Monday, September 21, 2015

95. Academics are unhappy.

You know that today's graduate students are unhappy when the Wall Street Journal can refer (and not entirely facetiously) to the world's best-positioned graduate students as Harvard's Les Miserables. If the discontent experienced in graduate school were only a temporary condition to be endured on a path to a better life, then it might not be so bad. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of unhappiness among those who make it all the way through graduate school, and not just among the thousands of PhDs living on welfare (see Reason 83), or the thousands burdened by crushing debt, or the thousands working as barely paid adjuncts (see Reason 14). (The plight of adjuncts has turned so tragically absurd that it's now fodder for the Sunday comics.) There are also, of course, those who have suffered through the devastating humiliation of being denied tenure.

And then there are those for whom everything worked out. Yes, a great many academics who not only found tenure-track jobs (see Reason 8) but managed to survive the long road to tenure (see Reason 71) are surprisingly miserable. For some, their unhappiness began as soon as they were tenured; the Chronicle of Higher Education has covered the phenomenon of post-tenure depression on more than one occasion. For others, an unshakable sadness took hold much earlier in their careers. The culture of fear (see Reason 76) that pervades academe ensures that the deep unhappiness felt by so many academics is rarely discussed openly. More often than not, it takes an observer working outside of academe to bring the subject to light.

The miseries of academic life are on full display, however, in fictional depictions of the university. Over the decades, those depictions have grown darker. Edward Albee's 1962 play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" put academic torments on the stage. Countless novels put those torments on the page. As most academic fiction is written by academics, it is worth considering the source. In fiction, academics have found a way to describe their professional environment without jeopardizing their jobs. In Faculty Towers, Elaine Showalter notes that since the 1970s professors portrayed in academic novels have "become more and more grotesque figures, full of self-doubt and self-hatred." Why is this so? In his review of Showalter's book, Joseph Epstein offers an answer that outlines the trajectory followed by idealistic graduate students:

When young, the life ahead seems glorious. They imagine themselves inspiring the young, writing important books, living out their days in cultivated leisure. But something, inevitably, goes awry, something disagreeable turns up in the punch bowl. Usually by the time they turn 40, they discover the students aren't sufficiently appreciative; the books don't get written; the teaching begins to feel repetitive; the collegiality is seldom anywhere near what one hoped for it; there isn't any good use for the leisure. Meanwhile, people who got lots of B's in school seem to be driving around in Mercedes, buying million-dollar apartments, enjoying freedom and prosperity in a manner that strikes the former good students, now professors, as not only unseemly but of a kind a just society surely would never permit.

As it is, society permits some academics to live (and die) in genuine poverty, but the ranks of the miserable in academe extend far beyond the financially insecure. Academics are unhappy, and even students are beginning to notice.



147 comments:

  1. Yesterday, I was reflecting on the place where I work, a depressingly tacky regional university, and wondering, "Does anyone here seem happy? Is there anyone here who is not constantly stressed?" I can think of one, maybe two persons in my department who maybe seem happy, but every single person I can think of is stressed and overworked. Some dream about finding work somewhere else, but would another place be any better? Is every university this depressing?

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  2. I wonder how academics compare to the 80% of Americans overall who are unhappy at their jobs:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/06/20/most-americans-are-unhappy-at-work/

    Base rates matter.

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    1. Base rates do matter. However, I don't know if comparing with Americans in general is the relevant base rate. It's more interesting to compare within the educated class, to correctly gauge the "happiness cost" vs alternative careers.

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    2. Your article says 52.3% of Amercians are unhappy at work, not 80%.

      Accurate reporting of information matters too.

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    3. Four out of three social scientists have difficulty calculating and interpreting statistics.

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    4. ...as do 97% of climate change "scientists."

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  3. Thank you for resuming your excellent blog postings

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  4. 100 Reasons! Thanks for publishing again! Please, don't let us wait so long for the last 5 posts.

    After lots of negative experiences, I left academia 1 1/2 years ago, and it was one of my best decisions ever. I am surprised that I could endure so much unhappiness. I am so glad I left! My only regret is not to have done it before, instead of wasting my best years. It is a pity I found this blog so late.

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  5. I swear, that tower that's sinking into the sea on the front of Showalter's book is the clock tower from my own beloved undergraduate alma mater, Bryn Mawr. What a depressing image. I know it's been a very long time since I was a student there, but the faculty certainly seemed happy enough to me back then and I hope to goodness it hasn't changed *that* much.

    On the other hand, I've been following an academic spouse around for the better part of forty years, and there's no denying that, in a lot of places, there are a lot of unhappy people. The insecurity, relative poverty, and idiotic politics of academic life will do that to people.

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  6. Sad but true. Academics are the most miserable, unhappy, and depressed people I've ever encountered.

    One thing I noticed about academics is that most don't have a life outside of academia. They don't have hobbies and they're not members of any non-academic clubs or organizations. They also have an extremely hard time separating their work life from their personal life. This is because academia is an all-encompassing profession - we're encouraged to believe there isn't life outside of academia. That's one reason why I'm happy that "quit-lit" is becoming popular - people need to see that academia is just another job that one can leave at any time, not some sacred cult that no one's allowed to walk away from.

    It's sad when I interact with my fellow grad students because most of them can't discuss anything non-academia related, and our conversations are always about department gossip that I'm not really interested in hearing. I try to steer the conversation away from the gossip, but it somehow ends up circling back to it. This is why I've stopped hanging out with most grad students in my department.

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    1. I can certainly relate to that last paragraph. I'm in my second year of doctoral work and I try to avoid many of my fellow doctoral candidates. They are either bickering incessantly and gossiping, or spend every moment talking about their particular project and making fun of the other students' work behind their backs.

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    2. Yup.

      My Ph. D. project was on a subject completely different than what my supervisor's other students were working on. As a result, I had little in common with them, nobody took me seriously, and everyone ignored me.

      Adding to that was a lack of a grad student common area in the department. There was no place where we could gather, have coffee or lunch, let alone chew the rag. That resulted in compartmentalization where there generally wasn't much contact between students in different labs or research groups. I found that strange as other departments I was associated with had a more social atmosphere.

      In addition, a large portion of the grad students were foreigners, most of whom coming from the same country. They didn't mix with the rest of us, which was their privilege, of course. However, that led to some of the domestic students resenting them and harbouring a bit of ill will. One could hardly call that a "community" atmosphere.

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  7. Some specific factors contributing to the unhappiness of academics:
    1) Overly lengthy time-to-degree and time-to-professional employment.
    2) Overly expensive tuition rates and resulting massive student loans.
    3) Institutional (personal) politics.
    4) Widespread ideological and political (fascist) conformity is at odds with most of the purported rationales for the existence of higher education.
    5) Relatively flat hierarchical structures, administered primarily (and increasingly) by non-academics, predominate.
    6) Academia's marketing problems in a world that increasingly values neither achievement nor learning, and related issues pertaining to both academic and non-academic employment prospects.
    7) Increasing skepticism on competence of graduates.
    8) Academia as driver for government policy (on immigration, on identity politics, and on social/economic justice, to name a few).
    9) Increasing (and admittedly well-founded) skepticism on academia's political agenda.
    10) The eventual failure of said agenda and the resulting aftermath.

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  8. Great post, please keep posting, don't wait too long for #96.

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  9. Academics may or may not be unhappier than the general population but the author clearly makes the point that graduate school is not some Shangri-La like "Life of the Mind" that some graduate program directors make it out to be.

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    1. "Life of the Mind"?? More like "Left in a Bind" or "Knifed from Behind"

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    2. My experience was more like "Hello, sucker!" and wearing an invisible "Kick me" sign.

      The calendar of the university stated that grad students and supervisors should be "partners in research". Yeah, right.

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    3. Exactly. A lot of these reasons deal with things that are also present in other industries. Avoiding grad school won't necessarily mean avoiding these problems, but many academics would lead you to believe that going to grad school is in fact the ticket to a more enjoyable, fulfilling work life. People have to understand that isn't true.

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  10. It’s nice to see you posting again.

    Being a former doctoral student, I can vouch that overwork is a huge part of that unhappiness. Doctoral students in my department had up to 80 students in filler online courses (with no assistants, grading was brutal). The program I was in threw in a lot of fluff education courses that had nothing to do with the field I was in (a theme that’s touched upon in Confessions of a College Professor, an excellent blog by Professor Doom). I love my field, but I couldn’t stand the filler classes.

    With no time to really learn the material I wanted to learn (and contribute to my field) and no spare time to cool off, I found myself in a deepening well of blackness. I also had snowballing health issues which made doctoral studies increasingly impossible. I went and saw a doctor who told me that if I didn’t do something, I would end up VERY ill. He and a psychologist told me to at least fulfill my teaching duties, so I quit doing half my coursework and hung out with my undergrad friends. That was a huge relief for me, even though my 4.0 GPA I had managed to keep during my time as a Master’s student went out the window. I watched movies, I played video games, etc. I started to become human again.

    For formality’s sake, I got a letter from my doctor saying that I needed medical leave (in the wildest fantasy scenario that I would ever want to go back). Admin took a huge shit all over my medical needs and said that I would still have to complete a doctoral program within 5 to 6 years. For students who want to get their degree but have health problems, this is nuts. I’m in the second year of getting my health problems sorted out, so I would have wasted half the time needed for the program (my medical issues aren’t life threatening, but still a doozy. I’m okay.) Seriously, administration is full of loons. What part of “medical leave” do they not understand?

    Does it bother me that I abandoned a doctoral program? Not in the least. Between being the first in the family to have a doctoral degree and my health, I chose my health. My family understood and took me back in so I could deal with my medical issues and heal. I’ve managed to learn more on my medical leave than I could in the classroom.

    Here’s to all the unhappy grad students out there. You don’t have to stop being intellectual/smart if you quit, but with the way everything’s rigged right now, it’s better to quit while you’re ahead.

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  11. Educators and academics are a miserable bunch. They're not only personally unhappy, they make sure that their colleagues are as well.

    I taught at a technical college for several years and I noticed that the favourite activity of many people was selecting one colleague they were going to dislike and then trash that person's reputation until that individual leaves--preferably involuntarily and in complete disgrace and dishonour.

    In the department I was in, that was me. One colleague, who eventually became assistant head, started almost from the very beginning. It didn't take long until he began nit-picking about how I ran my courses or set my exams. Eventually, he graduated to spreading rumours about me, particularly to the new department head. (The latter soon developed a disliking for me and waged his own private war.)

    Other people hated me for my education or the fact that I was single and displayed, in their minds, questionable personal behaviour, if you get my meaning.

    Of course, those rumours weren't just restricted to the office. The students soon caught on and some used those against me. Senior institutional administrators weren't left out, either, as the last dean in our section proved.

    Henry Kissinger once said that academics are vicious because the stakes are so small. After the years of abuse and subterfuge that I had to contend with, I can confirm that.

    Academics and educators, on the whole, were the most petty and nasty people I had the displeasure of working with.

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    1. P. S. If you want some idea of what it was like for me, watch the series "House of Cards". I've only seen the original BBC production and Ian Richardson's portrayal of Francis Urquhart is ghoulishly familiar.

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  12. Great blog! Every time I consider going to grad school I revisit this site. I have been flirting with the idea of going back to school for years especially during times when business is slow. I am glad I am still in business and that I managed to avoid pursuing a PhD.

    Don't stop posting - you are saving lives.

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  13. Happy to see you're still posting.

    I really feel this blog. Luckily I bailed on the PhD track before even starting. However, throughout all of college I was swept away with the "life of the mind" idea and was dead set on becoming a professor. The major change came in senior year when working on my honors paper. As it was drifting into an increasingly hairsplitting argument the line between reality and semantic hocus pocus started to blur. And I had the realization that my life in the present shape of academia would not be a "life of the mind" but quite the opposite - I would have to publish for the sake of publishing, argue with an increasingly narrow audience due to overspecialization of disciplines, and, perhaps worst of all, sing with the mumbo-jumbo choir or perish in departmental politics. I wanted to use academics to solve real-world problems but realized that was extremely unlikely in the present environment (at least in the humanities and social sciences) - I think the lack of real-world relevance of present day academia deserves a reason of its own. I chose a career in business instead and, contrary to the belief of academicians, it is intellectually very stimulating and I make a real-world impact every day. Thank god I did that honors paper; I would have been one miserable person had I pursued a career in academia.

    I don't dislike academia per se, in fact I love it, but I think the whole system has been corrupted by a lack of status and money (for many reasons raised on this blog), coupled with the falling of standards, leading to brain drain. Quasi-intellectualism is rife in academia today. You don't even need basic critical thinking skills as long as you can regurgitate the lingo. Thank you post-modernism, you "democratized" academia, now every half-wit can bs themselves into a professor. It's sad really, we don't need the smartest minds to waste their energy on "creative finance" - we need them to challenge the foundations of society. I really hope academia undergoes serious reform, kicks out all the pretentious fakes, and reclaim its position as an intellectual engine and force for real-world change.

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    1. No, the system has been corrupted by increasing quantities of money and the increased politicization of the academy.

      From the groupthink politics to propagandizing for the left to setting up their little fascist fiefdoms, liberals have ruined universities over much of the planet in their quest for "social change" - most of which has had the net effects of collapsing economies, setting race relations back decades, and ensuring the erosion of the rule of law.

      We do not need universities that are all too happy to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Democrat presidential candidates that have proven themselves unworthy of public office - more than once - even while the universities hike tuition rates.

      We do not need universities that are dedicated to growing the moneyed bureaucrat classes at the expense of actual productive labor.

      We do not need universities whose stated goals are "to challenge the foundations of society." This is the (unproductive and even destructive) goal of an invading or revolutionary army, rather than that of an institution intended to preserve and solidify civilization.

      Reform, or reap the whirlwind. It really is that simple.

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    2. With regards to money, my point wasn't really so much about money sloshing around in the system in general (and its adverse effects) but specifically the relative monetary payoff for pursuing an academic career vs other professions.

      As for the stated goal of challenging the foundations of society, let me qualify that. The purpose of academia should be to challenge everything, including society, in order to produce the best ideas for the ultimate benefit of civilization. I fundamentally disagree with the view that academia or (American) society has been or should be preservative or change averse. The US was founded on revolutionary ideas and has gone through many changes throughout its relatively short history.

      I don't think this should be framed as a partisan issue. I'm pretty sure we have different political views, but we do agree that academia is in trouble. And I'm willing to concede that conservative ideas are being discriminated against. But I think the problem is wider than that - I think there's a more general problem of pure anti-intellectualism.

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    3. First, thank you for your thoughtful comments and clarifications.

      It's apparent that we are discussing two different issues with respect to money and systemic corruption. I personally believe that the modern university's loss of mission came about with (greatly) increased gross revenues and the expansion of the administrative structure, all coincident with a sharp increase in the overt politicization of the academy - and increasingly visible in financial connections between all three. The links are apparent, for example, in institutional administrations granting unbelievably large "speaker fees" to presidential candidates and nearly simultaneously announcing tuition hikes, and in preferential university administration hiring - at unquestionably *non-market rates and with six-figure perks* for retired partisan bureaucrats *with no prior academic background,* also concomitant with hikes in - you guessed it - tuition; all occurring in states at or beyond fiscal collapse, and thus endangering more legitimate academic activity and endeavor.

      Universities have historically had as their mission the maintenance and preservation of knowledge, along necessarily with its (responsible) interpretation. Without this foundation there is a lack of understanding of the ideas underpinning civilization, and no comprehension of the ramifications of challenging these ideas, much less the wisdom of advocating those advanced as their replacements. This point has already been reached, with large swaths of careful thought erroneously dismissed in a sentence or two, evolved structures derided on the basis of a lack of historical comprehension or comparative background, and the dismissal of most of western civilization on the basis of identity politics - without any substantive study to complement it. There has been no "production of the best ideas for the ultimate benefit of civilization" - but there has been a wholesale hijacking of the academic mission to political ends, and civilization will inevitably be the loser.

      On the US specifically, the colonies' independence from Britain was informed by philosophical themes brought with the colonists from Britain and Europe, and in their implementation can be considered to be rather more evolutionary than revolutionary. The religions which the colonists desired to practice without persecution were imported; anger over taxes arose because of the differential political treatment accorded to the colonies, which were not overtly politically represented; the leading political documents arising from independence were heavily informed by a rich tradition of Western philosophy. Conversely, the French Revolution was far more 'revolutionary' in its tactics and arguably far less successful in proportion.

      On your last paragraph, I think we can arrive at much to agree with. Academia is in trouble. Academia does suffer from the disturbing rise of an ideological monoculture, which has only been harmful to its ends. Also, there is a more general problem of a wholesale rejection of the value of education and the value of the academy itself, which has I think arisen at least partly from not-entirely-misguided public perception of this corruption of the mission of the academy.

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    4. Reply posted and subsequently censored.

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    5. ...and now it's back - thank you, 100 Reasons...

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    6. On the matter of US history I think we can agree to disagree. To say that the French or American Revolutions were not really revolutions to me is just the same type of semantic word game that postmodernists engage in.

      With regards to the mission of the academy, I would argue the other way around. Challenging ideas requires critical thinking, which is a prerequisite for (responsibly) interpreting knowledge from the past. Critical thinking is precisely what has been thrown out of the window by the postmodernist movement - political objectives take precedence over reason. That, in my estimation, is a much bigger problem than poor knowledge of the past. I don't see an either-or-situation here - either identity politics or rejection of social change (we are pretty happy we don't have slavery today, after all). I'm not aligning with any ideology a priori - left, right, up, down, and most importantly, the potential, yet-to-be-conceived ideas - are all suffering because of intellectual deterioration.

      That said, I think we agree more than we disagree. I agree that there's ideological group-think, conflict of interest and deterioration in value of the academy, both in substance and in the views of the public. But I don't think a partisan approach will be helpful in resolving the issues - it will only entrench the debate around a false dilemma.

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    7. Au contraire, the distinctions between the American and French revolutions were articulated by Edmund Burke, among others, a couple of centuries before "semantic word games that postmodernists engage in."

      One disturbing aspect of the phenomena we are seeing in academia at present is challenge without reference to history or comparative context. Not only is it embarrassing to witness, but it purposefully seems to be impeding legitimate scholarship. I can't imagine you're for that.

      Finally, to call attention to the partisan hijacking of the academy is not the same as advocating a partisan approach to addressing it.

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  14. Nice post!

    I recently wrote up an article considering why tenure line faculty are so unhappy: http://www.ivorytowerunlocked.com/an-uncomfortable-truth-about-where-youll-probably-get-a-faculty-job/

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  15. This culture of unhappiness, fear, and insecurity in academia is very detrimental to graduate students who are trying to get through this process intact. Everyday when I wake up I wonder if I'm actually going to make it through with such a deluded set of people. I've passed my exams and I'm practicing a lot of self-preservation, but I wonder if it's a sustainable way of life for the future... I don't want to end up like the above.

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    1. If you want to get your degree, you often don't have much room to move.

      I considered firing my Ph. D. supervisor for negligence and I consulted the university ombudsman's office about the procedure. I was told that I could switch to another prof, provided that he or she would be willing to take on my project. If not, either I had to abandon what I was working on and investigate something else or I'd have to switch. I decided to tough it out, but not after a lot of hollering and screaming, mainly from my supervisor.

      And people wondered why I drank heavily during the last two years of my studies.....

      While I worked on my first master's degree, one of my fellow grad students went through almost exactly the same thing. His supervisor decided to quit and take a job in industry. The student had passed his candidacy, as I recall, and was a year or two from finishing his degree. When nobody wanted to take over his project, he took his wife and new-born son and went back to his home country ABD.

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    2. I feared as much. My situation has a lot of different layers to it, as I'm sure yours did as well. It's difficult to concisely pinpoint all of the issues that have come up along the way. Somehow I wish that my advisor was overtly mean so I could actually have "proof" of something, but it's all very underhanded and stealthy. She is a leader in her field, for what that's worth, so that complicates things a bit. I'm going to try my damnedest to finish my project and do this for myself, but it is tremendously difficult when you feel that you have zero support behind you (and you know that could be employed with a Master's, at least in my case). I'm curious if anyone has ever had a PhD advisor that was amazing? I hear more bad than good, that's for sure.

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    3. Anonymous October 22, 2015 at 5:05 PM: I actually really like my advisor. She's been supportive of me and is very helpful. Though I do have one committee member who hasn't been a pleasure to work with, and because of academia's politics I can't kick him off of my committee.

      I heavily vetted the faculty here before deciding who would be my advisor/dissertation director. I talked to other grad students, had casual conversations with faculty members, and looked at where the students who worked with specific faculty members ended up getting jobs after graduating. I read this somewhere (maybe on this blog, I'm not sure) that grad students need to treat picking an advisor the same way they'd treat picking a spouse and I completely agree with that. I'd also argue that it's worth altering your area of specialization to avoid working with a nightmare committee.

      Of course, in some departments, students don't get to choose their advisors, unfortunately.

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    4. Anon @ 2015-10-22 1705 hrs:

      I'm sure I know of someone who thought that our Ph. D. supervisor was terrific. She got along well with him, indicating to me that their relationship was less than arm's length.

      For all I know, the two of them were having an affair--he was a randy old coot and her morals were sufficiently dubious that she would have gone along with it, if not start it.

      I wasn't in the least bit surprised when I found out she got a tenure-track position at a university at the other end of the country and recently received permanent status.

      The unfortunate thing was that she was smart enough on her own that she didn't have to stoop to anything like that.

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  16. Some universities do not even have ombudsmen to mediate the inevitable conflicts that arise between graduate students and supervisors. My university doesn't have an ombudsman. There is a huge power gap between a graduate student and a supervisor and some faculty take advantage of this power differential. At my university it seems whenever there is a disagreement between a student and a faculty member it is always the students fault and never the supervisor's.

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    1. Unfortunately, what happened to the ABD grad student I mentioned earlier wasn't all that unusual in our department.

      My own supervisor exploited his grad students and if one finished his or her degree, it was by accident. He once published data without giving credit to the grad student who produced it and it nearly ended in litigation. The matter came to an end when a senior administrator stepped in.

      Another grad student came to our country with a master's degree and started on his Ph. D. under him. The poor chap got torpedoed, so to speak, in his defence and ended up with another master's. He tried once more and finally succeeded, but it took him more than 10 years after he came here.

      How did my supervisor get away with it? First, he had tenure and tenured profs weren't easily fired in those days. Second, he used a bait-and-switch technique for getting students to go along with it. ("If you worked for another xxx years, you could have your Ph. D......." Yeah, right.)

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    2. In my experience ombudsmen are f**king useless.

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  17. One of my parents worked in the 1970's at the health center of a large university. The clinic was well staffed by nurses and doctors, but the Director decided to bring in a psychiatrist for one day each week to expand their services. The new doctor was soon very busy and his work expanded to the point where he could have been employed full-time. I remember innocently asking if his patients were students and was told, "No, most of his patients are faculty."

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    1. The place where I used to teach had an employee assistance program. I didn't find it terribly useful.

      The first time I used it was on a personal matter. The counsellor prattled some touchy-feely nonsense which anybody could get by watching a daytime TV chat show. She wasn't pleased that I didn't parrot everything she told me.

      The second time was because of problems I had with my department head. By then, the firm offering the service had changed. I got a lot of evasiveness, which ended that it wouldn't be fair if it commented on my situation.

      After that, I didn't bother as it didn't help me whatsoever.

      I paid my staff association fees for that malarkey?

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    2. The type of person who pursues a PhD probably has a disposition for mental illness. So that's not an indictment of the institution. The institution is exactly as you would expect one filled with malcontents - a looney bin.

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  18. Great post, thank you so much for this blog. Don't be too long before posting again!

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  19. We do it to ourselves. What's worse, we do it for no reason.

    After working as faculty for a few years, the conclusion I've come to is that there is something psychologically wrong with many faculty. The SEEK unhappiness, revel in it even.

    I was talking to an administrator about a year ago and he was genuinely clueless about why the faculty seem so stressed out. He did not understand why we all felt so overworked.

    I had a revelation at that point... this is *my boss* (well, sort of). He and his colleagues are not the ones overworking us. We're doing it to ourselves - the tenure procedures, the CV padding, etc... It's a kind of hazing ritual - first grad school then tenure, etc...

    Our unhappiness is our own - no administrators are making us go through it. They don't even understand what we do it and when we tell them, they wonder why we do it in such a way that maximizes stress.

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    1. Sometimes people bring misery upon themselves. Sometimes we feel like we are more noble for suffering, alone and in silence. It's absurd and unhealthy, yet we continue to do it.

      When I started working in a temp position after I graduated (got it because of a student position I had), I realized how toxic the atmosphere of academia was. At that point, I decided I needed to leave it all behind and embark on a career where I was happy.

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    2. Is it really all self-induced though when your very existence within the academy relies on your ability to constantly publish and add to your CV? I think that perhaps a lot of the psychological issues stem out of some really convoluted goals of hard work that start in grad school and progress from there (as you mentioned). So I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I think there is a little more nuance to it. Eventually those 80 hour weeks catch up to you, and it is unsettling to try and "come down" from the "all consuming" nature of academia. Sigh.

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    3. "Is it really all self-induced though when your very existence within the academy relies on your ability to constantly publish and add to your CV?"

      Yes, because tenure requirements vary by institution and the tenure committee will vary based on circumstance. What I don't understand is that the hiring process itself should be its own review. It doesn't take a genius to see the candidates who will complete the tenure requirements as a matter of course simply because they are professionals and that is what they do.

      But no... the candidate for tenure never *quite* knows if he or she is doing the right or wrong thing, so most go overboard trying to insure against being deemed unworthy of tenure. Thus the arms race raises the bar for the next round of candidates, and up and up the arms race spirals.

      Administrators are completely clueless as to how it works and why. They think that faculty have the greatest job in the world because they "only work" 9 months while administrators work 12. When I told the administrator in question about what I was doing for tenure, he was, quite frankly, amazed and shocked.

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  20. The biggest reason for this is the feeling of being trapped. The same university, the same town in the middle of nowhere, the same office probably with no windows. The claustrophobia also extends to the mind, which is the constant guilt that you should be working all the time. People need to be mobile, need to go out, do different things. A trapped living organism is an insane living organism (applies not only to humans, ever seen a dog on a leash all day?). A soul sucking job in a big city gives all sorts negative feelings. But no one ever feels trapped in a big city as much as academia. In fact it's the one and only reason and chose not to convert my master's research into a phd. I wanted to get the heck out of there.

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    1. There's another aspect to the guilt at not working all the time.

      At the place where I used to teach, my department head and the assistant DH thought that any free time I might have had was to be considered as theft from the students. Even if I got all my work done, the fact that I had a personal life of my own, and what I did on *my* time was none of their business, was abhorrent to them.

      Unfortunately, that mentality wasn't just restricted to that institution. After I quit there, I applied for teaching positions at a number of other places. If I ever got an interview, and I hinted that I might want to work on my research after hours, I got dirty looks. It came as no surprise that I wasn't hired.

      Those institutions expected me to allow myself to be devoured by my job. No personal sacrifice for my students was considered too great for them.

      Soul-sucking indeed.....

      Delete
    2. Industry cares about work not time. You're free to do whatever you want in your hours as long as you deliver what you should be delivering on time. Lower managers care a lot about their families and only assign work to someone who has nothing to do in fear of the higher ups. And in a team environment there will always be delays and what not. If you're not in the bottom 30% you can work this to your advantage: hey I left at 5 because the cog in front of me is stuck. Of course there will be 18 hour days but they never last. In a hot, in demand field, where there is money to hire enough people it is very difficult to work a smart person to death. The work maybe soul-sucking but it is so much better than academia.

      Delete
    3. 2015-11-03 @ 1132:

      It depends on the employer. After I finished my B. Sc., I worked for a large oil company. My last boss frankly told me: "We're professionals here. We work unlimited hours." The firm shamelessly demanded long hours from anyone who was single and unattached--mustn't be seen as disrupting family life or active courtships, you know.

      I frequently got dirty looks when I left at the official quitting time. I figured that unless there was an impending deadline or an emergency, my work could wait until the next day. The company's solution? Make everything #1 priority.

      I was eventually fired because I refused to be a company toady and that boss didn't like that. What should I expect from an outfit that saw spare time as theft?

      Delete
  21. Somewhere on this blog I knew I'd read that the professor's house was unrealistically nice in this movie. I found the comment on reason #85.

    im Exil July 20, 2015 at 7:31 AM

    Watch the 1966 film of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He is supposed to be an obscure, second-rate history professor at a small New England college, tenured only because he had married to the college president's wife. Note the set: I don't know if academics ever lived that way--I suspect at least some did--but in any case it's now a thing of the past. The "shabby genteel" was captured by a house which, though it may not be outright elegant or expensive, was still roomy, dignified, and comfortable, with lots of books, wood paneling, and privacy. Whoever designed the set paid a great deal of attention to detail--the bookshelf behind the bed contains volumes on Goethe and Thomas Mann, for example, and the rooms are also filled with tasteful, cultured artwork. Today, even this "shabbiness" would be well beyond the reach of most academics, let alone aspiring academics. Compared to most of the faculty dwellings and office that I've seen, the digs depicted by the set in this movie might as well be San Simeon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I went to the college depicted in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," (hint: it isn't Bryn Mawr) and know who the couple depicted in the film was (hints: he was not in the History department, and has since achieved a certain degree of prominence in his field).

      Having met other (now much older) faculty from the same department at that small New England college, and having been a guest at their residences (many years ago), I would say that the house depicted in "...Woolf" was not unrealistic and probably more typical than not. What was affordable in the mid-1960s is far less affordable today, and this is a rural college, for which the nearest "urban" centers were and are deeply economically depressed textile towns. Your equivalent today would be found in small towns in the Midwest and South.

      Delete
  22. @April W. That is indeed the Bryn Mawr College clocktower on Showalter's book (Showalter is a BMC grad).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, she is—a bit before my time, but not very much. Thanks for the confirmation! Some things just get seared into your visual memory, and you'd know them anywhere.

      Delete
  23. They are a miserable bunch. My DH taught for 40 years. The thing is, they'd be a lot less happy if they were teaching in the public school system.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Teaching in the United States, regardless if it's grade school or higher education, leads to misery.

    Overworked teachers who are disturbingly underpaid
    Dealing with inept administrators and lazy/incompetent students
    Teaching in a country that constantly passes questionable policies that don't foster learning (No Child Left Behind, Common Core, et. al.)

    I could go on and on about the disadvantages of going into the education industry and why these have an adverse effect on teachers' mental health...

    ReplyDelete
  25. There’s an awful cost to getting a PhD that no one talks about

    http://qz.com/547641/theres-an-awful-cost-to-getting-a-phd-that-no-one-talks-about/

    "A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47% of graduate students suffer from depression, following a previous 2005 study that showed 10% had contemplated suicide. A 2003 Australian study found that that the rate of mental illness in academic staff was three to four times higher than in the general population, according to a New Scientist article. The same article notes that the percentage of academics with mental illness in the United Kingdom has been estimated at 53%."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Getting my Ph. D. was far tougher than I had first imagined. Much of that was due to my supervisor.

      He was reluctant to take me on, even though I had finished my second master's degree under him. He wasn't all that enthusiastic about my project but he took me on anyway. As it turned out, he had different ideas.

      My first topic was scuttled after I'd spent a year on it, courtesy of a committee meeting. One member behaved like a child, though the other one was more reasonable. Even so, I was left with nothing to work on. That night, I completely overhauled my project, selected a new topic, based on the second committee member's comments, and started all over again.

      The bratty member subsequently quit my committee and the other one decided to retire.

      In hindsight, I think my supervisor set it up that I would be desperate to have something to work on and throw in with him.

      During the next few years, my supervisor was next to useless. Towards the end, I officially began my 2-year residency and soon found out that he was "never interested" in what I was working on. So, through all that time, that bozo was feeding me a line of BS.

      Of course, why should he have been concerned with my topic? After all, he had a brilliant young lady working on his project and I'm sure that their dealings was more than academic, if you know what I mean.

      His excuse for not doing anything? It was part of the "grad student experience", or words to that effect. Eventually, I kicked his lazy butt out of the way, stubbornly pushed ahead, and finished my thesis with little input from him.

      That jackass was so lazy that I had to remind him that I needed to have a candidacy exam and, as it turned out, I had to make all the arrangements for my defence. I passed, though he used the session as an opportunity to embarrass and humiliate me in front of the examining committee.

      I could have fired him, but, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, I was better off keeping him than trying to find another supervisor. As a result of his deliberate negligence, I didn't mention his name in the thesis acknowledgements, which, I understand, is a grievous faux-pas. On the other hand, I'm not in the habit of rewarding laziness and poor performance.

      I got my degree 15 years ago. Looking back, I'm amazed that I was able to do so with that numbskull's shenanigans. But it came at a high price as I was under constant stress and I often drank more than was good for me just to stay sane.

      Delete
    2. Further to my earlier comment, when my supervisor made his "grad student experience" comment, I came close to pulling the abort handle. I had run into severe difficulties in developing the algorithm that I wanted to use and I was slowly running out of time. He simply refused to help.

      It wasn't until I made a small but significant change in my software that I finally made progress. After that, I was quite productive and made up for lost time. Fortunately, I lived alone and had a low social profile so I could work on it as long as I wanted or needed to.

      If I'd relied on my supervisor's guidance, I don't think I would have finished my degree. It was odd that the actual research proved to be less difficult than my dealings with him.

      Delete
  26. This is a bad time to be an academic. In the late sixties, when student radicals were making life unpleasant on campus, at least American universities were still in their post-Sputnik golden age of healthy budgets and stable faculties. Now student activism is boiling up again, but most college teachers are part-timers making peanuts.

    This month's YouTube video of the Yale student screaming obscenities at a professor shows what faculty members have to look forward to with this generation of students.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IEFD_JVYd0

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed - never before has the academy been so widely distrusted, ridiculed, and disliked - and with good reason.

      I can't help but feel the recent campus unrest is all because of some aging hippies' rosy-lensed nostalgia (well, alright, that and the pursuit of money via identity politics). A recent photo of a faculty member involved in the protests earned the caption, "I hear Sly is getting the band back together."

      Sadly, I also believe one of the main casualties of this will be the liberal arts. Bradbury was wrong - burning books demonstrates the power of the written word - to erase culture, all you have to do is render academic pursuits ridiculous.

      Delete
    2. Fall semester 2015 has been a doozy…

      1. Professor murdered by colleague at Delta State U.

      2. Student kills professor and eight classmates at Umpqua Community College.

      3. Freshman goes on stabbing rampage at U. of California, Merced.

      4. Meltdown at Yale over Halloween costume email.

      5. Football players force resignation of president and chancellor of U. of Missouri.

      6. Claremont McKenna dean accidentally offends student in email and resigns.

      7. Princeton students occupy president's office and issue demands.

      8. Amherst students organize massive library sit-in and issue demands.

      9. U. of Kansas professor put on leave after offending students in class.

      10. Western Washington U. suspends classes after mascot comments.

      This semester has seen everything from the deadly serious to the absurd on campus. Stepping back, does anyone see a pretty picture here?

      Delete
    3. Generally agreed, but I'm not sure I'd have included #3, which appears to be related to a different set of problems.

      Delete
    4. Here's an interesting perspective on the subject:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQzXlJ6pHdI

      Personally, I think that the post-secondary system as we know it will collapse within the next 20 years, run aground by administrators too spineless to stand up to the absurdities of political correctness, identity politics, and professional victimhood.

      Delete
    5. For #3 (which is perhaps more about the religious identity of the assailant), substitute instead "University of Illinois at Chicago student threatens to kill '16 white male students or staff' at the University of Chicago, followed by 'any number of white policeman' (sic) in retaliation for the shooting of Laquan McDonald - resulting in the entire University of Chicago campus being shut down.

      Delete
    6. It's increasingly clear that even "bright" university students at institutions like Yale do not see the value in preserving freedom of speech, hearing conflicting or opposing viewpoints, or even practicing tolerance and civility. This is a big problem that is only going to become more pronounced and dangerous.

      What is even more frightening is the views these students have are now firmly embedded in mainstream government and media.

      What country is this? I do not recognize it.

      Delete
    7. Reason #96 - Academia has become a kangaroo court, in which guilt is assessed by the ignorant and the sophmoric, on the basis of the politics of identity.

      Delete
    8. Anon @ 2015-12-14 10:35:

      The current situation on certain campuses is a result of that bone-headed educational doctrine of "student as customer". It evolved--or, more properly, mutated--from the basic premise of "meet or exceed the customer's needs and expectations" to the current situation.

      It's hardly surprising that things are chaotic nowadays. Educational policy back then, as it is now, catered to the narcissists, the self-interested, and the entitled.

      Delete
    9. No, it's the politics. A "student as customer" mindset does not risk alienating (or even threatening) large numbers of students to appease interest groups, which is exactly what today's academy has done and continues to do.

      Delete
    10. Yale: Opposes freedom of speech.
      Harvard: Invents "placemat-think."
      Princeton: Eradicating its own alumni history.

      We've seen this movie. What comes after isn't pretty.

      Delete
    11. Anon @ 2015-12-16 0822:

      "Student as customer" means whatever the student wants, the student gets. The current political nonsense is that doctrine carried to an absurd extreme. Want "safe spaces"? You have "safe spaces". Feel discriminated against? We'll punish whoever you think is offending you--no proof required.

      Delete
    12. Anon 2015/12/16 9:28 AM:

      With respect, "student as customer" is not the issue here. The problem is that some students and faculty are harassing, verbally abusing, and forcing out other students and faculty, on the basis of identity politics. Some institutions are choosing to try to appease this small subset (I'd guess 10-20%, and I suspect I'm being overly generous), and in the process they are alienating large numbers of people (the remaining 80-90%). If the unis were really concerned about "customer satisfaction" they'd be far more concerned with the 80-90% who are clearly there for reasons other than sh*t-stirring (and may even be there to try to learn something).

      Delete
    13. Anon @ 2015-12-20 0827:

      You missed my point. "Student as customer" means give them whatever they want. What's happened lately is an extension of it.

      The rabble-rousers knew they could get away with their nonsense because that was what they were accustomed to from when they were in school. Never mind what their motive is. The fact is that the administrators knuckled under with little resistance and gave them whatever they demanded. It's a continuation of the notion that "the customer is always right".

      I know all about it because I had to deal with that while I taught at a certain post-secondary institution many years ago. It didn't matter who it was or how many--I was required to comply with their demands.

      Delete
    14. @ Anon 2015-12-20 10:27 AM

      With respect, I did not miss your point - I just think left-wing identity politics are far more at fault here.
      If this were an issue of "customer satisfaction," the institutions in question would not be interested in catering to small interest groups who will not be appeased, and who aspire to lives of demands, threats and intimidating actions for personal profit. Generally businesses do not survive by alienating their core customers, or subjecting 80-90% of their customer base to harassment, threats, and increased costs - yet this is what is happening.

      Delete
    15. Anon @ 2015-12-20 1027:

      That's not how it works, though. The identity politics is merely a justification for letting the students get away with their nonsense.

      During my last year of my Ph. D. residency, I was a TA marker for a certain undergrad course. The prof gave out weekly assignments which the students would complete and submit after a week.

      One day, some twerp decided that he (or she) had a "right" to privacy concerning the grade on those assignments. The result was that those now had to have cover sheet. That meant that the stack of papers I had to go through was a bit higher plus I had to pack those extra sheets back and forth.

      Nobody else ever made an issue about it before. Students throughout the decades at that institution didn't say peep about whether anyone else paid attention to an individual's grade on an assignment. But, no, someone decided to get their you-know-whats in a knot and, because of that, many other people had to be inconvenienced.

      At the same time, the university adhered to the "student as customer" doctrine, so what that kid wanted, that kid got, along with everyone else.

      It's like what happened during my last year of teaching. A colleague in another department in our division said something to a student which she took umbrage to. What he said was never mentioned, but, from the rumours I heard, it was something innocuous. However, it must have hurt that student's feelings.

      This went through the entire system, all the way to the regional human rights commission. The colleague in question was determined to have been guilty as charged and part of his penalty was to be subject to sensitivity training.

      But, in typical fashion, the institution wasn't content to leave it at that. We all had to be similarly punished, which meant having to attend a similar sensitivity session which, as it turned out, was a complete waste of time.

      All it takes is someone's feelings to be slighted and a great number of other people pay for it. The reason is to "meet or exceed" the "needs and expectations" of the student.

      Now how is that different from the political idiocy now taking place on campuses? Someone decides that they are "offended" or some such thing for whatever reason (race, curriculum, not enough sunshine and rainbows, etc.), and the system knuckles under just like that.

      But don't forget that there are often other things at stake, such as promotion or tenure. One objection from a student can sink one's career nowadays.

      Delete
    16. But it's not always the students. Frequently it's the faculty, as we've seen at Missouri, and now at Purdue.

      Should faculty be allowed to harass, threaten, and marginalize students with impunity?

      Although there is an inalienable right to freedom of speech, should this right include freedom from consequences for threatening particular individuals with assault and rape? This is where the leftist bandwagon gets caught up in its fundamentally irreconcilable paradoxes.

      Delete
    17. ...and now California State University - L.A. I have to wonder who is backing this particular faculty member and his involvement in BLM.

      Delete
    18. ...and now, University of Wisconsin - Whitewater. Talk about a rush to judgment...

      Delete
    19. ... and now, freedom of speech dying at CSU-LA.

      Delete
    20. But today, news of sanity prevailing at Rutgers and Oberlin - maybe signs that the pendulum is swinging back?

      Delete
    21. ...and today, Bowdoin takes a giant step backward, over sombrero-wearing tequila-drinking students. Somehow I don't think the Bowdoin administration gets quite so exercised over St. Patrick's Day. PC idiocy in power.

      Delete
    22. ...and today, Harvard University considers expelling students that join all-male 'finals clubs' (off-campus organizations) in order to "reduce sexual assaults" on campus. Lends new meaning to guilt by association and IMHO is patently illegal.

      Delete
    23. ...and today, the state of Tennessee votes in legislation to make "microaggressions" illegal - a clear violation of freedom of speech.

      Delete
    24. Harvard hosted a debate on renewable energy - invited debaters used the debate to advocate genocide of whites.

      Delete
  27. There have been times when I wished I had become a prof. With all the idiocy that's happened lately, I'm glad that I didn't. Who in their right mind would want to have a job with such "fringe benefits"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's right! The chief benefit is, one gets to deal with the intellectual and political left-wing fringe. Constantly.

      Delete
    2. And you are on the other side. Wheee!

      Delete
    3. The intellectual and political left-wing fringe frequently tasks even its political bedfellows with its stupidity.

      Delete
  28. Another reason academics might be unhappy, provided they actually are dedicated to seeking truth, wisdom, and knowledge:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmvLdOkpg2M

    I've long concluded that there is little originality in academic research. Groupthink abounds and anybody unwilling to comply will be quickly isolated and cut off.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the link. Quite a conversation. Science Ph.D.s do useless work just to get published... sounds like English or Education. What makes this worse is the support given for disease research that ends up funding resume-building. Very depressing.

      Delete
    2. You're welcome.

      It's no different in engineering. What gets investigated isn't necessarily what's important or beneficial to society. Usually, it's what receives the best funding and which might provide the quickest and highest payoff or which happens to be "hip" or "cool". Wearable computers? Yes. Renewable energy? Are you kidding?

      Delete
    3. Yes, elsewhere on this forum you can see mentions of NIH funding schemes that would make you cry. One of my "favorites" was the origami condom fiasco. Then too you get ridiculous levels of gov't "investment" in non-starter alt-fuel transportation schemes - more often than not to simply disguise kickbacks to one of our political parties. My favorite moment there was where Tesla bought one of the buildings formerly occupied by Solyndra... yea, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.

      Delete
    4. That sort of thing doesn't just happen in the U. S. I've seen it in Canada, as well.

      Clunker companies have been financed and, often, supported by the federal government as well as those in various provinces. They are usually deemed "too big" or, more importantly, "too important" (too important politically?) to fail.

      I've worked for some of them. The term "mess" is a gross understatement. Common features were incompetent management, poor marketing, and financial irresponsibility. In one outfit I was with in the 1980s, it was quite common to take money earmarked for one project and spend in another or for some other purpose.

      I've also seen where the managers were paid quite well. Those who were well-connected to them also lined their pockets and they often didn't do a whole lot to earn their pay. Those who were more remote or in the lower ranks usually were the ones who did any real work and were the first ones to be canned when it came to laying people off.

      Rather than sink or swim on the basis of the markets and their own abilities or resources, these companies were kept afloat by virtue of government handouts. Without that funding, those firms would have sunk out of sight, like they deserved to.

      In many ways, academe is the same way. My Ph. D. supervisor wasn't terribly concerned about what he investigated, just along as someone else paid him for it. No conviction, no inspiration, just keeping his hand out, hoping someone would put money in it. Yet, he had the audacity to complain that he wasn't being paid "enough".....

      Delete
    5. The scientist in the interview is Canadian, so, no, this doesn't just happen in the U.S.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmvLdOkpg2M

      Delete
  29. Just finish the list up, Mr. "100rsns" man....you have spent five years on 95 reasons to avoid graduate school, just burn off the last five and walk away a free man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All but dissertation :)

      Delete
  30. All the problems on this blog go back to the first reason.

    You have to be a dupe to waste your best years in school. You have to be a dupe to think there's a good job waiting for you after all the time you've wasted. You have to be a dupe to think you're lucky when you get an undesirable job instead of the 150 other dupes who applied for it.

    When you finally wake up and see the light, it's hard to pretend you're happy, let alone smart.

    ReplyDelete
  31. People that go into academia tend to be insular, quiet and prone to melancholia.
    When you work in an environment where everyone is like this, it quickly gets tiring.
    I also dislike the new generation of academics as people. They are incredibly self-absorbed to the point of being selfish. They lack charm. A friendly, approachable academic is a needle in a haystack.
    I left because of the combination of the people and the all-consuming workloads.
    The university model is also screwed; technology and the bursting of the tuition fees bubble will mean huge job losses, and the closure not just of departments, but a number of universities, many of which are carrying way too much debt.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Not convinced academics are unhappy? Watch a 34 year old science Ph.D. describe his life.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6D2YEk9CZ9E

    Doesn't pretend to be brilliant, but clearly very smart. Worked hard and got nowhere. His pain is palpable. Not the first time I've heard someone with this much education say he made more money as a teenager.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Why are Most Academics Miserable?

    That most academics are miserable is an exceedingly odd fact, if a fact it is. That normal, patriotic, white men slaving away as adjuncts (and on the rarest of occasions, professors), and being harassed by racist, sexist students, colleagues, staffers and administrators should be miserable makes perfect sense. However, that demographic has largely been purged, and now probably accounts for less than 10% of those on academic payrolls.

    The remaining 90% of academic check-cashers should be as happy as human beings can be. After all, they get to spend their professional lives expressing, promoting, and acting with hatred. And yet, they claim to be miserable.

    Many are simply lying.

    Others may have deluded themselves, like a salesman who sells himself a bill of goods, that the lies they constantly spout of their “oppression” are true.

    Some readers will counter, “If you feel miserable, you are miserable, and no one has the right to question or challenge your feelings.”

    Au contraire. A privileged person has no right to lie about his existence, and expect others to believe him.

    If one’s feelings of “misery,” “pain,” etc., have no basis in reality, the person claiming them is either insane, and needs to be put in a strait-jacket, or some sort of a fraud—a hypochondriac, a malingerer, a liar.

    The antiversity is full of privileged black supremacists, feminists, reconquistas, militant homosexualists and racial socialists, none of whom has the right to claim to be “miserable,” “oppressed,” what-have-you, as far as his academic existence is concerned. These are the same people who produce fraudulent “research,” and who support, and even engineer “hate crime” hoaxes assembly-line-style: Noose hoaxers; Black Lives Matter; Campus Rape Hoaxers such as Crystal Gail Mangum, Jackie Coakley, Emma Sulkowicz, et al. They are deeply wicked, and even evil people.

    If one feels compassion for those who deserve none, one will then withhold compassion from those who deserve it. Nobody has an unlimited reservoir of compassion, and those who claim the loudest to be full of it, are… full of it.

    Nicholas Stix, Uncensored @NicholasStix

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Commies are heinous people. I don't feel empathy for normal people, much less commies.

      But take heart: commies always destroy themselves, be it through adjunct poverty or Cultural Revolution-style purges. Gorgeous.

      Delete
    2. The problem is they take lots of other people with them.

      Delete
    3. True. That's what they did in my country of origin. (By their own logic, they oppressed me, so I'm allowed to hate them).

      But honestly, they hurt themselves the most, which gives me such pleasure. Who *really* suffers when you tank an economy, or turn academia into such a hateful, useless, and overpriced cesspool that students opt for vocational school?

      Ultimately, it's the leftist adjuncts who eventually have to live in dangerous neighborhoods with their supposed "comrades." Oh, and they voted to tax the hell out of Mommy and Daddy, so no subsidized laptop or rent for them!

      Delete
    4. Nicholas:

      Part of the reason academe is in such a mess is that the agitators you mention are encouraged, supported, and rewarded by senior administrations. Those same administrators run their institutions like private fiefdoms and the "disturbers" bring in the cash. Any staff that opposes them, whether on the basis of academic principle or law, must be made to suffer.

      I went through that when "student as customer" was being inflicted on the place I used to teach at more than 20 years ago. Been there, suffered for it.

      I am *so* glad I'm no longer in that business.

      Delete
    5. Academia is increasingly out of touch with the world that the rest of us live in, yet they are no less arrogant about their educational credentials and what they believe those credentials entitle them to. They must make the case for their value, but they struggle to do so. Now that people are starting to question the value of education ad nauseam, the leftist academic is in serious trouble.

      Delete
    6. Anonymous @ 2016-02-16:

      Look at the numerous celebrity scientists one sees on the chat show circuit as well as those who make grand pronouncements about things they claim to be experts at. The general public tend to believe them because *those people* have Ph. D.s and, therefore, know what they're talking about and must be heeded.

      I mean, look at how this global warming/climate change twaddle has been marketed and who're the ones who are among its loudest advocates.

      Delete
  34. Good blog, even though I cannot say I agree with everything. I too am exploring the values of Academics and have created a blog about this recently, due to facing lots of personal issues whilst studying (and quitting as a result). I agree that Academics (people studying) are mostly unhappy (since I was one of them), however I won't go as far as saying that I believe that all of them are unhappy. Various factors need to be taken into account. Anyhow, good read. Debbie Nel

    ReplyDelete
  35. One major reason why academics are unhappy? It's why *nearly all* post-secondary school students are unhappy - the exorbitant cost of tuition and the increasingly ubiquitous use of student loans.

    It transpires that according to the U.S. Treasury Department's annual financial report, student loan debt, now sitting at around $1.2 trillion, makes up 37% of the US government's assets (total value $3.2 trillion).

    This figure has grown sharply since the federal government took over all student lending, as part of the Affordability Care Act, in 2010. It was an unrelated item, that was hidden in a 2,000-page bill.

    The US government's net worth is now - $18 trillion. For clarification, that's minus eighteen trillion dollars - more than seven trillion of which was only added in the last seven years.

    Do you really think the US government will give away its cash cow?
    Do you really think that the US government will ever again cede student loans to private institutions? Do you really think that this Democrat administration does not have a vested interest in keeping Americans poor and struggling for footing in our smouldering wreck of an economy?

    Such people are predictable.
    Such people are deeply constrained.
    Such people will gamble away their lives, in order to try and have, and keep a living.
    Such people are invested - and the federal government has them by the balls.
    Such people are useful. There is substantial leverage to control them, and they will vote in the interests of - and according to the agenda of - their lenders.
    Finally, even if they die, their debt is still an asset, and can be extorted from their children, and their children's children.
    Pan-generational servitude.
    This is what this country has come to.

    ReplyDelete
  36. They make you unhappy simply because no one cares about what you do, how you do it, and what you get from it. The only person who benefits from it is you. I remember when I submitted my dissertation and was waiting for a couple of professors to evaluate my work, I was so agitated and excited but I shouldn't have been. Each and every of those professors looked through my paper as if it was a piece of garbage. And they didn't care about the efforts I put into this research, about time I spent in different libraries searching for the data I need, about my supervisor not caring at all about me and my paper, and me first having to research about how to write a dissertation, looks through guides like at http://dissertationwriter.org or books like A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers
    by Kate L. Turabian, Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, Joseph M. Williams
    and only then write my dissertation. In the end I didn't find a job in the academic field and my current employer doesn't care much about what kinf of research Idid while I was in college, the only thing he cares about is result and how I do my job. Then the question rises - why did I spend time, efforts, and money on a thin no one cares about it? Probably only I cared about it, was so nervous and excited and the only thing I got from it is becoming a little bit more knowledgeable in my field.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The thing academics really care about is getting their place at the hog trough, namely tenure, otherwise known as a secure job for life. Once they have that, many simply go to seed and put in only as much effort as is required to maintain it.

      Another, however, is status and how far one gets in the pecking order. That's determined by how much funding they brought in and by the number of titles they add to their CVs. Nobody else really cares how it's done.

      Delete
  37. What if your unhappy supervisor fundamentally questions the theories that he/she has taught for years? e.g., in social psychology:

    /michaelinzlicht.com/getting-better/2016/2/29/reckoning-with-the-past

    /www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/social-psychologys-credibility-crisis/article29184360/

    While ANY theory might eventually be falsified, the credibility gaps discussed above raise serious questions about social psychology theories - many of which inform policy, law, and social norms. How much harm has been done?

    No wonder some academics are unhappy.

    ReplyDelete
  38. On the discussion about "good" and/or "bad" thesis advisors -- there is no bigger lie in life than what we write in the Acknowledgement (for our supervisors and committees) section of the PhD thesis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup.

      I started my Ph. D. residency when I had only 2 years left to complete my thesis. During that time, he proved to be completely useless. He avoided meeting with me and, when we did, he rarely offered any useful advice.

      Eventually, I kicked him out of the way, so to speak, and finished the thesis by myself my own way.

      His name never appeared in the acknowledgements. I'm not in the habit of thanking or rewarding people for deliberately failing to do their jobs properly.

      A few people noticed and there was a lot of tut-tutting because of what was seen as a major faux-pas. Since I did almost all the work and paid most of the bills for my degree, with next to no guidance from my supervisor, I gave myself the right not to mention him. I did, however, mention those people whose advice proved useful to me.

      Still, I got my degree, so I guess not mentioning his name wasn't all that serious.

      Delete
  39. Absolutely. Some of the acknowledgement sections I have seen read like idolizing hagiography to a petty dictator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some of them, to be honest, are attempts at sycophancy.

      By acting like lickspittles, the authors of such acknowledgements hope to curry favour from their academic "masters". By doing so, they believe they can increase their chances for a university position and, ultimately, the golden prize of tenure. Without such displays of toadying, the probability of success asymptotically approach zero.

      Let's face it--academe is a closed shop and whoever isn't prepared to play the game in that manner isn't invited to join in. But playing, and possibly winning, that game also means that one has to make personal sacrifices, such as dispensing with one's intellectual independence. Originality suddenly becomes scarce when it comes to scrounging for funding, much of which is skimmed off by the department administration for its own purposes and is done so as tribute--a payment, if you will--to one's "betters".

      Being a boot-licker in one's thesis acknowledgements only qualifies you to get a ticket for the academic lottery.

      Delete
    2. I'm thinking about not including an Acknowledgement section in my dissertation. They come across as insincere and over-dramatic, anyway.

      Delete
    3. For my thesis, I did acknowledge the contributions of those people whose advice actually allowed me to make progress in my research. None of them were on my committee which, I guess, says a lot about how useful those people were to me.

      Delete
  40. Academics remind me of a bucket of crabs. Most of them try to escape their confinement, but if one of them might actually get out, it's pulled back in by the others.

    The department I used to teach in was like that. When I finally got my Ph. D., it didn't take long before some of my colleagues began casting aspersions on it. I got similar reactions to other things that happened, such as buying a new computer (after carefully money for a few years). They were miserable and insisted that I be as well, if not worse.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Academics, it seems, are a whiny lot. Take a look at:

    http://collegemisery.blogspot.com

    I first started reading it several years ago when it was:

    http://rateyourstudents.blogspot.com

    Back then, it was funny as many of the idiocies of the system, as well as many of the idiots in it, were pilloried. With time, RYS closed down and was replaced by a succession of similar sites, each one eventually grinding to a halt and replaced by yet another on the same topic.

    The later ones weren't as amusing and, eventually, I stopped reading CM regularly. It seemed like each posting on it sounded just like any other in which the prof or instructor in question is stuck in some armpit of an institution and, usually, doesn't like his or her students and hates the administration.

    One can stand only so much mewling and puking and it's usually the same people. It makes one wonder how anything gets done in those institutions.

    Good heavens, people, if it's so bad where you're at, why are you still there? Oh, I get it--you can't do anything else and you just love teaching, don't you? Oh, there's a limited market for your useless "studies" degree isn't there? I guess that's what you get for pursuing your "passion" as a student, isn't it, rather than face reality that one has to eventually earn a living.

    Well, as Harry Truman used to say, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Go do something else. You're supposed to be the smart people in this society. Use your education and your brains to find a way out that makes used of both.

    Nah. It's easier to sit in the mess you find yourself in and complain about things rather than do something about it, isn't it? And, no, being a social justice warrior is not a solution.

    No wonder much of society has little sympathy for academics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's easy enough to say "go do something else," but it isn't so easy to do when you're ten years from retirement and you've invested your entire adult life in a field and a career that started out as a lot more rewarding and a lot less aggravating. Part of the point of this blog (and of College Misery, which I also follow regularly) is to warn up-and-coming potential academics that it can be a truly miserable life and that the time to take steps to avoid it is now, not ten years from now when your hard-earned PhD is getting you nowhere.

      Delete
    2. Waiting until shortly before retirement to realize that things aren't working out is rather late, don't you think?

      I started saving for my retirement soon after I received my B. Sc. I carefully managed and invested my money over the years, which included several prolonged periods of unemployment.

      I've been semi-retired for more than a decade. I live comfortably but not frivolously but everything I own is paid for.

      Then again, I didn't spend my cash as if there was no tomorrow. I didn't spend money that I didn't have. I didn't take trips to Europe or spend my holidays in some exotic resource. After going through times in which dole cheques were my only income, I swore I'd never go through something like that again.

      If I can plan ahead, why can't other people do it? I mean, aren't academics capable of that?

      Delete
  42. This could be reason #96: The Sunk Costs are Huge. If a student spends the better part of a decade pursuing a doctorate (mean time to degree > 8 years) then it will be challenging to recoup the training costs if a tenure track academic career doesn't work out later.

    ReplyDelete
  43. It has been less than a year since the academic murder-suicide at Delta State University in Mississippi. Yesterday there was another at UCLA. At Delta State, it was one colleague killing another. At UCLA, the murderer was a recent Ph.D. who killed his dissertation advisor.

    In both cases, the murderers killed a woman from their personal lives before driving hundreds of miles to a college campus to kill someone from their academic lives.

    It's easy to make light of all the whining in academia, but the stress is real. It breaks people. It's an ugly business.

    ReplyDelete
  44. So much ego, arrogance, and narcissism. It becomes unbearable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My Ph. D. had an enormous sense of entitlement. I'm sure that was because his having tenure, or, rather, the job security that comes with it, allowed him to behave as if he was accountable to nobody but himself.

      He whined a lot when he had to do something related to my thesis. On the other hand, he bent over backwards to help his favourite grad student with whom he might have been having an affair.

      Similarly, at the tech college where I used to teach, my department head spent most of his time on his pet projects, dumping his work on the assistant head. The ADH, in turn, dumped anything that he didn't like or required his signature on all of my colleagues, preferring to shoot the breeze with people, sit around and drink coffee, or surf the Internet in his office.

      He, too, whined whenever he had to do anything.

      Delete
  45. I think that a good reason to be added to this list is that graduate students are not role models. I thought that having a Masters and a PhD degrees will make me special in the eyes of my students and family but I later discovered that being a lecturer or professor does not mean that. Still, I will start my PhD in September because I feel that this is the only useful thing that I can do with my life. I start to feel that most people feel pity for us instead of giving us the respect that we deserve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In my experience, it wasn't pity I received, but contempt and derision. By pursuing graduate studies, I was seen by some to be over-educated, inept, and incompetent. Others took umbrage that I should pursue the studies that they couldn't.

      Few people saw that adding to one's education was a privilege and, to successfully complete them, an honourable achievement.

      Delete
    2. You're not going to get any respect as a grad student, and you're going to have a hard time finding other grad students that you respect.

      Delete
    3. In my experience, talent and hard work count for nothing in academe.

      For example, grad studies is a lot like being a Roman gladiator in the Colosseum.

      Whether one's supervisor will actually provide support or, for that matter, permits one to finish their thesis and get their degree is like Caesar determining whether someone lived or died by the direction of his thumb.

      Oh, and don't forget the laboratory equivalent of the casting couch.

      Delete
  46. Part of what lies behind academics' unhappiness is that, in a lot of ways, they're living a lie. They know (the self-aware ones) that the "service" they're providing is not worth what students are paying for it.

    They can't be honest with themselves, their students, or their colleagues about a lot of things.

    That's true with research, too. A comment from another blog (in a thread on the subject of why Western academic economists did such a bad job of understanding the Soviet economy) says a lot about how things work in academia:

    "Economics is a social science, and as a social science a priori thinking that reinforces the status quo is always the source of maximum returns on a career basis. Outliers are routinely punished, and being correct is no defense."

    https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2016/07/02/economists-and-the-reds/#comments

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's also the frustration as how political the academic system really is and that one may need to have a defective character in order to advance significantly in the pecking order.

      At the post-secondary institution where I used to teach, the last dean I answered to was a know-nothing, do-nothing bully--at least that's how he was with me. He got the position largely because it was a patronage appointment, a reward for his long-time service.

      Recently, I found out who the new dean of my old faculty at my alma mater is. I audited a course from him nearly 2 decades ago when he was a newly-hired prof and, even then, he acted like an arrogant jackass, at least during some of the dealings I had with him. There didn't seem to be even a gram of professionalism or courtesy in him.

      A few years ago, I found out that he had become head of his department and even then, I thought, "Oh, brother!" Well, now he has the job he seemed to be suited for and I'm sure he'll eventually become a university vice-president.

      I shouldn't have been all that surprised. The previous 2 deans came from the same department. The earlier one was a politically-correct lickspittle, more concerned with empire-building than providing an effective deanship. I gathered from my Ph. D. supervisor that many of the faculty disliked him.

      His successor was a smooth talker and, based on a conversation I had when I met him at an alumni gathering, pure politics.

      Does academe attract and cater to such people, or is the system so horrible that people will do anything to rise above it, including being venomous back-stabbers?

      Delete
  47. Here's an oldie, but goodie. Note the year of publication.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1979/03/18/archives/a-generation-of-lost-scholars-scholars.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That article could have been written yesterday. Nothing has improved in 40 years.

      Delete
    2. A similar article was published a few days ago in the New York Times. Now in 2016 it is about STEM doctorates.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/14/upshot/so-many-research-scientists-so-few-openings-as-professors.html

      Delete
  48. Agreed. That's why I posted it. I was a grad student in history 1979-1981. A lot of the same issues discussed on this forum were already present then. I'm astounded by how there's been no improvement at all over the last several decades.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I started grad studies in 1979 myself. It didn't take long for the image I had about academics to be shattered.

      I thought that what I saw was unique to the department I was in. Since then, I've been associated with several more departments either as a student or as a research assistant, as well as an instructor.

      I've since concluded it was a characteristic of the system.

      Delete
  49. I'm reading from the other side of things, having retired a little over a year ago. One piece of advice I can offer on how not to be unhappy: attain some distance by making a life apart from work, whatever that might involve. Having your colleagues as your social world is, I think, an unhealthy state of affairs. The constant discussion of course assignments, release time, projects in progress, who's on what committee: leave it at work to the extent that you can.

    The joys of private life (my spouse, our kids) made the academic workplace bearable for me. I was never absolutely miserable in any long-lasting way. But I can't tell you how many times, since I retired, people have said to me, "You look so relaxed!"

    I've shared your website with many undergrads over the years. There's some hard-won wisdom here, for which many readers are grateful.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Academia - it's habits, mentalities and framework - are simply outdated. That goes with a lot of the dominant ideology-heavy research that is currently popular, like feminism and postmodernism (two philosophies I used to swear by).

    With the internet proving to be a more open minded and reliable - and less politically driven - medium for information and intellectuals (such as Christina Hoff Sommers or the controversial Milo Yiannopoulos), why do we need academic professors and the environment they live in, which we all know is conducive of high debt and heavy mental damage/depressive symptoms?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Employers keep demanding those degrees. Even though the students increasingly know nothing and are indoctrinated into unwavering belief in utter nonsense, the employers continue to want these degrees. The answer is saying no to college, or at least saying no to worthless degrees in worthless fields.

      Delete
  51. What answer is there for someone like me, and others who come to this site, who leave academia after being fed up with it? I'm in the process of leaving my 2 year MA program after coming to accept the fact that I hate it and that this degree in philosophy/linguistics will do nothing but make me more learned in a very specific and specialized subject. It won't help me find a job in academia since there are two few jobs, and I don't know how to market myself or my skills to find a decent pay elsewhere. What on earth is the next step for people like us?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "two few jobs".
      I hope English is not your native language. Either way, just leave it if you feel it not right, leave it before you do more damage to yourself. It's not worth your health or happines. You can always learn some useful digital skills alone and find yourself a job somewhere.

      Delete
    2. I studied multiple foreign languages and won scholarships like going to university in Germany based on my skills and this, in 1968 and then...by 1974, all language departments across the nation were dismantled and only the most basic, cheapest language skill teaching (first to fouth year whatever language classes) and all the sophisticated stuff was dumped into the garbage bin. Nothing remains.

      Delete
    3. I was in your position. Someone told me, "give the world a shot". I ended using the self teaching skills I had from academia to retrain myself to be a programmer. Life's pretty good now, there are many things a person who can learn thing and work hard can do in this world but don't kid yourself, it is going to be tough. On the other hand, you probably never had it as good as you thought you did in academia. Make the leap, you'll be surprised.

      Delete
  52. I am doing a post-doc. But there is no work-life balance. People around me only seem to know other academics, no-one else. They mostly have no hobbies. I don't want to live that way, as I enjoy many other things besides work. So despite the fear and guilt I have set myself a 12-month deadline to leave. I want to be happy again.

    ReplyDelete
  53. this is precisely why i have not ever been, & will never be, interested in academia as a career. i worked in industry before i went to grad school, & i went into grad school with full intentions of picking up where i left off in industry after i graduate.

    ReplyDelete