractions disconnected to his and his department's practices. How has Cassuto directed his Ph.D students(he has directed 10 dissertations)? Has he been able to place any of these students in tenure track positions? Has he helped them get their work published? Has he put into practice some of the things he claims here? He fails to make clear that for many years his Ph.D program did not do a very good job in supporting the graduate students in the program. He, however, seems unconcerned with this or the fate of these many students. The very fact that even now he cannot bring himself to acknowledge that there have been and that there are Ph.D students in his department is troubling because he suggests by this omission that he has either a contempt for these students or that he is ashamed of his connection to them. I am not sure how he thinks he is helping or does he think that the only students worthy of his help are those Ph.D students at the same Ivy League schools he attended(some of you should really re-read his previous essay--at least those of you interested enough to be informed). Having graduated from the program I must say that none of these attitudes would surprise me. But Cassuto cannot have it both ways. He cannot put himself forward as offering up a critique of graduate education in the Humanities and then keep out of the discussion his own part in it.

However, this is not the essential point of my critique of Prof. Cassuto's comments. He seeks to isolate the most extreme comments by graduate students and adjuncts that seek to place all the blame on their professors. No individual professor is to blame for the state of higher education which does not mean tenured professors are blameless for a system they have some responsibility for creating. No Dissertation director and no Ph.D program can get a Ph.D student a tenure track position. However, very few departments and very few tenured professor have done much in changing how the process works. Because there is no central oversight in American Higher Education it difficult to make any one accountable for any of its practices.

Therefore, what is the point of Prof. Cassuto's remarks here? Does he offer up a coherent critique of graduate education? I have yet to read it if he has. Has he offered a set of alternatives to the present sysetm of graduate education in the Humanities? If he has, I have not found it in this or his previous essay. He wants to provide professional development conferences for students so that they can be better directed. No one would object but how useful will they be. Cassuto is pretending to offer a solution while refusing to discuss the problem. Clearly he is poorly read on the issue. Has he even read Marc Bousquet's "How the University Works?" Has he even read Mark Taylor's recent book on higher education. If he has he shows no evidence of it here and no evidence that he is capable of offering a fuller discussion of what is wrong with higher education. And what does Cassuto plan on telling his Ph.D students about work outside of higher education. He claims he worked as a computer programmer before graduate school and yet states nothing about how he went from graduate school to his first academic position. He makes clear that after graduate school he has only held academic positions and therefore has no experience in the problems facing Ph.D in the Humanities as they attempt to transition to non-academic careers or attempt to apply to law school. I suggest that Cassuto read my comments on this at Polak "A Letter from a Graduate Student in the Humanities" in this publication(4/4/10 #'s18 & 25) and in Pannapacker(1/7/11 Success of Failure). He clearly needs a reality check if he thinks there is a world of opportunities awaiting Ph.D's in the Humanities in the non-academic world.

One of many reasons I find Prof. Cassuto's remarks unhelpful and find little to trust in his views is that he seems oblivious of the impact his comments have on the rest of us when he states that he had no interest in an academic career. He states he took no interest in his career while in graduate school. Indeed, Cassuto makes plain that he has gotten all he has wanted out of life without having to struggle for it---it has been no hardship and so he cannot really understand why others cannot have as easy a time of it and why they should be so very upset with the way things are. Cassuto, like many tenured professors, still wish to think that they have received their position because they have worked harder, are more gifted, are more deserving. Look around at all the tenured professors in your departments. Is this what you really think? Cassuto cannot bring himself to admit that as a graduate of Columbia and Harvard he has been given opportunities not because he has earned them but because graduates from elite programs will always get opportunities that the Ph.D students Cassuto teaches at Fordham will never get. Too bad Cassuto omitted this from his article. It would have provided a level of truthfulness that it lacks.

The following remarks are address less to Cassuto than to some of the comments above. We need to stop pretending that there are job opportunities for Ph.D's outside of higher education. By the time a student earns a Ph.D they are off the career track. No one is interested in interviewing you for any position. And any person who suggest leaving the Ph.D off the resume fails to tell you how explain all the time you were not working but in school. Unless you think you are selling yourself by suggesting that you spent all those years in graduate school and still failed to earn a Ph.D. To #31 above who stated she worked at the Woodrow Wilson Foundation tell the rest of us about the Program started by Director Robert Weisbuch in 1998 in which there was an attempt made to place Ph.D's in the Humanities with firms like Mckinsey and Company(see in this publication 12/18/98 Magner,D.). How many Ph.D's in English were placed during the program? I did the research. None. Rather than just repeating the same half truths so many of you like to engage in why do we just admit that the U.S is no different than most third world nations(we have more in common with Egypt than any one cares to admit)we have too many well educated individuals and a society that only knows how to exploit them. Higher education runs on poorly paid adjunct labor. How many adjuncts and graduate students teach in your departments? Your Universities? Does Prof. Cassuto wish to address this issue? He fails to even consider it here as if it is not part of the state of higher education in America today. There is much Cassuto has left out of his critique. I only hope that at some point he decides to put much of it back in.

76. quidditas - February 08, 2011 at 06:49 am

"We can claim the 'life of the mind' or advise our students to pursue their calling but after the words fade away the beasts of debt still wait. And that perhaps is as noted earlier, what drives so much of the rage and frustration for graduate students."

As someone pointed out, many--if not most, PhD students in the Arts and Sciences (as opposed to the professional schools), are substantially subsidized through TA-ships, GA-ships, RA-ships, fellowships, dissertation grants, and that's before you even get to external funding opportunities.

I, for the life of me, cannot make any sense out of your graduate student debt angle. I think their anger is centered on the failure of the institution to fund their TT jobs or to systematically support the expansion of the curriculum to give them some clue of what they can do with this thing that is worthy of the time they put into it.

If we're talking about their undergraduate debt, all that means is that they deferred their anxiety about undergraduate debt and are today placing all that angst on their failure to magically land a TT job.

This puts them in no worse position than their own students-- off whom they've just received a largely free educational premium. A premium that does eventually pan out for those who dare to GET OFF the easy but demeaning road of adjunct purgatory to which so many permanent students strictly hew, complaining that their free educational premium has rendered them "unemployable."

Seriously, Tom Paine would not have any particular sympathy for such a grad student.

Perhaps academic administration should adapt to changing times and refuse to admit wet behind the ears 22 year olds with no life or work experience to the highly subsidized plum position that fully funded graduate study actually is. I've never really understood why anyone would think that a kid is prepared to make any significant intervention into a culture's discourse or into an institution's hardened bureaucracy.

Paying down some of that undergraduate student loan debt should also make future grad students less enslaved to the bottom line, which might--I'm not optimistic, but it might-- free their minds from the shackles of their advisor's set thinking.

This would no doubt burn the butts of the ubiquitous permanent student type so beloved by the tenured cadre today--not to mention the debt free upper middle class permanent student-- but it would alter the tenor and tone of graduate study to have more people who have accrued some other life experience on campus.

"Tom Paine did make girdles, but he also advocated pensions for the elderly and disabled, burial stipends for the poor, and eventually revolutions. And I'd like to think he'd be one of the mob who recently accosted the Rolls Royce in the student protests in England."

My point about Tom Paine making girdles, is to point out that pedigreed orifices do not own "the life of the mind." But a lot of these grad students seem ready to concede it to them, which more than anything else makes me question the education that they are receiving.

The revolution is definitely not coming out of higher education today--if it ever has, John Adams notwithstanding.

77. quidditas - February 08, 2011 at 06:54 am

And even he graduated already, for pete's sake. No PhD there.

78. godot - February 08, 2011 at 08:56 am

Why are we angry? You have having to ask underlines one of the main reasons. We have jumped through all of the hoops, completed our course work, written a dissertation, presented at national conferences, published peer reviewed artciles, hell, some of use have even written books published by academic presses. And yet we are met with scorn when we suggest that something be done right the job problem within academia. Within my disapline I have yet to see any professional orgainization, department, or individual stand up and say this is broken and we need to fix it. Instaead all I see is a shrugging of the shoulders and trite responses. It is time for establish professors to speak out for the expansion of departments, or retire.

79. gob1983 - February 08, 2011 at 09:31 am

@quidditas: Yes, many PhD students are subsidized (though I, for one, could not fathom going into an unsubsidized program). However, to say this means they incur no debt is not correct. With many stipends less than $10,000 annually I know students who have to take out loans for living expenses (especially those than live in cities where rent is $1000+ a month). Many programs I know include in their stipends the requirement to teach (often extensively) in the summer. So when the dissertation comes around I know several students who have had to forgo that funding just to finish writing. For our program, the subsidies are four years, and then you are on your own (most work as adjuncts) for insurance, tuition (still have to fork over almost a grand a semester for dissertation course credit and student fees).

Take all that, add in having a family (as many do), and I can see why many PhD graduates could have substantial student debt. Now, is it wise to take out such debt when only 20% of graduates in your field are getting TT jobs (either R-1 or otherwise)? No, but that is a separate matter...

80. atana09 - February 08, 2011 at 09:50 am

"As someone pointed out, many--if not most, PhD students in the Arts and Sciences (as opposed to the professional schools), are substantially subsidized through TA-ships, GA-ships, RA-ships, fellowships, dissertation grants, and that's before you even get to external funding opportunities." Q

The problem is that in many states TA stipends are little more than reduction in already inflated tuitions. It is not uncommon for TA amounts to be simply a reduction in the amount from what one would pay as a in state student as oppossed to out of state tuition. In that sense TA stipends are little more than a fiction on paper and good marketing (propaganda) for the universities.

As far as TA, GA and etc paying the bills and making high costs for terminal degrees unnecessary there is that little problem of the AMA. Several years ago the AMA begged the USDOE to restore meaningful loan forgiveness and deferment programs for the physicians and other specialists. Now if a doctor cannot deal with the unintended consequences of a MD, what chance does a PhD/MFA or other alphabet soup degree holder stand in a less secure field?

As far as graduating with appalling debts it does scare students as gob1983 and mindliberations so eloquently stated. And as mindliberation and myself noted one of the unintended or intended consequences is class marginalization via education. (mindliberation your response was especially well voiced)

As mindliberation notes many grad students are not in a enraged state (yet) but are very concerned. And that could be another element to this mess is that we may lose yet more people who'd be major social assets as their frustrations turns inwards.

Talking people back from the brink a year or two after they've got their degree is certainly not what I signed up for when I became a prof...and something is very wrong with our system that such acts are even necessary.

81. recruter - February 08, 2011 at 10:09 am

As a recruiter in the corporate world I read the article and response with great interest.

A few observations:
One person wrote that he was getting his PhD to teach High School... You'll price yourself right out of a job in most public schools as they pay based on degrees and experience. Most administrators will hire a masters as it will cost them less.

Another comment was talking about tha the rules had changed and that no one knew what it was going to take to get ahead. This is the same as the corporate world now. You can have experience and education but people are still getting laid off everyday. The budgets for schools are getting cut everyday so to expect the old rules to apply is unrealistic.

A third commenter talked about how all the tenure track positions are going to candidates from select schools. This is also the case for the corporate world. When recruitng MBA's and undergrads you will probably only go to 10 or so schools for each disicpline.

Basically, most of the issues that I read were the same ones that I see everyday in the corporate world. I think a lot of it comes down to candidates not being aware of what the conditions are in the employment marketplace. It is tough no matter what type of job you are looking for. There are lots of experienced people looking at jobs they wouldn't have considered worth their time 5 - 10 years ago.

82. robert_wyatt - February 08, 2011 at 10:10 am

"is this going to be on the test?" -

(grad)Students with absolutely no skills or knowledge other than what they are asked to learn for Exams. No desire to learn anything if no immediate credit is offered.

When faced with anything real... it's someone didn't tell me, I didn't know, that wasn't supposed to be on the Exam.

When (if) you learn real world skills (which one can in college), it can certainly improve one's odds of getting a job.

83. text0002 - February 08, 2011 at 10:12 am

I'm not sure I can add very much to what's already been said.

Here's my two cents' worth:

I do think that it's not right to say that one can't blame one's institution or one's advisor, for that matter, for not helping with a job. People who go to law school, med school, and MBA programs do expect help with placement. That's a very reasonable expectation. A Ph.D. program in the humanities is a training ground for future college teachers. That is all it is. And that's why I went. I did encounter professors in my program who talked about how the Ph.D. is one of those things that can help to shape you as a person and somehow make you better. I don't buy that flim flam for a second.

About the Ph.D. actually making you less employable. It might. Case in point: back in 2006, I had applied for a dissertation fellowship. I also realized that things might not go well. I had experience in publishing and applied for a sales rep job with a major publisher. I reached an interesting point: I had gone through 2 interviews with that publisher and was getting ready for the third. Then, that week, I got the dissertation fellowship and published my first article. I thought to myself: I now have publications and have won a university wide competition. I may have a shot at a job. I did the stupid thing: accepted the fellowship and turned down the next interview. Winning the fellowship was the worst thing that could have happened. If I had not won, I simply would have left the university immediately.

Four years later, after having published three more articles, and having taught an unspeakable number of courses (over 150 credits in three and a half years), I found myself applying for sales rep jobs again. This time, I made it to first round interviews. But then the managers, seeing my CV with all the pubs, would say, "You're an academic."

Oh, dear.

Well, I suppose that in some ways (although I've been incredibly lucky in terms of income and having a nest egg and therefore options), I do have myself to blame by not pulling out of the program when I was very close to another very good job. If I had to do it over again, I would have taken that job and run. Ph.D. be damned.

Doug Texter

84. manitoga - February 08, 2011 at 10:28 am

Wow,such anger from @blowback...

@hobbit, first of all I have never known any PhD candidate that didn't have some sort of retail job, at least part-time, while working on their degree. If you just went full-on with school, well, what can I say, you probably didn't need the money to live - so that's something that can go on your resume.

Secondly, gaps can be filled. I'd never put "TA" or "RA" on a resume - period. I'd speak to my department and see if they can give me a better title, like "departmental assistant." If you're also teaching classes in your field, I'd also ask the department if it's OK to put "adjunct instructor" on your resume. As a "departmental assistant" you may have proven that you can organize mini conferences on campus, make things happen with various stakeholders, and increased the efficiency of XYZ processing.

Is this a lie? No, you actually probably did all this stuff while a TA/RA, but if you and your employer agree to call your position anything other than TA/RA, who cares?

Yes, gaps in your resume are an issue, and as an HR person I would look into it, but quite honestly the name of the game these days seems to be telling the truth about your employment, but using alternative terms to truly bring out the fact that you are employable. Now if they do hire you and you are a condescending snot that thinks that he knows better than everyone else at the same level of employment...well, you make your own luck there.

I also happen to agree with people above who say that 22-year-olds should not be admitted into PhD programs. They should go out there, see how things are, and then re-think what they want to do. It's easy to maintain a given course in life, going from K to 12 to college to MA to PhD. It's not that easy to really take stock of what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what the plan is. There should be an age (or perhaps maturity?) buffer for people applying to PhD programs, where these applicants need to formulate a plan about what they would do after their PhD and NOT looking for TT positions.

85. jflange - February 08, 2011 at 10:50 am

We need to abolish the tenure system.

I hold a PhD from an Ivy League school in a humanities field. I have published a book, two articles, and I give 3-4 papers at conferences every year. My dissertation was awarded a coveted "best dissertation prize" and it is currently under contract for publication next year. Since graduation five years ago, I have held 5 limited-term appointments, moved to 5 different states, and held positions at 2 state universities, 1 catholic university, and 2 private liberal arts colleges. I teach a range of courses, usually 3-4 per semester. I have 5-6 glowing recommendation letters and I have never ever heard a single negative comment about my dossier.

But this year, I have not even gotten a single return email or call from my applications. I face unemployment if something doesn't emerge.

Instead of bemoaning my lack of a TT job or my apparent lack of a job altogether, I have decided there is one single thing that can be done to alleviate this bizarre state of affairs in the academic job market.

I have looked at my tenured colleagues at five institutions, especially those over 50, and frankly I find them lazy, out of touch, and overly coddled. Their benefits are outrageously generous, the demands on them are few, and many of them have poor teaching records.

Let's not keep the intense competition bottled up in the realm of the job market: let's make it an ongoing process throughout one's career. Tenured faculty will no longer feel survivor's guilt because they too will be under the gun in yearly performance reviews. Better yet, why not ask them to reapply for their jobs every two to three years? See if they are up to snuff with the selection of excellent candidates out there for their positions.

I hear all the time from my academic "mentors" that they admit they could never have gotten a job in the current job market. In fact I hear this every year at my interviews during hiring season! So why not put that to the test and get some fresh blood out there teaching? It might reinvigorate some seasoned professionals who are out there stagnating! I have nothing to lose, so why not?

86. olderphdstudent - February 08, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I read this article and all responses with much interest since I am considering whether to continue with my doctoral program.

With 30 years combined experience in teaching face-to-face and online (K12 and college), software engineering and multimedia, I wanted to find opportunities for involvement in a research topic that's interested me for over a decade. I was unable to pursue it earlier, in part because the technology (at least for Education) was not yet available and because I was the sole financial support of a family of six until five years ago.

I reviewed several PhD programs, finally selecting one at a large research university at which one faculty member was doing research relevant to my interests. I was also offered a Fellowship for the first year. Combined with my previous professional experience, my future plans to integrate part-time teaching with research and consulting seemed reasonable.

Reality has been different. In the first-year doctoral seminar, the expectation was emphasized that we all become university professors. Research was not mentioned and contracting seemed to be a frowned upon activity. For courses required in the Program of Study, doctoral students are mixed in with students taking their very first Masters course - the undifferentiated instructional approach treats everyone as if they are under 25 and have no work experience.

My program, being small, has no budget for TAs, GAs or RAs. Faculty and fellow students tell me to forget about doing any research - "just get the PhD and get out". My question is, to do what? If all I've accomplished is reading papers (which I've always done anyway) and write lit reviews - how have I advanced my qualifications? I understand that knowing the literature in one's field is essential, but isn't research also an essential element of a doctoral program?

87. xneider - February 08, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I admit, I haven't read all of the comments here, but I do have a tidbit of advice for those of us with PhDs on the market right now. My story is very similar to Leonards, academia was alluring, I wasn't for positive that I would become a faculty member, and at every step of my program I asked myself if this is still what I wanted to be doing. As I began my job search, I had to get real honest with myself and realize that I had responsibilities beyond my own desire to stay in academia - the student loan companies weren't going to wait, my kids still needed me to provide a roof and food, and we all needed health insurance. With that revelation, I chose to widen my search by asking myself, "What are the things am I passionate about? And what would I consider doing that isn't going to suffocate me? And how can I leverage the power of my doctorate into a paid position that will feed my soul - beit in a different way than academic work." So I chose to look at non-profits and NGOs - of which there are many world wide, idealist.org is a good place to start. I also thought about some administrative positions in universities, although, I admit, the allure of these positions weren't as pallatable to me, but they are to others and the pay is much better than faculty work. Another thing I have been considering and have seen many recent PhDs do, is look at teaching in one of our nations schools. There is always a need for highly educated people to work with our younger generations. Rather than sitting and blaming the academy, my advisors, or the economy, I felt it was incumbent upon me to get creative and think outside of the proverbial box.

With all that said, let me say, that I too, am frustrated by the academic job search. Somehow, opportunities continue to keep presenting themselves and hopefully very soon, I will be able to find a tenure track position. If not, I have a game plan in mind to do something that will feed my soul and pay my bills. I guess, I am frustrated and hopeful at the same time.

88. sgtrock - February 08, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I see great delusion in many of these comments. "I did all the right
things." "I worked hard." "I deserve a TT job at a good school."

It really bothers me to see this as it completely ignores the real
problem. Very simply, every program producing PhDs that can't find
jobs should stop accepting doctoral students -- period. Until that
happens, humanities PhD programs will be filled with delusional
students that think if they work very hard, publish, and get great
recommendations they will be the exception and will find that TT
position with a great office offering a view of the ocean.

The balance between the supply of humanities PhDs and the demand for
humanities PhDs must be restored. Once that happens, the pool of
adjuncts will begin to disappear; salaries will increase; PhDs will
once again find TT jobs. Unions won't solve this problem;
demonstrations won't solve this problems and continuing to accept PhD
students into humanities programs really won't solve the problem even
if we tell prospective students about their grim prospects. Students
are delusional.

Only when the balance between the need for humanities PhDs and the
pool of available PhDs to satisfy that need is reestablished will
things have any chance of improving.

89. slahey3 - February 08, 2011 at 12:38 pm

If you are in grad school now and aiming for a t-t job, I"d advise you to readjust your aim. Tenure is dying, to be replaced by a professoriate who either pay their own way with grants or are glorified adjuncts. How do I know this? It's happening at my R1 school here in the Midwest, and seems to be the express aim of the administrators at many other universities as well.
I think the 20th century model of a tenured professoriate into which one who is diligent, clever, and capable can gain entry is sinking slowly, but as the economy continues to evolve, the sinking is becoming more obvious.
Before you despair, though, ask a wide sample of tenured professors how much they like their job. Do you like your colleagues? Do you like teaching the same thing, year in and year out? Do you like committee work? Assume that they like their research, but do they like all the rest? Or are they secretly harboring an urge to move elsewhere? Amazing how many people there are who have a job for which you would give one of your kidneys who would go elsewhere if they could.
Does this make sense? Yep. Years of working restlessly for will 'o the wisp like tenure makes you into someone who is constantly analyzing, constantly testing for soundness or validity, so if you actually get the prize, you turn your formidable powers on your position, and find that it's got its downsides.
I entered grad school aged 25, and finally got tenure (this month) aged 50. From what I can see, this is not terribly unusual.

90. unemployedacademic - February 08, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Thank you, mindliberations.

sgtrock, you forget that academia, like the rest of American society is run for the benefit of the economic elite. If the pool of native adjuncts dries up, schools will simply accelerate offshoring via online courses or import highly-qualified adjuncts from India via H1B visas, claiming that they will do work that Americans refuse to do. For reference, see Microsoft's "inability" to find American programmers to do their work (at low wages).

You can carp all you want about the responsibility of this or that individual with no effect. The problems require systemic solutions that do not divide tenured and tenure-track from non-tenure-track (or academic from non-academic) laborers.

91. 11194062 - February 08, 2011 at 01:13 pm

@ sgtrock - You write:

I see great delusion in many of these comments. "I did all the right things." "I worked hard." "I deserve a TT job at a good school."


Until that happens, humanities PhD programs will be filled with delusional students that think if they work very hard, publish, and get great recommendations they will be the exception and will find that TT position with a great office offering a view of the ocean.

Yes, those people would be delusional, if they existed. I'm pretty sure they don't. I sure don't know anyone like them. I know people like idano (#64), who did all the right things and not only didn't get a TT position on the beach, but who can BARELY SURVIVE with a terminal degree. That's who I know. What do you say to them?

92. quidditas - February 08, 2011 at 01:58 pm

"There should be an age (or perhaps maturity?) buffer for people applying to PhD programs, where these applicants need to formulate a plan about what they would do after their PhD and NOT looking for TT positions."

You can get a PhD and look for a TT position, but you can't get a PhD and ONLY look for a TT position, or sleepwalk on the adjunct track (unless you have a supportive spouse or parent).

Just as, when you graduate with a BA, you can look for a highly competitive job you think you want-- in publishing, let's say-- but you can't ONLY look for a job in publishing.

This is why I say that part of the problem is that permanent student grad students are missing some crucial--but not impossible to deal with--life experience, that millions of other people have and are expected to emotionally suck up (with the same DEBT), including the undergraduate students that grad students teach.

The bottom line is that grad students are not actually a special category of put-upon person-- and they have a lot more going for them than most put-upon persons.

Look, I think the US government needs to develop a new industrial policy for the 21st century instead of throwing every dollar it printz at the zombie financial sector that tanked the economy for the rest us, while it pays out bigger bonuses than it ever has before, despite neing wholly insolvent welfare recipients dependent on the the taxing power of the government.

That would help everyone out here in the real world.

93. copesan - February 08, 2011 at 02:03 pm

I'm disappointed by the hostility shown toward people flailing in the job market. Please remember how actively many people in doctoral programs are discouraged or warned off (perhaps by professors who are "teaching") from thinking/talking about careers other than TT. So many people in the academy are defensive about the decline in jobs that they are lashing out at the victims - who started grad school when the market was somewhat better than the last three years - and "blaming" them for not "knowing" or not "taking responsibility." I am disturbed by the degree of hostility that I see in some of these comments. But I would like to see more people in the academy, the adults, take responsibility for the young - by advising them, and by not penalizing them when they talk about alternative careers to one in academia. I happen to think that a getting a doctorate is worthy in of itself (and I speak as a battered casualty of the job market) and that it did not entitle me a job (though I did make the mistake of believing that the academy was liberal and that getting a doctorate that it entitled me to compete in the job market - I forgot about the intersection of ageism and sexism). I also believe that people need to take responsibility for their lives. But I don't believe that the wounded from the job market wars deserve the kind of hostile contempt that they are receiving from people who should know better. I work in academia, thought not in a TT position, and I find the attitude that I often get, that I am some kind of failure or freak, to be tiresome and silly.

I found particularly dismaying the comment that professors should just "teach" and not advise. Huh?

94. quidditas - February 08, 2011 at 02:13 pm

But the problem is that the government is going to tell everyone that the solution to the economic crisis is NOT an new industrial policy for the 21st century that addresses the zombie finacial sector directly sucking at the US Treasury, deindustrialization, and global labor arbitrage through free trade agreements.

The government is going to tell everyone that the way to turn the economy around is "education." 10 to one odds say 90% of the public falls for it.

Then what are you going to tell the government?

95. camgray - February 08, 2011 at 02:18 pm

What I don't hear is an attack on the Tenure System that has caused so much of this.

Tenure is a laughable concept in every other profession. Seriously, they laugh. Outside of the academy, you prove your worth to an organization, not for 7 years, but every day you are there. If you aren't needed any more, you either retrain and transfer to other duties or you move on to another job. If a younger person comes along who is better at their job, you have to step up your game. Not so in the academy.

The idea that because you teach at a college you deserve a job for life is a dying concept. It prevents departmental flexibility when the number of students interested in a given program changes. It prevents schools from eliminating poor professors and lazy colleagues where they exist. (What do you do when a long-tenured faculty member has a 30% retention rate in their courses?) It often keeps the least active faculty in the highest salaried, lowest teaching-load jobs.

If you evened out the pay scale and teaching loads, you wouldn't have to rely so heavily on poorly compensated, unbenefitted adjunct faculty. You could have people getting paid for equal work and hire more benefitted faculty. That's why universities like Texas A&M focus on early retirement to lower budgets. One tenured professor equals 2 associate professors and 4 lecturers. But the dream of achieving tenure keeps people fighting for it and blaming administrators (who are not tenured and have a far shorter shelf life in their jobs) for too many adjuncts and not enough compensation. There's plenty of compensation, it's just going to the top tenured group to which almost everyone here wants to belong.

96. engineer_adrift - February 08, 2011 at 02:22 pm

Does anyone believe that the job market for humanities graduates in academia will improve over the next ten years? I think not.

What is the national employment demand for them outside academia?

Should the sum of the academia and non-academia prospects, scaled appropriately, serve as an informal cap on the number of students admitted? I think that is what happens in medicine......

To those who are struggling to survive in this unbelievable job market, I am so sorry that I have no good advice to offer. I know that you are talented and those talents are not being used as you had hoped. The advice to write your own part in a new play seems spot on.

I am reminded of the little booklet, "Who moved my cheese?"

And professors who accept doctoral students, in any discipline, incur a moral obligation to help place them after graduation, IMHO.

97. contractoferror - February 08, 2011 at 02:24 pm


I tell people, "I used to feel like Serpico. Now I feel like Alec Guiness in Dr. Zhivago."

98. mcphslibrary - February 08, 2011 at 02:39 pm

Sorry, Lawyers cannot find jobs either. Even those from the top schools who were hired were asked to defer their employment for a year. Perhaps MDs can still find jobs especially if they enter family practice. Many medical fields are overflowing with recent grads. Too many highly educated people in the market place, and too few jobs. This is not new. Jobs were scarce when I graduated from collegeand law school. Taking time out to have a family did not help. Eventually switched careers and am now a Librarian which I love. There will be few positions in this field as well until people can afford to retire, and have decent health care. Most people I know are plainning and able to work into their 70s, so there you have it...no new jobs. Really, all you can do is keep trying. I have discouraged all of my children from even considering PHDs. Seem to be plenty of jobs in the social services, but very low pay, and I can never find a good electrician or plumber.

99. tabletalk - February 08, 2011 at 02:48 pm

I've read the article and the comments and suffice to say the entire situation is just disillusioning. I am currently a student in a PhD program and I decided early on that I did not want a career in Academia. While I think this is the best decision, especially given the job market and many individuals have been personally supportive, there are little developmental resources allocated toward making a non-academic dream come true. Even among the other students I am something of an anomaly, the "one" who doesn't plan on teaching. Within the university, I've had career counselors look at me as though I was insane for wanting to discuss other career options for those with PhDs, seminars on "non-academic" careers have the tone "well, here, you can try these things until you find that TT position" and all this in the reality of today's job market.

While I do have individuals who are supporting me in this process, it was more of a personalized, I can talk to these people, more than it was a departmental or university resource on professional development. That the academic job market is a "black hole" as one commenter described, means that as a community we should discuss the non-traditional options. When someone can learn from the comments section that leaving the PhD off your resume isn't considered fraud, and when career centers pretty much tell you we can't help you here because you say to them "I'm looking to use my PhD to work outside of academia" then yes, Leonard is right, professional development seminars that cover the gamut of options are an easily implemented necessity. It doesn't mean that current students are unaware of the outlook, but it may be that the resources to help them improve their odds are virtually non-existent within their professional networks.

100. more_cowbell - February 08, 2011 at 03:41 pm

These types of articles on the Chronicle always elicit such sad stories from those in the throes of the academic job search. My advice to these people is to quit now! Life is too precious to waste. There are many other rewarding careers out there, ones that don't exact such a terrible toll on your life and loved ones. In time you'll look back one day and wonder what the hell you were doing all those years. Thomas Benton once called grad school a cult - it really is, but you won't know just how much until you leave.

101. roboprof - February 08, 2011 at 03:54 pm

I'm going to second copesan's earlier comment. I am very tired of seeing hostile comments from those who are employed in the field.

The job market is a brutal struggle--too many candidates for too few positions. I think a little anger at the system--or the universe--is justified when so much is at stake. I'm now in a position I love, but I don't feel smug about it. I recognize my full-time job for the piece of very good luck it is.

If we want grad students to stop being angry, well, someone has to take care of them by doing one of the following:
1. successfully encouraging people not to go to grad school in favor of pursuing career options where there are more openings.
2. preparing graduate students for one or more alternate careers (h.s. teaching certificates for all!)
3. committing, on a societal level, to establishing a safety net for all.

And for what it's worth, I think only #3 would do any real, long-term good and I just don't see the political will. It's very easy to get angry when you're worried, quite literally, about being without a home, medical care, food, or other basic necessities. I'd say that anger is in fact a proper response to such a state.

In the meantime, if you're a person of privilege, in a full-time job with benefits, exercise compassion towards those who are not. If you've never been in their situation, try to imagine it, and stop it with the vitriol. I know that it meant a lot to me personally when people sympathized with me instead of trying to blame me for my own underemployment.

102. ejb_123 - February 08, 2011 at 04:02 pm

70. 11194062 wrote in post #70: "Look, this is what I'm saying: the Plan B's don't work anymore. It's no longer a matter of being too proud to accept anything but a tenure track at an R1 uni. It's a matter of hundreds of people desperately applying for every job that comes up, whether it's in Slippery Lizard, Arkansas or Cornfield, Kansas. It's not about a PhD from a research university who can't bring themselves to teach in a community college or high school - there are just too many people for too few jobs."

I suppose it all depends where one is willing to move to. Every year I read how schools on Native American reservations in Middle America, for instance, or schools in tiny towns on the plains, cannot find teachers, particularly science and English teachers. No, many people do not want to live in small-town America (and by "small-town" I mean a community of less than 600 people), and even fewer probably want to live on a Native American reservation, but there are teaching jobs available for those who really want them. But faced with the grim reality of moving to the middle of nowhere, it probably would be better to stay put and find whatever job one can find.

103. bowl_haircut - February 08, 2011 at 04:20 pm

Every year I read how schools on Native American reservations in Middle America, for instance, or schools in tiny towns on the plains, cannot find teachers, particularly science and English teachers.

We're not talking about Reader's Digest or Highlights here. Real magazines.

104. kili2383 - February 08, 2011 at 05:00 pm

I am a Ph.D. with an alternate career, or, better said, alternate job. There are still moments when I'm mad as hell for not getting a TT track job, but at least I have a job with benefits, a salary comparable to that of an associate professor, and a 45-minute commute. I bailed out without truly looking. The reality of it is that with so few jobs available, a bad economy, so many years away for most of us for a real offer, and a family with two young children, I'm somehow ok with what I do now. It's not what I imagined when I was starting grad school, but so what? Much of the rest of my life is not what I imagined it to be either! Except for ... the Ph.D. part: I'm the sixth member of my extended family with a Ph.D. I never felt any pressure, my family is ok with whatever I do. Getting my Ph.D. was where my life-path coincided with my destiny, and I'll never ask for more. I always loved to read, think, analyze, and write, and I enjoyed teaching as a TA. My dissertation topic has found me, and I'm hoping to publish it one day (but with no pressure from my employer and no clock ticking) It's the middle of nowhere with no Trader Joe's and Target that I'm not so comfotable with. This is not ideal, but a much more comfortable and secure position to be mad as hell from, than being an underpaid adjuct for years. And I read at the end of the day, every day, fiction, novels, biography, with no marker in my hand--just for the sake of it.

105. camgray - February 08, 2011 at 05:20 pm

Roboprof: committing, on a societal level, to establishing a safety net for all.

A safety net for highly educated people who choose to attend graduate school in a field in low demand?

How many new college grads take jobs at Enterprise rental car, at GEICO as insurance adjusters, store managers, facilities managers. I doubt this was the dream for these people when they went through their four year colleges. They are jobs. If you decide to skip getting a regular job to pursue a dream of being a professor and it doesn't pan out, the world doesn't owe you a safety net.

I am so very sorry for people out of work in all fields, but it is, in fact ALL fields. It's 21 year old BA grads, it's lawyers, it's nurses, it's social workers, high school teachers, sales people, corporate managers, and people at all ages and experience levels. The 9% unemployment rate is understated. That's not a PhD problem. That's a recession. Some careers will recover, some are gone for good. I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm guessing humanities profs will probably have a hard time for a long time.

I was a professional recruiter for many years prior to getting my PhD and entering the higher ed field. I can tell you that too many academics do NOT know how to write a resume, know the difference between a resume and a vita, and do not know how to sell themselves in a non-academic job interview. You need help from a professional. If you can't go to a career counselor, try to find someone in HR who can help. I have helped many academics in these situations, and you can successfully transition into a fulfilling career if you leave your academic personality at the door and focusing on selling your skills as a professional (writer, researcher, trainer, educational consultant, project manager, evaluator, etc.)

106. viscommprof - February 08, 2011 at 05:23 pm

While catharsis may be healthy, I am seeing and hearing a great deal of corrosive bile here and elsewhere on many fora.

That doesn't help anyone, including those whose bile ducts are overflowing.

Prof. Cassuto has many valid points, but I concur that blaming colleagues really doesn't hep the situation.

What we need as a profession is to look at ourselves honestly and openly. With outlandish tuition costs and untenable student debt, our foundation -- our students and our relationship with them -- is crumbling. And the mob is at the gates: for-profit diploma mills, educational "reformers" who really want to gut the system, various entrepreneurs and business-model hucksters, assessment uber alles pencil-pushing bean counters..the list goes on.

And we don't bother to answer any of these real concerns and real critics.

Instead, we keep looking blindly to our arcane and obscure research, read by a grand audiences of a few dozen if we are lucky, as our pinnacle of success. So we go to a drying well -- grants -- and hoping they will prove to be a magic elixir.

We need to be willing to face our problems rather than turn into grotesque parodies of ourselves.

Our old paradigm(s) cannot hold. We are trained to challenge paradigms, wet we are unwilling to confront our own.

The academic bubble will burst sooner or later due to the issues I listed above.

Yes, I am one of the lucky ones, a tenured full professor, willing to move to a place that isn't Boston or Berkeley. Still, I see the system that supported me as being rotten, corrupt and worst of all, unwilling to reform.

We will get our comeuppance for our arrogance and blindness.

At least that's what will happen if we don't wake up from our magical thinking and really be open to real reform. what does real reform look like? I dunno. But I do believe it involves engagement in our communities, caring about our students and doing relevant scholarship that matters, and that makes a difference.

It's funny, when I propose real teaching, service and applied/relevant scholarship, many of my colleagues say "I know you're right, but my chair/dean/tenure committee says I have to get into the journal of arcane and obscure pedantry by fall to get that grant/promotion/tenure."

And so it goes.

107. profjrdn - February 08, 2011 at 05:45 pm

Well whatever you do, don't look to Texas for employment. Gov. Perry today announced that he will partially balance the budget through through "Reductions in Higher Education Base" including "Increase Faculty Productivity". I strongly suggest that you compete with all of us who are trying to get out of Texas (especially the A&M System -- what a joke) for jobs in states that actually cared about education before the most recent financial collapse.

108. 11194062 - February 08, 2011 at 07:16 pm

@ profjrdn - Exactly the god-forsaken state where I thought teaching high school could be my back-up plan (see #70).

109. bigtwin - February 08, 2011 at 08:38 pm

Of course professors should do more ensure that graduates go on to lead successful careers, both in and outside of the university. There's a moral responsibility, sure, but it also is an economic imperative. Why wouldn't someone take steps to ensure that what you produce has the most value possible? It's a direct reflection on yourself and a no brainer to anyone else. How can anyone expect the university and all of those tenured jobs to survive? You know it's gotten bad when graduates are now even calling for destruction of the system.

But very few professors seem to care one bit and this is the greatest problem facing academia nowadays - the lack of a collective identity among academics. There is no professional association, no collective vision of the future of higher ed, no applied training for the real world - just the usual dog-eat-dog individualistic mentality that pervades higher ed these days (and obsession with research, research, research). I sometimes think thieves have more honor than the professoriate I know... Look no further than at how adjuncts are treated.

It's astonishing that commenters here would say that advisors have no obligations to see students succeed in the workplace. But then again, we got to where we are for a reason.

110. moyenage - February 08, 2011 at 09:18 pm

When I was considering whether to go to graduate school in the humanities, I was told by the career center of my undergraduate university that a significant percentage of college professors were due to retire within the next decade and there would be a SHORTAGE of humanities college professors. When I was still taking coursework toward a Ph.D., there were always 35 to 50 job openings a year in my field--more than the number of newly minted Ph.D.s each year. Last year, my first on the job market post-Ph.D., there were 8 job openings; this year, 6. Honestly, I wasn't ignoring advice. Things have changed. Professors either haven't retired or have been replaced to adjuncts or by people in other subfields than mine. I feel deceived and humiliated--now what do I do?

111. edwoof - February 08, 2011 at 11:14 pm

I have several academic friends who are now in similar circumstances a Gabe in #1. Gabe, your letter was beautifuuly written. What strikes me is that very few academics approach their career rationally or objectively. Instead, academia is much like an abusive partner and the state of mind of an unmeployed PhD or adjunct is very similar to the mental state of a victim of abuse. Keep defending the system or tolerate some small part of participation in hopes of the full acceptance of a TT position, but the lack of total acceptance or rejection just leads anger, frustration, and a whole lot of emotional pain. The same pattern emerges of defending the abusive partner, trying to do anything to gain the abusive partner's approval (neater CV, more publications) and not acknowledging the abuse in a way that will break the pattern. And if you ask them why they are still there, after the years of rejection and professional abuse, they say that they are there for love.

It is difficult to impossible to have any constructive career dialogue with these people until the issues of abuse have been addressed, until they see that the idea of that keeping someone at or near the poverty level because they "love what they do" is never acceptible.

112. blowback - February 08, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Now that we have vented and expressed ourselves to the point of exhaustion what have we learned from each other or from Prof. Cassuto's commentary? Precious little. In a few more weeks there will be another commentary that will reproduce the same set of comments and expressions as we find here and no one will very much bother to go back to these comments or those comments made last winter and spring on these very same topics by Benton, et. al or a similar set of comments made 10 or 15 years ago in this very same publication. Why is it that when it comes to this issue and to the larger question of how higher education in America is organized all those skills we should have learned about research and analysis and precise thinking seems to be forgotten and to be replaced by a shallow discourse of self-expression. I place Prof. Cassuto's 2 attempts--at what I do not know-- firmly in this category of writing that never seems rooted in careful thinking or analysis.

I have yet to read in all the comments generated by both articles any precise analysis of what Cassuto has actually stated. His poorly expressed analysis becoming the prompt for too much poor thinking. Do any of you think you have turned in anything worthy of critical review? No doubt some made an honest attempt but far too many made no attempt at all. Prof. Cassuto had an opportunity to use his Ivy League education and years of teaching experience to bring some insight to a complex issue but he either decided not to do so or proved incapable of meeting the challenge. I hope he can redeem himself at some future time. As to what he actually said seems so obvious and self-serving that it borders on being trite. Let me try and recall. There should be professional development seminars for graduate students in English & Humanities and what will be the content of these seminars be? What will Cassuto tell his students in these seminars? Will graduate students take these in their first year of graduate study? In every year? Before or after their dissertation proposals? What career alternatives will be discussed?

Indeed, Cassuto has left out the specifics and the practical. And if a student decides to leave the program after spending many years studying without earning the Ph.D would that be an advantage to the student or not? And what career alternatives does Cassuto have in mind? He never does say I suspect because he is completely clueless as most of you are. So tell me outside of adjunct teaching what career employs the most Ph.D's in English and the Humanities? How many Ph.D's get hired every year to Publishing firms in NYC, to university presses, to PR firms, to IBM, to American Express, to pharmaceutical companies, to Wall Street, how many get hired to teach High School English in either public or private schools, how many get hired by universities for low level administrative positions, etc., etc. Can Prof. Cassuto tell me? Can any of you? Of course not because most of you have never attempted to transition from an academic Ph.D to an non-academic position. You all posit without any understanding or experience your unsupported claims. How many years ,Prof. Cassuto, have you spend applying and re-applying to job after job of academic and non-academic positions? To law school? Do you and the rest of you think that adjuncts and people like Prof. Cassuto's Jack are so stupid that we continue in these dead end jobs because we did not have professional development seminars in graduate school! The Jacks and adjuncts of higher education continue to teach in these deadend jobs year after year because no one has given us an opportunity to do anything else. By the time graduate students earn their Ph.D's they are considered too old and off the career track for most other jobs and careers. Tell me Prof. Cassuto how will your idea produce a job opportunity(non-academic or acadimic)for a student in your professional development seminar? When the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1998/99 under Robert Weisbuch( a former English Professor at the time I recall)failed to place many Ph.D's in English & the Humanities in non-academic positions through a program they ran with some Wall Street Firms what makes you think that you know enough to be telling your students that there are career opportunities for well educated Ph.D's in the Humanities. I have spent more time on this than you have and I am sorry to tell you but the world has no interest and little need for the well educated humanities Ph.D's. I say this not because I think that Ph.D's in the Humanities have nothing to contribute but because the people who do the hiring do not share your or my view of the value of graduate education. They have no interest in our skills. Therefore, unless you can change their attitudes there is little value in what you write. Indeed, I have applied to a number of low level administrative positions at your very campus and no one there has ever asked me in for an interview and indeed the position of Assistant Director of Pretigious Fellowships actually went to a person with no academic background at all. She had a degree in marketing which I am sure really helped to increase the number of Fulbrights that Graduate students have been winning at Fordham lately. Therefore, I suggest that you might do something useful and discover why the many non-academic positions on your campus never seem to go Ph.D's who have also earned their Ph.D's at your university. And since you seem so poorly read in the area may I suggest you look into the Post-Doctoral Fellowship posted by Drew University in the Fall MLA Job List. It was the first Fellowship I recall seeing that was a joint fellowship in both teaching and administrative work. Its aim was to train Ph.D's in English to assume adminstrative positions without having to earn a M.Ed in Higher Education Administration(which cannot be earned at either NYU or Columbia because to be accepted into these programs requires that you already hold an administrative position---but I guess you already knew this because of the extensive research you undertook before writing your 2 articles). If Prof. Cassuto and the rest of you really want to comment on these issues, I suggest that you do as much work and research that adjuncts like me have done and do so semester after semester because unlike tenured professors or those above who have safe positions, adjuncts like me have to always look for work and for an escape from the trap we have fallen into and though we need all the help we can get we do not need to be lectured by the rest of you who know less than nothing. The utter lack of critique by Cassuto and the rest on the state of higher education is the kind of ignorance that explains why nothing has changed and why nothing will change--at least not when the same people seem to be in charge and seem to control who and what gets published. I am sorry if my tone seems a bit bitter but again I have earned in ways that Prof. Cassuto and the rest of you have not.

113. s_manfred - February 09, 2011 at 12:36 am

<Comment removed by moderator>

114. tuxthepenguin - February 09, 2011 at 06:11 am

s_manfred: Read your comment. It should be clear why you didn't get a job. For the sake of students everywhere, I sincerely hope that you never get an academic job, not even as an adjunct.

115. s_bauer - February 09, 2011 at 06:32 am

Greetings from Germany, where the academic job is not better.

Well, my wife and I left academe some time ago, after PhDs in Mathematics / Physics. In retrospective, it was the best decision in our lives to leave and never look back. My feelings towards academe now? Hate? Not quite ... rather deep disappointment and deep distrust against the tenured professoriate.

Why distrust? In my case, it was not only that professors didn't tell me what to expect. No, I was outright pressured in doing a PhD. My professor said to me literally: "Without a PhD and a good publication list, you won't have the slightest chance to get employed, either in academe or in industry. Doing a PhD is the most important thing in life."

Being a quite young and naive, insecure student, I fell for this trap. But during the PhD years, doubt set in. Episodes of depression and hopelessness heaped up. Colleagues (many of them better scientists than me) who quit their PhD and went into industry made me think. Honestly: From what I know now, my professor told me complete nonsense.

To be frank: PhD students are mainly cheap labour. They have even been called the "academic proletariat". We get the carrot 'faculty position' dangled before our eyes. But when we have served as our role as academic cannon fodder, we are replaced with the next round of naive, young students.

What is my situation now? Luckily, my wife got a good position in software development. During the job interview, she often had to explain she wasted her years with a PhD. Industry employers are sometimes outright wary of PhDs, out of fear that they will employ some useless "ivory-tower" academic. Luckily, she could convince one interview commitee. She is now earning good money as a project manager, so we can live a relatively decent life. I am networking heavily in the IT field, because my computer skills are my main transferable skills. And both of us never ever had any episode of depression since we left. Because now, it feels at least slightly that we have something like a future.

When I posted some job seeking advice in another forum, counseling other desperate PhD students using the experience of my wifes job search and my networking efforts, I was astonished about the overwhelming feedback. There is so much demand among PhD students for this information that I'm seriously considering doing "counselling for professional re-orientation for academics" to earn my money.

116. crankycat - February 09, 2011 at 08:04 am

A PhD is not a guarantee of a job. It is an education that may be used many ways. Some of the comment authors have found ways to use their backgrounds outside of academe, some have not. I was lucky enough to find an academic job during another tough hiring period. For s_manfred and perhaps others: Your frustration is understandable, but your impatience should be tempered. Three years of postdoctoral training is not particularly long. Does your application packet show you have the professional maturity to take on the considerable duties of a faculty member in research, teaching, and service? Having been on the other side of the hiring table, the more you can do to show that you can hit the ground running in all aspects of the job, the more attractive the packet looks.

s_bauer: Go for it!

117. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 08:35 am

"Indeed, Cassuto has left out the specifics and the practical. And if a student decides to leave the program after spending many years studying without earning the Ph.D would that be an advantage to the student or not? And what career alternatives does Cassuto have in mind? He never does say I suspect because he is completely clueless as most of you are."

I think this is fair. That no one can answer these questions is a massive failure on the part of the so-called "profession." And, this failure to be accountable is damaging not only to the grad students, but to the so-called "profession" itself.

It is as completely defenseless against outside attacks as the non-profits.

Meanwhile, public support is tepid at best and the truth is that if the economy is on the trajectory I think it is, even tenure will be revoked in whole blocks at any time for any reason.

So, keep it up.

118. exploitedadjunct - February 09, 2011 at 09:40 am

I'm tired of the self-justifying rhetoric regarding this topic.
You are tenured and employed because you are lucky, not because you are special.
Congratulations, you won the job lottery.
Most of us didn't.
Simple as that.
Don't delude yourself into thinking you "deserve" your full-time, tenured position.
Ignore the adjunct community at your own peril.

119. yojimbo - February 09, 2011 at 10:01 am

Life science here as well - The PhD just isn't worth what it once was. Plus we've a glut of them.

This is an important and often overlooked, and contentious topic. No one likes to talk about failure despite responsibilities for it. Having heaved over the finish line with my PhD in hand about 4 years ago I've worked mainly as a temp in very fine professor's labs. Professors who were unable to find grant money, unable to offer me Post-doc, and finally, were unable to keep paying me ten bucks an hour while I desperately searched for a job in a narrow copse of study that seems to be, for the moment, entirely dead.

I had believed that the PhD had many uses, and I did not count on being so widely pigeon-holed. I searched widely, I imagined my training could be given a chance elsewhere as well. I thought a post-doc was an opportunity for further learning (retooling?) in a related field, not a holding-pattern for teaching older professors lab skills they might not have. And as an older graduate I cringe every time I see the words "good opportunity for a young scientist". But, I can't help feeling like I did the wrong kind of training.

The current market situation has exaggerated many of the variations in academia. The uneven playing fields of big labs that manage to get all the student's names on a variety of papers that are always coming out - and the luck of the draw of being in on "sexy" (re. fashionable) research have never been more evident.

It has become increasingly clear that the previous generation's professors certainly had a wider opportunities in terms of application of their skills and risks.

The question: "What do you want to do?" Still comes out of their sincere breasts only to be countered with my - "I'll do whatever it takes, never mind what I want." Yes, I'm cynical, I've been beaten. I have not given up, of course, but - something should be considered about the conveyor belt mentality of turning out the students to a stagnant environment with a glut of PhDs vying for the few pippetting jobs available.

It's not what it used to be, I'm sure. But can we get a good fix on what it is? I don't want to go back and do ANOTHER PhD - I do wish the dept was a bit better at the realities of getting us networked, or perhaps at least attached to possibilities - that introduction could be worth it's weight in gold (it always is in the "real" world.)

I'm angry, but, I don't blame - I know I'm not the most aggressive salesperson for myself. I also naively believed in meritocracy.

Failure is a difficult topic and it needs to be part of our dialog, it's part of many job interviews after all!

120. s_manfred - February 09, 2011 at 10:07 am

tuxthepenguin, if you think you can evaluate my merits as a researcher in experimental physics and a teacher by simply reading a blog comment I made, then you do not even deserve to attend a university, much less work for one.

121. s_manfred - February 09, 2011 at 10:13 am

Also, tuxthepenguin, "for the sake of your students"? Really? I won several teaching awards, both as a graduate student and a postdoc. As I said in my previous post, I even encouraged the stronger ones to go to graduate school. As a graduate student I mentored undergraduate research that earned national attention. Apparently you want your teachers to be perpetually happy, despite the circumstances dealt to them by a broken system. If you had gone through the same experience you would be furious, as would any reasonable human.

What am I saying? I'm sure if you worked night and day for a job for 9 years and then were fired you wouldn't be bitter at all.....

122. warmaiden - February 09, 2011 at 10:50 am

*A note as someone who has been on multiple tenure-track position search committees across disciplines: When "Advising" is mentioned in a job ad, for undergraduates it means keeping them on track to register so they can graduate in 4-5 years. Advising when looking at someone for the graduate faculty means "able to chair or serve substantially on dissertation committees." Advising - as it is requested of faculty as part fo their duties - has nothing to do with career advice, it has to do with moving students through the program. Beliving that "advising" is also career advice is naive - universities nowadays have completely separate offices for that, and faculty who are already in the teaching/publishing/research trenches are not also keeping up with the job market (particularly since, as faculty, they already have jobs).

123. magwich - February 09, 2011 at 11:06 am

Boy, am I glad I abandoned my PhD dreams in the 80s and went to law school. Although nowadays, the market for new lawyers stinks, too.

124. rawlings - February 09, 2011 at 11:17 am

To the people responding with comments like "it's not an adviser's job to advise students on careers/find them jobs", I'd like to point out that Dr Cassuto is not making that claim - he is saying that faculty and advisers in doctoral programs are complicit in the problem, which, as far as I'm concerned, is indisputable.

Rather, I concur with others who point out that this is a systemic problem, related to the decline in numbers of tenure-track faculty in favor of adjuncts, the cost-saving measures behind such shifts, the decline in educational standards, the rising costs of college and concomitant rise in student loan debt. I could go on. Instead of pointing fingers at this or that factor, there needs to be a wholesale reassessment and reform of postsecondary education. When people get defensive over any single peice of the problem, they refuse to acknowledge the complexity of the issues and the shared responsiblity of all parties involved to do something about it.

I furthermore empathize with Leonard, who states that even if he couldn't expect tenure track employment in academe, at least there was the promise of some kind of employment. I can't say I entered my doctoral program with the wherewithall to understand the truly dismal state of the academic job market - that's not why I was there in the first place. I just wanted a job in my field, preferably in a museum setting, and I thought the higher the degree, the better. But, upon finishing, I realize I am poorly prepared professionally (or at least perceived that way) outside academe, because most of my work experience has been in teaching and research as a graduate student. Despite curatorial studies certification, museum internships, and editorship of a scholarly journal, aside from practical skills picked up as a doctoral student that employers supposedly want (?), I am apparently seen on the non-academic job market as having inadequate experience or skills to pursue related careers. I suppose my next step is to remove the PhD from my resume (I don't know how I'll explain my employment from 2002-9, however) and go to a head hunter.

125. more_cowbell - February 09, 2011 at 11:37 am

I agree it is not a professor's job to give career advice. But they do, nonetheless. How many times have I heard over the years these words uttered from a professor's mouth:

-the boomers are retiring - lots of opportunities coming up
-with the right thesis topic, you'll be well positioned
-I have a new book coming out and I'll be able to write you very strong letters of support
-this dept has an excellent reputation and will look good on your diploma
-one of my students got a job in university X - you're marks are higher so you'll be next
-you won a prestigious award. Employers will recognize the value of that
-let me introduce you to Dr. Bigname at the conference. You'll want to say you know him to up your chances at getting a job in his/her dept
-that person is an adjunct because he/she took 9 years to finish the PhD. You'll be done in 5 and in a different camp altogether
-you are unlikely to land a college teaching job with an MA. Having a PhD will increase your chances exponentially.

I could go on....

The fact is, professors give students career "advice" all the time. The problem is that the information they are giving range from slight untruths to outright lies.

126. 22287188 - February 09, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I am someone who sought advice from several of my professors when I was an undergraduate. I loved my subject, was near the top of my classes, and thought that I would find an academic career rewarding. I did so again as a M.A. student. This was 25 years ago, when information about career and employment prospects in academia were hard to find outside of personal contact with faculty. No one promised it would be easy, but I was told that, given my abilities, given the demographics of the profession, and given the distinguished scholar I wanted to study with (but who was not at Oxbridge or Yalevard) I could expect to get a t.t. job. No one told me the truth about the extent of narrow-minded elitism in hiring. I got other misleading advice while I was a doctoral student, and some crucial facts were never mentioned. Sometimes we don't know what we don't know, and I believe a responsible supervisor should be ready to give career advice. Now, I'm not blaming the faculty that advised me for my career direction, but I am saying that they were either misinformed and should not have given me advice, or that they misled me. I think it is more likely the former. In the end, after much grief and years of trying, I did get a t.t. job, but I realize that that was as much luck as skill. I now give potential academics as frank advice as I can, while trying not to sound bitter.

127. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 12:08 pm

"That no one can answer these questions is a massive failure on the part of the so-called "profession." And, this failure to be accountable is damaging not only to the grad students, but to the so-called "profession" itself.

It is as completely defenseless against outside attacks as the non-profits."

Sorry-- grad student education is "as completely defenseless as the FOR-profits."

NON-profits, well, that would BE you.

128. 22287188 - February 09, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Oh yes, I was angry, I am angry, I know several very angry PhDs that have failed to find even adjunct or sessional work, and I know angry doctoral students.

129. gregwadlinger - February 09, 2011 at 12:17 pm

The former Dean of the College at Dartmouth told me his father made him work for a plumber for three years before allowing him to enroll in divinity school. After being politically ousted from his tenured position at a Jesuit university (he was too socially conservative for them), my father sold insurance, worked in r and d for an industrial waste company, and collaborated with an employed academic on several papers eventually published in "off-broadway" journals. He then went door to door campaigning, and won a seat on our town council in order to defeat a corrupted incumbent. My dad is my hero.

At Tuck School, where I am a support staffer, I am so very impressed at how focused and motivated our MBA candidates are. Tuck requires them to work several years before admission to the program, and this seems like a smart thing.

Dartmouth College is my employer, and last year there were more than 60 staff positions cut. We were all worried.

My heart goes out to you who have expressed your disappointment at the unrequited loves your career ambitions now seem to you. Thank you for allowing me to add my two cents, which is much less when accounting for inflation.

130. gypsyboots - February 09, 2011 at 02:22 pm

In 2006, I published an article (under a pseudonym) at adjunctnation.com called "10 Reasons to Leave Your Ph.D. Off Your Resume"---when applying for non-academic jobs. All those reaons have only been strengthend by today's economy.

The main reason a Ph.D. (or even an M.A. in some instances) hurts you is that employers think you'll be unhappy with your pay and duties and will leave at the first opportunity. They, too, believe the myths about the academy that you did and onder what you're doing in their field.

Every new graduate student should be subjected to a weeding-out "scared straght" session (conducted by the graduate guidance office, not tenured faculty) that lays out the hard facts about degreed employment and does its best to weed out all but the most talented and motivated.

That's what the Union Pacific does for railroad positions, even though they need people for careers that can end up being very well-paid (better than professorships in the long run).

131. shirley77 - February 09, 2011 at 02:29 pm

For humanities PhD's that find themselves unable to find academic employment, there are a number of options: 1) teach high-school (you actually get benefits); 2) pursue museum, archival, or information science studies. The employment situation in these fields is currently much better than the academic market and is projected to be more robust in the future; or 3) pursue government employment at one of the granting agencies (NEH and NEA), or with a private foundation as a program officer.

132. ejb_123 - February 09, 2011 at 03:41 pm

bowl_haircut responded in post 103 with "We're not talking about Reader's Digest or Highlights here. Real magazines" to my ealier post, which reads, "Every year I read how schools on Native American reservations in Middle America, for instance, or schools in tiny towns on the plains, cannot find teachers, particularly science and English teachers."

I'm not taking about magazines at all, but the lists of teacher job openings. I live out here on the plains, and even though I already have employment at a high school, I still keep up to date with the schools that continually need teachers. I do know what I'm talking about, so please keep your condescending thoughts to yourself.

133. amieaustin - February 09, 2011 at 05:47 pm

States are trying to cut budgets--if there is such a glut of humanities Phd candidates, why don't the legislatures considering blocking the funding for some of these programs? For example, in my state, the medical school just lost funding for a professorship in embryology. And yet the university still has a Phd program in philosophy!
I am an adjunct college teacher in philosophy, and resisted the Phd scam that my professors encouraged when I saw the hundreds of applications for one teaching position in that third tier state university. The masters was fun though........I've taught high school and adult education for eighteen years after changing directions and getting my teacher's certificate.
It is ironic that the humanities tend to be so left politically and yet they pay such low wages and are so deceptive towards those who are tempted to enter the field. Another reason to recover from liberalism.

134. bscmath78 - February 09, 2011 at 06:02 pm

1. It is who you know, NOT what you know.

2. Even Einstein needed a friend to get him a job as a patent clerk.

3. You are not pre-1905 Einstein!

4. Einstein was lucky.

5. It is VERY important to be lucky.

6. The current system is geared to blocking any new Einstein, Socrates, Leibniz, Kierkegaard, Mendeleyev, Darwin, Wallace or Mendel.

7. You are not 1905 Einstein!

These are hard lessons for the big fish in small ponds.

* You lept up the scholastic ladder from pond to pond.

* You got test scores that proved you are in the top 1% (or 0.1%).

* You survived dull, neglectful and deadwood teachers, TAs and profs.

* You rejected the scorn of louts, layabouts, bullies, jocks and cliques.

* Your confidence, determination, talent and hard work have always paid-off.

You have seen more than a score of years of famine in the land, well past Joseph's interpretation of 7 fat years followed by 7 lean years. But you think: "I am not them, I am better than them, don't my scores, grades, GPA, papers, prove it?"

You quote Daniel Webster: "There is always room at the top."

Are you Daniel? Can you win over the stacked jury of the Damned? In this day and age?

Did you consider R1 death rates, R1 death replacement rates and inter-R1 poaching rates? Can you predict what will be the hot new R1 fashions in five years time? Can you predict those fashions your cohort will not think of?

But if a PhD is your Calling (in John Calvin's sense, maybe modified by Max Weber's "Science as a Vocation"), then it will not matter if, like Mendel, you tend your garden in obscurity, your work ignored until long after your death. Or like Jean d'Arc you are acclaimed, but are denounced, tried, convicted and burned as a heretic.

Otherwise, consider the risk/reward ratios of the alternatives. Most of the suggested alternatives can be done with an undergraduate degree with much less risk. If you have the social and personal skills to successfully play the current job academic game then they should work even better elsewhere.

You might also consider one aspect of the fish analogy. Those Pacific Salmon, who make it, arrive starved, battered and close to death. They fight among themselves to spawn and then die. Their deaths sustain the whole ecosystem. Meanwhile, the small males, jacks, get to mate and live, all without the trouble of the long, painful, exhausting journey. But you are smarter than a fish.

Look before you leap!

135. passing_through - February 09, 2011 at 07:23 pm

I have a Ph.D. and I have been on the job market for many years. Actually I recently gave up the job search in academia because one on-campus interview in seven years, plus about 15-20 conference interviews is too little. I am not angry at my adviser. He never promised anything.

I am, however, mad at the profession. Long before I started my Ph.D., I read a booklet put together by the American Academy of Religion while I was in a master's program three decades ago. It told me the job prospects were rather dismal. Okay, I understand that risk. I hoped I could overcome it but I knew there was risk simply in the number of Ph.D.s applying for positions. What the booklet didn't say, and what I've not read anyone say in a publication are the following things that I've determined are unalterable facts, much like gravity.
1. A Ph.D. from anywhere but a power, R1 school is virtually worthless for employment. In my area, I thought my adviser would overcome this. I'm a U.S.er but my Ph.D. is from a British university. That university consistently gets ranked very high internationally but it's not an Oxbridge Ph.D. So I might as well have a Ph.D. from Drexel.

It needs to be told to applicants at every school that has doctoral programs: "This university is not considered a power school. Its graduates are not competitive in the UK, let alone the U.S., with any Ph.D. from a power school. If you don't go to Harvard, Duke, Yale, Princeton, Emory, or the like, or Oxbridge, your Ph.D., the one you are applying for at our school, will be worth the piece of paper it is printed on. It can be used to blow your nose in a pinch." You can say I should have done my research ahead of time but I didn't acquire catalogs from every single school I might apply to one day to teach at. There weren't web sites for everything at the time. Perhaps I was naive but I did attend a small college that is not prestigious and about the only advice I got from a prof was, "Apply to Notre Dame." That's where his Ph.D. is from. The school didn't have anyone, so far as I know, who could have said, "If you want a Ph.D., only get your M.Div. from Princeton, Harvard, Yale, etc., and milk the system while you're there in order to get into a Ph.D. program at the same place."
2. It needs to be told to applicants to every doctoral program, "Sure, we will accept you as a student if you're over forty, but you need to know that having a gap on your CV, or doing another career before you apply for teaching jobs virtually guarantees that no one will hire you. Academics are pretty a rather smug lot and they would never consider hiring someone in the humanities who did not go straight from high school to college to grad school to applying for jobs. You obviously have no dedication." I'm sure there are exceptions. I gather the best exceptions are certain minority combinations, e.g., Thai lesbian would get me a teaching job but white, U.S. male won't. I'm not trying to start a fight over diversity hiring, racial, sexual, or otherwise. I'm only saying that what I've seen in my own area, both in ads and in who gets hired, suggests that the more diverse one is in every respect, the better the job chances.
3. That brings me to the next subject. Tell applicants for Ph.D.s that today, diversity is all the rage. If you're a white male, don't bother.
4. All the advice one sees about getting hired, e.g., publish articles, publish books, teach as an adjunct, present at confereces, network at conferences, is all pretty useless if you don't have a "power" Ph.D. and are still twenty-something or close. So, even if, say, I've read a bunch in my bachelor's and master's program, and the person I most want to study with because of his or her own research area is the niche I want to research, if that person is at UCLA, or the University of Durham (I didn't go there but there are people there in my field who I would have enjoyed studying with) or some other respectable but not Ivy/Oxbridge, just know that you are going to get a chance to learn about your topic but your job prospects are pretty much zero.

Perhaps all of this should be put into one book and every Ph.D.-granting school in the U.S. should be required by the federal government to give it to anyone who asks for an application for a Ph.D. program. I'm mad at the guild for not telling me the facts I most needed to know. The odds are important to know but these other factors are what is most important. Only a small percentage of applicants for a Ph.D. program in the humanities get into Harvard. It would be helpful if the rejection letter I had gotten included the above information. It needed to say, "Let's face the facts. You didn't get accepted at Harvard for a Ph.D. Go find a different profession than teaching." That, after all, is the reality, nes't pas?

136. quidditas - February 09, 2011 at 08:44 pm

"It needed to say, "Let's face the facts. You didn't get accepted at Harvard for a Ph.D. Go find a different profession than teaching." That, after all, is the reality, nes't pas?"

Sadly, no. I've seen people cronied in with sh*t for an application.

137. tsb2010 - February 09, 2011 at 08:55 pm

Wow. This really seems to be CHE's favorite topic (at least in terms of comments).

The facts are quite clear. The problem of PhD (un)employment can be solved either from above (unlikely: how many senators/politicians have PhDs? how big a voting block are PhDs?) or from below (just don't get a PhD!). For the latter option, there needs to be a frank discussion and we need actual information. A "consumer's choice" for schools, as it were. No matter who says what, it sucks to be trapped in the middle: PhD and no job. Or as others have described: PhD, postdoc, no job.

Affirmative action has exacerbated the problem for white males (even the dumbest administrators can count and compare quotas), as a (smart) administrator at an Ivy League told me a while back: "if we have a black female interviewing for the job, nobody will dare suggest she's not good enough".

What to do if you're stuck in the middle? Certainly, STOP READING THE CHRONICLE, RIGHT AWAY. It will just make you more depressed. Talk to your old school friends. Network. Think really hard about what it is that you have that could be called "transferable skills". Volunteer (better than just sitting around at home). Look at your school's alumni database - especially at what other PhDs have accomplished. They will be quite willing to talk.

138. torshi - February 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

Universities have got to cut weak grad programs and be honest with grad applicants about the costs and risks of their choices. Either we are going to do it voluntarily, or it will be regulated for us.

I'd also like to see more people on the front lines take personal responsibility. I am not in the humanities, where the oversupply problem is most severe. Yet every humanities undergrad who has asked me for a letter for grad school has been genuinely shocked when I gave them "the talk" and warned them about unfunded programs and the market. Faculty in their major don't discuss these subjects with their advisees. Is this a problem only at my university? Are faculty in the humanities generally honest with undergrads about current realities?

139. drgarysgoodman - February 10, 2011 at 11:30 am

<Comment removed by moderator>

140. knarnie - February 10, 2011 at 01:07 pm

If you are going into grad school, it is up to YOU to figure out the market and your prospects; all the stats are there to see. It is up to you to try to get into the best school with the best programs and supervising profs. It is up to you to figure out how to professionalize, how to publish in the best places with the best presses and journals; how to get your butt to conferences; how to put together an appropriate cv; and even how to dress appropriately for interviews. There is a sense of blind entitlement floating around. If you can't figure out your opportunities before you begin, then you are indeed lost, and there's no need to whine. All of these things can be figured out quite easily--and clearly some do and some don't.

And having just been on a hiring committee at a decent university, with about 100 applying for a TT job, it was stunning how inappropriate and unprofessional some of the letters and CVs were.

141. mrbridgeii - February 10, 2011 at 01:57 pm

When I was working as an adjunct a few years ago, I mentioned to my students that my family was living on less than $25,000 a year--and we had two children no less! "How is anyone supposed to raise a family on less than 25 thousand a year?" I said.

I didn't understand the look on my students' faces until a colleague pulled me aside later that day. "I think you've really offended your students," she said. "They told me what you said, and nearly every one of them told me that their fathers had always made significantly less than $25,000 and that they had grown up familiess with four or five brothers and sisters, with their mothers at home."

I was embarrassed, and now I'm much more careful when I talk about money and employment. Many of my students' parents are immigrants from violence-torn countries whose families had much better situations in the past. Nevertheless, they work all day at menial wages and are glad to be able to somehow shelter and feed their families. I'm ashamed to say I had never known (or thought I didn't) any actual people like this. Now I know many of them quite well.

They must be angry at some level. Yet most of them tell me they are not, that anger is of no use to them. (I can't quite believe that.) They've started over and have hope that their children will be able to build the life they weren't able to have.

I know this is a very old story. It's just not one I thought I would be so intimately familiar when I got my Ph.D. But I don't feel superior. I feel kinship with people who were invisible to me before. I guess I just see good luck and bad luck as the way of the world. I doubt anyone every imagines they'll be starting over in middle age, no matter what the circumstances.

142. bscmath78 - February 10, 2011 at 04:20 pm

1. Remember how they gamed the university selective admissions process in high school?
(Or did you see it in selective pre-school admissions?)

2. Remember how they strategized for: Law, Medicine, Management Consulting, K Street, Wall Street, Madison Avenue or some other prestige meal ticket?

3. Remember how they used connections and pull to get internships?

4. Remember how they used clubs, associations and events, to build up their network.

5. Remember how they courted powerbrokers that had a track record of rewarding courtiers instead of exploiting them?

6. Remember how they courted the children of Wealth, Power, Fame, Celebrity and Beauty?

7. Remember how they gamed grad school admissions and every perk and favor available?

They are all hard lessons for the idealist who has succeeded previously just on talent, hard work and determination. You might need to start thinking and acting like "them".

Today, it is: "Winner take all" and "The Devil take the hindmost." Pareto's law, the 80-20 income rule, is shifting towards 99-1 (1% get 99% of the rewards), in field after field. (You might find the writings of Robert Frank on "Winner-Take-All Markets" of interest. On example is: http://inequality.cornell.edu/publications/working_papers/RobertFrank1.pdf )

Plus those Black Swan events have a habit of smashing "...the best laid plans of mice and men..."

"A friend in need is a friend in deed."
Remember, it is not cronyism or nepotism, if you are more deserving.

143. bscmath78 - February 10, 2011 at 07:32 pm

As a side note, going all the way back to one small part of
#112. blowback - February 08, 2011 at 11:32 pm

"How many Ph.D's get hired every year to ....to IBM..."

I realize, given that the author is an English Professor, that blowback was probably only referring to English or Humanities PhDs. But it reminds be of the poor situation for other grad students.

Back before 1970, a relatively high number of PhDs could get hired by IBM Research, Bell Labs, RAND Corporation, defense related industries, Silicon Valley, Route 128, NASA, JPL, Los Alamos etc. but they weren't English PhDs, they were in the sciences. Many started grad school assuming they would likely go to industry. You could win a Nobel Prize at a lab. But then the flow of money was sharply cut back and suddenly it was bad times for most of the Sciences. Some, like Silicon Valley, still thrive, but R&D for the Sciences has largely been in the doldrums ever since 1970 (with some blips).

As has often been noted, many Americans, or at least the somewhat rational types that traditionally went into the Sciences, noticed the shift to the low reward/high risk pattern and some took something else either as undergrads or grads. This is why for decades you periodically hear about shortages or coming shortages. But a variety of visa programs like H1-B and others mean a steady flow of foreign students, postdocs, employees and profs to fill any need. Some citizens have ignored the Siren calls that would lead them into the rocks. But there has been money for funding grad students and postdocs so there are still many who are lured in and experience great disappointment.

In general, excluding a few people with some particular skills in an exceptional period like the dot-com boom, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)people have not done well. This is excluding those who found successful start-ups, they become billionaires or millionaires. Many come from Stanford. A few from Harvard (Microsoft, Facebook) and Berkeley (Google) and some famously don't finish their university programs.

Some groups seem to think that it is a shortage when each position doesn't have at least 10 desparately competing for it with exactly all the right qualifications.

144. godot - February 10, 2011 at 07:35 pm

The Humanities "where the oversupply problem is most severe." We need to end this myth. As pointed out in the lates AHA Persepctives it not a oversupply of Phds it is an under supply of jobs caused in part by the failure of older professors (those with more than 30 years in) to retire, the failure of departments to hire, the increasing reliance of Universities and colleges on adjuncts, and the failure of us all to advocate for the correction of these problems.

145. bscmath78 - February 10, 2011 at 08:22 pm

The poor situation for even top Science PhDs seems to have continued for so long that some seem to have become acclimatized (the Boiled Frog Syndrome). A popular science book has a chapter telling the story of the Inflationary Universe theory and it talks about this postdoc Alan Guth. It seemed as if he had been a postdoc for nine years. There wasn't much of an explanation why this was.

At http://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/guth_alan.html
you can see he got his MIT PhD in 1971 and then returned as an MIT associate professor in 1980. But there were nine years as a postdoc at four different places. This seems like a long time for anyone. But I knew that the good times ended about 1970, so I had some understanding, but I didn't realize it was that bad. It seems you needed to hit a grand slam homerun to get tenure. Nine years as a postdoc seems high risk.

Now this story had a happy ending. I don't think MIT cared about his CV, resume or cover letter. They probably actually read his papers. I'm just guessing at this. Maybe they just saw that top people in the field were impressed and thought it was good PR.

It would be interesting to see what happened to the rest of the cohort. It would be interesting to see what, if any, correlation there is between time to tenure track, time to tenure and the scientific impact of the person's work, 40 years after graduation. Has someone done such a study?

Of course, if you can't stay a postdoc or can't get a Swiss patent clerk job, it is probably hard to do research and harder still to get published in a journal read by the movers and shakers. Of course, theoretical physics does tend to have lower research costs, so that probably played a big role.

146. bren0133 - February 11, 2011 at 02:37 am

Here you go Gabe:

147. hcl87125 - February 11, 2011 at 09:41 am

I'm one of the unwashed masses who did not graduate from college. I majored in beer and women and then bombed out. I did graduate from a computer programming course at a votech school when I was 35. I became a software developer, a job I am extremely good at and really enjoy. It's art to me. I retired with seven figures in the bank when I was 53, 18 years later. I am a free market capitalist and did well in the stock market. I do not have any training for economy other than doing my homework and getting my hands dirty.

One thing I did notice while in collage (90 hours before the fall), was that with the exception of one econ professor, all of my teachers were Marxists, just an observation of course. Pinkos at minimum. Do you thing that they had an embedded sense of entitlement?

My suggestion to people who feel that life owes them something is this. You are where you are today, right now, in this instant, because you both life and immediate choices to be there. If you don't like being underpaid, use your constitutional right to seek happiness and get a degree in something that pays. And forget retiring on your 401k. That ain't going to be near enough. You have to invest and be successful doing it.

There is no one way or technique to invest that holds still for longer than the next news headline. Everything affects the stock market all the time. You have to ask yourself, "What does everyone else think of this situation? Will the Suez remain open? Will QE2 cause Jimmy Carter inflation beginning later this year?" You must get to the point where you can predict how other people will react to what is going on NOW. For those of you who have not paid attention to how our economy works, you can actually bet "Don't" in the stock market. You can actually make money when the price of an equity goes down.

My advice is get out of academia, do your own homework and get your hands dirty.

Dan in ABQ

148. kcbarl - February 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

Since the USA became a service based economy and we produce less and less here, just where does anyone thing job growth is going to come from much less wages? When we have culinary graduates serving us at Burger King and PHd's playing nanny to our children just who are we selling these degrees to? If you have one you are over-qualified, if you do not have one you are under-qualified. It has become a liquid field riddled with debt for a piece of paper. A degree used to mean you actually studied something that an employer could exploit and that you could benefit from. When the employer is McDonalds and they require a BA, we have gone wrong somewhere. It used to be a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefited. Now, you are in debt for years for a minimum wage job that a high-school drop-out can do. I am sorry but flipping burgers, waiting tables, checking people out are not college aspirations and too many of our college graduates are doing these things because we have out-sourced our jobs. Not because we do not have people who cannot or will not learn but when a college education can render you over 50K in debt before you graduate and minimum wage is the fruition, just what does anyone expect? For every college student there is a deficit in every field for applicants. They are lined up in education and ambition but there are no openings. Yet, they are deluded into thinking there are positions available in those fields. For what purpose? How many openings are there for history professors? for archaeologists? for biologists, for geologists, ad nauseum. We are not getting people into college for jobs, we are deluding them into debt for the benefit of the colleges. It once was that those who were desirous of knowledge went to college to learn more. That was good. Now we subject people to a lifetime of debt for "learning" that has no direct impact on their life or their aspirations. Half the classes "required" for college graduation, these students will never use, remember or need. Yet, every one of these classes are "required" and cost hundreds of dollars per class. I could have my degree but when I looked at the required classes and the costs and the additional student fees...I brought out my accounting education and determined the cost was detrimental to the benefit.

The argument will come out about a well-rounded education but where is that? We are subjecting these very young people to tens of thousands of dollars of debt. You cannot have the argument both ways. It is either worth the cost or it isn't. If we are educating too much of the workforce that it takes a college degree to make hamburgers, then the position of making those burgers should reflect that education.

When will going to McDonalds cost the average family of four over one hundred dollars?

When did working for McDonalds require a BA and since it does, just what does a BA actually mean? We require tuition for classes which is all right but then we require classes. We charge fees for groups outside of classes which is all right unless they are required. Why must I pay fees (taxes) for groups that I do not participate in? How can you require more and more classes irrelevant to my studies but only lend profit to you?

I have no problem with voluntary education. I have a problem with indoctrination, I have a problem with involuntary participation, I have a problem with forced paying for groups that I do not have anything in common with. If these groups have sufficient support, so be it. Why am I forced to pay fees for that group. I am blonde, I am female. Where are the forced participation fees for me? I want the blonde, female league set up and every student on campus responsible for supporting said group.

In my opinion, that is where idiocy, not education has taken us. By the way the Blue-eyed people are requesting a meeting. Oh wait, I am part of that group and our advisory committee will be meeting soon.

Idiotic, I know but what is more idiotic. The vast majority of this is true and not to bring attention to horrific events, since when do university professors shoot people over tenure? Ok, ba, mba, phd, taught for years, kicked to the curb. I'm how much in debt, I've told my kids to take second place for years, the spouse is kicked aside and all for this....Nope, you don't get it. Doesn't matter how much you pushed aside, who you said didn't matter... all you worked for adds up to nothing? I am not on this professor's side but honestly, how many of us have given an employer all, everything? I have a friend who put in over 20 years and they replaced her with someone doing her job that she trained her for but just shy of her being vested in retirement benefits. For over 20 years she worked for this company, made sure she did her job to benefit that company. Then she gets to train her replacement just shy of her full retirement?

I have a degree, I spent it on my children. I don't have a retirement to cash in. That's all right but if my kids ever come to me to cash in my investment in them, we might have a problem. Neither the right wing or left wing of political wingnuts need reply. I just want either congressional or senatorial retirement/health benefits...I served the public more than they did. I made sure to raise healthy taxpayers.

The kicker is that I never expected taxpayers to support me. Everyone in office made sure we will support them. I don't care who or which party you support, look at their entitlements.

149. bowl_haircut - February 11, 2011 at 10:48 am

Hey, Dan in ABQ (#147): turn off the Glenn Beck for an hour or two and read something. David Harvey's recent book _The Enigma of Capital_ (Oxford UP, 2009) is an excellent and timely primer on hat's going on in the world today vis-a-vis global capitalism.

Also, your attitude is typical of the neoliberal "bootstraps" attitude. What you and so many like you need to get is that you got *extremely* lucky.

Also, based on some of the clues you give as to your age, you were fortunate enough to come around at a time when one could scoff at a college degree, get a Votech license, and expect a decent job with a decent salary. I'm glad you're comfortable, and that you have "7 figures in the bank," but others are not so fortunate, and rarely is that solely because of one's "laziness."

Just as your success(es) are not solely the result of your hard work, but, more likely, dumb luck.

150. xira666 - February 11, 2011 at 10:54 am

The problem is a surplus of human labor.

1/3 (*made up number) of the planet can supply everything 3/3's needs. When it takes a small amount of population to supply the needs of the entire population without a strong wealth re-distribution system in place....you get what we have in America right now. Massive unemployment, people willing to do formerly well-paid work at any price, teeming masses competing for every position.

This goes far beyond academia. As robots and technology replace people in the workforce the masses of unemployed will only grow larger, the middle class will shrink, and those who either 'own' the robots(until they too are replaced by robots) or do jobs the robots can't do will continue to make more and more.

The simple truth is that most jobs today aren't that hard to do. A 6 month training program could serve as well as a MD or PHD so long as full use of technology was made.(Think of a 6 month nurse's assistant using a program that's been proven to out-diagnose and out-treat 99.9% of doctors, with her following simple requests from the machine to poke or prod. Soon to be replaced by a robotic arm.)

For the jobs that can't be done by a machine better than a human, such as CEO or high level circuit design, the rewards go up and up....because they are the only ones who actually need to be paid more than a machine.

Everyone lower on the totem pole, the teeming masses, those who can be replaced by machines or those who's jobs only require one person's input for every 10 applicant's available are paid less than a machine or what those other 9 people would accept, or they don't work.

The world, as a whole, has a massive surplus of human labor. This isn't going to change, and it's not going to get better no matter what we do, even a massive die-off wouldn't change the fact that one person can produce what 10 need. If we stop overproducing PHDs we'll just be overproducing Bachelors, or high school grads, or high school drop-outs.

This doesn't get better for anyone from here on out. The endgame is that societies that can't deal with the problem of useless humans, either via execution or wealth-redistribution, will fail. I except America to tear itself apart in the next 30 years over this.

151. nickels - February 11, 2011 at 10:58 am

When I earned my PhD I considered for (as Data would say) about 0.006 seconds pursuing an academic career.
Thank goodness I didn't go that way. Besides working on mostly irrelevant 'pie in the sky' research, the low pay, the long whipping positions, the insecurity, the moving from lame town to lamer town, there is the arrogance, the pomposity and the politics.
Professor is a nice dream, but the reality is lame. What a bad career choice these days.
The market drives, get on the bus!!

152. bwooten2 - February 11, 2011 at 11:02 am

#18 and #69, right on.

Go to a 12 Step meeting for alcoholics or other addicts - the self-admitted kings and queens of the navel gazers - and the advice there is always the same: when in a rut, make sure you give more than a healthy dose of consideration to how you can change yourself to meet circumstances, as opposed to lamenting the fact that circumstances don't change to meet you.

Not that there isn't a discussion to be had about how circumstances, systematically, could also change for the better in terms of higher education... but I always need to focus first on my own side of the street. I got my MFA in 2007, blind as a bat, uninformed, not knowing whether or not I wanted to teach. Perhaps, for those that get degrees in fine arts, there is always a romantic sense of the rockstar-lottery lurking in their thinking and behaviors? I took loans for the first and second years, and had a funded position for my last two years. My debt is considerable, but not astronomical. After three years of graduate school, I decided I enjoyed teaching, and I have held a couple of semester appointments as an adjunct or sabbatical replacement since then. I have enjoyed each of those opportunities. Every year I get excited to trot out new applications for the available jobs in my field of interest, and every year I accumulate a mountain of rejection notices, with maybe one-or-two encouraging interviews or even an offer of temporary employment.

My happiness, though, can never come from those failures, or even those successes because, as many have pointed out, employment in the humanities field is uncertain at best. I suppose my post isn't about contributing to the nuts and bolts of the above debate, but more to the spirit of our attitudes and expectations as we look for employment after graduation? Every day is good, only to the extent that I remember how I got where I am, the choices I made, and that getting a teaching job won't guarantee my happiness, anyway. And, no matter how grim the situation gets, I have a lot to be thankful for, including the educational experiences I have been afforded over the years. I know not everybody gets to have them, and to further bemoan the fact that my Golden Ticket isn't being cashed on my time is only a further example of my selfishness. Failing to go from graduate school to a TT post has afforded me countless opportunities to grow as a person, that I'm certain I would not have found in my rush to make tenure.

I would love to teach, but circumstances tomorrow may prevent me from trying to do so. As long as I have the opportunity to try, I will keep applying. Until then, as above posters have suggested, I'll try and invent an interesting part for myself in life with the tools I have at my disposal.

Benjamin Wooten

153. nickels - February 11, 2011 at 11:03 am

Dan #147: The problem is not people expecting certain things and then being disappointed. The problem is other people laying expectations on them and then accusing them of lameness when faced with far harder choices in life than the accusees. What we want is for those people to just shut up.

154. quidditas - February 11, 2011 at 11:04 am

"The kicker is that I never expected taxpayers to support me. Everyone in office made sure we will support them. I don't care who or which party you support, look at their entitlements."

I'm too busy looking at their corporate revolving door. You don't think Hank Paulson became Treasury Secretary for the government health plan do you?

155. hdhntr - February 11, 2011 at 11:04 am


I yawned through the article and waded through tons of self important people whining. Fianlly found 1 person who made sense. He was the one who went into the "real world" and made a csuccess of himself.

I am a recruiter and have always been mystified by academic's attitude that because you polished a seat for x number of years in school, you are entitled to a job, at a particular salary, forever.

Nonsense. And extremely boorish. I've been self employed since I was 18. I am now 50. Have raised 2 kids as a single Father. And never have assumed that because I was educated, that I deserve anything. And understndthat as arecruiter I only get paid if I am successful at finding the right person, for the right job, at the right time.

Academics. Stop complaining. Teaching is one hell of a lot easier than doing. Remember the saying, "Those who can't do, teach". So go out and do something today. Beside gloat on how book smart you are.

156. mjc1900 - February 11, 2011 at 11:13 am

As an employer I believe grad students are mad as hell because they don't have a clue about the world outside of the education bubble. They are professional students.
When someone under 30 tells me they have a graduate degree, that throws up a red flag. That tells me they have not PRODUCED anything outside of a university setting.
Those that are considering a graduate degree should remember one important thing; in the real world it is better to be "smart" than "intelligent". Being "intelligent" allows you to write up nuclear bomb design plans on a napkin during lunch. "Smart" allows you to GET THINGS DONE in the real world.
I will hire the smart person that can produce over a heady grad every time!
Look at all the Mensa people; intelligent as heck, but (usually) they are 1. incompetent, 2. Lack production capabilities, 3. useless with anything to do with "hands on" activities.
Don't go to grad school until you have been in the work force for AT LEAST 5 years, have a productive resume and know the realities of the real world. Momma, dadda and the prof. is not there to save you.

157. farandwide - February 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

The problem is this: every student thinks they're special, and that things will somehow work out differently for him or her. This is especially true for students thinking about graduate school, since those are the A students who are used to being the cream of the crop in their classes.

I went to grad school in the humanities in the 90s, and was hired into a TT position in 2000, so I'm well aware of the increasingly horrid condition of the job market, particularly in the humanities. Accordingly, I have tried to dissuade every single student who has come to me for career advice from limiting their choices to graduate school. And every single time, the student has ended up deciding to apply for graduate school anyway, giving me the typical cliched, "I don't care about money--I just want to do study something I'm passionate about," response that we all said (and probably believed) when we were that age, too. Every single time, I point out that it's one thing to live in a hovel and eat nothing but ramen when you're 22, but that gets really, really old when you're 40. And every single time, the student just blithely brushes off my advice. Because deep down, the student is 100% positive that it will be different for him or her, because he or she is special, because they "want it so, so much." It's the same mentality you see on auditions for American Idol, where every tearful contestant pleads for just one more chance, because this is her dream, and all she's ever wanted to do in her young life, and she wants it so, so much more than anyone else ever has. That's not enough--but try getting the student to actually listen, especially when they're 22 and don't have enough life experience to understand that academia isn't always a meritocracy like they think it is. And by the time they're old enough to understand that, they're bitter and complaining on the Chronicle, even though someone probably did try to warn them.

The other problem is that simply by virtue of being a tenured professor giving advice about the job market, you're a walking anachronism. I'm fairly young, and went to a state school, and went on the job market at a dismal time for the humanities. And I got a TT job. So we can give all the advice in the world about the cruelties of the job market, but as long as we're sitting in an office with "Associate Professor" on the nameplate, students will think, "Yeah, but it worked out for you, didn't it? So it will work out for me, too." I agree 100% with the comment that students need to be steered toward bitter adjuncts for career advice, as well.

And to the poster who called for reinstating the mandatory retirement age: that will do nothing to free up TT lines, since most administrators will just convert that position to 2 adjunct lines. Every single college and university in my state could desperately use 2x the number of TT positions that we currently have, just to make sure that we can cover the multiple sections of required gen ed courses offered each semester. However, admin absolutely refuse to approve more faculty lines, even before the current economic downturn. Why would they, when they can hire 3 or more adjuncts for the same money, and without having to provide benefits? Everyone who adjuncts or tutors for little money as a desperate way to get a foot in the door bears some responsibility for reinforcing the current structure.

And lastly, I would just like to point out that many graduate students' unrealistic views of their dream careers revolve around things such as location, city size, etc. I currently have an acquaintance who is pursuing a graduate degree in art history, and has made it clear that she would never stoop so low as to live in *gasp* flyover country, or in a small city. No, it's NYC or LA or nothing for her. Well, guess what--it's going to be nothing, then.

158. gsawpenny - February 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm

@farandwide is quite right yet ends up quite wrong.

Those of us with TT jobs should fairly advise our young charges about the nature of the system indeed. That said, tenure needs to go away. It is a silly concept and allows the academy to fill with dead weight and lazy professors.

Before the knifes of "academic freedom" are drawn let me say that I am tenured. Last year I offered to give up my position and go to a three-year contract if the school would hire one or two new full time contract professors. The union lost its mind over the notion.

Look at it this way. At my institution I am the ONLY tenured professor that teachers freshmen and sophomores. All the others hide out and pretend to do "research." I publish, they publish - but - I teach and they do not. Tenure should not be a path to hanging up your classroom duties but all too often it is. The humanities are stunningly short of talented teachers but grotesquely over-loaded with gifted researchers that, in the end, contribute next to nothing.

farandwide is right to note that those on the adjunct path are, in fact, reinforcing the current structure but without them the system would collapse. As far as I can see, the only way schools can meet the demand of provising quality TEACHERS at reasonable cost is to deflate the tenure system and go with contracts that specify performance and skill levels. Academics have a choice, work or don't work. Most states are awash with young undergrads ready to earn their degrees and these same states are equally short of good professors. At least in the humanities we have to decide, support the old ways or venture out to that strange new world where a job for life is not a benefit but something earned through service and skill.

159. thatisright - February 11, 2011 at 01:09 pm

Admittedly, the job market for a PhD is challenging right now and I empathize with most respondents. Like all of you, I also have a story to share and I hope it will provide prospective students, current PhD students, and recent PhD graduates some perspective. I am a recent recipient of a PhD in the ecological sciences and about one year into my post-doc. I have won competitive grant money from a federal agency as the lead author and have multiple first-author publications, including three in top-tier journals and one in the best journal in my field. Few relevant TT positions are available, I have only managed to make the "long list" for three positions (PhD-granting departments), and the "short list" for one position (PhD-granting department) that was canceled before any interviews were conducted (budget shortfall). To complicate matters more, I had a mostly miserable experience with the faculty at the department I graduated from except for a couple of notable exceptions. Most of my committee and co-chairs were apathetic at best and actually impeding my progress and professional success in many cases. I will spare you the horrific details because this kind of experience seems to have become such a cliche. In reality, I would have been delighted to have an apathetic committee; receiving any professional guidance for a job search and becoming successfully employed as a TT hire seemed like a distant illusion. I was only able to graduate with a little luck, some assistance from a friendly ombudsperson, one stubborn committee member sympathizing with my plight, and the fact that I began publishing my work independently and making professional contacts during my PhD. Thankfully through this "battle" during my PhD I sought and obtained external employment as an adjunct professor and consultant, which allowed me to pay off my student loans (nearly 40 grand for everything), support my family, accrue an emergency fund, and battle with the department and some faculty without fear of them yanking my meager TA/RA funding (which was threatened until they realized I was gainfully employed outside the department). Overall, you might say this was a miserable experience stacked on top of a crappy job market and that I must be angry, depressed, and outright spiteful of the PhD, right?!?! However, if given a second chance, I would indeed aim for the PhD again (certainly in a different department, however). I made wonderful friends and quenched the thirst of my inquisitive mind despite a lack of mentoring. I enjoy thinking critically and conducting science even though I do not yet have a TT job. In fact, I enjoy what I do so much that I view it as a fun hobby that I often do during my "spare time". I think I will be offered a TT job eventually, but sometimes I wonder if I even want to be a part of an academic department at a PhD-granting institution because I certainly was not impressed with the observations I made during my PhD. Too many faculty at these types of institutions are arrogant, fickle, short-sighted, politically motivated, and in some cases mentally unbalanced; ultimately more concerned with their own publishing prowess and academic identity than the success of their students. I also saw several new assistant professors hired on that suddenly developed a love for some obscure team sport so they could go play with the department head and kiss plenty of butt. It was laughable because these new hires did not even try to obscure their motives, but the department head hastily picked up a new friend or should I say political "ally". I am sure there are some respectable departments out there and there are undoubtedly reputable faculty members that thwart this trend. More importantly, it is probably worthwhile for me to continue pursuing a TT job in order to prevent the clones spawned off some of the demented faculty members from becoming entrenched in the academe and perpetuating the cycle; and mostly because I love what I do.

Good luck in your searches and I hope you are pursuing a PhD because you love what you do!

160. gsawpenny - February 11, 2011 at 01:09 pm

Sorry, I forgot to add something...

The faculty hiring system is so tragically broken it hurts to think about it. At my school we get applications in November, a "team of idiots" (often me included) glance at them for six minutes and then stash them away until we are pressed for our opinions. After that we "invite" 10 or 15 to meet us at a national conference where, in a cold, noisy room we grill them for mostly meaningless information. Back at home, heads down into the spring semester, we eventually invite 3 to 5 people to campus and grill them again often asking for a "teaching demonstration" that every one fails because they act like they are giving a conference presentation.

Upon sending them home full of hope we debate their various qualities and toss out the ones that would be happy a our little school. Then and only then we start the worst part - debating if they fill a gap in our departments "diversity." What about skill, I ask? What about classroom experience? I don't care if they came highly recommended by some big name at Ivy U, are they a good Americanist (or insert required field). So I like to throw in some curves. Diversity? We don't have any openly born-again Christians in the department. What about military veterans (I am the only one in a school of several hundred faculty)? How about the candidate who is a 60 year old retired international businessman? We have no "new" old people.

To no avail. We find our "fit" and for the most part they spend the next six years waiting for Harvard to call with that big job offer. At that point they cobble together a completely unnecessary "tenure application" and get tenure. Then, demoralized and caught in a lifetime career they hate, they cling to the TT like it is the only great thing in the world.

Please, we should be able to hire new professors based on a quick review of their writings and teaching skills followed up by a campus visit where they face freshmen, not other professors. Then, with a blind eye to "who" they are, we need to hire "what" we need. The process should take no more than four weeks.

161. thatisright - February 11, 2011 at 01:22 pm

Also, always have multiple backup plans because only death and taxes are for certain!

162. mrmars - February 11, 2011 at 01:36 pm

155 & 156,

Not too much obvious anti-intellecualism here, huh? Not to mention a touch of envy? Not all academics are bookish self-centered whiners with no "real" work experience, ambition, or fortitude who are hiding from "the real world," manual labor, or whatever. And there are many "self-made" types who haven't "made" as much of themselves as they like to think (as in the joke about the guy who was born on third base and thinks he hit a home run). But my purpose here isn't to incite class warfare (enjoyable as that may be).

Self-delusion is an essential component of dreaming. Without dreams where would we be, academic and real-world types alike? We encourage our kids to dream big, to reach for the stars, then wonder at times why some fall prey to unrealistic expectations. We can't have it both ways. The cost - personal and societal - of dreaming is that many will fall short of their dreams. Their (our?) disappointment and angst in a sense is the price we pay for those dreams that are realized and those dreamers who do reach their goals. So we might be a bit more understanding of those who structure their lives seeing mostly what they want to see rather than harsh reality, then express hurt and surprise when that reality pulls them up short. As long as dreaming is a part of the human psyche, disappointment will remain alive and well.

That said, I'm still not sure that its the whole story. Graduate school academia is in essence a feudal system where a continuous flow of ambitious serfs is essential to the enterprise. What we need are overlords who are willing to forcefully impress on potential serfs/noble wanna-bes how small the probability really is that they will graduate to overlords themselves one day. Given the conflict of interest that that entails, and the ability of humans to equivocate and rationalize, the prospects for affecting real change within the system are not good.

163. darccity - February 11, 2011 at 01:43 pm

Hi. I'm in one of the few PhD areas where there always will be jobs, yet our faculty has dropped by a third in the past 5 years as we are facing our 7th straight year of state budget cuts with no end in sight. No pay raises most of those years either and increase in teaching loads. And our long-standing masters program was "suspended" indefinitely last year. And private colleges will face even worse after the enrollment surge from this recession eventually reverses and the current baby boom echo ends -- the result will be an unparalleled flood of college closures. Men aren't and minorities aren't even attempting to go on to college anymore, and PhD programs are closing down everywhere from lack of demand. Most grad students aren't U.S. citizens, and that supply source will end as soon as our global rep meets the reality that U.S. grad programs are living off a borrowed prestige.

164. kfextend - February 11, 2011 at 03:20 pm

I wonder if profjrdn and 11194062 realize how ignorant and bigoted they sound. Texas a god forsaken wasteland? Almost 80% of all job creation last year happened in Texas. They gained so much population in the past decade they are getting 4 more seats after the census. Compare the shape Texas is in to, say California. Texas sounds like a golden land of opportunity by

The only reason to be so down on Texas is if you have ingrained
cultural biases and prejudices - but I thought identifying and
destroying such biases and prejudices was a large part of a higher
education? Apparently not.

I'm also amazed they have so easily fallen for the fallacy that how much one 'cares' about education is measured by how much one spends on education. NO! Spending on education is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. Your goal is to equip and prepare students for the real world. By any measure Texas is doing a MUCH better job of that than California. (With Texas students being, on average, one to two years ahead of their California counterparts).

Additionally, when the problem is far too many grad students for far too few positions, you *want* a decrease in the number of phd
students. There are more of them than the market can bear. The last thing you want is an increase in education spending. This means more subisides for students and more college and grad students - which only further exacerbates the problem. By the way, this is precisely the solution the administration is suggesting to the current recession, so things are going to get quite a bit worse before they get better.

In fact, the whole rotten edifice of our higher education system is going to come crumbling down in the next few years. The system is charging outrageous amounts (growing faster than home prices during the housing bubble and we all know how that turned out) and it is being crippled with elitism, cronyism, and nepotism - not too mention freedom of thought being stifled by absurdly politically correct policies and a faculty that is increasingly ideologically homogenous.

Tenure is a laughably outmoded concept in todays workforce and with today's medical advances that mean people can work well past the old retirement age. It should be dispensed with.

The old systems are rapidly changing. The current crop of phd students is caught at a bad time: they entered when the old model seemed like it still worked but it has crumbled down about their ears before they finished.

I also think these comments pretty well explode the notion that a phd is a valuble experience in and of itself in that it helps you to think more critically and be a more entrprising and innovative person. If that were true, phd students would be those *best* equipped to handle the sudden changes and upheaval in the job prospects right now - but that is obviously not the case. In fact, many here are saying they are literally unemployable.

165. ejb_123 - February 11, 2011 at 03:36 pm

farandwide wrote in post 157: "And lastly, I would just like to point out that many graduate students' unrealistic views of their dream careers revolve around things such as location, city size, etc. I currently have an acquaintance who is pursuing a graduate degree in art history, and has made it clear that she would never stoop so low as to live in *gasp* flyover country, or in a small city. No, it's NYC or LA or nothing for her. Well, guess what--it's going to be nothing, then."

I can understand this. I grew up in a town with only a few hundred people, and then I went to college in a large town with a couple thousand people, and loved living in a large community. I told myself I would never again live in a town with less than 20,000 people. Of course, after I graduated, I had to accept that, at least for the time being, I would have to take a job in a town with only a few hundred people. I may feel lonely, especially on weekends, but at least I can pay my student loans.

166. bigdogtana - February 11, 2011 at 03:43 pm

Not many people get the luxury of pursuing their hobby for 5 years fully or even partially funded, nevermind get lucky enough to have a job that will allow one to spend a life time doing it. The grim reality we all face, no mater what our industry, is that life is not fair and ultimately random luck is the deciding factor. That's a tough paradigm to accept, especially if one has typically succeeded on their own merits. To know that talent will have little bearing on your ultimate success, but your connections certainly will.

I graduated with a double major in Classics and English and was able to successfully parlay my education to get a job at a top tier financial services company, this was not easy, and it took practice in many failed interviews to sucessfully explain why my extensive knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin would make me a better candidate than the kid who had a fiance degree from my college's prestigious business undergraduate program. I am currently considering going back to school b/c studying literature is my passion, however given the raw experiences shared above, I'm not sure if trading off my high paying, challenging, though ultimately soul sucking job is worth chasing a degree that could just as likely leave me completely disillusioned, and with no money.

167. edwoof - February 11, 2011 at 05:05 pm

If you think things are bad for the humanities and social sciences now, just wait until the three-year BA/BS degree becomes the norm. A lot of the elective courses will vanish as students from other disciplines will not be able to sample courses just for the experience. For a brief debate including a synopsis of the AACU crqitique see:


One of the main arguments for mainatin four-year degrees is that students need the time to develop skills desired by employers.

However, since it's now in vogue to mainatin that a significant number of students don't learn anything in college (http://chronicle.com/article/New-Book-Lays-Failure-to-Learn/125983/) then the only difference between a three year and four year degree becomes one of cost. And we know how everyone these days wants to cut cost.

(As an aside how do recent graduates in the study know what they actually learned in college? I'm almost 50 and I am still finding out what I learned in college and grad school).

I predict that the three-year BA/BS will be offered by most universities in ten years which will even further reduce the need for faculty.

168. justlurking - February 11, 2011 at 05:43 pm

As a newly tenured prof and advisor of grad students, *I* am fed up. Farandwide (157) is right. I am sick of grad students at my state R-1 ignoring my warnings and advice. I am a constant alarmist about the state of the profession and academia in general, and I am very proactive about mentoring to help my students succeed. I bend over backwards for them--giving tons of feedback on work; taking them to seminars and conferences; making special time to meet with them when I am on leave; hiring them as assistants; introducing them to big names in the field; finding them easy grant money, etc., etc., etc.--but they often just REJECT these things! Instead of getting their butts in gear and doing the hard work, taking the criticism and the initiative to improve, they look for people to tell them their work is fine the way it is. They prioritize the temporary part-time job at Radio Shack rather than their work in the program. They turn down money and eschew the opportunity to present work even at little local seminars and symposia. They don't read for class!

Why should they listen to me? By any measure, my career is a success. I have publications with top presses, four titles at two different universities (one an Ivy), massive amounts of grant money, and people paying for my thoughts on my pet subjects.

BUT 1) I suffered for it. I sacrificed my mental and physical health, abandoned any personal enjoyments, and put my relationships in jeopardy. I am still $100k in debt from an elite graduate program in which I had no mentor. I endured mobbing at my first job while working 80hrs/wk, not to get out, but to be a good citizen and teacher. AND 2) It was LUCK that got me where I am now. LUCK! The suffering was a necessary but insufficient requirement for my success. I thank goodness every day that the universe conspired to help me, especially when I see friends with PhDs from elite institutions who are unemployed or underemployed. It's gut-wrenching.

I don't want clones. I don't need grad students to feel important. I want to help the students I have do well, be happy, and be productive, contributing members of the profession. And I know how to navigate the waters pretty darn well by now. But I feel like I am wasting my time and energy.

I look at these students and this program. Not only do they refuse understand the hardships (hazing?) that most of us have to endure for success, they refuse to recognize the grinding hard work and the luck. Most of the students here have no business in grad school, and the program shouldn't exist. I have come to believe that if a student can't get into a top-tier program with funding, s/he shouldn't go to grad school. But my school, like so many others, wants the prestige and money of a grad program, so it takes checks from middle-aged, redneck coke-heads who can't analyze their ways out of their cheap motel rooms or figure out that if they have to ask their professors how to do a footnote, they don't belong in grad school! Look out ABDs--this particular guy should have his PhD in about 4 years.

So where is the fault? It depends. In this case it is in the institutional culture of mediocrity, complacency, and delusional grandiosity.

Phew. Now that I am done complaining, I will thank my lucky stars once again that I have a job.

169. nickels - February 11, 2011 at 06:13 pm

Take it easy on the young 'ens. If not for the bitterness of the academic profession you'd see how amazingly resilient and resourceful young people are.
Studying what you love in school is probably the best idea. Passions are forever. Knowledge is for enrichment, not just entitlements.

Maybe just pick up a book on Java or C# to read on the side (winks)...

170. bscmath78 - February 11, 2011 at 07:12 pm

For those interested in some relatively recent information from a Chemistry PhD perspective, there is the article "Doctoral Dilemma"

It is worth reading in its entirety.

Here is one bloggers view of the article:

171. rightwingprofessor - February 11, 2011 at 07:55 pm

Rule #1: Do not attend a PhD program at a school that would not hire its own graduates, or graduate's from a comparable school. I teach at an R1 state school without such a prestigious graduate program, our faculty all come from much better programs, our PhD graduates are almost uniformly doomed to a life of temporary jobs, visiting assistant professors or complete unemployment.

172. passing_through - February 11, 2011 at 09:25 pm

#140's opinion that it's easy to find out about the realities of grad school and the job market and grad students and potential grad students have no excuse is problematic for several reasons.
1. I attended a small, non-prestigouis college. There wasn't really any place on campus to go to to get information about graduate school or what it took to be employed as a professor. There was no booklet displayed in the library entitled, "Why a Ph.D. is a Waste." If there had been, I would have read it and perhaps done differently.
2. I thought that hard work, good grades, and good test scores and such wuold be sufficient to make me competitive for a power school. They weren't.
3. Although I knew a power school Ph.D. would be helpful, I didn't know it was the only Ph.D. worth getting.
4. More generally, if nothing indicates to you that you don't know that you don't know what you need to know, how are you supposed to know to go find the stats easily?
5. Maybe the stats are easy to find now, but when I was a senior in college the first time, they weren't. My college did not have any computers. Can you spell "card catalog"? It wasn't possible to do s Google search on "how to get into a good grad school" because Google did not exist. In fact the Internet was little more than a glint in Al Gore's mind. More seriously, it was certainly not in common use. I did not know of anyone who knew of it. I couldn't easily find an article that owuld tell me how to pick a school for a master's degree if I wanted to be strategic about it for getting into Yale. I couldn't just go look for a book on how to write the perfect grad school application. So even if I'd realized that being smart and working hard were completely insufficient, if not irrelevant to getting into the right school and then getting into the right job, I wouldn't have known how to find the information I needed. I'm sure my tiny college did not have it.
6. During my many years of seeking a full-time teaching position after completing my Ph.D. (note I didn't say a TT position--I just said a full-time position), I've applied to schools large and small from California to Virginia, from Montana to Texas. I think I've not sent applications to schools in Hawaiii or Alaska, and maybe not Louisiana but just about every other state I've covered. 99% of these were job applications to schools I'd never heard of. After all, I knew that many schools I have haerd of, Harvard, Chicago, John Hopkins, etc., were unlikely to hire me if Nowheresville U. wouldn't hire me. It would in principle have been difficult to do research before I began my graduate schooling to know that even little schools in Nowheresville had the same profile as big, Power schools: All the people in the dpeartment have Ph.D.s from Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Chicago or occasionally Duke, Emory, or even on rare occasions, Cal. I couldn't have looked up schools in Idaho that I didn't know existed. Remember, again, that this was before Google or even Yahoo search.

I don't understand people talking about entitlement. I don't feel entitled to a teaching position. What I do feel entitled to is to have been told a long time ago by every school I applied to for a Ph.D. the facts of life. No one ever did that or I would have decided that since I didn't get into Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or Claremont, that I needed to forget about grad school and teaching as a career.

I'm also stunned by the number of faculty who seem to be griping. I am a staff person at my university. The faculty get Summers off. The faculty does not have to be here every day 8-5. The faculty gets paid to do research. No disadvantages could ever overcome these perks. I love to teach in-person (online, not so much). I do it whenever I get the chance. I'd love to do this full-time. I already have meetings to go to. So what if faculty have to do that as well?

How about this. Faculty at every undergraduate institution teach a course for junions on the realities of grad school and academic employment. That would tell me that there's something to know that I don't.

173. 11194062 - February 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm

@ kfextend - Take the "Re-Elect Perry" bumber sticker off your eyes and read a newspaper. Texas has a nearly $30 billion budget deficit, and school systems across the state are laying off employees, instituting hiring freezes, consolidating schools, and raising class size to unmanageable proportions. But we had the Super Bowl! (Cost over $30 million. How many teachers' salaries would that pay?)

That huge population increase you seem to think is a sign of Texas' greatness is a direct result of people suckered by years of smoke-and-mirrors hiding the fact that Texas' low-tax, corporate-friendly policies have only been making the CEOs richer and filling places like Dell and Samsung with the best and brightest - from India, Pakistan, Japan, and China. Because God knows our evicerated primary and secondary school systems can't compete with countries who realize strong education is the only way they will succeed.

174. dr_golightly - February 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm

"Perks," passing_through? Really?? I haven't had a vacation (not even a honeymoon), let alone a "summer off," since before grad school almost 15 years ago. I am often in the office before the staff arrive and after they leave and on weekends. No disadvantages? I never get to leave my work at work. I work at home too. And part of the reason I am $100k in debt is because until recently I had to pay out-of-pocket to do most of my research, and even now, when I get grants, they still don't cover all of my expenses. And, even though I am tenured and promoted, I still don't even make $60k/yr. But maybe now with tenure at least I can start trying to get some exercise and go off the meds for anxiety and depression. Look--a perk!

I am sorry you've had such a hard time--truly. But would you have listened if someone had told you how sucky it can be? I am telling you now. You are idealizing faculty life, which is part of the reason we are having this discussion in the first place.

175. justlurking - February 11, 2011 at 10:42 pm

@ passing_through -- You went to college but had no way of finding out what it was like to be employed as a professor? Did you ever talk to any of your professors there or at prospective grad schools? Even today, students don't need Google. They need to pick up a phone or go to a professor's office and listen to what s/he has to say. Unfortunately, I know that some will tell them what they want to hear to get them in the door. Sigh.

176. powerconversion - February 12, 2011 at 06:35 am

Questions that have transformed my life:

1. How can you add value to any business or institution?

2. What demographic, economic, technological and political trends can catalyze the growth or death of your career path?

3. What skills can I continue to amass and improve upon to satisfy my current and future employers need for utility?

4. Does post-college life require more or less work to maximize your chances of success?

5. Accelerating your accomplishments or resting on your laurels? Which path provides better and more diverse opportunities?

6. Will you pull a Wee Willie Keeler and "Hit 'em where they ain't"? Stay in oversubscribed fields or move to less popular yet undersubscribed greener pastures?

7. Can you humble yourself yet stay positive even if your job opportunities lead you away from "White-Collar Status"?

8. Are you willing to solve problems through execution or just analyze problems?

After one year at Fordham as a Pre-Med student, I realized a 2.5 GPA wasn't worth $40K/year (debt service too high for forecasted future earnings). I moved back home to CA in time to witness the energy crisis. The energy crisis illuminated an enormous imbalance of electricity supply for a given demand.

I joined the Navy and entered the Nuclear Power Program in order to obtain energy field skill certifications. As a bonus I received the GI Bill. Eight years of Naval Nuclear Power resulted in 34 job offers in two months after leaving the service. All the jobs exceeded $50k/year, included massive OT if desired and great benefits.

At 28 years old (2008) I broke though the $100k+/year income barrier. There was/is no recession for me. My job is now easy and once I complete 5 years in the private sector (and effectively retire) I will return to school. The GI Bill will finish my studies at Fordham.

I enjoy my job, being debt free, international business travel and being self-sufficient. My mid-life crisis will be spent retooling my mind at Fordham while incurring no student loan debt.

The road less traveled works rather well. It is a shame I had to figure it out all by myself. I hope others can capitalize on the enormous opportunities available for people that eschew convetional wisdom and embrace "declasse" opportunities.

Forgive my "bragging" amongst the degreed. Schadenfreude abounds while watching indentured sophists share their Sisyphean trials and tribulations.



177. zatavu - February 12, 2011 at 07:37 am

It could get worse. They could get madder:


178. guava - February 12, 2011 at 01:40 pm

@John (#176) -- having been both in academe and the private sector, I see in your questions something largely missing from the academic debate: the matter of practical applicability. How can one's skills actually be used in the real world? How can a person continue to self-improve? How do one's skills need to evolve to continue to have positive impact? Life is not about standing still. Economies don't stand still either. Yes, our economy is in a mess, but even without financial meltdowns, economies don't stagnate -- the balance of industries changes over time. Therefore, what's important in terms of skills won't stand still either.

I can't imagine how it feels to have all one's eggs in only one basket (academe or anything else). But I have seen the devastation caused by geopolitics and industries dying out, with individuals suffering from the fallout. The fallout from losing one's sense of security is very painful, regardless of the cause.

My observation of academe is a staid view of career paths, the "right" political views, expectation of lifetime security (when the reality is a dichotomy of tenure track faculty and poorly paid adjunct instructors). The idea of exploring job markets doesn't seem to come up in the course of college, master's, PhD, then teaching. And that's when the career snag seems to come as a surprise.

To those of you who are disappointed academics:
What do you love to do?
Do you love to teach? If you don't teach in a college, where else does teaching happen? Corporate training? Documentary films? Desigining instructional programs for public television?
Do you love research? If not in a college, where else does research occur? Market and economic research? Research for educational documentaries, to make sure the knowledge presented is accurate?
Do you love to write? You could write freelance, self-publish fiction under a nom de plum if you're concerned about your academic reputation, work with film programming, media (all types)
etc etc etc.
I'm not in the humanities, but how do those fabulous documentaries about languages and history get made? Certainly not without humanities expertise. Even Hollywood consults historians to get costumes and the other period visuals historically accurate.

Yes, things look dismal when your first dream does not pan out. But try to broaden your perspective. What drew you to knowledge in the first place? Where else can you do this work and share your knowledge? Some of these ideas above pay better than academe, so you could salvage the best pieces of what you love and for better pay. Look for freelance opportunities on the side. Don't get discouraged.

And to my compadres who have been in the private sector: let's not be too hard on these disappointed academics. Rather, let's try to encourage them to broaden their horizons and more applications for their skills. Thinking people who can solve problems will always be needed.

179. horan - February 12, 2011 at 05:27 pm

I think sgtrock (#88) is correct re a solution to the explicit problem. A serious reduction in 'the supply of adjuncts' has, to my mind, the best chance to effect a change.

Horan, Wisconsin

180. cranefly - February 12, 2011 at 05:45 pm

@passing_through: "the faculty get summers off". Oh, really? You mean they don't get PAID in the summer, but still have to maintain their research agendas. That's not the same as having the summer off! Seriously, you do have an idealized view of faculty life.

It took me 5 years out from my PhD to find a full-time job. I didn't blame anyone but myself. I was naive. I admit it. It never even OCCURED to me to blame my advisors/supervisors. That's just ridiculous. Take some responsibility for your own decisions.

181. renprof - February 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm

I'm very saddened by all the anger at tenured professors. Why are we to blame? Why do people say we "don't do anything?" Do you know how many times the MLA has said this situation isn't acceptable? Do you know how often the faculty association at my university system has pointed out that the ratio of contingent faculty to permanent faculty isn't acceptable? It doesn't matter. We've threatened industrial action over this. What more are we supposed to do? It doesn't seem to matter how often we wave around statistics that show the appropriate course cap for writing classes and how much bigger our writing classes are. We BEG for tenure line positions every year. We've had four or five retirements every year and we're lucky to get one position approved for a search, if that.

If it were up to me, I would be thrilled to have five new colleagues today. Right now. And if you think the money is going to pay for tenured professors' salary, I have some beachfront real estate I would like to sell you in the high desert. The money is going to pay for administrators and outside consultants who are paid big bucks to advise that the university doesn't need to hire more permanent faculty and that whole departments can be merged: translation, they are paid to think up new reasons not to hire you.

If for some reason the universities went to a system of eliminating tenure, do you honestly think a whole lot of positions would open up?

Incidentally, I do not teach at an R1 university and my school does not use teaching assistants. The only person who teaches my classes is me.

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