Monday, September 6, 2010

8. There are very few jobs.

Since the massive post-war expansion of higher education, academic departments have become increasingly dependent on graduate student labor in order to maintain a research focus while educating undergraduates. Universities require every faculty member to produce a steady stream of publishable scholarship, meaning that the time that professors have to devote to teaching is limited. To meet their teaching needs, universities need a steady stream of graduate students in all of their departments to serve as teaching assistants. As a result, there is a steady stream of newly minted PhDs walking, diploma-in-hand, out of every department of every research university in the United States.

After spending as many as ten years studying, teaching, and researching as graduate students, most of these new PhDs want to put to use the skills and knowledge that they have acquired in the university setting that they know so well. Often in their thirties, they are for the first time in their lives qualified to earn a salary in the profession of their choice. But there are only so many faculty positions to be filled. The positions that are open are usually the result of retirements, and the number of people retiring from faculty positions every year does not match the number of PhDs produced, meaning that more and more people are competing for fewer and fewer jobs. This is how many Ivy League PhDs find themselves working at regional state universities, while many state university PhDs find themselves lucky to have temporary teaching positions without benefits or security, and at pay rates that may be lower than teaching assistant stipends.



17 comments:

  1. What a great picture to illustrate the point!

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  2. Every year, there are maybe 30 jobs that open up in my field (fewer now, though). Some of those jobs will get 200-300 applicants.

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    1. That picture is me !!

      Except that I was 36 upon PhD graduation not his apparent 20-ish

      I never did get an on-going position, but did get quite a few temporary assistanships and pseudo-post-docs all over the country

      I now drive a TAXI and like the independence and absence of office paperwork and stuffiness. The pay sucks tho

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  3. when i was applying to grad school (in sociology) a lot of people thought i was a total snob for only applying to a handful of departments. thing is, there is only a handful of departments you can come out of to be a competitive job candidate. and hell, from what i hear, even community college jobs are hard to get.

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  4. Anonymous 9:23PM was/is exactly right. Don't expect a doctorate from some random, land-grant public program is going to get you a good job. If you can't get into a top grad program, what makes you think you can get a top job? Reality check, people!

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    1. Exactly. It's all probabilities (like everything in life) but you can bet on things with high probability or on things with low (getting a decent--maybe any-- tt-track job with a bad degree)

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  5. Also, the old geezers never retire! I have been in two careers (academic and govt) now and in every case the prevailing wisdom was the job market was going to open up in 'five more years'. Never happens.

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  6. People are incredulous when I tell them that in higher education, you are expected to complete your degree and take a pay cut afterward. That is what happened to me and many other TAs/Graduate Assistants I have known. Upon finishing our degrees, we made less as adjuncts than we did from our stipends. And some of us had benefits such as health insurance and tuition waivers that we lost when we became adjuncts.

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  7. @ AnonymousApr 18, 2011 07:50 PM

    Of course the old geezers never retire. When all you're earning is 1% or less on your savings, what are you going to live on in retirement? So as a result everyone is staying in the job market indefinitely.

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    1. Also, if state employees, their pension stems are about to crash (fortunately you won't have to worry about that--any pretense of pensions will be long gone by then).

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  8. There is, however, a way to get around this.

    When studying humanities in grad school, you create a thesis, and later a dissertation based around your own personal interest. But what happens if you stumble upon something innovative or something in vogue in the academic community?

    Since universities are essentially businesses, they make room for innovation, because they want to be 'better' than other universities and make more money from students. This counts for getting into grad school as well as when getting jobs in universities afterward.

    Here's a secret --- grades don't matter if one is truly innovative. Unfortunately true innovation is usually stumbled upon, and it must be in a field of study where information is ready to change to have any effect on the academic community.

    Examples of humanities currently changing paradigms: Indigenous histories, histories of Medicine/science, anthropology, economics, curriculum studies.

    (Sorry people in sociology, psychology, and the 'hard sciences' - paradigms in your fields are much harder to break and innovation has a much narrower scope, as it generally must fit in with already established paradigms and 'facts' taken for granted.)

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    1. Maybe time for a reality check here.

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    2. How about a few examples of this? I think there are a few, but this isn't an option for most people (it's easy: just be super creative and smart)

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  9. That’s pathetic because at my university (SFU), some of the professors died (over the years) and they won’t or still can’t find replacements for those courses (in this department). They either hired those Sessional Instructors or those PhD students to teach for a few semesters (because it’s cheaper?). It’s ridiculous because I can only take 2 classes next semester since I already have enough lower division credits and they have very limited offerings of 3rd year classes (I’m not ready for 4th year classes yet!) Also, for some weird reason, many classes tend to be on the same weekend day AND time! I’m lucky that I was even able to take ‘1’ class in the summer semester because the selection is so limited! I hope that they hire more people in those missing fields so I can take more than 1-2 classes per semester and finally get my damn BA degree, stupid university!

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  10. Early in my 5-year grad school fool's errand, my department interviewed candidates for a TT slot. This was around 2002, well before the downturn. Seven hundred (700) applicants were chasing after one (1) slot; perhaps ten (10) had an opportunity to present (perform their dog & pony show). Why this didn't make me stop and think, I cannot answer. A non-academic friend of mine at the time said, "That isn't a job hunt, that's a lottery."

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    1. A current article (TIME, 3/31/14) mentions how a recent Wal-Mart opening attracted 23,000 applicants for 600 jobs.

      This means that it was not quite twice as difficult to land the interview for the TT position (70-to-1 - I speak here *solely* in terms of odds - not time, effort and expense to qualify) as it was to get one of the coveted Wal-Mart jobs (about 38-to-1).

      Increasingly, most people in the workforce have job hunts that look like lotteries.

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    2. Your future might be just as secure if you took the money sunk in your degree and tried your luck in Vegas

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