October
13th 2009
Pennies from Heaven…

Posted under: happy endings, jobs

penniesfromheavenBelieve it or not, there is good news this year for new humanities Ph.D.’s and those in the “‘humanistic social sciences,’ defined as including history, anthropology and such areas as political theory, historical sociology and economic history.”  (I thought history was already included the humanities, and utterly reject the notion that we’re some erstwhile ”social science,” but wev.)  Check this out (from Inside Higher Ed:

The American Council of Learned Societies is creating 50 fellowships for new Ph.D.’s in the humanities, who will be eligible for two years of work at top colleges and universities. At a time when many of those on the job market in the humanities are scrambling to piece together adjunct slots with minimal pay and benefits, these fellows will receive $50,000 plus a $5,000 research or travel allowance annually, health insurance, and a one-time $1,500 moving allowance. And their teaching load can’t exceed three semester-long courses per year.

Who gets a shot at these positions? All 60 U.S. members of the Association of American Universities have been invited to nominate candidates who do not have a tenure-track position and who will have received a Ph.D. between January 2008 and December of 2009. 

By the way, here’s the list of AAU member institutions.  (I wonder what the rationale is for limiting the nominees to Ph.D.’s from these unis?  I understand that limiting the host schools to AAU members probably has something to do with ensuring that all participating schools have the ability to offer the required matching funds–see below.)  How will the fellowship program work? 

AAU members may nominate between 5 and 40 individuals, based on the size of the Ph.D. classes they produce each year in the humanities.From these nominees, 50 finalists will be selected based on statements about their teaching and research interests.

Then the AAU universities and a few dozen liberal arts colleges (the latter group is still being defined) will be able to offer positions to the finalists, provided that the universities agree to pay one-third of the costs and the colleges one-fourth of the costs. The AAU institutions will not be allowed to offer positions to their own Ph.D.’s.

I think this is great, except for the oddly exclusional nature of the competition, because it seems like new Ph.D.’s are just going to be traded around by the AAU-affiliated schools.  I also wonder about the unrealistic expectations of professional life once these postdocs wake up from their fairytale dreams.  If the postdocs get tenure-track jobs, they’re still likely to be schlepping it at 4-year “directional universities” (you know–with “Northern,” “Southern,” “Eastern,” or “Western” somewhere in the university’s name) or at very small colleges with a 3-3 or a 4-4 load.  Say bye-bye to your 1-2 load, your research budget, and your moving allowance!

Here’s the biggest head-scratcher in this whole story:  “Any finalists who don’t get a job offer will get a one-year stipend of $35,000.”  That’ s almost an incentive to be an a$$hole on a job interview, don’t'cha think?  If I had the opportunity to earn $50,000 to teach a 1-2 load, or to get $35,000 for no responsibilities whatsoever. . . well, with that kind of consolation prize, I’d just have to think hard about whether it’s really worth all that to be my usual responsible, good-girl self.  (Then again, being ”myself” has won me exactly two academic job offers in my life, so maybe I’m doin’ it wrong enough as it is.) 

Man, the real job market, where the winners get a job that is probably going to have at least twice the teaching load, and where the losers get unemployment, is going to be a pretty harsh landing for some of these golden parachute babies.  What do the rest of y’all think?

19 Comments »

19 Responses to “Pennies from Heaven…”

  1. squadratomagico on 13 Oct 2009 at 10:07 am #

    While I personally would far rather get the 35K with no responsibilities, I suspect that those with kids and/or debt would opt for the higher salary with teaching. But you’re right: for those who can get by on less salary, it seems like a better deal to have another year to revise the diss. towards publication.

  2. Historiann on 13 Oct 2009 at 11:05 am #

    I suppose the connections and the cachet of a prominent uni on the CV would also be useful. Still! I just don’t know how we’re going to keep them down on the farm, now that they will have seen Paree, as the saying goes.

    Back when your alternatives to a tenure-track job were 1) unemployment, 2) adjuncting, or (best option) 3) a VAP, any kind of t-t job looked like the holy grail. Alumns of this program might be surprised to learn how the other 85% of the profession lives…

  3. GayProf on 13 Oct 2009 at 11:05 am #

    But they get the $50,000 for two years and the $35,000 for only one year, right? So, really, if people are smart the extra $65,000 would be worth the light teaching load (and not being a jerk). Right?

  4. Indyanna on 13 Oct 2009 at 11:06 am #

    I think the ACLS ought to include that $35K de facto “kill fee” among its recommended “best practices” for the dismissed finalists in all searches, defining finalists, say, as on-campus interviewees. Or peg it to 70% of the budgeted salary for the job if offered.

    If a place like Northern Andalusia University is a “directional” school, could we have a category for unis that have more than one polity in their name? As in, oh, “Andalusia University of Mesopotamia?” What would we call these, mis-directional universities?

  5. Dr. Crazy on 13 Oct 2009 at 11:34 am #

    The thing that gets me is this. Implicit in the set-up of this fellowship is the idea that the humanities is really a meritocracy wherein the “best” candidates are “typically” sure to get a job – unless the economy totally falls apart – a) at a research university, b) with accommodations like moving allowances/research money, c) at a salary of somewhere close to 50K with a good benefits package. And also implicit in there is the assumption that anybody who’d be “good” enough to be a finalist for this (within the exclusive club that is eligible) will surely be able to get a job (with commensurate pay/benefits/prestige) as soon as this bridge money is up. For they are fancy, after all.

    Is it possible that people really still believe this is how this profession works? Really?

  6. Historiann on 13 Oct 2009 at 11:41 am #

    Dr. Crazy: I knew this would piss you off! I’m right there with you in re: the elitism of it all. I’m glad that some people will get assistance, but why not open the competition to all Ph.D.’s from 2008-09? That would actually be meritocratic.

    Actually, it’s the $35,000 consolation prize that kind of sticks in my craw. If 3 people interview for each postdoc, they’ll be spending enough money to fund TWO postdocs, but they’re only awarding one. Why not just double the number of postdocs you offer? Why all of this “everyone gets a medal just for competing” B.S.?

    But, hey: I suppose that when I endow a postdoc, I can write the rules. . .

  7. Sisyphus on 13 Oct 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    As someone who is a) at one of the AAU member institutions, b) has had a higher teaching load than that for the past 8 years of grad school and c) is currently unemployed, I’d just like to point out that there are plenty of us at these places who did *not* have any sort of cushy path through our programs and who are well aware of the realities of the job market and the types of most places that have jobs. I’m sending out my applications here, there, and everywhere hoping something will stick.

    I’d love to get a position like this somewhere and pay down my credit card debt and student loans before cheerfully going off to some sort of Compass Rose State U and Technical College. Though I worry that winning an award like this might mark you as a “bad candidate” in the eyes of small teaching colleges, and then you don’t actually land anything at the big research places either and you are totally screwed out of the profession. But, whatever. The part of the system I have any control over is applying.

    And the other point is that 50 positions is just a drop in the bucket when you look at the whole humanities. Our department sent out about 24 applicants last year, our history department at least 30. We are legion.

  8. Historiann on 13 Oct 2009 at 12:39 pm #

    Sisyphus–good points. I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone eligible for the program was by definition privileged–just that this particular program seems to privilege its beneficiaries to an extraordinary degree. (And good luck to you in winning one of these!) I have *never* heard of any fellowship or job that paid cash money to those who didn’t get offers. Never!

    I don’t think that having one of these on your CV will mark you as a “bad candidiate.” If it did, I would question whether you really want to work someplace with a governing majority of malcontents and threatened mediocrities. (Besides, who would have the guts to turn down an offer for one of these postdocs, in the hopes of improving one’s chances at getting a job offer from East Jesus U.?) There’s only so much strategizing one can do.

    (I’m speaking as someone who would have KILLED for one of these postdocs, and who has ended up teaching at places more like EJU than R1 Paradise U.)

  9. Deborah on 13 Oct 2009 at 1:59 pm #

    I’m with Dr. Crazy in wondering, “Is it possible that people really still believe this is how this profession works? Really?”

    Offerings like these fellowships just prolong the fantasy, which, as someone currently on the market, I would rather not do. Since I won’t have the PhD until spring 2010, I’m not eligible, but I really do think it’s better to deal with the realities of the profession as soon as one is ready (which is not to say that if somebody offered me one of these things I would’t take it!!). I’ve been in graduate school for too long, and I jsut want to get on with my life. If that means a t-t job in academia, great! If I have to try again next year and maybe the year after, whilst adjuncting, well, that’s OK, too. After that, I’m moving on. Having one of these fellowships would be nice but would just delay the inevitable.

  10. Matt L on 13 Oct 2009 at 4:24 pm #

    Just when you thought the job market could not get any weirder, something like this drops in out of nowhere…

    What happened to that Carnegie funded study run by the clever R-1 types to fix grad school and the job market? I know I did some sort of exit survey on that about four years ago, but I do not recall anything coming of it. Maybe they are still ‘writing up the results’ as the science colleagues say…

  11. ER Doc on 13 Oct 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    Not to overemphasize my field, but, the losing finalists get $35,000 one time cash. Along with the $50,000/year stipend for 2 years, plus $5,000 travel/research money/year and $1500 moving expenses, the winners get health insurance. That’s becoming a big deal in itself, these days…

  12. Janice on 13 Oct 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    A year from now, when this crop of post-post-docs is competing with the freshly-minted Ph.D.s without a post-doc to their name, I bet we’ll see a call to continue and expand the program for the new grads who can’t compete in what’ll still be a punishingly tough job market.

    It’s not looking any brighter from where I’m sitting, folks. We’re quite literally asked to do more with less!

  13. Comrade PhysioProf on 13 Oct 2009 at 6:01 pm #

    50,000 smackeroos per year as an entry-level post-doc is a lot more than entry-level science post-docs get.

  14. Susan on 13 Oct 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Well, it does sound as if they are taking care of their own, and their expectations are, well, high.

  15. Gwen on 13 Oct 2009 at 7:21 pm #

    So the change has happened since January of ’08? Really? I’ve been adjuncting and waiting for my turn since I graduated in January ’07. Which means I’m not eligible. So glad to know this is equal and fair and well thought out.

  16. Historiann on 13 Oct 2009 at 8:42 pm #

    Gwen–I feel your pain. But, sorry: no soup for you! I guess the ACLS and AAU figure that anyone whose Ph.D. is older than 2 years should already have a job. (I don’t feel this way of course–I know people who have spent more than two years adjuncting who ended up getting really good jobs when the right jobs came along.)

    Matt L: I was sent the survey to fill out for that study by the Carnegie people (or whatever it was.) I was one of the charter generations of beneficiaries of all of that money that was poured into elite universities to speed up the production of Ph.D.s to replace the legions of people who retired in the 1990s. I’d love to see the results of that survey. I think I’m probably in the minority as someone 1) still in the profession and 2) tenured or in a tt job.

    ER Doc may have a point: a lot of people might be happy to take a postdoc just for the health insurance. (“Will teach for Anthem/BCBS/no copay?”)

  17. Rad Readr on 13 Oct 2009 at 10:48 pm #

    One of the foundations — don’t remember which one — established a program like this a few years ago. We got a postdoc at the university where I used to work, and if I’m remembering correctly this postdoc moved into the house where a good friend used to live. It was painful, not only because our good friend (who shall remain nameless) was gone to another u. but because after two years the postdoc still could not find a t-t job. But my employer got a postdoc supported by the foundation. So this may be a way to funnel money to AAU members.

  18. Shaz on 14 Oct 2009 at 2:29 am #

    Value of program aside, two $35K postdocs don’t equal one $50K position. I know at my University, overhead is about 55% and benefits are on top of that — so the rough rule of thumb (say for a grant for a postdoc) is that you need double the cash to actually pay for the person. E.g.: you’d need close to 100K for another postdoc. So maybe not a bad use of resources, distributing the 35K to two people.

    I also wonder, as usual, about the gender aspects: Women are less likely to be portable (e.g.: have partners who can’t pick up and move for 2 years), so fellowships tied to particular places can, in the aggregate, further disadvantage women. Or do candidates get to request particular Universities? That might help, somewhat…

  19. The History Enthusiast on 19 Oct 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    I’m at one of the AAU institutions, so I really hope they do this next year so I can be eligible! It sounds promising for my colleagues who graduated last year.

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