Monday, January 21, 2013

88. You are not paid for what you write.

You could argue that professors are paid to write, because they’re required to produce publications as a condition of their employment. But that is really only true of people with tenure-track positions, and their annual salaries don’t rise or fall based on the quality or quantity of their writing (though whether they receive tenure is another matter). Adjunct professors and others, writing furiously in the hope of publishing enough to be worthy of a tenure-track job, receive no compensation whatsoever for their labors at the keyboard. Likewise, aside from the lucky few who have fellowships (see Reason 18), graduate students are not paid for the hours, months, and years that they spend writing. The academic journals that weigh down the shelves of university libraries publish a vast quantity of scholarly prose every year, but they don’t pay their authors a penny. Only a tiny fraction of academic writers—including professors guilty of the gauche practice of making their own books required reading—earn any significant income from the sale of academic books (see Reason 34).

It has never been easy to make money by writing, but you might ask yourself if writing for nothing is the best use of your time. Is what you write so important to you (see Reason 35) that you’re willing to produce it for free? The great Samuel Johnson famously said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” In the middle of the eighteenth century, he wrote (among much else) all 42,000 entries in the Dictionary of the English Language. Dr. Johnson knew that writing was work. And while it can be rewarding in its own way, academic writing is an especially arduous kind of work (see Reason 28). It exacts a price. In an essay on his personal experiences under the Guardian headline “Writing is bad for you,” scholar Rick Gekoski observed that “the more I write, the worse I become.” In graduate school, you will likely pay for the privilege of writing a thesis or dissertation (see Reason 59), and it will cost you a hefty chunk of your life as well. If you clear all of the hurdles of graduate school, there is a chance that your academic writing will help you win and keep an academic job, but you are unlikely to earn anything from your writing directly. Incidentally, Samuel Johnson may be the most famous “Dr.” never to have gone to graduate school; his doctorates were honorary, and no one seems to mind.



173 comments:

  1. Certainly, the quality and quantity of what you write affects the salary of tenure track professors. Much more so than your teaching. We are paid to do research and write and if you do well you get promoted get pay raises and get jobs at better paying universities. Not much different from a staff journalist at a newspaper. They aren't paid per article or word either.

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    1. In the U.S., junior faculty members are hired at a certain salary. Apart from incremental raises that everyone on the faculty gets, that salary doesn't change unless and until tenure is granted.

      Theoretically, someone hired as an assistant professor could "coast" for 5 years without publishing anything and then walk away without tenure. Unfortunately, a much more common scenario is one in which someone works like crazy teaching and writing for 5 years, but still doesn't get tenure for whatever reason.

      "Coasting" by tenured faculty members who don't publish anything is viewed as a problem, but you can see why they decide it's not worth the trouble.

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    2. mOOm, as someone who has done both journalism and academic writing, I find so much wrong about your comparison that it isn't worth the dignity of a full response.

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  2. I think that while in grad school, your "payment" for writing is the potential of getting a stable/tenure research job thereafter. It is not paid monetarily, but you can say you're paid for in hope. Just like you don't get paid to get a K-12 education, and you definitely don't get paid to go to college, then why do it at all? Why not work at the age of 16, or whatever the legal work age is in your state, instead of slaving away at a higher education institution where you have to pay to work? Because people get an education and go to college in HOPES of getting a good job, one that is better than if they didn't. I think it's the same principle in grad school. Most people know grad school is a pain, but they do any way to try to get a better job. What else is a B.A. in philosophy or psychology or sociology going to do? And if you like research, you're even more screwed because an R.A. job that pays $20-$40 with no room for advancement is no way to be called a career.

    While yes, I agree that grad students don't get paid to write in terms of money, it is a necessary part to get to where they want to get...that is, a tenure position or a research associate position. Plus, who in their right mind would pay these writers?! Only the people in the field cares about the inane, nonsense thousands of publications that come out each year. Further, science writing is not like creative writing. It is not an art form that will be passed down generations and scrutinized and analyzed. So why should we treat it as if it is one?

    BTW, I found this blog while deciding whether or not to go to grad school or get a job in the industry. It's been eye-opening but rings true. While I'm not in grad school, I've become somewhat jaded based on some of the things I've seen working in a lab (i.e. the hierarchy, the politics, the long days/years, the smugness and so on). I think this blog should be a required reading by career counselors and everyone considering grad school- esp in the humanities. It is not to discourage everyone from pursuing higher education, but to give people a realistic view of what to expect.

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  3. A staff journalist has only one job, though, and that's to write for a specific publication. A staff journalist doesn't have to search for a publisher for his or her work, which takes time. Nor does he or she have additionally have to teach a few classes a year or advise students or serve on committees. Plus, a staff journalist is hired by the publication in which he or she publishes. The same person making money from his or her articles is the person paying for them. Academic journals make money, but they don't pay the salaries of the people who write for them.

    I do agree that graduate students' dissertations don't count here - I paid for the privilege of writing a lot of papers when I was in school, but I really count it as having paid for the privilege of learning more about the subjects I chose to study, as well as research and writing. But the point of graduate school is to be a professor, and most professors don't get paid for the bulk of their writing.

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    1. Then there are grad students who turn out to be ghost writers. In other words, the student does the work to produce the data and writes the paper, and the supervisor filches all the credit.

      My first grad supervisor apparently did something like that a year or so before I started at his university. I don't recall all the details, but, apparently, he passed a paper off as if he had done all the work. The student who actually did it found out and the incident became rather nasty, nearly going to litigation.

      That supervisor had a habit of treating his grad students as his personal hired help, acting as if he personally paid them out of his own pocket. With that thinking, he probably thought he owned whatever results his students obtained. (I don't know whether that's legal, but the ethics are certainly questionable.)

      He had a tendency to hang on to his grad students and if one actually completed a degree, let alone on time, it was probably by accident or because he was ordered by the university to get the students to finish.

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    2. My former advisor was one of the worst when it came to this. He layed claim to entire monographs composed of chapters researched and written by former grad students in exchange for a measly wage.

      The students were so naive and, in hindsight, were willing victims. So desperate were they for the advisor's approval or the ability to say that they had publications of their own, even though their names were relegated to a footnote. Those who felt uncomfortable about what happened were unlikely to say anything contrary for fear or retribution.

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    3. I started grad studies and had the aforementioned supervisor in the late 1970s and early '80s.

      Back then, one didn't challenge one's supervisor without jeopardizing one's academic prospects. Also, there was no Internet, so if something happened, one rarely heard about it unless it was through, say, the department grapevine. Anybody in such a situation was often quite isolated because of that.

      Nowadays, that might not be the case.


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  4. Not only are you not paid, there are no professional benefits. Academic writing is not valued anywhere outside academe. Having a CV full of peer-reveiewed monographs and articles in top notch journals will not improve your chances at landing a non-academic job.

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  5. AWOL--You make a very important point which should be considered by anyone who's going to graduate school in the hopes of having an academic career. Given the job market and the ways in which college and university administrations are changing, there's a good chance you'll have to find work and a career elsewhere. If anything, academic writing hurts your chances of getting non-academic work, especially writing work. That's because people who are paid to write are usually expected to write fluid, straightforward prose that more or less sounds like what people speak. Academic writing is the exact opposite: dense, abstruse and full of references and terminology understood only by people in a particular area of research.

    When I was pursuing my MFA, I talked with a PhD student who was teaching in the school in which I was teaching and studying. She told me that if I wanted to do a PhD, I should be ready to abandon my creative writing for a while. "Academic writing is a completely different animal from creative writing," she said. "They require different mindsets." She added that if someone tries to do his or her creative writing while doing his or her academic writing, "both will suck."

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    1. I can attest to this. Throughout my entire career in college and grad school, professors have specifically tried to wring all of the creativity out of my writing. Unfortunately, it wasn't until grad school that I realized how much I hate academic writing and that my resistance to writing in the conventional academic style was the only way I could make the process tolerable for myself.

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    2. A number of years ago, I applied for a technical writer position with a local software company. I thought that my experience in writing while a grad student and as an instructor at a local tech college would be of interest. After all, writing technical papers and educational publications requires that one be clear and concise.

      It turned out they were more interested in someone experienced in writing ad copy. I didn't get the job.

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    3. No Longer An Academic, I think your experience sums up grad students' perception of their academic work.

      Whilst in grad school you think everything you do is furthering your career. You imagine your academic work can fit into nonacademic roles. However, employers don't see it that way. I didn't get the job either...

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    4. Anonymous @ 2013-01-22 0604:

      Yup.

      I used to teach at a local tech college. In the old days, one's pay was determined by one's education and length of service there. The longer one taught there and the more education one had (up to, say, master's level) the more one got paid.

      That changed the year I quit. The grid became only one line and that was length of service. Oh, there was an extra bit of money available for additional qualifications, but those could be any number of things such as professional registrations as well as graduate degrees. The catch was that each extra credential was only worth less than 5% more pay, and we were allowed a maximum of 2.

      What a way to treat its "valued" employees.

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    5. I completely agree. I love writing, blogging, etc., just for the fun of it. But, it can be hard to get enjoyment out of writing when your worried that it might affect how you write your next research paper, etc. For some reason though, I still love both types of writing and would find it hard to give up either type.

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  6. Grad school is infantilizing. Teachers assign you stuff and you work hard to impress them. It's the same thing you've been doing since first grade.

    You're conditioned to think that somehow this makes sense. You don't get anything for doing it and it's mostly pointless, but you're happy just for the recognition of having done a good job, whether you get a gold star on your spelling test or a "high pass" on your comps. Then, you carry this into your career, smiling with delight when you read a positive review of the book you spent six years writing but your publisher can't give away.

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    1. I found that grad studies were more like a religious cult or a political ideology.

      I often butted heads with my Ph. D. supervisor because I, apparently, didn't have the "right" attitude. I'd spent several years in industry and worked on projects in a number of areas, including R & D. For me, working on my thesis, once everything fell into place and I finally had something to work with, wasn't a whole lot different than what I did in industry.

      He frequently lamented that I wasn't sufficiently "curious" and didn't spend large amounts of time chasing trivial tangential details. Then again, he didn't really understand what I was investigating or the computer model I created in order to do it.

      Maybe I hadn't been properly indoctrinated. The fact that I haven't written anything in years must be a sure sign of that. Since I'm working on my research on my own terms, and since I'm paying for all of it, I get to dictate what and when I'm ready to write something. It may as well be worthwhile rather than putting something in print simply to give the impression of being productive.

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    2. Interesting. That makes me think of how professors in grad programs expect the grad students to just "read around" in their spare time in the hope of finding some tangential detail to investigate further. To be a success in academia -- scratch that -- to have any hope of getting anywhere in academia, you have to be the kind of person who finds digging through scholarly journals a valuable use of what is ostensibly your free time.

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    3. Russkiy Aspirant:

      I don't think the issue is how one spends one's free time. Rather, I'm convinced that many career academics know they're on the gravy train for life but they have to find ways to create work for themselves in order to justify their paycheques.

      My Ph. D. supervisor, for example, didn't seem to care what he investigated so long as there was money in it and someone else footed the bill.


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    4. @ No Longer An AcademicJanuary 22, 2013 at 6:17 PM

      "I found that grad studies were more like a religious cult or a political ideology."

      Grad studies are exactly an initiation rite into a religious cult; and they do come with a political philosophy. There's an excellent book on this subject: Jeff Schmidt's "Disciplined Minds."

      More generally, the so-called "scientific" tradition in west is something of a synthesis between the Catholic scholastic educational system (which founded the original great European universities) and the amalgamation of various European occult secret societies of the post-renaissance - Masons, Rosicrucians, alchemists, illuminists, philosophes, etc. For example the British Royal Society is overtly Masonic and was laid down according to the rules given by F. Bacon in "The New Atlantis."
      So grad school, like any other self-respecting occult society, has initiation rites (the various comprehensive exams), degrees (bachelor, master, doctor), codes (try to read a paper outside of your field), fancy uniforms (the lab coat or the robe&square hat you wear at graduation), and everything else.

      Now, in the old days, higher education was indeed religious inasmuch as it was explicitly associated with the various Churches. For example Harvard was founded as a religious school. Over the last three centuries, the Churches largely lost control over higher education. We are told that this is good, because the Churches were irrational and now everything is nice and rational and sciency. That's a pleasant-sounding doctrine, but the reality is different. Namely, there is a new religion now, with a new priestly class. That new religion is "science" and its priestly class consists of the technicians and the "scientists." The basic dogmas of this stientistic religion are every bit as metaphysical as the dogmas of, say, the Catholic Church. The Church insists on divine creation, while the "scientists" opt for self-creation. The Church says God created man, while the scientists opt for abiogenesis. The Church says matter is not all, the scientists say matter is all. The Church says there is free will, while many scientists believe in total mechanistic determinism. These are all metaphysical doctrines. And they are not equally valid. Some are binary, i.e. one side is definitely wrong.

      The bottom line is, yeah, grad school is, among other things, an initiation ritual into what is in effect an occult ("occult" in the literal sense, i.e. "hidden" or "secret") religion.

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    5. Anonymous @ 2013-02-04 1805:

      That wasn't what I had in mind.

      I was thinking more along the lines of a totalitarian environment where one's actions and thoughts are not only controlled but actively monitored. Any deviation from officially prescribed behaviour is immediately suspect, often with dire consequences. A recent example was seen in North Korea when Kim Jong-il died. Anyone not caught loudly wailing in lamentation at his passing, along with gnashing of teeth and rending of raiment, could have earned themselves with a one-way ticket to a labour camp.

      Grad studies isn't much different. Anyone who doesn't outwardly display mandated academic conduct could find themselves shunted into some intellectual netherworld from which there is supposed to be no return.

      It's more like an Orwellian version of "The Stepford Wives".

      By the way, several years ago, I came across a set of podcasts or some such thing which were an audio reading of "Disciplined Minds". At first, I thought the author made sense, but it didn't take long before what he said was complete twaddle. Listening to that, I wondered whether he had any idea of how the real world actually operates.


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    6. This sort of deviates from the point of the original post (88), but I want to address a few things that were said here.

      1) Science is NOT a religion. It is a methodology by which one can obtain information about the natural world. There is no concrete belief system in science; there are paradigms and conjectures, which come and go, and there are theories, which are well-supported by scientific evidence and tend to persist over time.

      2) No one controls your thoughts in grad school, or at least that's not the point of being there. Everyone will want you to see the world the same way they do, so you have to consult many sources to avoid bias. True academic progress is driven by strongly-held but conflicting views. Most of my professors/advisors had disparate views about even the fundamental tenets of their respective fields. I have often had major disagreements with colleagues (and advisors) and vice versa. If we were all on the same page, what would be the point of doing research, or writing a thesis for that matter? The thing is, if you want to present something that is truly novel, and contradicts a lot of previously-held assumptions in your field, you have to be prepared to defend your arguments very well, because they will be met with a great deal of opposition.

      In my view, the "indoctrination" happens earlier than graduate school, when the most current worldview available is simply "injected" into students. If anyone here remembers high school (pep rallies, lunch period, closed campus), it would seem absurd to single out graduate school as a "cult."

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  7. Some Berkeley grad students made a parody video, "(I Can't Write) No Dissertation."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42odMdLwZKI

    It's supposed to be lighthearted and funny, but I can't get over how sad and pathetic everybody looks and sounds in the video... not to mention how sickeningly familiar it feels to me.

    These are the lofty heights of the Ivory Tower, folks. There's not much up there.

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    1. I can relate to that.

      When I was writing my Ph. D. thesis, I couldn't wait to get it done. Once I set my mind to do something of such magnitude, I tend to continue until it's finished as it's hard to get me to stop.

      When I passed my candidacy exam and, several months later, after I submitted the review copies to my committee, I didn't work on my thesis for a few days. It felt weird because I felt there was something missing.

      After I had my thesis approved, signed, and submitted, that weird feeling returned. Several years of work had finally come to an end and I wondered what I was going to do with myself. I went back to my teaching position, but I did that only for a paycheque.

      I decided that I wasn't going to do anything related to my thesis or research for several months. It did me a lot of good as it gave me an opportunity to re-adjust to "civilian" life.

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    2. My father did the same thing. He wrote his dissertation thinking he was going to work in his PHD field (Ed. Admin.), but instead ended up being promoted to a full-time lecturer. Luckily, he has secured a TT position at the same college, but the fear of getting nothing for all the work of getting a PHD scares me more than anything. In fact, it scares me enough to potentially quit school altogether after finishing my MS.

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    3. Ryan, that's a very healthy fear. Act on it. Finish your MS, by all means, and then get a job and start to live.

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  8. The writers don't get paid. The peer-reviewers don't get paid. (OK, you might get $200 for peer-reviewing a book manuscript, but you get zilch for articles.) The journal editors don't get paid. The book reviewers don't get paid (unless you count the free book).

    If you think that half the stuff should never have been published in the first place (as a lot of people do), then the whole system seems pretty nuts.

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    1. This is actually a serious question, as sarcastic as it may sound.

      Subscriptions to these journals cost money. If the writers, reviewers, and editors don't get paid, who does? I guess the money must go towards the professional society that runs the journal (e.g. sales of Renaissance Quarterly benefit the Renaissance Society of America), but then what? The officers of these organizations aren't paid, either, and membership/conference attendance isn't cheap.

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    2. Eileen, a lot of journals are being taken over by for-profit companies like Wiley-Blackwell, who leave the work of editing to the professional societies. The content of the journals costs the companies nothing, because academics are desperate to get their work published.

      The companies make money by charging subscription fees; libraries get charged much higher subscription fees than individual subscribers.

      As for books, academic publishing is a money loser. University presses increasingly rely on generous donors to stay afloat, because sharply declining library sales don't turn a profit anymore.

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    3. Eileen,

      I know in history at least - the American Historical Association which publishes 1 of the 2 premier journals for US history - makes most of its money from dues and the annual conference.

      As you can see, its publications operate at a significant loss.

      http://www.historians.org/info/annualreports/2010/index.cfm

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    4. Anonymous @ 2013-01-24 1227

      One reason academic or even educational publishing is losing money is because of the limited run of what is produced. Textbooks are rarely best-sellers, making it hard to recover costs. As well, sample examination copies given to profs and instructors for review add to the overall price because they're usually given away for free.

      Then there's the matter on what's in the book. When I was an undergrad, full-colour pictures and in-text sidebars were rare. Nowadays, they're quite common, partly because someone in the system figures that's what students want. A presentation style like that costs money, further increasing the price of textbooks.

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    5. Textbooks are a special case. If you write a successful textbook (basic economics, introductory french, whatever) that becomes widely adopted, it can be one of the few ways to make some money from an "academic" book.

      I put "academic" in quotes, because even though textbooks have the potential to reach a wide audience, they're not regarded as worthy scholarly output. Writing (or co-writing) a textbook won't get you tenure at most self-respecting colleges.

      To get tenure/promotion, you have to write monographs published by an academic press. (Textbooks tend to be published by commercial presses.) Except in rare cases, monographs don't sell well. There's no money to be made from monographs.

      Academia has a way of punishing success. "Popular" scholarship written for the public (or basically anything that makes money for the author) is generally not regarded as genuine scholarship by the academic community. Envy is probably at play, because popular success comes to so few academics.

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    6. Thanks for the explanations - I guess I assumed there were no print copies of most of these journals and thus they cost way less to produce than to purchase. I didn't realize that they were technically published by for-profit companies.

      And yeah, I knew that about textbooks/monographs, but thanks for the reinforcements. Although I do think part of the reason monographs sell so poorly is that no one wants to pay $150 for a 200-page book, whether the subject is interesting or not.

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    7. Do you want to see something interesting? Here is the price list for "institutional subscriptions" for journals published by Oxford University Press:

      http://www.oxfordjournals.org/access_purchase/2013/institution_price_list.html

      Some of the science journals cost college libraries almost $5000 per year. The "cheap" humanities journals cost about $300 per year. Oxford University Press has somehow remained a prestigious imprint despite having morphed into a commercial business.

      You might think that online publishing would have lowered costs, but the journal prices keep going up. There is a lot of money changing hands, but you wouldn't know it from the perspective of someone writing and submitting articles to these journals.

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    8. While on the subject of library publications, the following has some interesting comments about electronic books:

      http://spectrum.ieee.org/podcast/at-work/education/do-libraries-have-a-future

      Considering the profits that can be made, it's little wonder that paper publications are slowly being phased out.

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    9. "Nowadays, they're quite common, partly because someone in the system figures that's what students want."

      Well, "student centered" is the mantra these days. We have to offer what the customer wants, right?

      McGraw-Hill redesigned its entire product line following a big study they did about what students actually do read. They found that students actually read a lot of text - just not in book form and not all in electronic form either. Surprisingly, they found students will still read (not subscribe to, but browse) magazines quite often. So they designed a lot of their textbooks in magazine format - lots of pictures & captions.

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    10. Aaron:

      I had enough experience with student-as-customer that I concluded it was a way of administrators to avoid showing any leadership or taking responsibility.

      I saw how textbooks changed over the years and I can't say it was for the better. When I was an undergrad nearly 4 decades ago, most of my books were fairly simple in presentation. The terminology and jargon used was appropriate to the subject and the artwork was usually black and white--no fancy colours required.

      When I quit teaching over a decade ago, I wasn't particularly impressed with what I saw. The language used was usually little better than what was in a colouring book as, apparently, post-secondary students couldn't handle big "fancy" words. (Of course, few of my students used a dictionary, let alone a thesaurus.)

      The graphics were equally as appalling. Lots of bright colours all over the place. (Of course, that also meant the prices of those books went up accordingly, but that aspect was rarely discussed.) The worst was how the examples were presented. When I was an undergrad, most of the books I had were written before calculators became popular and one figured things out using a slide rule. Now, each example that was worked out included little pictures showing the reader which key had to be pressed, as if the students were incapable of figuring that out by themselves.

      If people want to discuss the aspect of the dilution of educational standards, maybe they should take a look at textbooks as a contributing factor.

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    11. @ Eileen
      Who gets paid? The so-called "1%" gets paid. The guys who own everything.
      I mean nowadays they charge $30 for the download of a single paper... Which was written for free by academics who were glad to get published; and was reviewed for a token fee by other academics who couldn't care less. The costs of publishing are almost 0 - nowadays papers are just tiny pdfs.

      The whole thing is a transparent scam.

      Let me give you a specific example. Look at this guy's bio, Bob Maxwell:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Maxwell
      He was a straight-up white collar gangster. At one point Mr Maxwell happened to own Mcmillan, which, to my knowledge (correct me if I'm wrong?) is one of the largest academic publishers in the world.

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  9. This is where the Life of the Mind/For the Love of Academia mantra started to lose its power to me. I went to grad school because I loved academia. For the first few years, that was enough for me, because I felt involved in the department and interested in my work, and I loved to write.

    But, at some point during the dissertation processes, writing for free didn't seem so enjoyable anymore because I'd started to really value my time. I'm not very money driven to this day, but I've started to place a huge priority on my time.

    Life is not eternal, and we all have less time than we think we do. As the post says, you have to consider whether this is the best use of your time, and quite a large chunk of your life as well. I don't regret going to grad school, but I do look back and shake my head at all the time I spent writing, day after day after day.

    I think this blog provides a great service by giving reasons to not go to grad school, and then allowing people in the comments to say that things such as this was the particular reason they left, or the reason they chose not to seek a TT position, or this being the reason that made grad school very difficult. For me, #88 is the reason is the reason I never looked for a TT job after my PhD.

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    1. I soon after I started grad studies in the late 1970s, I found out that the academic life as portrayed in Hollywood movies and PBS documentaries is largely an illusion.

      The first thing to destroy that portrayed image was how academics behaved towards each other. When I was an undergrad, I thought of my professors as being the elite of my profession. It turned out that many were simply better-educated versions of the same scoundrels and miscreants that I encountered in industry.

      The next thing was how academics often treat their grad students. There are some who are good and watch out for their academic subordinates, but those are in the minority. Some exploit their students, such as writing papers but not receiving credit either as authors or in the acknowledgements. Others simply ignore some or all of them because they hold those students in contempt and don't do anything for them, hoping they'd eventually go away.

      Then there are the employment prospects. The best I could do after I finished my Ph. D. was to go back to that craphole of a tech school I was teaching at. It kept my position open while I was on leave for my residency, so I had a job waiting for me. However, I hated it before I returned to university and I hated it even more afterwards. What was the point in getting a good education when the best I could do was to teach students for whom colouring book language seemed like Shakespeare?

      I don't regret getting my graduate degrees, either, but I'm unhappy that the rewards I thought they would bring never really materialized.

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  10. This is interesting.

    My writing in graduate school was always a bit different from that of my peers or my professors. I was publishing articles in graduate school. I was also publishing genre fiction, and I was editing (for pay) dissertations. I don't think that graduate school helped make my writing better, but of all the garbage I went through, the one positive thing I can say is that my advisor (as much as I hated her) really didn't bash me for my fairly unconventional writing style. I had one jerk (who, thankfully, has passed to the next world) who yelled at me for the way I wrote.


    I have made some money from my writing--about eight thousand all told from stuff in my name and more from contract work. And I've had a few of my academic articles cited by others. That's nice, I suppose. But the academic writing was a lot of work for not much in return.

    I've often been stunned by how bad most of the academic writing I've seen is. It's bloodless and jargon-filled crap. I often laugh when I realize that the authors of this swill are teaching writing.

    It's interesting that in writing there is very little correlation between effort and reward. For example, my academic articles probably each took about a hundred hours to crank out (if you count reading and research). No pay. Then, when I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education, I spent no more than 5 or 6 hours and got paid 500 bucks a throw. I did an interview with an author a few years ago and got a grand for about 25 hours of work, and I did get paid about 1200 for a piece of genre fiction. It's pretty random.

    For me, getting paid for my writing has been great. I suppose I feel some sense of accomplishment for making very tiny interventions in a very small academic sub field, but while I do teach, I don't publish very much academic stuff anymore. A little bit.

    Douglas W. Texter

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  11. Academic writing is like charity work. You don't get paid and you rarely get acknowledged or thanked for it. In fact it is worse in a way because noone else sees value or the point in doing it except other academics. Arguments that you need to publish to become competitive on the job market are also a fallacy since there are no jobs out there to apply for. Plus, everyone competing for them likely has lots of publications too.

    Yet we have convinced ourselves that publishing in itself is the most important thing in higher education, more important than learning to teach or doing research that has some tanglible benefit for society. It's a sad situation now that higher ed have come down to this.

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    1. Anonymous @ 2013-01-25 1445:

      "....no one else sees value or the point in doing it except other academics." The thing is that what's actually valued is not what one wrote but that one wrote something. I mean, how many people really read one's papers? Very few, if any, and only those who may be interested in the topic(s) covered by those publications.

      Wasn't there an experiment some 15 years ago by an academic who deliberately published a bogus paper? If I remember correctly, if he hadn't owned up, people would have continued thinking that it was genuine. (I sometimes wonder if I would write a paper filled with absolute gobbledegook and have it published. I'm sure that there's a journal out there somewhere which would be willing to print it.)

      Then again, what does one expect from a system where the ultimate goal isn't to make discoveries or convey knowledge, truth, and wisdom, but to get that magical job for life and climb on board the gravy train?

      Delete
    2. Yeah, when I was in graduate school, they told me, "Publish, so you can get a job." Leonard Davis in the Chronicle also said that you should have three articles before you go on the market. The truth is if you go to an Ivy for your Ph.D., you can have published nothing and get a good job. If you've gone to a second- or third-tier school, you can publish your butt off and get nothing. There's no correlation between effort and reward.

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    3. Anonymous @ 2013-01-25 1747:

      Then there's the aspect of one's affiliation when one submits a paper.

      I remember hearing a radio documentary on that topic some 30 years ago. Someone conducted an experiment in which manuscripts were submitted to selected journals but the employers of the authors were left off. The acceptance rate was, as I remember, uniform. Who the authors worked for apparently didn't seem to matter.

      Then manuscripts were sent in but which corporation or campus the authors were associated with were included. Guess what? If one was at Snooty Top-Tier University, one had a better chance of getting that paper published. On the other hand, if one was at Podunk College in Coleslawvania--wait for it!--one had a better chance of having the paper rejected. Quality seemed to be of lesser concern.

      The whole business is nothing but a shell game, isn't it?

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    4. "The truth is if you go to an Ivy for your Ph.D., you can have published nothing and get a good job. If you've gone to a second- or third-tier school, you can publish your butt off and get nothing. There's no correlation between effort and reward."

      Bingo!

      The data back you up, too. Check out David Brooks' new column in the New York Times:

      "Robert Oprisko of Butler University found that half of the jobs in university political science programs went to graduates of the top 11 schools. That is to say, if you have a Ph.D. from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and so on, your odds of getting a job are very good. If you earned your degree from one of the other 100 degree-granting universities, your odds are not. These other 100 schools don’t even want to hire the sort of graduates they themselves produce. They want the elite credential."

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/opinion/brooks-the-great-migration.html?hp&_r=1&

      Think about that when you choose your grad school.

      "These other 100 schools don’t even want to hire the sort of graduates [READ: Ph.D.s] they themselves produce."

      You would expect a doctoral degree from a place like Ohio State or Florida or CU-Boulder to be unquestionably solid, but it's not. A run-of-the-mill Ph.D. has no leverage on the job market.

      You wouldn't believe the abysmal job talks I've seen given by candidates from the Ivies. It doesn't matter. They get the job.

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    5. Anonymous @ 2013-01-25 2353:

      I've seen the same thing in my discipline.

      In the department where I did my Ph. D., the grad students who were held in the highest esteem were those with the highest GPAs. Never mind that many of them had never been out in the field, set foot on a shop floor, or worked in a design office. Many weren't even professionally registered.

      The fact that they had an impressive transcript meant that they were automatically assumed to be better at engineering and would be more qualified for academic jobs than I, with several years of actual professional experience, would ever be.

      Then again, the attitude in that department was that anyone with a background that wasn't purely academic had next to no chance of being hired.

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    6. Hmmmmm. In my graduate social sciences program, if you got a grade less than an A- in a class, it was considered a sign that you shouldn't be in the program. It was another one of those things they didn't tell you when you started but became painfully clear when it happened.

      As a result, I assume that everyone who stayed in the program had a high GPA, but it wasn't something I heard discussed in grad school.

      In retrospect, what we did in classes seems more pointless every time I think about it.

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    7. @ No Longer An AcademicJanuary 25, 2013 at 3:07 PM
      "Wasn't there an experiment some 15 years ago by an academic who deliberately published a bogus paper?"
      Yep: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair
      The experiment was a total success because postmodernism was (and is) a construct of pure nonsense. Its main proponents were hacks and frauds.

      The essay below is instructive as to what was going on at the heights of post-modernism back in the 1980s:
      http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/01/lost-in-the-meritocracy/303672/

      Away from the humanities, trivia takes the place of nonsense. For example, in mathematics, people spend their time establishing true results. Some of those results are even interesting, and a few may be important. The problem I see with this arrangement is that there are infinitely many true mathematical statements which one can establish, but only finite time which we can spend on this Earth. Which is not to say we shouldn't study mathematics.
      The more theoretical branches of physics and engineering also seem heavily mathematical. Though at least the engineers play around with toys. Again, I'm not a particular fan of the utilitarian mindset, I see nothing wrong in pursuing truth for its own sake. What bothers me is the question: While all truth is good, is all truth important?

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    8. Anonymous @ 2013-01-27 1409:

      My Ph. D. supervisor kept reminding me about that sort of thing. I had a respectable, though not outstanding, GPA. But I've found that having a high GPA is neither a sign of intelligence nor is it a suitable measure of talent.

      I've known engineering students, both grad and undergrad, who had high GPAs but they would have been completely useless out in the real world. They would have been a menace in industry where things have to get done and ingenuity is a necessity. All a high GPA shows is that someone had a good day when writing their exams.

      Personally, I think my Ph. D. supervisor kept harping about my GPA as a subtle way of getting me to either abandon my thesis project (which he never understood, nor was he ever interested in it, by his own admission) or, better yet, quit altogether.

      By implication, he was comparing me to his favourite grad student with whom, I suspect, his dealings were less than arm's length, which might explain why she has a tenure-track position at a university elsewhere in the country and I couldn't get anybody to say boo to me.

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    9. Anonymous @ 2013-01-27 1623:

      In engineering, one is expected to investigate whatever happens to be popular (i. e., funded), preferably something which might result in commercial products. If the latter doesn't happen, then at least make sure it keeps being funded. Never mind if it's feasible, or even practical--if the money rolls in, it's worth looking at.

      My Ph. D. supervisor spent years doing research in a certain area. As far as I know, nothing practical or commercially viable came of it. The only things that were produced were several graduate degrees and a number of publications.

      Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised. He wasn't an engineer himself and, in his mind, engineers had no place whatsoever in a university engineering department. (Huh?) I guess the thought of doing something that actually might turn out to be useful was anathema to him.


      Delete
  12. "You would expect a doctoral degree from a place like Ohio State or Florida or CU-Boulder to be unquestionably solid, but it's not. A run-of-the-mill Ph.D. has no leverage on the job market.

    You wouldn't believe the abysmal job talks I've seen given by candidates from the Ivies. It doesn't matter. They get the job."

    No, no, no - I have an Ivy League Ph.D., and I am in my sixth year on the job market - soon to be seventh, since I got no interviews this year. ONE of my friends finally got a tenure-track job after five years on the market; almost all the rest still have not. I have investigated some of the jobs I applied for but did not get, and they mostly went to non-Ivy people - once actually from the aforementioned Ohio State.

    I have concluded that there is no pattern - neither genuine merit NOR the unearned reputation of your school matters; it is all a crapshoot.

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    1. I know a few people in the same fix. At least some of them were picky and kept waiting for a sweet spot away from bucolic middles-of-nowhere and institutions near nuclear stations. Though as far as I gather there also are competent people with publication records and diplomas from decent universities willing to do anything anywhere anytime and unable to land a gig.

      The job market also varies from field to field, though there seems to be a universal deluge of PhDs.

      Age and immigration status are two other factors. The older and the more immigrant you become (so to speak), the harder it is to land a job.

      Yeah, it doesn't look good. What a depressing post you made. Six years! When family? When house? When stability? And most freshly minted PhDs are pushing 30 at the least... What a mess. Hope everything works out for you. And for all of us, for that matter. Including the armies of unemployed non-PhDs.

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    2. Then there's the aspect of preferential hiring. Many well-qualified applicants are turned down because the employer has to abide by some government mandate to meet a quota. I know someone who has a tenure-track position at a second-tier university because of that.

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    3. More on topic for this post - one thing about a book is that it does bind you to the profession in a way that other things do not. Many times over the last few years I have thought that I made the wrong decision in going to grad school, but now that my book has been published, I don't want to wish it out of existence - not that it is seminal or anything, but I think I did a good job, and it is an intrinsic part of my life now.

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    4. I'm sorry James! Keep trying!

      Getting a *good* job is difficult these days. Some industry jobs also get dozens or more than 100-200 applications. Unfortunately academia is in a worse mess. It's not the good old days anymore. Talk to any new JD and things get *really* depressing.

      I found for the community college job I got there were 80 applicants. Those odds were actually pretty good considering some jobs out there get 400 applicants.

      I applied for for about 30 jobs around the country and did get several interviews. Only one was in a horrible middle-of-nowhere place, the others were all nice. I really think it IS luck. From what I know about my grad school colleagues the people that got jobs and the people who didn't seemed to have no patterns, rhymes, or reasons. Certainly some of my colleagues were stronger students than myself and didn't find anything, and then some that were fairly poor got jobs their first year out.

      Then there are those adjuncts that vainly hope a job will open up at the school they're at or at one nearby. I really feel for them.

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    5. @James (January 28, 2013 at 11:16 A.M.)

      < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRNPmIRebwQ >

      < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcAG69ot2Oc >

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    6. The most consistent predictor of getting a tenure-track position is either the right connections or "diversity hires" in STEM.

      Delete
  13. I'm not saying Brooks's data are false, but I wonder if they apply beyond political science.

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    1. No, the study was confined to poli sci, and only surveyed a couple hundred schools I think. Generally speaking it found Ivies have an stronger rate of getting jobs at the top state institutions. It was in the chronicle of higher ed not too long ago, and a bunch of people outside poli sci said that's not the case in their disciplines.

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    2. I find this interesting because the conventional wisdom in poli sci was that your advisor mattered much more than your school. For example, Condi Rice got a PhD from the University of Denver and was immediately hired at Stanford.

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    3. James, for what it's worth, I don't think anyone that we've hired in my large department at a large R1 public university over the last 7-8 years has not come out of the Ivy League.

      20 years ago the department was full of faculty with public university credentials. Aside from the odd case here or there, we weren't the kind of place that attracted faculty from the Great Universities.

      It has got to the point now where the department is dominated by them, and they hire people from the Ivy League networks that they know and trust. The department now routinely turns down job candidates from the Ivy League, but only because we couldn't possibly hire them all.

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  14. And it's worth keeping in mind that the last good area of the PhD job market was in the South, just because there had been an expansion in higher ed institutions across the region over the last few decades - now even that is dead

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  15. Going back to the topic of publishing.....not only do you not get paid to publish but there are even some dubious journals that actually try and pressure you into paying to get published! What a racket.

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  16. Sick of Grad SchoolFebruary 4, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    Yes, yes, yes. This is one of my main reasons why I want to leave academia. Someone mentioned earlier how academic writing is generally filled with unnecessary jargon and I totally agree with this. I find that academic writing, especially in the humanities, is unclear, long, and boring, and no one outside of academia reads it. Look at how some of the "famous" academic scholars write. Judith Butler has some of the worst, unclear writing I've ever seen in my life yet somehow she's revered in academia and higher ed classrooms across the United States are forced to read her bad writing.

    Last semester, my classmates and I joked about how sleep deprived we were after writing 25 page papers for each of our courses. We were joking but it still made me sad to see that we were essentially wasting our time writing papers that no one's going to read. The time spent writing papers could have been spent doing something that's actually fruitful, like taking a yoga class or learning how to cook. You may not get paid to do these things, but there's some sort of benefit or reward at the end of the tunnel. There's rarely a reward for academic writing. No wonder why most of my classmates are depressed and spend their time in solitude.

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    1. Then there is the "knowledge economy" - a phrase conjured by academics to justify their research as meaningful to someone, somewhere, somehow.

      Delete
    2. I had to do a presentation on a chapter by Judith Butler once to an audience of non Lit majors. It involved re-reading the chapter some obscene number of times, and making notes over and over again, until I could successfully present it in a way that it could be understood. I was praised for presenting the work in a clear and accessible way. Of course, this is a veritable insult in academia. Butler gets praise precisely for encasing some interesting ideas in such garbage writing. If she's a benchmark for good academic writing (and sadly she is for many), then not only are grad students spending a lot of time writing, they're spending a lot of time writing, or aspiring to write, total crap.

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    3. Often the term "knowledge economy" is simply an excuse for exploiting people who work in the business. The results of one's work isn't always concrete, compared to, say, what a tradesman in manufacturing or construction does.

      Because of that apparent intangibility, one is never really off the job because it's hard to show one actually accomplished something.

      Been there, suffered for it.

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  17. As I work on my dissertation (which has taken me much longer than I ever thought possible) and contemplate my future, I feel paralyzed.

    I'm applying for one job after another -adjunct, tenure track, everything- and not even a phone interview yet.

    Do I really want one these jobs? That's the question that haunts me. At this rate, I may never have to worry about it. The thing that bothers me is that if I ever do get offered one, am I going to feel like I have to grab it and cling to it with all of my might?

    There are so many stupid things about this way of life. Seriously, you don't get paid for writing! If I don't end up getting a spot in academia, have I wasted all this time?

    Would feeling like it was a waste be worse than getting a job that I was afraid to let go of but didn't really like?

    On the other hand, I don't know what to do with my life if I can't get into academia. I feel like I'm in a cage.

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    1. Don't think it's any better in industry. I was reminded of what it was like after watching a documentary about the early days of Silicon Valley on PBS earlier this evening.

      During the 1980s, I worked for 4 "high tech" outfits in a space of 7 years, most of them having a lot in common. All claimed they valued education, but, unless one was chummy with the "right" people, it was of little use. They had management which, at best, was barely competent. There was inter-office politics and factionalism, with a lot of back-stabbing going on. Most claimed to be marginally solvent financially, though rarely were. Often, one went to work wondering if there was a job to go to the next day. The reality was that many in the lower echelons were poorly paid while the management hauled in the loot like bandits.

      To keep on topic, most of them held good writing in disdain, even though there was a definite need for it. Properly writing a report or recording what one did was often seen as frivolous or pointless by one's superiors because there was the continuing claim of "no time" for that sort of thing.

      The real reason why there was a need for it was because sometimes one had to write reports as part of the work one did. Equally as important, however, was proper recording of one's work for future reference. Often, someone would inherit a file from a colleague or former employee and, frequently, it was hard to decipher what was done.

      In short, those places were the epitome of bedlam and mayhem. It kind of sounds like academe, doesn't it?

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    2. Your comments remind me of what I was thinking near the end of my degree, when I began to see the writing on the wall.

      My advice - if you want it - is to finish the dissertation as fast as you can - that is, if you are close to it and you have gas left in the tank. Cut corners, shorten the length, and delete any problematic chapters or sections - just get that draft for defence. Do the minimum needed to fulfill the program requirements and get the hell out of there so you can make a proper decision about what to do next.

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    3. Anon Feb 5 at 6:33: if it's any consolation, many people at your stage of the game feel paralyzed, from those who really want to be a TT superstar more than anything down to those who can't wait to be done and leave academia forever.

      I don't know your background, but for people who go through the education system from kindergarten to a doctoral degree with few or no breaks, this is often an inherently scary, isolating, overwhelming time. See the earlier reason on this blog relating to the psychological cost of quitting.

      It's unfortunate that grad students aren't told or encouraged to think about alternative career paths if their academic path doesn't work out. I do think it's up to the individual to think about these things on their own, but being in an environment where it's encouraged and openly discussed, like it is among bachelor's level students, makes a huge difference. So, I'm not surprised that you, like many grad students, can't imagine what to do with your life if you can't get into academia.

      There's no easy answer and it's never simple to transition out of academia, even if you hate it and can't wait to be done with it forever- trust me on that one. It's also not easy to transition into a TT job, a VAP job, or an adjunct position should you get one of these, which is something I hope this blogger raises in a later post. However, just because you're paralyzed and overwhelmed right now doesn't mean you won't be able to carve out a good future for yourself in some career, somewhere. I did, so did many other people I know. I don't have any answers for you other than to offer support and say you're not the only one who got stuck at this stage of the process.

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    4. For a lot of us, the confusion never goes away. A friend of mine has a nice tenure-track job at a nice private university and a book coming out from Oxford, so he is unlikely not to get tenure. He recently told me a story about discovering that the woman next to him on a flight was also a young professor from a different part of the country. They ended up having a conversation and both admitted that they weren't sure if they liked being professors.

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    5. Anonymous @ 2013-02-06 1012:

      One reason for the fear you mention is the rules for getting and keeping a job in the real world are different than the academic environment.

      Out there, one actually has to accomplish something in order to justify a paycheque. Time is money and any employer that can't get things done punctually will quickly find themselves bankrupt and anyone not able to make a valid contribution towards that objective becomes a needless expense.

      Someone I knew from my Ph. D. days went to work for a major electronics firm in my country shortly before she finished her degree. She quit after a few years and now has a tenure-track position at a second-tier university. Her reason for changing jobs was that she didn't like it. That could very well be, but until she went working for that company, she spent almost her entire life as a student. Maybe the change from that environment to being an employee was too much for her.

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    6. Anonymous @ February 5, 2013 at 6:33 PM: You have my sympathy, as I am in the SAME EXACT POSITION as you at this moment. Working on the final components of the dissertation, applying for academic jobs I'm 80% certain I don't want, and being continuously haunted by that 20% uncertainty: what if I walk away, and realize I've made a huge mistake?

      Like you, I am split between wondering what's wrong with me and my CV that I can't even score a phone interview, and on the other hand, dreading getting an interview or an offer, because I'd feel compelled to seize the opportunity even though I'm pretty sure I don't want it.

      Sadly, I feel so much more directionless and inadequate now than I did a decade ago when I was graduating from college with a social science BA.

      Delete
    7. I have an honest question. How do you spend so long doing something and still not know if you want to keep doing it?

      I know that grad school isn't the same as being a professor, but by the time you're finishing a dissertation you've spent a lot of time working with professors and seeing what their lives are like, right?

      What makes grad students so confused about what they want for their futures?

      Delete
    8. Anonymous @ 2013-02-11 1520:

      One reason is because there's often the hope that things will change for the better. For many people, that never happens.

      Unfortunately, society is intolerant of quitters. Packing it in before one is finished is seen as a personal as well as a professional failure. Spending a lot of time in university without having anything to show for it doesn't look good on one's CV.

      I came close to bailing out of my Ph. D. because I was stuck and my supervisor didn't lift a finger to help. Sheer stubbornness on my part, plus some good old-fashioned luck, allowed me to finish my degree.

      Besides, I wasn't about to give certain people the satisfaction of quitting, thereby showing to them that I didn't have what it took to earn a doctorate. I'm glad to say that I proved them wrong.

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    9. Come on, I'm not being condescending because I'm not an academic at all (only have a BA and had no inclination whatsoever to go to grad school) but it's not that they don't know what they want, it's just GETTING what they want that's extremely difficult especially these days. Read the many reasons on this blog. Sure, they should "see" that earlier or whatever but I can see where one would think it's still worth trying because you never know especially if you love something but then the problems build up and then what do you do? Not easy to figure that out at all.

      Delete
    10. Anonymous @ 2013-02-12 0654:

      It was like that since I started grad studies more than 30 years ago. It wasn't any easier back then than it is now.

      Delete
  18. Outsider here.

    Wow. In my particular line of work, state government, the ability to write quickly and succinctly in words that even an elected official can understand is prized above rubies. I am paid to write and paid fairly well at that.

    I gather the academy does not teach that kind of writing, though. Law school sure didn't.

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  19. I think this reason is extremely relevant.

    Also, it's very laborious to produce academic writing, and possibly MORE laborious to read it.

    Then there's the pointlessness of it. Maybe 20% of the articles I've ever read actually say something novel and useful and that's a generous assumption.

    In history it's so frustrating too. There's such a huge market out there for history. Academic historians for the most part completely surrender it to journalists and amateurs, some of whom are good, but some are complete hacks.

    All because of the jargon and having to "talk to" or "respond to" the prevalent arguments in the sub-field in question. There's such an opportunity to make themselves relevant in an era of budget cuts and republican 2-minute hates against the liberal arts. And they blow it.

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    1. Aaron:

      One reason why most publications aren't particularly original or useful is because originality in research isn't encouraged. In academe, everything depends upon funding and that funding depends upon results.

      Doing something novel might result in unfavourable results (which is of concern when the research has commercial applications), no results (which might not necessarily be bad as this situation might support a theory), or, perhaps worse, ambiguous results (which often happens).

      Rather than jeopardizing that funding, researchers often resort to the status quo because there's better chance of getting results. When that happens, there's a lot of repetition, even among different groups working in the same field.

      Don't forget that one purpose of a publication is to describe to a reader what was done. Often, the procedures are be long and involved, but they have to be described unambiguously. The language used can sometimes be tortuous and convoluted but it has to be accurate.

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    2. This is my experience writing articles for historical journals, at a very basic level.

      1) Read a lot of stuff in your subject area. 2) Find some source in the footnotes that author didn't use extensively, and/or search for gaps in the narrative - ANYthing, that the author(s) neglected. 3) Write your own article using those sources to fill in the gap that either refutes or supports the prevalent historiography of that subject.

      If you're really lucky you'll stumble onto something no one's written about. Odds are someone has, but maybe not in the last few decades so you can spin it with the new theory du jour or some new angle. That's basically what I did, since what I wrote about was covered, but not in the last 70 years or so. So I was able to re-write it without the racism and come to new conclusions.

      Now, that does produce some useful scholarship. Like I said, about 1 out of 5 articles. But 4 out of 5 times, it's some kind of re-hash or so obscure that only another researcher delving deeply into the same sources would ever want to consult it - and then they'd probably only consult in order to try and refute it!

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    3. 1 out of 5 is too high me thinks. I'd peg it at one out of 20 when it comes to academic journals.

      The pattern definitely is to take the fashionable theory and research conclusions of the day and to apply it to your own case study. Then add some witty title that suggests it is a novel study, of course with a semi-colon.

      Usually, such studies are so myopic and specific (e.g. the history of missionary activity in a town of 200 residents over a ten year period) that no-one would ever bother to read or challenge it.

      Delete
    4. You have a point on 1 out of 20. I was being charitable.

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    5. Agreed, and it's so frustrating. People definitely care about history, but the only academic historians who write for the well-educated-non-expert public are, like, endowed chairs. Emeriti. I didn't even go to graduate school, but I still get a lot of people asking me for recommendations on particular areas of study they know I enjoyed...and I often have a hard time coming up with something that doesn't require the reader to be familiar with a zillion other articles and writers on the subject. I can only imagine it's worse for people who've had another seven years of study, on both ends.

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    6. Aaron:

      Your comments described a good part of what I did while working on my Ph. D. thesis. I read a lot of papers on the the subject I was investigating but many of them seemed to cover the same material. Nothing unique or particularly interesting caught my attention.

      The method I finally used for my computer algorithm came to my attention quite by chance. I contacted someone in a different department about a technique I was looking at and he referred me to someone else at a university elsewhere in my country. That someone else worked on the method I would use and things fell into place after that.

      Had I depended upon my literature search alone and the publications that other people had written, which pretty much said the same thing over and over again, I might not have completed my thesis. The only real value that those had was to provide information on how to model the various parts of the system I was examining.

      Never underestimate the influence of good old-fashioned luck in getting things done.

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  20. Earlier in this tread someone mentioned the way that elite schools completely dominate Political Science.

    Well, it's not just poli sci. This was posted on Marginal Revolution today:

    "The Path to Being an Economics Professor: What Difference Does the Graduate School Make?" by Zhengye Chen

    Abstract: What success do US graduate economics programs have in terms of having their graduates achieve associate or full professor status in top ranked economics departments? Of the 138 Ph.D. economics programs in the United States, the top fifteen Ph.D. programs in economics produce a substantial share of successful economics research scholars. These fifteen Ph.D. programs in turn get 59% of their faculty from only the top six schools with 39% coming from only two schools, Harvard and MIT.

    http://ssrn.com/abstract=2193581

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  21. " These fifteen Ph.D. programs in turn get 59% of their faculty from only the top six schools with 39% coming from only two schools, Harvard and MIT."

    by
    Zhengye Chen

    University of Chicago

    LOL, Chicago is on that list but ranked 5 out of 6, and there's a huge gap between the top 4 and the bottom 2.

    ReplyDelete
  22. "All because of the jargon and having to "talk to" or "respond to" the prevalent arguments in the sub-field in question. There's such an opportunity to make themselves relevant in an era of budget cuts and republican 2-minute hates against the liberal arts. And they blow it."

    Agreed - and when you think about the fact that writing an academic article takes 20-30 hours, thats a huge chunk of time that could be spent teaching night classes to the general public at a local community center or library. This would be way more beneficial to the public, but that's not what counts in academia. As it stands, academia is just a sitting duck when it comes to funding cuts in the age of austerity we are in. The public doesn't see much benefit to what academics do (and increasingly can't even afford to go to the higher ed institutions where they teach or even buy the stupidly expensive books that academics churn out), so they have little tears to shed when humanities funding gets cut. Where's the part of the CV documenting service to the community? This blog is doing a great job of documenting what a dinosaur academia has become. And it's definitely dying out, faster even than most would expect. Just wait for all the people who entered PhD programs looking for guaranteed funding as a result of the crisis graduate. I think you'll see the number of humanities PhD grads with postdocs or positions dropping further from 57% to below 50% in the next few years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 20-30 hours? Are you kidding? More like 200 hours, at least. Every one of my publications has stolen a vast quantity of my life.

      Delete
    2. Maybe he just meant actually writing the draft, not the research.

      Delete
  23. yeah that's what I meant - the equivalent of several whole night courses that could be offered to the general public

    ReplyDelete
  24. When you sit down and consider the time commitment required to produced published research, you realize how weighty this issue is.

    Research can take weeks or months. Writing can take weeks or months. Re-writing after receiving reviewers' reports can require weeks or additional research. Editors can demand additional changes. Formatting issues and permissions can turn into huge time sinks. The process involves months of waiting, and it's broken up in ways that can be unbelievably inconvenient to the rest of your work schedule.

    Articles get rejected, too. Sometimes heavily revised articles get rejected. In those cases, what was the good of all that time and effort? No one was paid for it and there's nothing to show for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. These things happen. One takes a chance when one becomes a grad student and there are no guarantees of success. Risk is always present.

      Delete
    2. All we have in this life is time.

      Academia treats time as if it were cheap.

      Seven years (or more) to a get a PhD is normal. A couple of years (or more) looking for a job is normal. Five more years to get tenure is normal.

      We're supposed to accept all of this.

      40-somethings getting denied tenure and having to start their lives over... normal.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous @ 2013-02-11 1207:

      I've got news for you. The rest of the world treats time as if it is cheap, too, provided one is in charge. In industry, one is often expected to work long, if not unlimited, hours with no hope of compensation, even though labour laws dictate otherwise.

      Do you think it was any different in the past? I was one of those who got clobbered during the recession of 30 years ago. I lost many productive years either holding on to a lousy job or looking for one. I was forced to accept it and make the best of what I had been handed because it was either that or starve and I never did find my "dream" job.

      The world does not owe anybody a living, regardless of how much education one has or how impressive one's CV is.

      Delete
    4. NLAA, I have no idea what industry you worked in, but whenever I worked in the private sector, no matter how menial the job, I was always paid for my time.

      I would argue that both time and money are undervalued in academia, both by the institutional powers-that-be that subject people to ridiculous expectations (work for nothing! work for pennies! it's a privilege!) and by many of the lost souls who wander into grad school.

      The latter discover too late just how important time and money are.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous @ 2013-02-11 1937:

      Where I live, there are labour laws which dictate how overtime should be handled. However, those can be circumvented if one signs a separate employment agreement.

      At the oil company I worked for after I finished my B. Sc., the attitude was, if one was unhappy about the hours one worked, "Don't we pay you enough?" Similarly, after I had been transferred to the last location I was at before I quit that outfit, my supervisor told me, when I asked him about overtime, "We're professionals here--we work unlimited hours."

      Of course, long hours were considered essential if one wished to be promoted quickly which, apparently, was the only reason anyone ever wanted to work there.

      It wasn't much better as a grad student. While I was working on my Ph. D., the grad studies calendar had some sort of code of ethics in it. One clause I found particularly laughable. It stated that both student and supervisor were to view one another as "partners in research". The reality was that it seldom turned out that way.

      Fortunately, the years I spent in industry prepared me for such shenanigans.

      Delete
  25. Sick of Grad SchoolFebruary 12, 2013 at 3:38 PM

    @Anon 2/11/13 7:37

    I completely agree with you. Also, deadlines are meaningless in grad school which is one of the reasons that the author of this blog listed. Many of the people in my program haven't graduated yet because the professors on their dissertation committees don't care about deadlines. When I worked outside of academia, when something was due at a certain date and time, it was due at that time, no exceptions. In academe, things are essentially due whenever people feel like submitting them.

    It seems as if my department wants our lives to be dedicated to academia. There are so many pointless meetings that they want us to attend. Our time is treated as if it isn't worth anything, and it's absolutely ridiculous. At my non-academe jobs, at least I was paid to sit through pointless meetings. Grad school doesn't do this!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My supervisor when I started on my first master's degree didn't believe in deadlines, either. As far as he was concerned, grad students were his personal employees and their job was to produce data for him which he could publish under his own name and, often, claim all the credit for.

      My Ph. D. supervisor was also deadline agnostic. I'm sure he was hoping that, by not committing himself to a timetable, I would become frustrated and quit. I had to force him to set a date for my candidacy exam. Since he couldn't be bothered to arrange for my defence, I did it myself and, in less than a week, I had a date and time that everyone could agree on.

      But, that wasn't enough for him. After I successfully defended my thesis, he decided that there still had to be some more revisions, most of which were trivial, cosmetic, and, for the most part, immaterial to the content. I was already running close to the submission deadline and those changes could have caused me to miss it, possibly getting me into trouble with the university. After some snarling back and forth, he waived many of them.

      I guess the thought that I would actually get my Ph. D., especially before his favourite grad student got hers, must have been distasteful to him.

      Delete
    2. What deadlines? We had people in my old program in their seventh year of an MA. Even though the dept policies stated it was a 2 years program; the college set the max at 5 year with no exceptions.

      PhD programs were the same. There are several people in their 9th and 20th years now, despite there being a max 7 year rule.

      The same went for deadlines for comps, course papers, peer reviews, diss drafts, post-defense revisions. Say one thing and do another. Dont worry,. no-one will question it.

      The phrase academic deadline is an oxymoron. It's no wonder employers don't want grad students - they can't do anything on time.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous:

      I know what you're talking about. In the department where I started my first master's degree, we had a student who was working on his Ph. D.--his second attempt at it, apparently. From what I understood, he came to that department with a master's and ended up with a second one in the same discipline because he failed his doctoral defence.

      From other sources, I heard he eventually succeeded in getting his degree, but it took him about 15 years (including his first failed attempt). Apparently, he stuck around for a few more years and returned to his home country 2 decades after he left it.

      That same supervisor had the habit of enticing master's students with the thought of getting a Ph. D. with the in-a-few-more-years-you-can-have-it line. I think the reality was more like him trying to hang on to the cheap labour as he probably saw his grad students.

      My Ph. D. supervisor tried similar stunts with me. I think he wanted to stretch my time out, as well. Maybe he was looking for cheap labour as well. Perhaps he thought that if he kept pushing off the completion, he'd retire before I was done and dump me on whoever would take over, if there was someone. (The uni had strict rules about that. One could fire one's supervisor, but if nobody wanted to take on that person, he or she was out of luck, no matter how much work was done on the thesis.)

      I also knew the university was cracking down on missed deadlines and I wasn't about to push my luck on that point. I insisted that my degree was going to be finished within the allowed time, but my supervisor tried to fight me about that, claiming that there was more things I could do, blah-blah-blah. Yup, there was some yelling back and forth and, figuratively, some fur flew, but I finally got him to sign my thesis.

      It didn't help that he had a reputation for being lazy, perhaps because he was close to retirement. I wasn't the only one to make that observation. I heard similar comments from someone else in his lab.

      Delete
  26. Grad students spend so much time around professors, and so much time doing what professors do (teaching, researching, writing, conference presenting), that it's easy for professors to forget that their students are students. Unlike them, students can't really make long-term commitments to their current research institution: they need to graduate and settle into their own academic community somewhere else as a professor.

    I've seen so many grad students postpone plans to graduate by, say, the 6 year mark for a PhD because suddenly a great opportunity has come up, and professors encourage them to pursue this opportunity for the CV they aren't even using, because they aren't graduating on time and taking their CV on the market.

    Any professor worth his or her salt should tell their grad students that while it's okay to postpone graduation for one semester because a brilliant CV enhancing opportunity has come up, after that you have to graduate and start doing all this work as an actual faculty member with real benefits and a salary. Otherwise you get used to not only writing for free, but teaching, researching, and presenting essentially for free too.

    However, faculty don't do this because they like the cheap or free labor, student numbers are tied to funding, and faculty know that the jobs aren't really out there. Maybe they think they're doing us a favor by allowing us to stay in the academy for a while longer and sheltering us from the cruel, real world of joblessness out there.

    ReplyDelete
  27. hahaha very true and realistic article, comments and blog as well ... i really appreciate and agree ...

    ReplyDelete
  28. This whole blog is completely hilarious and pretty accurate. I graduated with my BS in 2010, and never looked back, I decided I wanted to work to pay off my loans instead and actually am able to do things like travel and go out and do fun things. I get a lil' sad when my friends who didn't even go to college make more than me from just working and are buying nice cars and houses (I'm almost 25) however, a majority of my friends who went to grad school (with the exception of those (like me) majored in a science and were fully paid plus a stipend for their degrees) went for reasons such as
    1. "the economy sucks and I want to put off paying back my loans...hopefully it will be better when I graduate! tee hee"
    2. "My parents pay for all my schooling anyways, so I would rather just party for some more years than actually get a real job"
    and 3. "Well, I don't know what else to do with my history/liberal arts/music major so I'm just going to go to grad school"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. During the recession of the early 1980s, a lot of people went back to grad school for Reason 1. The result was, when things improved a few years later, a glut of people went back into industry with graduate degrees they never used, if they ever intended to.

      That's one reason why post-secondary institutions love recessions as well as booms in selected areas of the economy. People figure they should add to their qualifications by going back to school, adding to the enrollments and, thereby, adding to their revenues.

      Of course, few people see ahead to when they and their fellow students graduate and what the consequences will be. I remember when the dot-bomb bubble began deflating a dozen years ago, people were still willing to stand in line for nearly an hour just to apply for admission to the place I used to teach at. Most, if not all, wanted into computing but, by the time they graduated 2 years later, that business had imploded.

      Delete
    2. A lot of people don't know what they want to do before they go to college and then they're just as clueless afterwards.

      So some go to grad school in their continuing quest to "find themselves."

      Which is exactly the opposite of what grad school should be about. You're specializing in a particular area, you should damn well know what you want to do with that specialization.

      If people want to "find themselves" it'd be smarter to take the $50K in loans grad school will cost and travel the world for a year or two.

      Delete
    3. Aaron:

      When I started grad school in the late '70s, I knew what I wanted to study. I'd spent 2 years in the oil industry before that, which confirmed my decision to not have a career in that business.

      As it turned out, I was ill-prepared for the academic politics that I encountered because I thought grad studies would be similar to my time as an undergrad. Back then, one rarely heard about things such as supervisors exploiting their grad students.

      Delete
  29. This is a fun and informative blog, but I've got one question. Spread out as it is over three years, might some of these reasons have changed or been superseded in the interim? I look forward to seeing the whole list.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The late 1990s is when things in academia really started to go to crap, so all the reasons still have relevance in my opinion.

      The difference is, post-2007 the "real world" doesn't always offer much greener grass. I have friends that graduated with CIS degrees and their jobs got shipped to India.

      Delete
    2. Aaron:

      Actually, things in academe started turning to rubbish in the early 1980s. During the '70s, there was a lot of money available and all sorts of research, such as in renewable energy, was being funded. (The energy "crisis" of a decade earlier was fresh in the minds of many people.)

      But, there was a severe recession during the early '80s (which, in many respects, was worse than what we recently had), and much of the aforementioned money disappeared. It was around that time that people went to university, partly because of demographics (i. e., the tail end of the post-WW II baby boom), and because people thought they could ride out the economic conditions or, at least, add to their qualifications.

      But, at the same time, universities began to behave like the corporations that many have now become and students were largely seen as sources of revenue. As well, research, at least in engineering, shifted towards product development, resulting in industry becoming increasing involved in the operations of post-secondary institutions.

      Unfortunately, things haven't improved since then.

      Delete
    3. The problems addressed on this blog get worse every year. At the moment #65 stands out to me.

      Delete
  30. My "favorite" thing is when I write something and the editor can't even favor me with a reply regarding the citation. Why do I need the citation? My library doesn't carry the publication, editor doesn't send a pdf, and needless to say I get no contributor copy (much less any monetary reimbursement). Still waiting on a promised contributor copy from >8 months ago (wrote portion of textbook chapter). Query email goes unanswered. If it wasn't for google books, I wouldn't even know what the page numbers are so I can list the thing on my CV. What a colossal waste of time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, the time lags involved in every aspect of academic publishing would astonish people working in the private sector.

      The reason that everything takes so long, of course, is the fact that nobody is getting paid. Authors have to "make" time to write, reviewers have to "make" time to review, journal editors have to "make" time to edit. All of the above are teaching, grading, and trying to get their own stuff published at the same time.

      I've had one article going through the process for nearly three years.

      Delete
    2. I'm a full-time editor for an academic press, and this is absolutely and lamentably true. Our production schedules are almost meaningless because we have no control over how long an author will take to review a copyedited manuscript or a set of proofs. It's not that they don't want to; they simply can't prioritize the proofs for a 300-page book when they have classes to teach, papers to grade, and ruins to dig up. (We publish a number of archaeologists.) We sometimes create our own delays, of course--we're as understaffed as anyone else--but it's usually we who end up waiting on the authors, not vice versa.

      Delete
    3. April W., here's what I've learned about editors at academic presses: (1) they work like crazy, (2) they know the literature in their fields better than the professors do, (3) they write better than the professors do, and (4) they are grossly underpaid compared to the professors.

      That last fact is infuriating when you consider that academic presses are the glue that holds the whole tenure system together.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous 10:36, thanks for the vote of confidence! I love my job, and I usually love our authors, but you can hardly blame them for putting the work that pays their bills ahead of work that pays them zip.

      Delete
    5. Do they really get paid less than professors? That would seem to me ridiculously low.

      Delete
    6. @Aaron I knew an editor with a PhD at a univ. press making something like 36k... an acquiring editor, not a copy editor.

      @April Do you editors ever talk about how you hold the destinies of your authors in your hands? You guys have a ton of power over academics' lives.

      Delete
    7. No, ML, I can't say we do. We're usually more concerned about accepting books that will appeal to our particular market, and then sticking to the elusive schedule and keeping the editorial and production costs within very tight budgets. In case any of you don't already know this, most academic presses do not support themselves financially; they're usually rather heavily subsidized by their university. We pay our freelance copyeditors, proofreaders, translators, and designers much less than we wish we could, and our own salaries are comparatively low, because the books themselves don't make all that much money and the university's financial priorities generally lie elsewhere.

      Delete
  31. Young academics are often advised to "be persistent", and keep sending an article out until they can get it published, even if it takes sending it to twenty journals. "48 hours' turnaround time after a rejection" and that kind of thing. The problem with this is that one is not allowed to submit to more than one journal at a time. So if it takes a year for one journal to even decide whether it wants to publish your article (this is not uncommon)it could potentially take twenty years to publish one article. So the "Why haven't you published more?" thing becomes especially galling. The people who _do_ publish a lot are clearly the ones who are invited to do so by some means or other.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally disagree with this advice. Submit three times and then throw it out and do another one.

      Delete
  32. On a related note: Screw our departments for sending out CFPs for slop publications. "Great opportunities for early publication!" are often low-no impact embarrassments you have to explain away later.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can't win.

      If you don't publish enough, you can't get anywhere. If you publish in the "wrong" journals, you can't get anywhere. If you've never been published before, though, it's hard to get published anywhere but in the "wrong" journals. So what do you do?

      Delete
  33. I am by no means someone who thinks that free markets will solve all of the world's problems, but I think that the lack of financial incentives (and constraints) is a major reason for the inefficiency of the academic publishing "market" and for the poor quality of so much of what passes for academic writing.

    If there were a way for academics to get paid for their work *after* it was published, based upon the way that it was received by an audience, there would be more reason for academics to produce good work. As it is now, you apply for grants before you do the work.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I'm graduating with a BA this semester. I applied to 5 phd programs last semester and got rejections from each one. It's really disappointing, but after reading this blog, maybe it's a good thing.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Like the poster above, I applied to four different PhD programs and had been rejected from all of them. The only difference is that after obtaining my BA, I took a year off to do things like prepare for the GRE exam, visit faculty, and obtain some real world experience in what I wanted to do without the added pressure of coursework. Going into it, I knew that the job market for academia was terrible, at least one of my advisors said as much, but nobody told me, explicitly or implicitly, not to do it, and I was graduating into a recession in which getting any kind of meaningful job seemed doubtful anyway. At the time, it seemed like a risk worth taking.

    Those rejection letters felt like a slap in the face, even if I knew I was in a pool of 100+ applicants for less than a handful of positions. What changed my mind was when a friend shared an article describing the lives of adjuncts scraping by on minimum wage and food stamps. It motivated me to do the research into what it really means to be in academia, and, as painful as it was, I had to conclude that it was only something that I should pursue if I was willing to follow it into poverty and loneliness.

    What strikes me is how much even the admissions process to PhD programs is reflective of what comes ahead. Brutally intense competition for very scarce resources, the resentment that comes from knowing a few of the people who you’re competing against who you otherwise would have been friendly with given shared interests, the quite limited number of programs even relevant to what you want to specialize in, the widespread acknowledgment that success in academia resembles a lottery more than a merit system, being told your entire life of just how talented you are and then having to explain to those same people why you failed to achieve your goals.

    The people who get rejected and subsequently have to rethink their path are probably the lucky ones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I went to graduate school partly because of the 2008 recession. I love the field I chose to pursue and I always have, but the financial collapse made my decision to stay in school a whole lot easier. While I was in school, all of the bad stuff started to blow over, at least in my field/location. Now I'm done and on my way out again and, near as I can tell, America is on the cusp of yet another recession.

      Delete
    2. Over the years, I've found that one always exchanges one set of miseries for another. I went straight into industry after I got my B. Sc. and found, depending on where I worked, politics was more important than actual technical skill. A person can be smart and competent, but if a superior takes a disliking to him or her, for whatever reason, they've had it.

      I thought things would be different when I became a grad student in the late 1970s, largely because I thought it would be similar to what I experienced as an undergrad. Nope. Not even close. I ended up with a jerk of a supervisor who saw his grad students as cheap labour who existed only to serve him.

      Later, when I worked on my Ph. D., that supervisor decided to push me aside because he decided he wasn't interested in what I was working on.

      After I got my degree, I went back to the teaching job I had in a craphole of a tech school. I found that certain administrators thought that having a doctorate, and letting that fact be known, could be a firing offence.

      I left that nonsense when I quit more than 10 years ago and I don't worry about it any more.

      Delete
    3. So if industry was bad for you and academia was bad too, what do you do now? Maybe I missed it, but you must have found something better....

      Delete
    4. I'm semi-retired now and living off some investments I accumulated and managed over many years. In order to do so, though, meant that I couldn't live as extravagantly as many of my peers, so no trips to Europe, vacations in Hawaii, or a fancy car in my parking stall.

      I stuck it out as an instructor long enough for my portfolio to reach a minimum level. When that time came, I asked myself why I was still at that institution putting up with all that stress and abuse. When I decided that it wasn't worth it any more, I handed in my resignation.

      The only thing I miss about not working for anyone else is a steady paycheque.

      Delete
  36. After I passed my comps, I thought that the dissertation would be relatively easy in comparison to what I had gone through preparing for comps. I was excited that I'd have control over what I was reading and writing. I loved reading and writing (or thought I did) and now I was going to have the freedom to follow my research interests where they led me.

    I was an idiot. Working on my dissertation has been the most deadening experience of my life. The research started out kind of fun, but the more I read the more I felt like I was going down an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole of academic hair-splitting. Now I'm writing and doing my own hair-splitting. Years have slipped through my fingers. I feel like a fraud. I heard so many other grad students say the same thing when I first got here, but I didn't know what they meant. Now I do.

    Should I get paid for writing this stuff? No. Am I frustrated that I don't get paid? Yes. Why am I doing this? I don't know. Should I have quit a long time ago? Yes. Can I be persuaded to quit now? No. Does this make any sense? No. Nothing makes any sense in my academic insane asylum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This relationship is toxic. DTMFA.

      Delete
    2. Your situations raise some serious questions that only you can answer.

      Think about this: how would it look on your CV if you show that you quit shortly before finishing your thesis? An employer might not take kindly to applicant who admits that he or she packed it in when things got rough. If you have an interview, this is something you will likely have to explain and not every employer is going to be sympathetic.

      I'm not saying you should finish it at all costs. No degree is worth inflicting irreparable damage upon oneself.

      But think carefully about what it's worth to you. Can you afford to throw all that time, effort, and money away with little to show for it? Since you've already invested so much time and effort into your studies, would you be better off if you quit and, as you seem to indicate, cut your losses?

      On the other hand, how close are you to finishing it? Maybe all you need is a short break and set it aside for a while. Writing a thesis can be quite exhausting and frustrating and, if that's all one does, it's easy to think about quitting.

      Give it some careful thought and, perhaps, speak to a campus counsellor about your situation. That's what they're there for.

      Delete
    3. A good dissertation or thesis is one that's done.

      A lot of programs want their candidates to reinvent the wheel. In the sciences that may be appropriate but in the humanities it's destructive to many of the candidates.

      I say treat the diss like an unpleasant job, work on it for a set amount of hours each day. Try to get a half-page to a page done per day. Then submit the damn thing. Make whatever changes the committee wants and submit it again. If they give you trouble a 2nd time I would start raising hell with the department. In the end it's not in their interest to deny candidates when they're so close.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous @ 2013-03-08 1042:

      When I started grad studies over 30 years ago, I thought that "original" research meant doing something unique. Instead, I soon learned one was expected to work on whatever what one was assigned by the supervisor. At the master's level, that's understandable because one is quite likely a research rookie and might not have enough experience to know what can be considered original. That shouldn't happen when one is working on a Ph. D.

      A lot of what passes for "original" in engineering and, I suspect, science, is simply a variation on an established theme. Interested in investigating left-handed widgets? Maybe that's already been done, but how about ones that are right-handed or left-handed ones with day-glow racing stripes? (Yup, it can get that ridiculous!)

      One thing that rankled my Ph. D. supervisor was that I treated my thesis as any other project I'd worked on in industry. I had experience in working on major tasks for long periods of time, dealing with problems that crop up, meeting deadlines, and writing supporting documents, all of which one has with a dissertation.

      He, on the other hand, thought I was to treat it like some holy quest. However, he viewed it as an irritation and a distraction from what he was really interested in while wondering why I didn't do as he wanted and not as he did. Then again, he'd never worked in industry and had disdain for people like me who actually did.

      Like you, I concentrated on finishing my thesis. When I went into my defence, I knew very well that there was no guarantee that I would pass it. But, if I hadn't, I was prepared to butt heads with my committee and it would have had to have a good reason for flunking me.

      As it turned out, I did pass, though I have no details as to whose thumbs might have been pointed down. Maybe it wasn't much of an issue as I could tell who actually read it based on the questions that were asked. I wouldn't have been surprised if I was successful because it wanted to get rid of me.

      Delete
  37. An average high school newspaper probably has a larger audience than most academic journals in the humanities.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Perhaps the only way is to found an online journal with like-minded friends and publish yourself that way. As the Sokal Hoax shows, no one reads these things anyway, so why not?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha, damn, that Sokal thing really shown how pathetic and lame science became; so much mumbo jumbo and no substance...

      Delete
    2. Well, to be fair, the Sokal article was written BY a physicist, but published IN Social Text, which is not a science journal, and whose articles were not subjected to peer review at the time. The point Sokal was trying to make was that a physicist would have realized that the article was nonsense if Social Text had sent the manuscript out for review, or if anyone with a good understanding of the field had critically evaluated it.

      Delete
  39. the whole debate about "open access" for academic journals ignores a larger point - who the hell would actually want to read them if they are all moved online? How many armchair historians would actually read some Medieval studies journal when they could just read a book about Medieval history written by someone who actually knows how to write a narrative (aka probably doesn't have a PhD). There are thousands of journals listed here - http://www.doaj.org/doaj?uiLanguage=en, all can be accessed by anyone. And who actually bothers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Open access makes a lot of sense when talking about engineering, scientific, and medical journals, because a small fraction of the research does have applicability to real problems.

      Delete
    2. At the AHA conference this year, there was discussion about that at the presidential address. Professors used to be represented among the bestselling history authors for the general public. Now they're not, with a few exceptions. Those exceptions are basically full time authors hired by universities.

      Problem is, a lot of academic historians have disdain for "popular" history.

      The problem is that the history discipline is so focused on micro-topics that it's impossible to get interested in it unless you are also a specialist in that area. If you write a narrative about something it will never be accepted unless you are already a big name.

      Delete
    3. "[W]ho the hell would actually want to read them if they are all moved online?"

      The same people who want to read them now, and they'll have much better access to the material.

      I don't know how I would have gotten my graduate work done in even a remotely timely manner without online journals.

      "How many armchair historians would actually read some Medieval studies journal when they could just read a book about Medieval history written by someone who actually knows how to write a narrative (aka probably doesn't have a PhD)"

      Umm... who the hell cares? If I said "hey you put that table together wrong" and you said "no my dad said this is the right way to do it and he's super good at building stuff," what do you think my next question is going to be? "What do the INSTRUCTIONS say?"

      Academic literature is very much like an instruction manual, it's boring as hell to read, but we NEED it. Armchair anythings can read whatever they want, but without primary references, those other books wouldn't exist in the first place.

      It is a shame that academic writers are not compensated for their efforts. Most of the time, especially for OA, you actually have to pay to publish. Reason 88 on this blog definitely stands out as one of the most compelling to me, but I don't think it means that academic literature is worthless; "undervalued" is more like it.

      Delete
    4. I don't think anyone's saying there should be "no" academic literature, but there is too much of it.

      I agree that some is useful - like I said above maybe 1 out of 5 articles I've ever read have some merit, and one out of 20 are really good or make important strides in the field.

      Otherwise they're focused on banal micro-topics or they apply the theory du jour to an old topic or particular case study.

      Delete
  40. the disdain for popular history is one of the funniest things i've encountered in academia. How dare someone without a PhD write a book about history for the general public! How can he be qualified, having not spent 7 years writing some dull micro-study that will only be read by his committee!

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    1. Yep. This is why the historical profession is held is such low esteem nowadays. They have no conception of their public role or function, despite the fact that their salaries are subsidized by taxpayers.

      Delete
    2. Puts me in mind of Carolyn Heilbrun, the late professor of English at Columbia who wrote a very popular mystery series under the pen name Amanda Cross. She kept her identity secret for years in order not to jeopardize her chances for tenure (which she did eventually receive).

      A professor of literature earning fame and fortune as an actual writer? Horrors!

      Delete
  41. "Umm... who the hell cares?"

    Gee, somebody drank the coolaid. The difference between reading technical instructions and academic journals (open access or not) is that technical instructions will actually be read by more than 5 people. Which says a lot about academia.

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    1. The journals will be read by people who NEED them. Some of those readers will end up using that information to write articles/books for the general public. So, effectively, the information will get out to more than five people, albeit probably in a watered-down, biased format. At least the journal, if it is appropriately reviewed, will retain a record of a coherent, original dialogue after it is misinterpreted by a host of secondary sources (it happens a LOT).

      Look, maybe we're talking about apples and oranges here. I don't know what the situation is in the humanities regarding the quality of academic literature AT ALL, but I never hear people in the sciences complaining that "there is too much academic publishing." If anything, the opposite is true. There were many times when I was doing research that I wished I could find more literature on my subject. Hell, even bad literature would have been awesome. A lot of the time, I instead relied on personal communications from people thousands of miles away.

      If you're not interested in a particular micro-topic, you're probably not the best person to judge whether it merits further study. Also, I stand by what I wrote earlier. Why does it matter if journals move online and people don't read them so much? At least each manuscript is only taking up something like a square micron on a hard disk in some server, rather than an entire chapter in a book that is much more cumbersome to distribute.

      I feel like this has been discussed before, but am I missing something here? Can anyone give me an actual example of academic literature that is not worth keeping, and makes no real contribution of any kind?

      Delete
  42. I recently received an desk copy of a textbook. It reads like it was written for fifth graders. I'm thinking of writing my own textbooks and posting them online for free so as to ruin the market. That will show them.

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    1. Do it!!! Better yet, create something more interactive with animations and stuff. I remember two thing about textbooks: they were ridiculously expensive and I almost never used them/bought them unless I had to. It was easier to listen to lectures and get by like that, though the information probably wasn't as good. That being said, if your book adequately covers the course material, and you offered it for free to professors as supplementary material, you could very well put a dent in the textbook monopoly, or at least get the ball rolling.

      Delete
    2. I collect those free desk copies and sell them when the book buyers come around.

      Delete
    3. Those cheap A-holes in the department had the temerity to ask for our "free desk copies" back at the end of the term. Unbelievable.

      Delete
    4. But that's not how the "market" works.
      Here's how it works:
      The "taxpayers" pay (property & other) taxes.
      Money funnels to the schools and universities.
      Big business (including big publishing) strikes deals with the universities and the schools and the latter buy overpriced shiny textbooks or require such textbooks for class.
      Tuition rates rise and students sink into debt.
      Profit.

      Delete
    5. 6/2/13 is missing just a few things.
      After money is funneled to the schools and universities, there are:

      Building projects!
      Renovations!
      Administrative bloat!
      "Clean energy" "investments!"
      Social engineering initiatives!
      Administrative shuffling!
      Administrative salary increases!
      Increased lobbying!
      Tech infrastructure purchases and upgrades!

      In other words, the textbooks are just a small part of this, and "big business" is less at fault than bureaucrats "growing" the institution and their own paychecks.

      Delete
  43. Sick of Grad SchoolMarch 15, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    I had a meeting with my adviser yesterday, and she told me that I need to stop worrying about my teaching and to focus on my writing/research interests. I'm currently being funded as a Teaching Assistant, so I'm technically getting paid to teach, not to write. If my research and writing are so important to my department, then why don't they pay me for it? Wouldn't my department give me a Research Assistantship or a Writing Fellowship if they REALLY thought my writing was so important?

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    1. Not to mention that your teaching performance gets regularly reviewed (by students!) and the reviews go into your permanent record, and every time you apply for funding it's that record that the department looks at.

      Delete
    2. During my Ph. D. residency, I was fired as a TA. Technically, I was one for a term but was dropped to the bottom of the list the following term. Apparently the undergrads didn't like me very much.

      That wasn't surprising. I was an instructor at a nearby tech school and took leave from it to finish my degree. Many of the undergrads in that class were about as bad as the brats I had to teach.

      What took me by surprise, though, was that I was never officially notified of my dismissal (I may as well call it what it was, though the department was too cowardly to do so). What made it worse was that the grad student advisor knew about it and said nothing until I cornered him in his office and asked him what went on.

      I'm sure that I might have done something to upset someone, but the fault was by no means entirely mine. There was simply no leadership in that course. The prof, a recent graduate from the department, acted like he couldn't have cared less and it became evident that he didn't when he jumped to a different university a year or two later. The labs were run by a sessional lecturer who was grad student equally lacking in responsibility. He was finishing his degree that term, so what could the university do? Fire him?

      Fortunately, things changed several months later. That useless twit of an advisor was succeeded by my thesis supervisor and one of his department buddies. Through his efforts, I was allowed to be a TA again for the following academic year.

      Delete
    3. There's a Reason about that.

      It's also one of the problems grad students have wrt finishing in a decent time. In Europe all PhD students do is research, and they're finished in 3 or 4 years typically.

      Delete
  44. At my department, students were normally eligible for a funded semester without teaching duties in their fourth year...AFTER they had taken qualifying exams. It was not possible to get the $ and take a semester actually preparing for the exams, which would have been much more helpful. So it happened that I wound up in front of my section the day after I had taken the exam in my major field, saying, "Guys, I just took an eight-hour exam yesterday. I'm just here to answer your questions." Call it bad time management if you want, but if you haven't been there, you don't know.

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  45. “Congratulations 100 Reasons! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this exciting information.”

    read more

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  46. What is up with the two month gap between posts now?

    This blog has turned into someone's never-ending thesis.

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    1. Yeah, it's actually starting to give me flashbacks to my own never-ending thesis days.

      Delete
    2. My initial thinking was that the author was attempting to space out entries to give the conversations in the comments section a chance to fully develop as well as increase the productive lifetime of this project (after all, what happens after post #100?).

      However, as it seems as if this point has been fully explored and we're left waiting for #89 (a situation which has happened with the last few)...I'm not so sure about any of that.

      Delete
    3. Indeed, I feel strange tension, like everyone are are waiting impatiently for new entry while checking if there is anything else left to say about this topic.

      My prediction is that, if post #100 is last one, commentings will never stop, and this should indeed be left opened for commenting forever...

      Delete
    4. "Indeed, I feel strange tension, like everyone are are waiting impatiently for new entry while checking if there is anything else left to say about this topic."

      Pretty much.

      Delete
  47. My funding got cut right as I was starting to write my thesis (physical sciences). Apparently some profs do not consider they should pay you once you enter the writing phase, which in my case reinforces the idea expressed in this post. My advisor probably thought this would be a motivation tool for me to finish faster, but this hasn't turned out to be the case. I felt trapped. Instead of trying to keep their current students afloat, departements would rather accept new student that will later add to the problem.

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  48. The race to get to 100 reasons is starting to drag out and take much longer than expected. Kind of like graduate school.

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    Replies
    1. Lol, sounds like pun intended xD

      Delete
  49. My dissertation was published, but far from getting paid for it, I had to pay for part of the production costs--at a reputable academic press.

    In my current job, I do a lot of writing, but I get paid for every word, even if the prose I am required to produce is usually far from inspiring and often deadly dull.

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