Monday, June 23, 2014

93. There is no getting ahead.

Graduate school attracts highly ambitious people, despite the fact that academe is a terrible environment for highly ambitious people. How so? There are precious few moments of forward progress in an academic career. In academe, there is no getting ahead; there is only survival. If you survive your comprehensive exams (see Reason 81), survive your dissertation (see Reason 60), survive the job market (see Reason 8), and survive the tenure track (see Reason 71), then you can hope for exactly one promotion: from associate professor to full professor. That's it. The academic career ladder is very short. Unless you happen to be among the tiny cadre of academic superstars (see Reason 67), there is little hope of moving from one institution to another to improve your lot. If you earn tenure at an institution, you will likely never leave it. The "honor" of serving as department chair is a burden, not a privilege. For traditional academics, even moving "up" into administration has become difficult, as there is now a professional administrative class within higher education.

Of course, academe is supremely effective at frustrating your ambitions long before you find yourself (if you're very lucky) in a quasi-permanent academic job. In a recent poignant essay describing his frustration with the process of trying to secure a tenure-track appointment, Patrick Iber remarked: "Of all the machines that humanity has created, few seem more precisely calibrated to the destruction of hope than the academic job market." At the time he wrote those words, Dr. Iber had a PhD from the University of Chicago, a book contract with Harvard University Press, and a visiting lectureship at UC Berkeley; he was in a far better position than most academic job candidates. That does not make his painful experience any less real. On the contrary, it highlights the profound professional disappointment experienced by highly accomplished people throughout academe. There are now nearly 3.5 million Americans with doctorates (see Reason 55) but only 1.3 million post-secondary teaching jobs (see Reason 29), and the oversupply of PhDs is becoming a crisis in the rest of the world as well. A Norwegian newspaper has called it the academic epidemic. Legions of graduate students spend years of their lives preparing to compete for jobs that are few in number and promise little opportunity for advancement. The academic world is one in which ambition is rewarded with disappointment millions of times over.



123 comments:

  1. The academic job-to-doctorate ratio is even worse than the numbers make it look, because the 3,484,000 doctorates counted by the Census don't include medical doctors or professional degrees. Those are just the Ph.D.'s and Ed.D.'s. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report of 1,267,700 postsecondary teachers includes all community college and vocational school instructors.

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    1. Have you seen the unemployment rate for doctorate holders? It's 2.2% that's even better than for professional degrees. Not everyone with a doctorate goes into academia. There are lots of private companies and research institutes that higher doctorates as well.

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    2. It is true that not everyone with a doctorate goes into academia, and that there are lots of other entities that hire (not "higher") doctorate holders - esp. government and government contractors.
      This will no doubt continue to be the case as higher education costs rocket into the stratosphere and indebted students increasingly turn to loan forgiveness programs involving employment with... the (federal) government.
      The (extremely high) costs for this will be passed to the taxpayers.
      Anyone else see the problems with this?

      As for the quoted 2.2% unemployment rate for doctorate holders, I am certain that this figure is just as totally accurate and straightforward as the official 6.2% unemployment rate for the US economy. I'm sure it doesn't exclude PhD holders working part-time, PhD holders working in underpaid positions, or in unrelated jobs, or jobs requiring a lesser degree of educational attainment. I am equally certain that discouraged and long-term unemployed PhD holders are included in that 2.2%. So go and get that PhD, work for the Bureaucrat Party and enjoy a lifetime of riches, wealth, and public bennies!

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  2. Pleasantly surprised though I was to see a Norwegian paper referenced, I am not at all convinced that the 'PhD Oversupply' problem is of the same species or even genus in different parts of the globe. The numbers are different, the relative numbers differ, the current economic conditions differ, and cultural attitudes (even in Norway) are not the same; the results will perforce be different.

    The "academy epidemic" (academic = "akademisk," not "akademi") of the Morgenbladet article - and the related articles that Morgenbladet has also run (i.e. "Eit Land av Doktorar" and more to the point "De Har Ikke Den Praktiske Erfaringen Vi ønsker") appear to be more closely concerned with the practical requirements and related training for the needs of the economy. The 'country of doctors' meme is a manifestation of these concerns, where Norway produced more than 10,000 PhDs in 10 years, and is on track to having perhaps as many as 40,000 PhDs after another decade. In a nation of 5 million plus, this is 0.8% of the population. The concerns voiced seem to be less about the sheer numbers than the appropriateness of the education to broader social needs (e.g. experienced medical workers, laborers, and professionals) - at least in the publicly available portions of the articles.

    One is tempted to observe that the details may have changed, but some of the attitudes have not really changed since Ludvig Holberg's day. Book learning is suspect and to be ridiculed as impractical. More disturbing, the needs of the broader social construct are such that access to education levels should perhaps be controlled, so as to assure other labor force needs are met, perhaps even *regardless of ability or merit.* However, even an 'oversupply of PhDs' in Norway at 0.8% of the population is a "crisis" that the small, manageable, and (through careful use of natural resources and investment) wealthy nation can readily meet - it is not a large-scale centrally-planned disaster involving millions.

    The People's Republic of China (see the 'Chronicle of Higher Education' article linked in the blog post) faces a very different set of issues. Rapid expansion of the higher education sector has been partly to fuel rapid industrialization and to satisfy the more chauvinistic comrades regarding Chinese competitiveness. The cynical observer might note that said rapid education expansion also served as a pacifier to the increasingly dislocated lower and aspirational classes. As a consequence of this rapid expansion, quality issues have emerged, especially with regard to originality and significance of research. China's 'PhD overproduction' will result in education sector bubbles (demography here as in Norway plays a role, but China's population age structure is against it in this context) and will play out differently as millions of overeducated, unemployed, disconnected and impoverished Chinese youth will react differently than thousands of overeducated, unemployed comparatively wealthy Norwegians with working social networks.

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    1. @Anonymous (June 23, 2014, 1406 hours):

      So much for CLASSLESS society.

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    2. The space race will need all those PhDs

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    3. Especially the ones majoring in postmodern literary theory.

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  3. (continued) -
    The USA is different yet again. Here I believe the issue is less about the numbers of PhDs. Even using the Census count of approximately 3.5 million (which I believe is counter-indicated by the statistics in the CHE article of 1.35 million PhDs graduated between 1920-1999) this is on the order of the 'Norwegian emergency' of 0.8% of the population. This ignores a number of issues, not least of which is the fact that *not all PhDs are going to go into higher education* but will rather seek out other employment - sometimes in preference to what the ivory tower has to offer.

    In concluding, "There Is No Getting Ahead" concerns itself with issues that are considerably insubstantial. The relatively flat hierarchy of academia (discounting administration which brings its own issues) is not necessarily a bad thing, but it's almost hinted that this hierarchy needs to be expanded so as to allow the participants a greater feeling of accomplishment on their road to tenure. I cannot help but feel that given the title, the author might have had more impact considering the article published in the Wall Street Journal (Sat/Sun June 21-22 2014 p. A3) "When School Loans Hit Home" - specifically the impacts that high college and graduate school tuition rates and related loans are having on the nation's youth, and the likely effects on the nation's economy. When a veterinary graduate has $450,000 - that's not a typo - in student loans and intends to pay 10% of income (presently $6,500) over the next 25 years and "hopes to have the remainder forgiven" (by the taxpayers footing the extravagant bills for US education policy foolishness) not only is she not getting ahead, but we are all in deep sh*t.

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  4. "The academic career ladder is very short."

    I had a discussion about this a few years ago with a full professor in an endowed chair at a flagship university in a beautiful city. Hearing about the let-downs of an academic career from him was eye-opening.

    Considering how life-crushing it must be to get denied tenure, it's noteworthy that "post-tenure depression" is apparently pretty common:

    http://chronicle.com/article/Ive-Got-Tenure-How/130490/

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    1. I would love to hear more of what you discussed with this professor. Seeing my own advisor's life up-close (asst. prof, flagship, great city) was part of what dissuaded me from continuing grad school. He has a decent life but nothing special, and plenty of frustrations. Work/life balance kind of sucks. I'm hard pressed to say that his job, even if I could ever land it, would be worth the journey. And he's pretty much won the academic job lottery.

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  5. After a very very loooong gap the 93rd reason has been published. How long do we wait for the balance seven reasons?

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    1. I started a doctorate program one week after this blog started. I defended my dissertation and graduated before this blog hit #85.

      just saying

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    2. Reason 94 - Working another part time job either frowned upon or punished with expulsion

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    3. Reason 95 - Even if you do finish your Ph. D., nobody takes you seriously unless you're an academic. If you work in government or industry, your doctorate is seen as second-rate or even tainted. ("Not good enough to be a professor, eh?")

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    4. But if you're a chemist, you're just happy to have a job.

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    5. You must not work in government then. There are lots and lots of Phds that work in government. The State Department and DOD are filled with them. They combine practice and theory, and yes they are taken very seriously. My own doctorate is being funded by my employer.

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    6. Do they actually work for the government as a civil servants or are they contractors? If they're the latter, are they permanent employees of a given firm or are they on the payroll for the duration of the contract(s) in question?

      Many years ago, I was one of many people working at a certain government facility. The vast majority were contractors who were paid by what we used to call "body brokers".

      Those firms didn't offer goods or services as such. If the facility needed a few extra people those outfits provided them. There was little vetting so, as far as the government was concerned, the people they got could be nothing but misfits, screwballs, or simply bums off the street. There were few benefits, if any, and no job security whatsoever. One worked so long as one had a contract and, if it wasn't extended or a new one wasn't offered, one was unemployed.

      I didn't particularly like that. When my contract expired, the firm washed its hands of me and I had to hit the bricks again to scrounge a living of some sort.

      Time, however, can be a great avenger. Nearly 2 decades ago, there was a major storm in the part of the country where the body broker I was associated with. The company had no electricity to continue its operations for several days and, thereby, missed some critical deadlines. I didn't feel sorry for it when I read that it had gone belly up as a result.

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    7. "You must not work in government then... My own doctorate is being funded by my employer."

      If you work for the government your doctorate is being funded by the taxpayers - not your employer.

      Delete
  6. Having just completed a comprehensive exam this week, I feel this post is very timely. It seems to me that there is no getting ahead in academia precisely because every aspect of academic life is so subjective, or just plain arbitrary. On the other hand, consider most business people: they produce quantifiable products and get quantifiable results, making their success easier to measure, and making them more accustomed to a clear career trajectory.

    I had to smile at your assertion that the honor of serving as department chair is a burden, not a privilege. My department recently went through some administrative reshuffling, and when I last saw our new department chair - a man who had actually taught me during undergrad - I congratulated him on his new post. He smiled and mentioned that there had been no congratulations from his colleagues when his new position was announced, only thanks - presumably because they were relieved at having dodged the bullet themselves.

    I hope the updates on this blog become more regular, even though we are zeroing in on the last few reasons!

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  7. "On the other hand, consider most business people: they produce quantifiable products and get quantifiable results, making their success easier to measure, and making them more accustomed to a clear career trajectory."

    In business you can be assured of the following:
    1) the metrics of production will change owing to:
    a) changes in technology
    b) changes in management
    c) changes in management philosophy
    d) political change
    e) changes in labor
    f) changes in facilities
    g) competence of assessor;
    2) the metrics of result assessment will change owing to:
    a) changes in assessment methodologies
    b) changes in management
    c) changes in management philosophy
    d) financial needs of the enterprise
    e) positioning of the enterprise relative to competing interests
    f) changes in assessment staff/consultants
    g) needs of the assessors
    h) needs of labor
    i) education of/loyalties of and competence of assessors
    3) the metrics of success will change owing to:
    a) market positioning of enterprise
    b) changes in the political environment
    c) changes in the tax regime
    d) needs of management
    e) needs of assessors/consultants
    f) changes in technology
    g) changes in management philosophy
    h) changes in the competitive environment
    i) actions of government
    j) needs of stockholders (if any)
    k) needs of lenders/investors
    l) changes in the financial environment
    m) changes in the legal environment
    n) changes in competition within the business

    Any career trajectory is subject hence to these things and other variables, including, disproportionately, some incredibly arbitrary ones (e.g. Did your ex-wife ever call your supervisor? Can you play golf? Did you go to State or some SLAC no-one has ever heard of or a community college? How old are you?)

    Hence one's career is largely dictated by the whim of fate.

    Even (perhaps especially) in business.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's Anonymous 9:55 AM again.

    You make some great points, Anon 11:14. It would be foolish to deny that a career in business is any less subject to the whims of fate than an academic career. Mr. X is just as likely to fail in the corporate world as he is in the academic one. But I think that were he to succeed in business - a tall order indeed, for any of the reasons you mentioned - one could quantify his output in a very concrete way. It is the lack of objective standards in academia that leads to stagnation for most academics. To put it more bluntly, the outside world does not see the value of the (generally) subjective work in academia, and this leads to a stalemate within the university.

    I wonder if our Blogger has any experience in the corporate world. After all, we are nearing the end of this list. Next up: 100 reasons not to start a career in business ;)

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    1. But many academics want that stagnation, so long as they have their job-for-life tenure. Once they get that, they figure nothing can touch them and they are accountable to nobody.

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    2. The best jobs are those that are accountable to no one.

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    3. Unless you are privileged as heir of an industrial tycoon, you can not be one of those that are accountable to no one.

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    4. The current POTUS and everything below are already accountable to nobody.

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    5. Vote no incumbents, and maybe we'll see some prosecutions in 2017.

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    6. Even Marie Antoinette was accountable to the mob.

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  9. Research-oriented academia (more so in natural and social sciences) actually has very quantifiable metrics compared to say a typical job in the Federal Government or in many areas of business outside of sales - publications, citations, grant dollars. And in teaching we have student evaluations. Yes, all these things are imperfect measures of the quality of ideas and instruction, but it is easy to see which academic is contributing more and which one less.

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    1. Yes, it is clear that whoever is getting $357,000 in NIH grants to research the impacts of cocaine on the sex lives of Japanese quail, is bringing more to the party.

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    2. And whoever brings the most money into a department is the one who gets the highest pay raise.

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    3. Either someone on this blog has a poor understanding of the caliber of academic research that attracts high-level funding, or they just have a lot of fun making up ridiculous research topics and attaching arbitrary costs to them. Perhaps they should try applying for NIH/NSF funding themselves, if for no other reason than to learn how insanely competitive the process can be....

      Easier still, they could read what kinds of research topics actually DO get funded....

      http://report.nih.gov/award/index.cfm#tab5

      https://www.fastlane.nsf.gov/a6/A6Start.htm

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    4. @ Anonymous 6/25/14 : Assuming your post was in reference to my post about cocaine and the sex lives of Japanese quail - this research has been funded by NIH for YEARS extending back well beyond the two years of grants that got my attention (Univ. of Kentucky, 2010, 2011 for a grand total of $356,933.14).

      See:
      Levens, N.; Akins C.K. "Chronic cocaine pretreatment facilitates Pavlovian sexual conditioning in male Japanese quail." Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 2004 Nov. 79(3):451-457.

      Akins C.K.; Geary, E.H. "Cocaine-Induced Behavioral Sensitization and Conditioning in Male Japanese Quail"
      Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 2008 Nov. 88(4): 432-437.

      There are abstracts in PubMed for the curious.

      It is also certainly true that less worthwhile research "attracts high-level funding."

      A study on "Impaired Metabolism and Performance in Crustaceans Exposed to Bacteria" netted $559,681. In a decade, "shrimp treadmill" research cost over $3 million.

      Some claim the amounts of recent financial imprudence at the NSF are in the *billions,* and not only involve projects of dubious merit (e.g. Facebook social behavior studies, impacts of certain computer games on adult participants), but also vacation sprees and such exotica as Antarctic Jell-O wrestling.

      Delete
    5. A blog, '100 ways to bring more money in" to research funding" could be the order of the day ?

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    6. As fascinated as I am by the myriad incredible ways that tax dollars and other research funding is spent, I don't actually want to encourage any more of that sort of behavior than we already have.

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    7. Anon @ 9:03 2014-06-30:

      You would have loved the Golden Fleece Awards handed out by Senator William Proxmire about 40 years ago.

      Delete
    8. @ 8:06

      6:46 here, standing corrected....

      Hopefully Japanese quail are an appropriate model organism for studying dopaminergic synapses in humans. Otherwise yes, that project will turn out to be quite an expensive shot in the dark.

      Delete
    9. Thank you - it's very rare to get an acknowledgement like that.

      On "Hopefully Japanese quail are an appropriate model organism for studying dopaminergic synapses in humans," I confess I find this unlikely at best. And should it be valid, what does that say about humans?

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    10. I submit the following sterling examples of research-oriented academia - all projects that received funding. Some material is quoted from the relevant papers. The commentary, however, is mine. References to "shits and giggles" pertain to another post's assertion that "science = useful, humanities = fun for shits and giggles," with which I believe there is ample room for disagreement.

      "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh -- Calculations on Avian Defaecation", Polar Biology, 2003.
      “Whether the bird deliberately chooses the direction into which it decides to expel its faeces or whether this depends on the direction from which the wind blows at the time of evacuation are questions that need to be addressed on another expedition to Antarctica.” - Yeah, that's more important than promoting literacy, any day - and our government will fund this to find out which way the shit blows. Shits and giggles indeed.

      "Ovulatory Cycle Effects on Tip Earnings by Lap Dancers: Economic Evidence for Human Estrus?" Evolution and Human Behavior, 2007.
      The grant money was issued in $1 bills to the researchers and subsequently to the test subjects.

      "Effects of Backward Speech and Speaker Variability in Language Discrimination by Rats," Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, vol. 31, no. 1, January 2005.
      Because we had to know whether rats really could understand Japanese spoken backwards. .えいい ? か すで いいろしもお もてっも
      However, indications are that back-masked Japanese heavy metal will not induce satanic rioting by rat hordes. Kind of pointless given that it was demonstrated in the Roger Corman flick "Rock and Roll High School" that exposure to the music of the Ramones caused lab rats to vanish in little puffs of smoke.

      "Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behaviour"
      - Journal of Experimental Biology 2008.
      With added cocaine, honey bees are more likely to dance and dance with increased frenzy. Future studies may involve building little discotheques.

      "During 2012, the National Science Foundation gave researchers at Purdue University $350,000... part of that money to help fund a study that discovered that if golfers imagine that a hole is bigger it will help them with their putting." What are the other practical applications of this? The mind boggles.

      "Climate Change in the American Mind" Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication.
      Because money needs to be spent on basic scientific research outlining exactly why Americans are becoming increasingly leery of the climate change paradigm. Better propaganda is needed, and NSF dollars must be spent to develop it!

      S. M. McGinn, D. Turner, N. Tomkins, E. Charmley, G. Bishop-Hurley, D. Chen. Methane Emissions from Grazing Cattle Using Point-Source Dispersion. Journal of Environment Quality, 2011; 40 (1): 22
      "...technique centered on using open-path lasers to obtain a short-term measurement of methane release from an entire grazing herd..." Now THAT's fun for shits and giggles. Better than watching pot smoke in the laser show at a BOC concert in the 70s. Probably cost more though.

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  10. @David Stern

    "it is easy to see which academic is contributing more and which one less." Yes, years or even decades later. Dennis Prasher was fired and he did work that led to a Nobel Prize. It eventually worked out for him and he works in the lab of a Nobel Prize winner, but for years he barely made a living at all and even worked at a car dealership.

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  11. Many bureaucracies are like this. I noticed that while I was teaching at a tech college.

    I started there at a considerably higher salary than I had at my previous employer. During the first few years, my pay increased rapidly. However, eventually I reached a plateau because by virtue of experience, education, and seniority, I was earning the maximum amount.

    The only way I could get more money in that place was to move into administration, but I would likely have exchanged one set of miseries for another.

    Many of my colleagues found it hard to leave that place. They had a steady paycheque and some fairly generous benefits. Getting something comparable elsewhere would have been difficult. One of the problems, however, was that they became intellectually root-bound and a lot found themselves behind their peers in industry. Consequently, they tended to stay where they felt safe.

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  12. Hey now…the full professor can always shoot for an endowed chair!

    (I do think this is a perfectly good Reason; I'm just being a smart-ass)

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  13. Beautiful. Brilliant. Absolutely true. One would think every possible argument has been exhausted by now, but our faithful blogger keeps coming through! Graduate school existence resembles a blind chicken mindlessly pecking at each freshly laid seed, all leading...NOWHERE. Well, perhaps the SLAUGHTERHOUSE!

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  14. Chairs do get paid a pretty good chunk more salary, like a 15-30% premium, usually.

    Some people are more well-suited to be chair than others. It depends how good at time management they are, how well they prioritize tasks, and particularly how to say "no" to b.s. I've seen some people breeze through their period as chair pretty easily, while others look like the job almost kills them.

    From what I've seen, once you've been a chair you can move into a dean position, usually at another (less prestigious) college, pretty easily.

    If you want to, that is. Higher ed administration, at least at community colleges, is pretty similar to the corporate world. At my college half the administrative building is made up of former corporate hacks already. I would not want be in that world, although it is where all the money resides.

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    1. CCHistProf:

      No, some people are well-suited to being schmoozers and butt-kissers, essential talents in getting ahead.

      If factors such as managerial ability had anything to do with becoming a chair, many academic departments would have to close because the way of doing things would grind to a halt.

      In all my years in industry and in academe (both as a student and an instructor), most managers were talentless sychophantic lickspittles.

      Delete
  15. An idea for reason 96 could be: You get lost in esoteric minutiae and forget how to simplify life.

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  16. In 1972, I completed a Ph D in English from Tulane. It cost me four years of my life, start to finish, but no money at all, which was quite common at the time. After a series of adjunct and one year positions, I finally left academe to become a stockbroker for Smith Barney, in 1981.

    I cannot tell you how much more sane, rational, and compassionate the business world was compared to the academic. The key difference: the company invested money in you. Therefore it was in their best interest for you to succeed.

    The English departments where I worked invested no money at all in you. None. Therefore they had no investment in your career. None. They were incented to see you fail -- in all of the ways described by other responders.

    All this was a million years ago. From what I'm reading, things have only gotten worse since.

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    1. The supervisor I had shortly after I started grad school 35 years ago was interested in only one thing: data which *he* could publish under his name.

      If one finished their degree while his grad student, it would have been accidental, unless he liked that person. Otherwise, he would have made sure it wouldn't happen again.

      My Ph. D. supervisor was deliberately negligent with my research for 2 reasons.

      One was that he wasn't interested in it, something which he openly admitted after I worked on it for 4 years. I was doing something completely different than what he was spending most of his time on. I'm sure he was hoping I'd either pack it in and leave or scrap my project and sign on with his pet project in order to finish my degree.

      The second was that there was evidence that he had a less-than-arm's-length relationship with his favourite grad student. For all I know, he was having an affair with her. Regardless, he was spending a lot of time supervising her research. On the other hand, he'd ignore me for weeks. I didn't mind that, considering how useless he turned out to be.

      I defended my thesis just days before it had to be submitted in order to be on the upcoming convocation list. My smegheaded supervisor came up with a number of petty, nit-picking corrections that absolutely had to be made. I'm sure he did it deliberately so that I'd miss that deadline and his favourite grad student would finish ahead of me. I stood my ground, he caved in, and I received my degree a few weeks later.

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    2. "I cannot tell you how much more sane, rational, and compassionate the business world was compared to the academic. The key difference: the company invested money in you. Therefore it was in their best interest for you to succeed."

      Not any more. What world was this in?

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    3. I was once a candidate in a top ranked university. My supervisor practically and administratively did nothing for me. Making appointments with her has never been good experiences, nor the actual meetings any better. I leave her room feeling more confused and worse off.

      I quit that institution after 2 years of my life and joined a much less prestigious university. My new supervisor was fairly junior in rank but I learnt tremendously from him. Though I was sometimes made to run around (theoretically), but glad to say after 3 years, I am finally seeing myself going for viva within the next one year.

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    4. Anon @ 2014-07-01 1004 PM here.

      The fact that certain supervisors of grad students can get away with being negligent or exploiting them as cheap labour is one reason tenure should be abolished. Stunts like they pulled need to have consequences and tenure, unfortunately, gives them immunity.

      In industry, anyone who tries nonsense like that can get fired unless they either lead a charmed life or are well-connected.

      I agree with you Anon @ 2014-07-02 0707 AM. Most of my employers in industry saw me as cheap labour, an expense that had to be reduced, if not eliminated completely. They invested nothing in me, had little interest in my personal success, and discarded me as soon as my usefulness to them ended. Oh, and don't forget the kindergarten sandbox level of office politics.

      By the way, I worked in a variety of fields, including oil and gas, military design and testing, and high-tech. What I saw and experienced appear to be common everywhere.

      The first company I worked for after I finished my B. Sc. treated me as its own property, believing that I should have no other purpose in life than to be constantly on the job. Private time was viewed as theft. It wasn't much different than the environment portrayed in the early episodes of "Mad Men" and, yes, I met just about every character in that show while I worked for that outfit, including one or two Don Drapers and Pete Campbells.

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  17. To the person who said: Not any more. I fear you are right.

    My 30-something son tells me he would bet that Smith Barney dropped its training program long before it was merged out of existence. I fear he, like you, is right.

    Nonetheless, I still feel that the whole Ph.D. industry--which produces a product for which there is almost no market--is less moral than the business world. At least there those who are used and discarded do not owe money for the privilege.

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    1. Let's face it. Many university departments, particularly in engineering and physical sciences, are doing the research that corporations used to do. (Nice arrangement, eh? Get your products developed at taxpayer expense by a public institution and then charge that same taxpayer again when he or she buys it.)

      As a result, a lot of those departments have adopted the business way of doing things and that means exploiting the lower ranks and kicking out whoever doesn't "fit" or belong.

      Your comment about Ph. D.s being a products isn't that far off. During my convocation, the university president at the time addressed the audience as if he was speaking at the annual general meeting of a company's shareholders. All he needed to add to his speech was referring to the degrees as units of education or learning produced or shipped.

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  18. I agree grad school attracts ambitious people, but I'd add that it doesn't retain them. There were some very bright people in my program, but all of them left academe either just before or after defending. They are now leading very successful careers, albeit none of them require the PhD or even have anything to do with their studies.

    Like reason #1 - the smart people are somewhere else.

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    1. You might be right.

      While I was working on my Ph. D., my supervisor had two other grad students who were doing the same thing.

      One got a tenure-track position at a university elsewhere in the country after spending a few years in industry. I suspect one reason was that the latter was an environment that didn't suit her. Until she had that industrial job, she spent almost her entire adult life in university.

      The second was ex-military and bounced around from one job to another after he finished. The last I heard, he is working for a utility company in another part of the country.

      I quit my teaching position less than 2 years after I finished my Ph. D., heading out on my own and living off my investments. It's more than a decade since I did that. I work on my research part-time and manage my portfolio. I'm worth much more now than when I started, with the latter not even requiring a degree.

      Go figure.

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    2. With all the teaching, paper writing, research, meetings, conferences etc., who has time to get ahead?

      I am transitioning out of my current doctoral program because I have found a passion that trumps my academic ambitions. With all of the above reasons (well-documented on this site), I had no time to get ahead in the skills I needed to succeed in my new field. I have learned more in the couple of months I have been out for the summer than I could ever learn in the classroom.

      Academics held me back.

      No more headaches from the academic rat race to the bottom!

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    3. Yeah, some people say there is life after academe.

      I say life begins after academe.

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    4. This site:

      http://professorconfess.blogspot.com/

      has recently had some entries which made reference to this document:

      http://www.australianuniversities.id.au/Australian_Universities-A_Portrait_of_Decline.pdf

      Change some details about the government and some geographic locations and it could well describe what happened in my country.

      After reading that, I'm amazed that I lasted as long as I did while teaching at a certain post-secondary institution. It makes me glad I'm no longer part of it. It's quite distressing to see what happened to what was an effective educational system a generation or two ago.

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    5. I was fascinated by the site and the account of Australian "unis." However, it occurs to me that many of the complaints made by Professor Doom and the author of the study implicate and condemn the students generically, in ways that are disturbingly familiar (e.g. entitlement without capacity, station without understanding, and even the "everyone wins a prize" cliche). These do not apply to every graduate, but increasingly every graduate is treated as if these memes are applicable to them.

      In turn this feeds into questionable national policy narratives. In the US it is part and parcel of the arguments made by the lobbies for increased immigration; e.g. "our people are all incompetent and we need smarter people,"
      "our people are all lazy and we need harder workers," and as appeared in the Wall Street Journal just yesterday "our business can't find skilled employees"). I'm reasonably sure some of these same narratives are used to affect Australian immigration policy.

      I think it's past time an actual and honest analysis was made of these issues, and perhaps said analysis could address why, in such an environment of deteriorating intellects and skills, college- or university-educated people with high IQs and work experience cannot find employment beyond that which they create for themselves - even in areas where there are claimed shortages of skilled labor.

      Delete
  19. I narrowly avoided going down the Ph.D. path in humanities. I absolutely loved my subject of choice and would gladly have spent the rest of my life studying it and even teaching freshmen if I thought I had any chance at all of making a living by doing it, even a very modest living. I didn't believe that chance realistically existed for me.

    Instead, I skipped to a different humanities subject in a Master's program because people with M.A. degrees in that field get better jobs and better-paying jobs in the corporate world (not academe) than people with B.A. degrees or graduate certificates. Do I love that subject? No. But I'm willing to teach a second choice subject in order to, you know, be able to live, rather than get a Ph.D. in my first choice and starve to death.

    As regards the main post about getting ahead in academe, I've seen both academe and the corporate world. Both of them try to eat their young in order to survive long enough to produce a retirement nest egg (either tenure or a vested and well-funded 401 plan with a golden parachute). No matter which world you enter, you're on someone else's menu. Whether it's "publish or perish" or "produce or perish," the odds are against you. What's important is knowing the real odds and the real obstacles, then choosing which arena to enter.

    So, thank you to this blog's owner for trying to identify some of those obstacles ... even if it *is* taking a damned long time. *grin*

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    1. I've been in industry and thought that environment either insane or dull and boring. I've been in academe, both as a grad student and as an instructor, and found that to be equally as sordid in its own way.

      I quit my teaching position a dozen years ago because I knew that someone at my institution had it in for me. I left when I had enough money to head out on my own.

      Believe me, being independent is the way to go. Think of it:

      - no idiot bosses
      - no performance appraisals
      - no nasty and/or empty-headed colleagues
      - no backstabbing or games of oneupmanship
      - no "bonding" sessions
      - freedom
      - independence
      - you set your own hours
      - you work whenever you want on what you want

      I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

      Before you say: "Hold on there, mate. It's nice for *you* to say that. *You*'ve got money." You're right. I do. But I didn't come by it by being born with a silver spoon in my mouth nor did I change my name to Walter White and produce some blue crystalline material.

      I spent a lot of years working in crapholes, but I saved and invested my money, living well within my means. I also spent a lot of years out of work, living off dole cheques. Neither situation was particularly palatable.

      But I looked into the future and saw what could be in store for me, both good and bad, and made my plans accordingly. I didn't get everything that I wanted but I didn't do too badly.

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    2. You're right. I ignored the third choice of working for yourself. I also ignored government work, which isn't quite the same as any of the others.

      Your last paragraph, though, applies to every arena. "But I looked into the future and saw what could be in store for me, both good and bad, and made my plans accordingly." That's what each of us needs to do, taking into account that the dream of academia is not enough, by itself, to warrant choosing that path. Glad things worked out for you.

      Delete
    3. Anon @ 2014-07-15 5:23 PM here.

      I long wanted to get a proper academic position at a university because I had both education and experience in my discipline. Was anybody interested? Nope. Every university I applied to told me to get lost. The best I could do were interviews with 3 junior colleges and 2 tech schools similar to the dump I left. Not one of those made me an offer.

      So, being on my own was more or less the only option I had left.

      People often forget the saying: "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it." Considering what's going on in post-secondary education nowadays (e. g., the situation described in the book on Australian unis I mentioned in an earlier posting), I got the better deal.

      I often shudder to think what would have happened if I actually did get a faculty position. I probably would have exchanged one set of miseries for another.

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  20. This is true in a sense that if you do win the academic job lottery and get a TT position, you're stuck there.

    There are some people, a minority to be sure, that have an upward trajectory and move from a tier 3 regional state university to a tier 2 branch to a tier 1 state or private university. I've known a few. You also see the superstars move on & up from time to time, people like Elizabeth Warren.

    For the 1 out of 3 of us that did get academic TT jobs, we'll probably never leave our current position, if nothing else because we're terrified of the insecurity. I could possibly make a lateral move to another community college, but moving up as a professor would be very hard. Generally speaking once you get too far into the comm. coll. full-time / tenure-track world, you're stuck. Moving up to the university level for me is probably 1 out of 10 proposition at best because my research production is so low now.

    My current position is almost 100% secure as long as I do my job functions, don't make enemies and the school doesn't go bankrupt, since I am the only person that teaches my subject at my school. To give that up in order to take a 33% chance of getting a position somewhere else isn't great. If I did quit, it would most likely mean quitting academia entirely. "Moving up" would mean becoming a dean after I do my stint as chair, the chances of that are probably more like 50-60% if I applied. Or I can take the 95% chance that my position will remain funded and stay in it.

    This "trapped" feeling is something that prospective students need to consider. Even after you escape adjunct purgatory, it's not all that much better.

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    1. CCHistProf, "Moneybags" from 2014-07-16 @ 6:11 AM here.

      I don't remember things always being the way you describe, but, then again, my only experience with the academic system when I started grad studies was gained while working on my B. Sc. in the mid-1970s. (Seeing professors in action during the faculty meetings I attended as grad student rep certainly shattered many illusions for me.)

      I used to teach at a tech college and was there for over 10 years. Many "lifers" stayed for the same reason you mentioned. For them, the living was easy and good, but I'm sure a lot were afraid of returning to industry because they were likely out of touch with that happened there.

      My being there might be one reason I couldn't get a university position, as well as the fact that I spent several years in industry, the latter automatically disqualifying me because I wasn't "dedicated" to research. (Never mind that I spent several years in industrial R & D.) Maybe somebody also figured that if I was any good as a professor, I wouldn't have had to settle for that institution, though I only had a master's degree when I started there.

      Getting tenure, however, has its drawbacks. Someone I knew from when we were both working on our Ph. D.s is now a tenured prof at a university elsewhere in the country. But, by getting it, she's made commitment. She moved there with her husband and daughter in tow. Hubbie now has a job in the same city. The kid's in junior high.

      Going elsewhere would mean uprooting the lives of three people, something which would be difficult to accomplish. I changed jobs a lot of times during the 1980s thanks to the economic circumstances of that decade. That's one reason I built a small investment portfolio because that would have given me something to fall back on had I been out of work again. (Fortunately, now, I don't have to work for anyone else any more. I'm semi-retired in the sense that my income comes from my investments but I'm still working on my research.)

      Considering her domestic situation, she's pretty much stuck there. I remember a slogan from a long time ago: "Pick your rut carefully. You'll be stuck there for the next 50 years."

      My Ph. D. supervisor often whined and complained that he wasn't being paid very well, though he never specified what he used as a standard. I know that, compared with what I might have been earning in industry, my salary from the aforementioned tech college was nowhere near as high as it should have been.

      So what can a professor do? He or she could move into management, where, traditionally, the big money has always been. But that would mean giving up doing research as one will then become primarily with being a paper-shuffler. Any involvement in research will only be token and would likely be along the line of deciding departmental or faculty budgets.

      (To be continued....)

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    2. (Conclusion.....)

      One could use one's research results and file patents on them. My former grad school colleague did that and she has several in her name. However, that's not a cornucopia, either. One can file patents for all sorts of things and one doesn't necessarily have to build a working model of the device or process described.

      Patents are, for the most part, useless unless someone turns them into commercial products and that isn't easy, either. One has to arrange for licensing and legal authority and, by doing so, one puts one's reputation on the line. If one wants to form a company based on that patent, one has to raise start-up capital, do title searches, and conduct market research. One could hope for a buyout eventually, but there's no guarantee that'll happen. Besides, I've heard that something like 2 out of 3 businesses go belly up within 5 years of opening their doors.

      Patent lawsuits can be disputed for years and are often costly. Look at what happened with certain firms in the computing industry in recent years. Even further back, the history of radio is one in which various inventors not only filched ideas from each other (often infringing on someone's patent), they sued each other left, right, and centre.

      Maybe if one wants to get cash readily and legally from one's labours, one should take up a trade. Not only does one produce something tangible, it's usually an easier way of making money.

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    3. Something else occurred to me.

      People work for an employer and hope to get a pension from it when they retire. Educational institutions are no exception. An employee often is required to make contributions to its retirement plan because part of his or her salary is withheld. Such plans are often run by financial managers or institutions, and they're run in the best interests of the future retiree, right?

      Guess again. We've often seen in recent years about how badly managed some of these retirement funds have been. There have been cases where employers clawed back some of the money paid to its retirees because there weren't enough funds in the plan. Sometimes the pension pays less than the retirees expected. At my institution, many of the instructors who retired came back under contract because the pension they received wasn't enough.

      In addition, employees usually have no say in how or when their contributions are invested. I've never been a fan of that. Since I paid money into these plans in the past, I always wanted to know what was done with it but I wasn't allowed to know that.

      When I quit my teaching position a dozen years ago, I transferred the retirement plan from my former employer over to my broker. Unfortunately, the way it was set up, my money is locked in and I can only withdraw some once a year. In addition, there's a range of how much can be taken out. I wasn't particularly happy with that set-up.

      However, by transferring it to my broker, I took control of that plan. I made all the decisions on how the money was invested, which stock I bought, how much, and when to sell it. I, of course, sought the advice of my broker beforehand as he has information I don't readily have access to.

      On the whole, those retirement funds are worth more now than they would have been had I remained at that institution.

      Just to be clear, I have no formal background in finance or economics. What I know about investment came from personal experience plus I read a number of good books on the subject. But the result is that I can analyze an annual report and decide whether a particular stock might be worth buying. Mind you, I don't have a perfect record and I've ended up with a few clunkers, but I've made more money than I've lost by investing in good quality stock and being patient.

      But how many academics do that? Many can't be bothered, figuring that their employer will look after them. (Yeah, right.) Some believe that it's so complicated that they would rather let someone more qualified than they are make all the decisions.

      Trust me, it's not difficult to read an annual report and make a few calculations to determine if one needs to add a few barrels to the wardrobe if one buys a particular stock. It's not rocket science and a university degree isn't needed for it. I don't spend a lot of time on it, either. Once I've invested my money, there's not a whole lot I can do about the price anyway. I'll look at it once in a while during the day, but I'm not going to become instantly rich by constantly fretting over it.

      The gist of my comments is this: just because one has tenure now doesn't mean one will have a comfortable retirement. Relying on one's employer for that isn't a good idea.

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    4. There's something to consider if one's research results in a patent.

      Conducting commercial R & D comes with risks. Before a product can be brought to market, it has to undergo testing to ensure that it's safe and reliable. Trials can take a long time to complete and, even when they are, there are no guarantees. We can think of numerous examples of lawsuits against pharmaceutical firms for side effects that either weren't found through those tests or, perhaps, were noticed but ignored. Similar cases have occurred with automotive firms, such as the current issue about faulty ignition switches or the infamous case of Ford Pinto fuel tanks exploding as a result of a collision.

      Obtaining liability insurance is next to impossible because risks are hard to assess, if at all. A former colleague of mine had his own consulting firm and he designed specialized equipment for clients. No company would insure him for just that reason, so he had to make sure that the clientele knew that when they signed the contracts. The issue of liability was one reason I never went into private practice.

      Universities like to portray their research staff as innovators and drivers of the economy. One never hears, though, about the possibility that these innovations might fail or fall short of expectations and that the windfalls they might provide might never materialize.

      Don't forget that in the California gold rush, many of the prospectors went broke. Levi Strauss, on the other hand, made money not in panning or digging for the stuff but by making and selling pants to the miners.

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    5. Two reactions @ Anon 7/26/14, 5:16 and 7:26:

      "Maybe if one wants to get cash readily and legally from one's labours, one should take up a trade. Not only does one produce something tangible, it's usually an easier way of making money."

      First, it's not always true that one "produces something tangible" in a trade. Many trades are services (e.g. electrician, plumber, transportation professional).
      Second, it's not as if there aren't enough tradespeople. In fact, owing to US immigration structure, we are displacing a lot of people who used to work in certain trades (e.g. butcher, builders, electricians). Barring some radical changes to the permissiveness, numbers and enforcement of our immigration laws, this displacement is only going to accelerate.
      Third, that accelerated displacement is occurring in a nation of 320 million people, a historic number of which are out-of-work, a growing number of which are not finding work to begin with. It is not unreasonable to consider that these unemployed and underemployed people will help create the next bust in blue collar employment, as they increasingly turn away from diminishing white-collar employment to the trades and forms of self-employment that do not require large amounts of investment capital.

      ***

      "People work for an employer and hope to get a pension from it when they retire...Guess again. We've often seen in recent years about how badly managed some of these retirement funds have been. There have been cases where employers clawed back some of the money paid to its retirees because there weren't enough funds in the plan."

      I suspect most people working outside of government do not expect to have a pension anymore. Given the scale and pace that the bureaucrats have been arrogating goodies for themselves and their party faithful (let's be honest, this is almost entirely a Democrat phenomenon) either a much-needed reaction will occur soon or the US will become a two-tiered class society split along the lines of government and private sector employment.

      There is also the issue - unheard of until this administration - of government misappropriation of retirement benefits. First this showed up in the federal government stiffing General Motors stockholders and bondholders in 2009 - many of whom were GM retirees, some of whom were wiped out by the administration's actions. Then it showed up in the unbelievable mismanagement of VA funding over the past few years. The lesson here is the US is no more law-abiding than any other banana republic when it comes to property rights. The federal government can take anything you own as well as any kind of pension arrangement you may think you have ironed out. This will not change until the "progressives" have been rooted out from government offices.

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    6. Actually, that sort of thing happened much earlier. I remember reading a news article about the old Massey Ferguson company in the early 1980s. It got itself into financial trouble by then and I recall that cutting pensions was one measure it took to try and stay solvent.

      The comment in your last paragraph about government handling of pensions was one reason I moved my pension contributions from the institution I taught at over to my broker. That pension plan was managed by some government agency. I wanted to have not just control over how my money was handled but to know where it was going.

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  21. This illustrates how academe thinks about getting a student's chances of getting a faculty position:

    http://northwesthistory.blogspot.ca/2011/11/open-letter-to-my-students-no-you.html?showComment=1322003255524#c4006390198979772500

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    1. This article is already linked at the top of the "Further Reading" links on the right-hand side ("No, You Cannot Be a Professor" by Larry Cebula).

      Delete
    2. One problem with the tenure-track system is its closed-shop mentality. Professors are first obsessed with getting on the gravy train and, once they're aboard, they make sure that the "wrong" sort don't ever join them. Just who doesn't qualify is often a matter of arbitrary personal judgement.

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    3. Agreed inasmuch as there is a certain "type" that seems overly concerned with 'making sure that the "wrong" sort' are kept out. I've seen it happen more than once.

      However, that's not what Cebula was getting at in his article.

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  22. After reading that Slate article linked here, "Should I Just Quit Academia? It’s the last thing I want to do, but I may have no choice.
    By Patrick Iber," I'm convinced there's something fishy about Dr. Iber's situation.

    He got a PhD in history, Latin American history no less, at University of Chicago, has a book coming out from Harvard University Press. I assume he has an article or two already published and he says he has good teaching reviews from his current position as visiting lecturer at UC-Berkeley.

    No one at my institution, certainly not me, and only a small percentage of the professors even at my alma mater even comes close to those credentials. He says he applied "10 times—20—30—if you’re lucky enough to have that many jobs to apply to"

    He certainly did not apply for our recent opening in history in which Latin America was our preferred field. If he had, his credentials would have blown the other applicants out of the water.

    I applied for more than 80 jobs; there were maybe 20-30 more that I could have but chose not to & I didn't even try at places like Berkeley, knowing I was not competitive enough for that.

    I understand he went to UChicago, is well-published and probably wants a position similar to what his advisor had. I used to want that too. But at some point you have to swallow your pride and take anything available.

    Some PhDs have the same problem as undergraduates I talk to. They think that their degree entitles them to the perfect job position. One young lady I talked to lately wants a job that pays enough for her to buy a house, offers health insurance, intellectually stimulating, and offers lots of opportunity for travel. That may happen years later, but after graduation, she'll have to take anything she can get.

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    1. Jobs which paid a decent salary and included benefits were common when I finished my B. Sc. in the late 1970s. One is lucky to find something like that nowadays.

      With regards to that person who wanted such a job and more, I remember one chap who lived on my residence floor while I was a sophomore. He wouldn't accept the idea that when he finished his engineering degree (if he did--I lost track of him after that year), he might have to start near the bottom and work his way up, with corresponding pay. He was one of those who thought that once he had his degree, bounty would be showered upon him. Yeah, right.

      When I quit my teaching job 12 years ago, I headed out on my own. I thought I might find some firm or agency that was interested in funding my research but, as it turned out, private individuals have absolutely no chance unless they're associated with an educational institution or a firm of some sort, or they happen to be well-connected.

      Eventually, I tried finding a job--any job--and drew blanks after sending out my CV hundreds of times over 2 years. It was only when my investments actually made me returns that I could use to pay my rent and my bills that I felt safe enough to give up any sort of job hunt.

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    2. May be consider moving to China?

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    3. For a number of reasons that have been better articulated elsewhere (in this forum and in other places), "moving to China" probably isn't a good idea. The following represent some of my thoughts on the subject.

      1) The "gold rush" is over. Owing to demographics, rising production costs, increased product issues, etc., the best years of China's economic boom may be behind it.
      2) Chinese immigration authorities have been getting increasingly tougher on would-be economic migrants - including English teachers.
      3) Most work abroad translates poorly in American HR-ese (and may not be considered as comparable or "real" work experience at all). This is an American HR perceptual issue. If you plan to leverage your work experience in China back in the US you may find it doesn't count for much.
      4) Successful work abroad with a multinational is hard to get as most multinationals are under considerable pressure to hire indigenous personnel.
      5) If one somehow manages 4) and then wants to work elsewhere after a few years, it will be difficult to manage (I saw this with several colleagues - some couldn't leave and are now "stuck," one who did got a business degree and found she had few options outside of working for multinationals in China. She has since changed careers and works as a stockbroker and part-time book-keeper).
      6) Implementation of FATCA means that few (or no) banks will go near you because of the resulting reporting responsibilities. This complicates your financial life considerably.
      7) Medium term, the environment in most of the cities is not conducive to good health, and has been deteriorating for years.
      8) Long term there are many lifestyle issues that you may not particularly enjoy confronting (e.g. family, marriage, children and their education, medical care, health-related decisions, the nature of politics in the PRC and how it impacts lives).
      9) Ebbs and flows to visa policies mean that eventually you may be (somewhat unexpectedly) locked out of your livelihood.
      10) China has in many ways cultures that are extremely different from those of the US or elsewhere in the West. Although coming to grips with these cultures can be personally rewarding, it is also in reality very hard work and emotionally demanding. Many people do not have the fortitude to deal with the differences that exist. Most people would not have the wherewithal to deal appropriately with every situation that they would encounter. Consider that you will be dealing with such an environment every day.
      11) China's education policies have resulted in a large number of tertiary-educated unemployed young adults who are desperate for work (Sound familiar? The numbers involved are even worse there). This means that compared with just a decade ago the job scene for degreed foreigners has in many ways deteriorated - and means you are more likely to wind up as an "English expert" rather than work in some other professional capacity.

      These go beyond any superficial difficulties one may have with little things like language skills (which incidentally, are not worth much in the US - sad, reprehensible even, but true).

      Delete
    4. Anon @ 2014-08-04 12:21 AM:

      The gold rush does appear to be over in China. A few days ago, I heard a news report on a business cable channel that it's become, for some people, too expensive there. Apparently, factories are being moved to countries where labour is cheaper.

      In addition, recent incidents of ethnic unrest in certain areas might give one cause for concern--and those are only the ones we hear about in the west.

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    5. The "incidents of ethnic unrest" have been going on for a while now. Most occur in and pertain to Xinjiang where some Muslim minorities (especially Uighur) reside. Most foreigners are more likely to gravitate to the (metropolitan, heavily urban) east coast of China - i.e. where the jobs are - unless they have an adventurous bent that draws them to what used to be called "Chinese Turkestan."

      There are certainly other places to which one might consider trying to move. Some of the points I've mentioned however are not place-specific (see especially 3-6, and in many "developing world" and ex-communist bloc countries 9 and 10). Most of the "developed world" now tends to have relatively high barriers to (permanent) entry (skills/education, capital investment, hiring by an in-country company or multinational conducting business there, and age and health cut-offs).

      All things considered with what is happening in the US, I wish I had been able to emigrate 10-15 years ago.

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    6. There have been reports of incidents in some larger cities which have been blamed on Uighur separatists, though that attribution might be government propaganda.

      However, there are also reports of unrest in a number of rural locations. One reason I heard was corruption of local government officials. However, at the same time, some of those communities are, apparently, polluted by, for example, waste from urban factories, leading to detrimental effects on the local population. Much of that has not been confirmed by government sources.

      Again, these are incidents that we hear about in the west.

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    7. I hint at this somewhat obliquely in "reason 8." Abuses of power by local cadres occur pretty frequently. There have been instances where whole communities have lost their livelihoods owing to some greedy local CCP member. Their means of recourse in such a situation are limited, but frequently involve creating enough of a public scandal so that the CCP leadership is shamed into controlling the damage.

      Also the level of awareness of what constitutes environmental contamination, and what the potential health effects are, is still pretty low. Add to that the perpetrators' desire to evade responsibility, the CCP's desire to maintain a positive image and the level of press freedom enjoyed in the PRC, and you've got disasters all over the place. Whole villages with lead poisoning. Formaldehyde being used as a food preservative. Melamine added to milk by local dairy aggregators who don't know what it is. Cadmium dumping in rivers. Benzene leakages into the local water supply. Thousands of hog carcasses dumped into the rivers. Ammonia, aniline, and xanthogenate dumping in rivers. Phenol leakages. Illicit chromium dumping. The list is extensive. You can assume that disturbingly high levels of toxins are in your food supply there. This is some of what I considered when writing 7,8, and 10. There is a certain amount of general public awareness that the local food is not very safe, which is why 1) foreign food products command premiums and are regarded as generally healthier (leading, unfortunately to counterfeit labeling of some items, e.g. high-end liquor), and 2) there is a certain amount of nationalistic "backlash" which seeks to blame foreign food companies (e.g. Fonterra, McDonalds, Yum) when local suppliers are actually at fault - sometimes the local suppliers are implicated and publicly shamed in the local media, as in the cases mentioned.

      One other way to put this is, between the regulatory environment, the overall lack of sophistication regarding appropriate treatment and disposal of toxins and biohazards, and the acceleration of production activities over the last 25-30 years, water, food and air contamination are pretty ubiquitous in mainland China and difficult to avoid.

      Delete
  23. The problem comes when someone puts in several years and tens of thousands toward a degree, graduates with honors and cannot find anything afterwards.

    This is not your father's 'baby boom growth' country, where there are jobs to be had if you only look. This is a mass population country where the workforce has declined over 4% in addition to maintaining an official unemployment rate of over 6%, and most jobs created are part-time and 'as needed.'

    Sometimes a nation simply cannot accept more workers.

    Put another way, America will value what it values, and reap the consequences thereafter.

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    1. It's no better here in Canada. I'm an engineer and, despite my education and experience, I couldn't find a job here.

      One reason is that many engineering firms either bring in temporary foreign workers (a touchy subject in this country) or simply farm it out to contractors overseas. A generation ago, certain equipment, such as process vessels, used to be designed here. Nowadays, it's not unusual to hear that firms in Asia are doing that work because it's simply cheaper, at least according to the bean-counters.

      I've also faced age discrimination, though nobody ever admitted to practicing it. I've been interviewed by people young enough to be my children for jobs where I'd be working with people who could well be my grandkiddies. Worse, those companies often believe that what I know or have done are completely irrelevant.

      That's one reason I'm on my own. At least I know that my knowledge and experience will be of value in whatever I'm working on.

      Delete
  24. Reason number 94 could be: you may think you will teach at a higher education institution, but your students and even their parents act otherwise. I went from teaching Mandarin at an elementary school with a b.a., spent years getting my PhD and serving as an adjunct, only to have college students parents call me and demand that I pass their kid despite his or her mediocre results. Additionally, the students would whine and complain about the work involved in learning a foreign language.

    Despite getting to the point where I cab teach university students, I feel like I'm back to square one. How's that for getting ahead...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know where you're coming from.

      I taught at a tech college for several years. Been there, suffered for it. I never had to deal directly with parents, though; instead, I had to deal with administrators who made similar demands of me.

      Delete
    2. I used to want your job.

      Early on I got rejected for teaching at the high school and primary school levels ("we have native teachers here"). I found that the only related jobs that my 7+(!!!!) years of language study - including summer classes and graduate scholarships in-country - could get me were in "teaching" preschool through kindergarten. I had absolutely no interest in being an over-educated professional babysitter.

      I tried a range of other jobs, all of which had steep levels of dissatisfaction - very low pay, no advancement, delays in pay, no job training, no health coverage or other benefits - such is the American job landscape. At one point, I tried getting advice from my college career services office, and got the one-sentence response that I could always teach English abroad. This is not what I would call 'good career counseling.'

      All things considered, I could have made far more money - and gotten much more job satisfaction - dropping out of high school and selling shaved ice in Fairbanks.

      Delete
    3. Anon @ 2014-07-30 12:34:

      Anon @ 2014-07-29 2:14 here. Before I got my teaching job, I worked for a number of so-called "high tech" firms. Companies in that industry are portrayed as dynamic, exciting ideas factories and that riches abound. Nothing can be further than the truth.

      Most of what I did could have been done by a kid with a technologist's diploma from a 2-year college like the one I used to teach at. It was boring and frustrating and I found myself becoming intellectually stale.

      Rather than the financial cornucopia that the media portrays these firms as being, all of them were a step or two from going belly up. Oh, there were people who made a lot of money in those outfits, but they were usually in the upper management, though sometimes the professional lickspittles did pretty well. The only way I ever made money in that business was to save and invest whatever I could and wait a long time--I wasn't going to make it from my salary.

      Internal politics was almost a daily fact of life and the squabbling was on the same scale as I saw while I was teaching. I was fired from one outfit and I suspect the reason was that certain parties there were either envious or scared of my education and talent, though the reason I was given was completely different. I decided not to sue them because for one thing, it wouldn't have helped my chances for finding another job and, another, I would have had to get in line. (Apparently there were several lawsuits either pending or in progress when I was sacked.)

      Often, I encountered that most accursed of creatures: the boss's darling, the occupational equivalent of the teacher's pet. At the company that fired me, there was one such individual. He was a know-nothing crap artist but gave our masters the impression that he was a genius. Anything he did or said was automatically right, so if he said 2 + 3 = 39, then 39 it had to be. He was able to accomplish that by having a silver tongue and convincing people into believing that black is white.

      Occasionally I hear stories from other people about their experiences in that business and not necessarily in the same industries I worked it. Much of what they said sounded familiar.

      For this I went to grad school?

      Delete
    4. @ Anon @ 2014-07-30 7:53PM:

      Being forced into retirement? Something is wrong with your approach. Working in a startup firm trumps any academic jobs.I plan to retire around age 40, so the "age discrimination" problem does not exist. If I'm "forced" into it, then maybe I'll get a nice going away present. It's impossible to assign a value to the 7 years I spent in graduate school, its simply too astronomical. I expanded in ways and explored opportunities that impossible, and frankly inconceivable to me as a 'working man.' In exchange for some mild opportunity costs I spent 15,000 hours of my life doing exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, with who I wanted. When entering the workforce in my late 20s I had the zeal of a 18yr old matched with the maturity of my 40+ year old colleagues and the technical know-how to stand toe to toe with everyone. And a perspective defined by just as much experience as anyone.

      Delete
    5. I see the purple unicorn brigade is here.

      Delete
    6. Anon @ 2014-08-03 7:20 PM:

      Ah, the old "blame the victim" card. Unless one has been living under a rock for the past dozen or so years, one may no doubt be aware that age discrimination is indeed rampant. There is ample evidence that older unemployed workers are having difficulty finding new jobs and, if they do, they are often at levels far below what they were working at before and at considerably smaller salaries.

      As for your dream of getting a buy-out, good luck with that, too. Many companies are so skint that your wished-for going away present are pretty much a thing of the past.

      You claim to be like a zealous teenager. Perhaps you are, but there is evidence that many people who work in that business are usually burned out by the time they reach 35. The demands of the job, including long hours and stress, take their toll.

      I have to take your comments with a grain of salt, though. I've been around for much longer than you and I've met a lot of people over the years. I've yet to encounter anyone who matches your description. Anybody who claimed to be was either a liar or delusional.

      Delete
    7. The private sector is doing fine. The stock market has tripled since Obama took office. Not sure why you have a hard time gaining employment or even 1099-MISC contracts. Something doesn't add up..... do you have a code repository on GitHub, do you have a LinkedIn profile? If you don't, then blame yourself.

      Delete
    8. Companies are leaving the US in droves via inversion, and individuals are renouncing their US citizenship because the US has punitive and abusive tax reporting and enforcement only equalled by Eritrea.

      From 2008 to 2010, the employment participation rate declined from 63% to around 58.5% where it has more or less stayed. This is the lowest this metric has been for decades. Some measures of unemployment place US unemployment at close to 15%.

      The US Treasury has been pumping out dollars for over five years in what is called 'quantitative easing' - the government response to the poor economy. This means that those dollars are worth increasingly less in real terms, and that inflation is coming - maybe worse than what the US had in the late 70s.

      According to some sources, over 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed. Education sticker prices are nonetheless at an all-time high.

      None of these are signs of a healthy economy. They are indicators that the private sector is shrinking and that US competitiveness is being undermined.

      Delete
    9. The private sector is doing fine.

      Either willing to relocate for the new job, or go back to school to earn that PhD

      Your best job opportunities are outside the U.S., the modern housewives need to understand that their partners needs to be mobile in order to bring the food home and feed all the mouth in the house. If your partner can't understand that, may be it is time for a divorce.

      Delete
    10. Neither the private sector in the US nor in the EU is doing well. In the US there's only one sector doing well enough to hire en masse (energy), and the slowdown there is coming. For US particulars, read "When Do We Start Calling This the Greater Depression" (Wash. Center for Equitable Growth, 8/28/14) : http://equitablegrowth.org/2014/08/28/start-calling-greater-depression-early-friday-focus-august-29-2014/

      My argument in a nutshell:
      1) US has the highest debt ever recorded
      2) Debt projected to balloon in near future
      3) Lowest labor force participation rate in decades
      4) Highest "long-term unemployed" population in decades
      5) Job creation is less than annual immigration
      6) Job creation is less than number of citizens entering the job market
      7) Most jobs created are part-time, lower-wage jobs
      8) Corporate inversion to avoid punitive US corporate taxation = fewer US jobs and no repatriation of profits
      9) Quantitative easing = inflation
      10) Deflationary labor pricing already observed

      Why aren't the issues of the American economy more widely reported? Because the media is in the tank for their party even if this administration is mindblowingly and obviously inept. Also, under "the most transparent administration in history" government bureaus and departments routinely lie - an observation shared by a number of professional investors (e.g. Jim Rogers).

      Not sure what going to school to earn a PhD gets you, unless you really, really, really want to be an academic, and there you are likely to be disappointed. Other sectors mostly don't even want to see a masters' degree (sad, isn't it?).

      See:
      "Don't Hire People Who Went to Grad School"
      https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/dont-hire-people-who-went-to-grad-school/

      "Why Start-Ups Shouldn't Hire People With Graduate Degrees"
      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/why-startups-shouldnt-hire-people-with-graduate-degrees/

      As for the best job opportunities being outside the US, certainly there are some very good options, if you are young enough, smart enough, and lucky enough (right time, right place, right age, right background, right industry, and right company) to be able to act on them. There are also many not-so-good opportunities out there that lots of people get suckered into. Most Americans who live abroad are not getting rich. Regardless, your government is determined to give you as hard a time as possible if you work abroad. Expect to bank with the venerable firm of The Shoebox Under the Bed and also to have to fulfill outrageously Byzantine reporting requirements with the IRS. Should you return, expect major roadblocks to employment because of America's HR practices.

      Delete
    11. @ Anonymous September 11, 2014 at 1:44 AM

      I love how those two articles about don't hire people who went to grad school did NOT mention anything about graduate engineering degrees.

      Delete
    12. Who's Anon @ 2014-09-09 kidding? I have 2 master's degrees and a Ph. D. and I can't get a job in this country.

      Move overseas, he says. OK, I've got a story for you. I applied for a position many years ago--in fact, shortly after the invasion of Iraq. I was offered a contract job in the oil industry in a certain country I won't name.

      So far so good. Then I started asking questions about what would happen if I got into trouble, which can easily happen in a different country and culture. Guess what? I couldn't get a straight answer. That spelled one thing: I was on my own. The company wouldn't bail me out and neither would the federal government of my home country.

      I turned him down. The wisdom of my decision was confirmed when I heard in the news of a bombing incident in a certain other country. I wasn't about to stick my neck out under such dodgy conditions.

      My question to Anon @ 2014-09-09 is this: do you even have any idea of what you're even talking about? The way you spout your "advice" (and I'm being generous by calling it like that), I doubt that you do.

      When you finally do have a proper idea, come talk to me.

      Delete
    13. It's me, Anon @ 2014-09-11, 6:14 PM, again.

      I can give a reason why companies won't hire someone with a graduate degree in engineering.

      Around the time that I was offered that overseas contract, I talked with an outfit working on some projects in the oil industry. Since I'm an ex-oil bum, I thought I could parlay that experience into a possible job.

      Nope. Non. Nein. The chap I spoke with took one look at my CV, saw that I had a Ph. D., and turned me down right there. His justification was that he was afraid that I might quit as soon as something "better" came along.

      "Oh, really?" I thought to myself. Companies like that one would think nothing of tossing someone like me out the door if a "better" applicant came along, so why couldn't the same "market forces" which that firm appeared to worship work in my favour? Unless I signed a contract, committing myself to work for a specific period of time, I, as an employee, should have the freedom to leave and go work for someone else if and when I chose to do so.

      Delete
    14. Hide your PhD in your resume. Learn from the indian curry niggers, they are masters of forging resumes and get tons of jobs.

      or try look for jobs in any east asian countries. forget about europe, australia, and middle east.

      Delete
    15. To Anonymous @ September 11, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      If you are still on the job market, I hope these articles can assist you in the hunt:

      http://nhsn.org/articles/job-hunting-problem-being-overqualified-and-how-avoid-it

      http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2009/11/11/9-fixes-for-the-overqualified-job-seeker

      http://www.quintcareers.com/fighting_overqualified_label.html

      Remember: Loose lips sink ships. Figure out what the hiring manager want to hear, and tell ONLY just that.

      Good luck!

      Delete
    16. Anonymous @ September 11, 2014 at 1:44 AM

      On the first article you posted:
      "Don't Hire People Who Went to Grad School"
      https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/openforum/articles/dont-hire-people-who-went-to-grad-school/

      Check out the comments in that article. It was as interesting as the article itself.

      Delete
    17. Anon @ 2014-09-11 7:11 PM

      Did you read the rest of my comment? I specifically wrote that I was offered a contract for a position *outside* my country--though I won't say where--and that there were difficulties associated with that. I wasn't about to risk getting my head blown off by taking that job. Don't think that eastern Asia is any better. You may be aware that there are some real bad boys over there, if you've paid attention to the news over the last 20 years.

      Not mentioning a degree on one's CV could be interpreted as fraud by an employer, making it just cause for dismissal. And, yes, they do check on one's background, so that information is bound to come out sooner or later.

      Anonymous Coward:

      I've pretty much given up, but, then, I don't really need a job any more. I have some investments that have done well for me in the past few years and I'm living comfortably off them.

      One consequence of that is that I can now do what I want to. I'm not stuck in an intellectually dead-end job nor do I have to put up with idiotic office/interpersonal politics.

      You raise a valid point about what hiring managers want to hear and that can be quite tricky. Frankly, I had no idea what that was. I liberally used all sorts of buzzwords and biz-babble in my CV, but I kept rolling snake eyes. Even if I had an interview, one look at me and they automatically knew they didn't want me: I was old enough to be the hiring manager's father, if not that person's grandfather. And, no, I wasn't going to go through all those silly procedures to make me look 20 or 30 years younger.

      Their loss.... Meanwhile, I work on what I want to and I continue making money off my investments.

      Delete
    18. @ Anonymous Coward 09/11/14 11:12 PM

      I read the comments when I found and read the articles some months ago.

      Perhaps I should be more clear. I don't agree with the mentality behind the articles. Sadly some of the comments betray that same mentality (note the comment about people with English graduate degrees).

      However, I do recognize that many hiring managers and employers a) stereotype graduate degree holders and b) pigeonhole graduate degree holders as if they were incapable of doing anything else. The articles just make the discrimination manifest. To paraphrase Peanuts, "(One) would be a fool not to admit it."

      As for engineering graduate degrees, the value of these is highly variable as you are (or should be) aware. They certainly don't guarantee employment in their various fields (and given the behaviors I observed in engineering graduate school, nor should they).

      Delete
  25. @ August 4, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    I am sorry, but judging the way you talk you must be voting democrats. May be change that habit first and things will become logical.

    Remember, integrity and ethics can't bring food to the table. This principle will guide you to success.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wrong country, mate. Besides, I'm libertarian.

      Delete
    2. Been voting straight conservative and Republican tickets my whole life, and I agree with August 4, 2014 @ 7:20 AM. Age discrimination is about as much a fact of life as gravity - you can't see it, but you can sure see and measure its effects. It's too bad our nation actively engages in this, because it has already cost the nation trillions in lost productivity and industries. There's worse to come.

      By the way, if your startup's compensation is mostly in stock options, you might have to rethink the "retirement at 40" bit.

      Delete
    3. The private sector is doing fine. The stock market has tripled since Obama took office. Not sure why you have a hard time gaining employment or even 1099-MISC contracts. Something doesn't add up..... do you have a code repository on GitHub, do you have a LinkedIn profile? If you don't, then blame yourself.

      Delete
    4. I have a suggestion or two for you as well.

      Delete
    5. Anon @ 2014-08-07 10:48/49 PM made comments that remind me of what I heard while I was out of work during the 1980s.

      People blamed me for being unemployed for several months at a time.

      I was accused of being lazy because I was drawing dole.

      I was seen as a snob that I wouldn't take *any* job that was out there, even though I had a graduate degree. ("Who do you think you are? You think you're too good to clean toilets for your paycheque?") Of course, if I did take any job just to pay my rent and buy groceries, those same people would have thought I was a loser for doing so. ("Gee, all that education and all you can get is a job cleaning toilets? Boy, there must be something wrong with you!")

      As for Anon's assertion that the private sector is terrific, I've been an investor long enough that I've gone through a number of cycles. The market can go up but it can also go down again.

      During the 1980s, people thought that the bull market would go on forever thanks to the Reagan administration's economic policies. Then came Black Monday when the Dow Jones index dropped around 20% in a single day. It took several years for it to recover.

      Then there was the drop in the early 1990s because of concerns about Third World debt. It recovered but nose-dived when due to the dot-bombs imploding because there was no substance to them. Of course, there was that nonsense in 2008 and stock prices recovered. The question isn't if the market's going to go down next but *when*.

      Delete
    6. I work at home depot and I get some fairly rude reactions when people ask me about my educational background. Most of them seem to think there is something wrong with me despite my education. I have given up applying for college jobs, but I did recently apply for an independent high school job. They told me I had impeccable academic credentials but didn't have enough teaching experience to be considered. They suggested I work as a sub for awhile. That seems reasonable but for me it may be time to move on.

      Delete
    7. You're right. If an industry can't give you full-time work or close to it for an unspecified length of time (but in this case probably at least a year) in spite of your credentials, then it is time to look for something else. You are better off in any case as independent high schools generally don't pay quite as well as their public counterparts (sad, but true).

      This country is undergoing a massive economic shakeout that at least one economist has as of last week formally labelled a depression. Many people are going to have their ideas of what constitutes a good career completely upended. Many sectors and their jobs are not nearly as attractive as they once were - either for salary/wage, benefits, length of tenure, or working hours and conditions. Conditions will get much worse before they improve. Thank this administration, Congress, and not least the Bureaucrat Party, which has demonstrated it will do anything to stay in power.

      As for the Home Depot people who can't deal with your level of educational attainment, screw 'em.

      Delete
  26. Age discrimination does not exist if you know how to fudge your resume and get contract jobs. Be creative.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe Anon @ 2014-08-04 9:44 PM is be a troll.

      Delete
    2. Contract work - (job expenses + postage/messaging + employer pay delays + cost of billing paperwork and correspondence + eventual attorney costs) < $0.00.

      Delete
    3. my last contract job was paid in Bitcoin, thus non taxable and none of the paperwork involved.

      Delete
  27. This is an extremely excellent reason for not attending grad school.

    Tenure and tenure-track positions are disappearing while adjunct positions continue to increase. Becoming an adjunct once you get your PhD is not getting ahead. In my program, adjuncts are only paid slightly more than grad students, and grad students get health insurance whereas adjuncts don't. Adjuncts also have to teach 4-5 classes a semester to make ends meet. Only in academia are you punished for rising up in the ranks.

    When I worked outside of academia, every single job I had offered a raise and/or promotion. I didn't leave the job making the same amount of money I did when I started. Raises and promotions rarely happen in academia.

    There are way too many PhDs right now. Too many candidates and not enough jobs. What PhD programs need to do is stop admitting new students until the job market evens out. However, they won't do this because grad students and adjuncts are cheap, exploitable labor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not just that but one might find that many of the available positions are out of bounds due to enforced quota hiring ("non-Coleslawvanians need not apply"). How about finding that a job one is amply qualified for by virtue of education and experience goes to some so-called whiz kid with lesser credentials but a "good" reputation simply for "brand recognition"?

      I remember a long time ago that people demonstrated to have labour laws changed so that one was hired solely on the basis of merit. The job went to the best man or woman and nobody worried about quotas or diversity.

      Nowadays, employers, particularly academic institutions, claim to be unbiased and impartial in their hiring practices, but the evidence tells a different story.

      Delete
    2. It's all about goodies for the party faithful.

      Delete
    3. Hiring in higher education has become so arbitrary. My department just hired an assistant professor. They knew exactly who they were going to hire but they went through the job search process anyway because the university requires it. So, they essentially wasted the 4 other candidates' time and gave them false hope. The professor they hired has also worked with people on the hiring committee before. I question his qualifications. Out of the 5 jobs talks I went to, his was the least impressive. He definitely got the job because of his connection to the hiring committee.

      When you have hundreds, even thousands, of candidates applying for one position, the standards become more arbitrary and loose (let's not hire her because I don't like her hair!).

      Delete
    4. Anon @ 2014-08-12 6:08 AM

      I know what you're talking about.

      Someone I knew while we were working on our respective Ph. D.s recently got tenure at a university at the other end of the country. She was brilliant and talented, but I suspect there were other reasons why she got the job.

      The last time I heard from her, she mentioned she got her grant because the government wanted more minorities and women in academe. She met both those requirements.

      However, she was also well-connected. We had the same supervisor but I noticed that he was rather interested in her. There were indications that their relationship was less than arm's length (if you get my drift) and I'm sure that her career prospects didn't suffer. What better recommendation for a faculty position than a professor one is quite friendly with?

      Before that, she worked for an industrial firm which was in the same line of business as her research. I'm sure that our supervisor helped get her that job, simply because he, to paraphrase Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad", knew "a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy".

      As for being interviewed for a position where the successful candidate was already known or actually selected, I know all about that.

      Years ago, I was interviewed for teaching jobs at 3 different institutions. One I never heard from again and, when I checked, the person they hired had the "ideal" qualifications. Another didn't even take a week to tell me to get lost, claiming that there wasn't a "fit".

      I suspect the third one simply needed me there to justify its decision. It came close to *begging* me to come for an interview, even after I said I wasn't all that interested. My hunch was correct, though I wasn't sorry when I was rejected. At least I got a pleasant day trip to the city it was located in out of it.

      Delete
    5. A lot of dept hirings are sham processes - and the successful candidate is often chosen before any interviews or job talks even occur. The fix could even be in before a position is advertised if the profs on the hiring committee are especially sleazy.

      On the other hand, people can also be hired simply for being able to fog a window and be in the right place at the right time. I've seen PhD candidates with very weak CVs hired to TT positions simply because the dept was funded to hire a position, and were going to hire someone hell or high water rather than risk losing the position by having to repost it.

      It's a crapshoot for any hiring process, but its really bad at universities since the hiring committees are made up of academics with their own personal interests in mind and no HR qualifications.

      Delete
  28. "Unless you happen to be among the tiny cadre of academic superstars (see Reason 67), there is little hope of moving from one institution to another to improve your lot. If you earn tenure at an institution, you will likely never leave it."

    What are the characteristics of a person who can move from one institution to another once on the tenure track? What does one need to move?

    Publish 2-3 articles per year?
    Many citations of some of them (how many citations? 20? 50?)?
    Attend 2-3 conferences per year for self-promotion?
    Or is it all about 1 earthshattering article or book that gets much attention?

    I am a postdoc looking at the job market, wary of getting stuck in 1 Nowheresville University forevermore. Please comment here if you can answer my query!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I strongly suspect there is no bar to jump over. Your mileage will vary in accordance with your luck and connections, and possibly also with your willingness to enter administration.

      But no. There is no requisite number of annual publications, or magic number of citations, or quota on conferences that will guarantee your ability to find a job somewhere else.

      There is no amount of work you can do or hours you put in that will guarantee any result of any kind - and as a postdoc I would have thought you would have learned this by now.

      Writing an "earth-shattering article or book" is not a pre-requisite - this I know from knowing tenured faculty in a couple of different fields who have changed institutions. If you've written one, it can't hurt - but it has to be recognized as such. Your best bet there if you haven't written one is to write some kind of pop social science screed that involves a shaky grasp of statistical data and its misuses, in order to answer some kind of mass culture personal or public policy issue, preferably from a left-wing policy wonk perspective.

      Here is your starter kit for such a book:
      1) Choose a topic:
      "How can we involve the politics of diversity in a discussion of increasing productivity in urban areas?"
      "How should we sell liberal politics as sound business strategies?"
      "What does it mean to be skilled?"
      "What does it mean to be competitive?"
      The topic should ideally reference both large-scale public issues and personal scale questions.

      Along with your topic analysis, you can write a few chapters that collectively could be given the name "Statistics are your friends." Do not over-research these chapters. They will be introductory and filler matter.

      To organize the work, come up with 1-3 "future buzzwords" that your argument hangs on and around. These can also be short phrases. Ideally these will be somewhat ambiguous, so no-one can precisely interpret what it is that is actually being said (e.g. creativity, sustainability, embeddedness).
      For maximum effect use in the title along with some sort of alarmist sentiment. Fear sells. Use it. (e.g. flight, fall, destruction, disappearance). Alternately, for maximum ambiguity, just put the one word or phrase in the title.
      Overall examples: "The Disappearance of the Sustainable Classes," "Embeddedness."

      Conduct a "topical analysis" using Excel and some publicly available data. Do not aim for statistical rigor (e.g. use R-squared as opposed to adjusted R-squared to interpret validity of results - if R-squared is surprisingly low, gloss over this fact by explaining how it still validates your premise(s) - this technique has been routinely used in think-tank papers for policy recommendations). Add as appendix to book. Add lots of graphs with pretty colors.

      Organize and send to trendy publisher.

      The follow-up work involves speaking on the topic at pop public policy events throughout the nation. Organize your own if you've got enough of an audience. Invite local press every time.

      ***

      Finally you could take the perspective that what you do in the academy can only hurt you. Ask our president, who managed to turn an apparent total absence into an absolute virtue (no transcripts, no papers, no publications as editor of a law review, no actual classes or contact with U. Chicago faculty - all of which yielded a meme that he is a brilliant constitutional scholar and ultimately put him in charge of the highest office in the land).

      Delete