Monday, October 27, 2014

94. It warps your expectations.

Graduate students develop unreasonable expectations, but over the course of a long spell in graduate school those expectations swing from one unreasonable extreme to another. They go from expecting far too much to expecting (and accepting) far too little. Not everyone enters graduate school with the intention of becoming a professor, but after a while it becomes clear that an academic career is virtually the only career for which graduate school prepares anyone (see Reason 29). Once that realization sets in, graduate students begin to imagine a future in which they have jobs like those of their advisers and the other professors who surround them every day. They can hold on to this expectation for years. It seems perfectly reasonable, perhaps even modest, but it is actually quite unrealistic. You could argue that it is wildly unrealistic. As Professor Emily Toth (aka Ms. Mentor) patiently explains to a confident graduate student looking for affirmation: "No matter how talented and accomplished you are, you probably will not get a tenure-track academic job. Ever."

Eventually, reality dawns on even the most optimistic graduate students. They see what happens to others on the academic job market, and then they start to experience it themselves (see Reason 55). This is the point at which their hopefulness turns to desperation, and their expectations sink to such depths that they––by the tens of thousands––accept college teaching jobs for which they receive ridiculously little compensation. Graduate school has funneled them into adjuncthood (see Reason 14), and they quickly learn to expect extremely low wages in return for their labor. Adjuncts are routinely paid less to teach a class than their students pay to take it. In fact, the income of a part-time adjunct will often be less than half of a teaching assistant's stipend (see Reason 53). You can see just how meager adjunct earnings are by exploring the Chronicle Data website. Needless to say, this kind of academic employment comes without job security, insurance, or retirement benefits. Why are people, including thousands of people with doctorates, willing to subject themselves to this? Because they don't know what else to do. After years of living in a dream, they are desperate to stay in the academic game (see Reason 83).