Monday, September 9, 2013

91. Downward mobility is the norm.

The term "downward mobility" describes the phenomenon of falling into a social class lower than the one into which you were born. If you go to graduate school, it is quite possible that you will experience this kind of economic downward mobility (see Reason 85). But there is another kind of downward mobility that you will almost certainly experience if you survive graduate school and land a teaching position: academic downward mobility. As a general rule, when you complete a PhD, you can only expect to be hired by institutions that are less prestigious than the university at which you earned your doctorate. The authors of one of four recent studies on doctoral prestige and academic career prospects reported: "Across disciplines, we find that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality." That is why the prestige of your graduate program is so important. In academe, prestige is the coin of the realm. The more prestigious your degree, the more options you have on the academic job market (see Reason 3 and Point 2).

While you are suffering through the poverty, loneliness, and indignity of graduate school, it can be hard to imagine an academic environment worse than the one in which you already find yourself (see Reason 50). If you have the good fortune of being hired for a full-time faculty position, you might have a better paycheck than you had in grad school, but it's just as likely that your new institution (where you may spend the rest of your career) will have lower standards, a greater number of ill-prepared students, fewer resources, and less name recognition than the university at which you completed your graduate work. That last item (name recognitionmay sound trivial, but in a business in which prestige is so important, the status of your institution can strongly influence both your sense of self-worth (see Reason 25) and your quality of life. Moreover, your professional identity becomes closely associated with the institution at which you work. For almost every graduate student contemplating an academic career, there is a real sense in which the view forward is a view downward. There are people with Harvard PhDs teaching in Lubbock, Bakersfield, and Tuscaloosa (see Reason 16). Where might a PhD take you?