15th 2010
Friday food fights! Plus evidence of my evildoing, with links.

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, publication, students, unhappy endings, wankers, women's history

What’s your pleasure?  There are lots of snarling fights all over the place these days:

  • Tenured Radical returns to the U.S. from her travels and mulls over the question, “How Should Graduate Schools Respond to the Bad Job Market,” and gets accused of and blamed for all sorts of crimes she never committed and things she never said.  (So does Historiann, in the comments!)  Yeah–because Tenured Radical has never, ever offered any helpful advice or a sympathetic ear (or shoulder) to graduate students negotiating the job market.  What a horrible, horrible person!
  • Katherine Franke at Feminist Law Professors, in “Marriage Equality:  The Old Fashioned Version“ schools us on what’s wrong with feminism today:  “Among the things that drives me to the highest levels of frustration when I consider the state of feminism today is the way in which women, particularly mothers and wives, have given up on men. Not so long ago we had a rich, systemic and unrelenting critique of the ways in which fathers and husbands felt little or no obligation to do domestic work – whether it be taking care of kids, maintaining the household – even clearing the table – or other “reproductive” work. The fact that men felt entitled to and received a free pass when it came to this work received a thorough working over by those who cared about dismantling the second class status of women.”  Just go read the whole thing–especially the part where she participated in a networking breakfast among women lawyers from their 20s to their 60s.  “Perhaps the most interesting moment was when the more senior women asked the younger women whether they would call themselves feminists. ‘No’ most replied – ‘it’s not something for our generation. We feel burdened by feminism – it means we have to do it all, but we haven’t been given any tools to pull this off: be successful lawyers, mothers, and good wives/partners.’ What emerged from the conversation was a sense that the younger women didn’t see feminism as opening up opportunities for women, but rather heaping on expectations. The older women in the room were shocked.”

Yeah:  feminism created all of those expectations!  Things were so much easier when upper-class white women just had to find a husband–the children and the Valium addiction were so fulfilling and relaxing, not to mention easy.  Did I mention that they were relaxing too?  Sorry–I just can’t keep anything in my tiny little brain any more!  Because as an employed historian with tenure in an M.A. granting department, I’m just a huge part of the problem for frustrated graduate students these days too, here’s just a taste of just how I have used this space to heap burning coals on the heads of graduate students everywhere.  (And this is only a partial list:)


84 Responses to “Friday food fights! Plus evidence of my evildoing, with links.”

  1. perpetua on 15 Jan 2010 at 9:52 am #

    Well, I agree with TR’s suggestions for PhD granting universities, but I have to say that I do disagree about the issue of fraud. I can certainly see grad student disgruntlement coming from a culture of entitlement and hand-holding that students are encased in from high school to college, especially because many of the loudest grumblers I encountered while I was on the job market were white men complaining bitterly about how they were being cheated out of jobs because they were white men. On the other hand, academia is permeated with self-delusion (as TR notes) and one of those major delusions is that it represents a true meritocracy. Therefore, grad students are taught implicitly and explicitly, if you are Good and Do Everything Right, you will be rewarded. But of course the job market is far more random than this. I think complaints of fraud are sometimes justified reactions to the ways in which graduate advisers do not prepare their students for reality in any way and in fact perpetuate a number of unhealthy and unhelpful ways of viewing the academy. Certainly students have an obligation to educate themselves, but they are inevitably going to be influenced by the dominant attitudes perpetuated by faculty at their university. I personally feel a strong ethical obligation to undergrads who come to me interested in applying for PhDs to lay out the realities of the situation for them. (I’m also uncertain about TR’s proposition than history PhDs can find alternative careers as academic editors – it was always my understanding that those jobs were also fiercely competitive and hard-to-come-by.) Of course none of these comments are meant to join any pilloring of TR for daring to have opinions and refusing to coddle grad students!

    A big fat amen to Katherine Franke. I’ve probably said this before, but I’m always *shocked* at how little women expect or demand of men in their lives. They act completely helpless, although it’s simply not possible to get a man to help out around the house or help take care of his own children for god’s sake. And naturally, it is the fault of feminism! Not their own refusal to take responsibility for their relationship dynamic or the patriarchy for setting up these unjust relationships! Men are not stupid helpless fool who cannot do better. It’s one of the demeaning aspects of patriarchy that perpetuates this discourse of married men.

    And I don’t know about you guys, but I never get tired of the NYT and its perpetuation of “one more relatively shallow account of how tough it is for upper class white women to have it all.”

  2. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:02 am #

    perpetua: I didn’t agree with all of TR’s ideas either, but what struck me were the hyper-emotional accusations leveled against her and the presumptions about her motives for throwing out some ideas for discussion. As she might say: Mary, please. What I thought was interesting was that current faculty were getting slammed for being too polyanna and encouraging of students to go to grad school, and also for being too discouraging and how dare we try to tell them what to do with their lives.

    I think you’re right that there’s no small amount of snowflakiness in all of this. Grad schools do SO much more for students today than in my day, which is all for the good, but all of the services and professionalization and networking may be feeding a sense of entitlement as much as (or more than) it helps to launch a fledgling out of the nest. So, well-intended people like TR who create a space for discussing professional issues and demystifying professional practices get called names for bothering to host a conversation.

    I think TR’s comment today sums it up: she says it more politely than this, but it all boils down to: get a grip and grow up.

  3. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Oh, my lord. It just gets sillier. Demanding answers from TR, and accusing her of being a part of a “culture of ignoring or berating us.” Riiiiight.

    I’m also just trying to imagine what my grad advisor would have said (or done) if I had demanded that he discuss my feeeeelings with him. I’m sure he too would have diverted me into a discussion of my dissertation, or something he was qualified to help me with, which seems to be the only responsible way to handle a student like that.

  4. clio's disciple on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Well…I have mixed feelings about that discussion. I entered graduate school because I wanted desperately to become a professor. My undergraduate advisor warned me about job prospects, yes. But I do feel that the aura among faculty in my graduate program was one of denial: Everything’s fine, surely with a degree from Fancy Pants U you’ll get a job. There was also a palpable sense of elitism among many faculty and students about which kinds of jobs were the “right” jobs. I knew much of this was nonsense, and through my work with the union was well aware of casualization, but not all of my cohort were. So I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable for current Ph.D. students to feel that their departments are deceiving them–they may be right!

    I was also, as a grad student, frustrated by exhortations that I should consider other careers (library science, publishing, etc.) because I knew those weren’t the things I most wanted to do. About a year ago I decided my (then-current) round of job applications would be my last, but it was still a real struggle to figure out what else I wanted to do. I am extremely fortunate that I got my tenure-track job in that last run.

    Certainly neither you nor TR is the problem here, and much of the rhetoric in that thread is overwrought, but I understand people feeling frustrated and panicked.

  5. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:34 am #

    Clio’s disciple: congratulations on getting a job! In your case, it worked NOT to get the extra training in library science or publishing, but for those who might want to work in history at all costs, I think those are fruitful areas to explore. Those who chose not to train more broadly or to explore careers in public history and who then, unlike you, didn’t get a tenure-track teaching job might feel differently about their choices in retrospect.

    I am sympathetic to people who feel frustrated and panicked, but the thing to do in that case is to 1) seek solace in solidarity, and there professional blogs might help, and/or 2) get counseling–perhaps both the psychological and career varieties. The thing NOT to do is write angry, hostile comments on a professional blog, check back 100 times a day to argue with everyone else in the discussion, and demand that the blog’s proprietor make her blog into the Blog All About Validating Your Precious, Unique Feelings.

    I thought TR’s suggestion about getting a year of administrative experience was worth discussing, but it was shot down as “work I don’t want to do, so it’s useless to me.” Newsflash: what do people think happens when they finally get a tenure-track teaching job? There’s a LOT of work you have to do that you won’t want to do. That’s why they call it WORK, not “cocoa and cookies and slankets and snuggles!”

  6. RKMK on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:47 am #

    I work in university admin, and from my perspective, TR’s advice is solid – including the growing up and getting a grip bit.

  7. JJO on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:03 am #

    There’s a whole lot to say about the TR discussion that I don’t have time to say, but I’ll just agree with the tenor of the comments here and note that the level of disrespect/dismissiveness towards academic administration and other careers is pretty appalling. One of the things I try to do when I talk to prospective students is emphasize that there are ways to be an intellectual and have a fulfilling engagement with issues that matter to you that don’t necessarily involve academia or being a professor. And as a bonus, you often get to make more money.

  8. JJO on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:05 am #

    To be clear — the level of disrespect/dismissiveness in the TR comment thread, not here.

  9. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:09 am #

    JJO–understood. I thought her suggestion about a year in admin was a great one, since it’s the one part of our jobs for which most of us are largely if not totally unprepared. (I also thought it might give new ideas/skills that would be attractive to potential employers in an academic department, not just to other admin people, but what the hell do I know?) Hey–what do YOU think my graduate advisor would have said or done had I demanded that we talk about my feelings?

    John S.? Indyanna? Katydid13? Meander? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? What would your graduate advisor said in a conversation about your feelings?

  10. JJO on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:13 am #

    “Hmmph. Yes. Well. Everyone has feelings, and we all just try to deal with them and get on with the work. How’s that chapter coming along?”

  11. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:25 am #

    JJO: I think that’s too many words. I think he would have just looked stricken and said, after a moment of stunned silence, “Yes, well. . . how’s that chapter coming along?”

  12. Susan on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:29 am #

    I’ve found the discussion at TR fascinating (and full of good ideas at the graduate and undergraduate level). The undergrad program where I teach has had an “applied research” required course that was meant to show non-teaching jobs that are available to history students. We’ve just stopped it (as a requirement) because we decided that in our rather isolated location, we can’t suggest enough meaningful internships for students. But the idea is good, and I hadn’t thought of sending people into admin jobs.

    As for feelings, my graduate program didn’t care about mine.

  13. Deborah on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:43 am #

    I think TR’s suggestions for reform are commendable, but I can also sympathize with the anger and frustration in the comments. She certainly doesn’t deserve that kind of attack, but I’ve found myself lately wishing I had a target for my own anger and frustration. It’s the system, and how do you target that except through efforts at reform, like the ones TR mentions? It just begins to seem very hopeless, given the unwillingness of many people to think in terms of the need for reform. In reference to the job market, I never want to hear the phrase, “It’s a bad year,” again, because, although it may indeed be an especially bad year, it’s so much more.

    As one of those who delayed starting grad school not by 3 years but 6, I can especially appreciate the value of TR’s point about maturity, which is further reflected in the sense of entitlement expressed by some of those 20-somethings complaining of fraud. When I was 28, I left a full-time job teaching high school, because, having taught in that environment for four years, I realized that for my teaching to be good – for it to be rewarding for both my students and for me – I needed to balance time in the classroom with time pursuing my own intellectual interests. But Perpetua is so right about how “grad students are taught implicitly and explicitly, if you are Good and Do Everything Right, you will be rewarded.” Even at 28, as someone who didn’t know a whole lot about how academia worked (no one in my family with a degree beyond a B.A.), I internalized that message and thought, if anything, I was in a better position to Do Everything Right than the 22-year-olds who had no “real world” experience. But I didn’t even learn until just this year that my advisor spent four years on the market back in the 80s and, during that time, did not adjunct but worked in a different field. Who knew? I wish I had, and the admin experience TR suggests as part of an assistantship would have been a lot more valuable to me now, as I contemplate my prospects, than all those years of teaching comp. I take responsibility for my choices and my ignorance, but that doesn’t fix the systmeic problems with this profession.

    As for talking about your “feelings” with your advisor, mine would probably just say, “get over it.”

  14. Emma on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:46 am #

    The economy sucks. Even for the “ivory tower” jobs. People need to understand that and figure out the most useful response. “But you promised me!!” is not the most useful response.

    What would be interesting is if this current economic crisis led to a reinvigorated labor movement joined by folks from all walks of life. Because the complaints about no jobs in academia is the same complaint about no jobs in blue collar work.

    Well, hell, if you can’t find a t-t job in history, you can always join the army. It’s what your unemployed ble collar counterparts are doing.

  15. squadratomagico on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    I must say, it never would have occurred to me, even as a glimmer of an idea, that my PhD institution, the faculty there, or faculty within the profession at large somehow were implicitly promising me a job in college teaching after I got my degree. I find the whole notion astonishing, actually. You get your degree, and prepare yourself as best you can, and market yourself as well and as widely as you can… and if you don’t get an offer, then yes, it destabilizes your whole sense of self, and you suffer. Though I am tenured now, the mid-90s was rough in History (I got my degree at the very worst moment in the past 25 years, it seems, according to a recent Chronicle article) and I didn’t get a job right away. At that time, when I had no idea what the future held, I recall clearly how devastating it was to consider, not just having to give up this career, but having to reforge a new identity — for academics tend to conflate those two things. But I never felt “betrayed,” “defrauded” or “lied to;” or expected therapeutic validation of my feelings. How odd to approach the world in that way.

  16. Emma on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    But I never felt “betrayed,” “defrauded” or “lied to;”. How odd to approach the world in that way.

    In fact, that’s how lots of folks who worked in the auto industry have felt in the last 4 decades.

  17. squadratomagico on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Emma, I was speaking about academia. While I think some of the comparisons that have been made with auto workers and home-owners in these threads have some validity, surely you don’t think that every statement about academia must also apply to these other two realms in order to have validity? There’s a big difference between a 50- or 60-year old auto worker who worked hir entire life for GM, versus a 20-something recent PhD trying to enter the job market.

  18. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Squadrato: I asked this in a post last week, but I will ask it again–who are these irresponsible humanities scholars that paint a rosy picture (or who even tell their students that if they just work hard, all will be well?

    I think they’re imaginary, since at this point, nearly EVERYONE teaching on a history faculty now took their Ph.D.s sometime in the past 40 years, and therefore everyone has experience with the kind of “permanent crisis” in faculty hiring that has been operative since the early 1970s. I have in the past said to potential Ph.D. students, “well, I got a good t-t job and it worked out for my personal life, but that ‘s because I was LUCKY.” (You may feel the same.) But, having been a starry-eyed 21-year old trying to decide which graduate fellowship to take, I can also understand how youth and overconfidence can hear “Well, it worked out for me,” as an implicit reassurance that “it will probably work out for you, too.”

    It would be interesting to hear from the advisors and mentors of some of the complainers. My bet is that they said one thing that was heard as something different. I asked this over at TR’s place yesterday: where’s the ownership of having made your own decision to get a humanities Ph.D.? Who precisely put the gun to your head? (These were questions that many commenters didn’t appreciate.)

  19. Anastasia on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:19 pm #

    squadratomagico, your comment reminds me of a friend of mine who got pregnant when we were both 16. I remember her telling me that sex wasn’t like the movies or tv. How so, I asked? You think you can just have all this passionate sex whenever you want to and nothing bad will ever happen. It isn’t like that, she said. You might get pregnant. I distinctly remember wondering how on earth she ever got the message that one could be irresponsible about using protection without incurring some kind of risk.

    I have the same reaction to the idea of betrayal when it comes to academic jobs. No one in any field is ever promising you a job just because you have the training. On top of that, some courses of training are a better risk than others. When you go to grad school in the humanities, you have to assume there is some risk you won’t end up with a job. So yeah…betrayal or fraud? Not so much.

    I’m intrigued by the idea of requiring time between graduation and beginning the degree. I wonder about requiring a terminal master’s degree as a condition for consideration? Esp. if that master’s degree were something that could lead either to some kind of skilled employment or be used to transition to the PhD. It might cut the number of people who go on and for those who do, the master’s might offer some kind of basis for non t-t employment. Just a thought. Most of the top programs in my field require a terminal master’s before starting the PhD.

  20. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    As for shafted auto workers back in my home region: I have a lot more sympathy for them than I do for un- or underemployed Ph.D.s. Many of them–at least those in their 50s and 60s–grew up when Detroit was booming, and those companies made explicit promises (in the form of contracts) to their workers that are now being undercut (Excise tax!) or totally violated (the corporate looting and destruction of pensions). The companies are being bailed out, but the workers are still being asked to pay the price, again.

    Conversely, anyone getting a humanities Ph.D. since 1970 knew that the gravy train had already pulled out of the station, and that getting a Ph.D. in the humanities meant essentially going to the track with your 20s and early 30s (or another chunk of your life–take your pick.) I just don’t believe that there’s a critical mass of faculty promising potential Ph.D. studies ponies and ice cream parties, and that *if only they had been warned* they wouldn’t have gone to grad school in the humanities.

  21. Emma on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    I’m not in the habit of imparting validity on anything, so it never occurred to me that what I was saying would be interpreted in that way.

    And, in point of fact, in my last comment, I wasn’t comparing a 50-60 year old autoworker w/a 20 something Phd. I wasn’t directly comparing anybody. Rather, with all my comments I was trying to suggest that employment, the current economic situation, the lack of employment opportunities, and one’s feelings about all of it, are usually the same everywhere.

    If I were to make a direct comparison, I would compare a 18-19 y.o. who no longer has a job waiting for him at the auto plant with the 20 something who has no job waiting for her at the university. And I would suggest that the feelings of betrayal and having the rug pulled out from under you are pretty much the same.

  22. undine on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Historian, thanks for this post AND your last comment. I think the rosy-picture-painters are a myth or at the very least outnumbered by those who said, “Look, there are no jobs in the humanities.” The job crisis has been going on for decades, since the demise of the sparkly unicorn hiring seasons of the 1960s, so it’s mystifying to hear that people somehow didn’t know that they might not get a job.

  23. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:30 pm #

    Undine–thanks. I thought I was the only one! I’m glad to hear that this sounds pretty baked to you, too.

  24. Feminist Avatar on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    I think people who train in a lot of careers and go on to learn they can’t work in that field feel betrayed. I mean in the UK with the recession, not only are there no jobs in academia (and I mean none and people are being laid off); the car industry has collapsed; education budgets have been cut, so a whole cohort of newly trained school teachers have no jobs; none of the major business consultancy firms hired last year and many offered redundancies (so very few jobs for business majors); the graduate placement scheme (which moves new graduates into management track positions) effectively didn’t operate last year and for many employers this year; the construction industry has collapsed with the housing market collapse; there are no jobs and particularly no ‘career’ jobs.

    I think a lot of the frustration is that there are no jobs anywhere, so nowhere to channel your talents or abilities. And, we live in a world where we are told that not having a job reflects badly on us- it’s our fault- you made wrong decisions. And grad school becomes an easy target (esp in the US where it costs big money and big time commitment). But if you trained in something else and couldn’t get a job you’d still be having the same conversation.

  25. Emma on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    As for shafted auto workers back in my home region: I have a lot more sympathy for them than I do for un- or underemployed Ph.D.s.

    I get that, I really do. And I’m very sympthetic to that viewpoint myself.

    I don’t want to make one-to-one comparisons here. I’m trying to suggest that the social contract is being broken all over town and it’s not just blue collar workers who are suffering. I get it: nobody promised those new PhDs jobs, so suck it up, get on with it, stop blaming. But there is a social contract that’s being smashed, I think, and what’s going on in academia is a small part of that larger picture.

    B/c nobody promised those 18 y.o. blue collar kids jobs in the auto plant, either. So I guess their feelings of betrayal, as they suck it up and join the army, don’t matter, either? And not so much sympathy for those who joined GM expecting lifetime employment or benefits. After all, any potential blue collar worker since 1970 had to have seen the writing on the wall re: US manufacturing, right?

    The companies are being bailed out, but the workers are still being asked to pay the price, again.

    Well, I’d argue that part of the problem is that the Obama admin isn’t interested in bailing out the US auto industry or any part of US manufacturing.

  26. John S. on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    I’m slow on the discussion because of other commitments–but it’s exciting! the final package is on its way via FedEx to Phila!–but with all do respect, Historiann, your doctoral adviser is an ambiguous example to use here. I once heard him give a long monologue about how he *hated* to take students who were more than one year out of college. Apparently, once they spent two or more years out of school, they began to develop outside lives and could thus no longer devote their complete attention to grad school. (As he said, you just can’t work them as hard at 25 as you can at 22. True story.)

    To some extent that is true, of course–outside lives and commitments do change priorities. But the attitude also reflects an older mentality in other ways as well, reflecting the fact that he came up in an apprenticeship system where advisers had a better ability to just “deliver” jobs. I work you like a beast, you do a good job, and I get you employment.

    My adviser had a different take on things; he was extremely willing to have these kinds of conversations. He was also willing to have the conversations about the big white elephant in the job market room–what happens when you are married to a PhD, you’re each scrambling to find a job, and finding that you may have to choose between living together and finding a t-t job (something that can involve one partner downgrading his/her career). As he said to me more than once, “Life is more important than work.”

    I was just speaking to a colleague the other day about how this is a conversation that *needs* to happen, and doesn’t. Without sharing too many personal details, we both served on the committee of a recent PhD on the market just after hir partner got tenure. This colleague and I each dealt with the two-PhD problem, albeit in different “generations.” We both want to give good advice–but what do you say? The fact is, this situation can often lead to the moment of decision when partners have to decide whose career will take precedence, or if their individual careers take precedence over co-habitation (which can make marriage, and esp. parenthood, much more stressful). The job market is extremely tough; limiting your search geographically to accommodate your partner’s career can make things nigh impossible.

    This is the kind of mentoring that is hard to get and hard to give. My adviser and I had this conversation multiple times–but it was always colored by the fact that he was an Ivy League full professor when he married his wife. Who knows if they would have make the same choices if their positions had been reversed? My wife’s advisers didn’t have this conversation with her; one prof was old school (he was like Historiann’s adviser in this respect) and another because hir choices in this respect were a sources of tension in hir partnership. She also feared that even bringing this up to them might signal that she wasn’t “serious”–being a woman and admitting that family was important showed you weren’t committed enough to get a job in a hyper-competitive market.

    And as for giving advice like this…well, I am still trying to work that out, gingerly.

  27. JJO on 15 Jan 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    I agree that the rosy-picture folks are probably a myth, but there is some validity to the idea that the implicit message of graduate education in practice (regardless of verbal caveats) is that smarts, hard work, and productivity will be rewarded and that failure is personal rather than a product of the system. Because it’s lived every day and the reward structures reinforce it, this gets internalized very easily and is part of the reason it’s so hard to give up the dream.

    So I understand the anger and frustration. (Though those over at TR’s place vilifying tenured faculty should be reminded that nearly every one of us has had to go through at least one if not several soul-searching moments about whether to leave graduate school, how much debt is worth it, whether and when to give up trying the market, whether to follow your spouse somewhere without guarantees that an academic job will open up, whether to take that adjunct or term position, etc… The idea that we don’t understand what it’s like is laughable — we’ve been there, we just got lucky [and we know it].)

    I think (and I think this is what TR is getting at) the best way to change the profession is to begin to make conscious changes in those implicit messages — to make non-academic or non-professorial career choices acceptable, and to foreground that in the graduate training process.

  28. Emma on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    I think one of the touchy points here is that part of the underlying resentment is that you old folks won’t get out of the way for deserving younger folks who are better by virtue of being younger and not so hidebound and captured by the institution.

  29. JJO on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Old!!? Bald, maybe. Fat, maybe. But not old!

    It is true that regardless of how much we say that we understand the contingency of our own privilege, we do, in fact, have a great deal of privilege in this context. I can see how it’s hard to take our claims of sympathy and benign, disinterested concern for others’ well-being without a degree of resentment.

  30. perpetua on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Well, on the issue of the rosy-job market myth makers, I can only produce anecdotal evidence of my own experience in grad school, which fits the model that I presented in my original post (ie, we were told that those who Did Well and Were Deserving would get Good Jobs [t-t, 2-2, and not at some godforsaken liberal arts college where they care about teaching, or in some godforsaken place no civilized person could live like Arkansas]). This might not be the culture at every grad school, or even most of them, but it was the case where I went. Even though I myself did not leave grad school feeling either entitled to or guaranteed a job, very little useful information was provided by many of the faculty to their job-seeking students about the current job market, how to make strategic decisions at the dissertation level to maximize job seeking potential, or the other options out there for them if academia didn’t work out. In fact, leaving academia was regarded in the culture of that department as a Big Tragedy and a Sign of Failure in Life. Nobody ever expressed the view that “life is more important than work” and I would say that the example put before us was the opposite – “there is nothing more important than work, and anybody who puts partnership or childrearing above work is a very great fool.” I never subscribed to any of these views, partially because I was a little bit older, had worked for a while, and spent the first few years of school continuing to work (as a receptionist, so I had handy and marketable admin skills), so I knew there was life beyond the ivory power. But some faculty do not, in fact, know this, and they impart a kind of elitest isolationism to their grad students (so the culture reproduces itself).

    I think the discussions that John S. mentioned should happen – and I agree it’s hard to know exactly how to have them. But of course they all involve the intersection of profession and personal lives, and therefore to talk about them would involve discussing feelings on some level.

    In addition, we’ve discussed before the ways in which grad schools exploit, sometimes ruthlessly, the labor of grad students – TR’s third recommendation involved looking with a sharper eye at places that are just churning out PhDs to facilitate teaching assistantships. Surely these places aren’t all acting in good faith toward their students.

  31. squadratomagico on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:25 pm #

    I remain skeptical of the idea that faculty encourage the idea of merit. I suspect, rather, that grad. school self-selects for a group of people who are very ambitious, very driven, and very hard on themselves. I recall feeling like a terrible failure and loser when I didn’t get employment right away, but in all honesty, that derived from the qualities of my own character and how hard I was — and am — on myself, always. People who push, and who drive themselves relentlessly — the sorts of people who go to grad school — have a hard time dealing with setbacks beyond their control. They tend to read it as a personal failure. No one every told me that, least of all my adviser; I felt that way because I’m hard on myself. Always was, always will be. But better to be hard on myself, than to lash out at others.

  32. Deborah on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    I find it interesting how divided perceptions are about how and what kind of information is being passed along, many of those with t-t jobs being mystified by the complaints and expectations of ABDs and recent PhDs and many of the latter angry and frustrated with their senior colleagues for what they perceive as a lack of full disclosure. I don’t think personal character, either of students or professors, wholly accounts for that — there’s a culture that needs to change.

    Somebody in the TR thread commented that “you would be hard pressed to find an MFA who thought that getting THAT degree would lead directly to fruitful employment.” Part of the reason for this, I think, has to do with how and what kind of information is consciously and consistently passed along in the arts vs. in the humanities, at both grad and undergrad levels. As an undergrad, I double majored in music and English. From day one of freshman year, no one had any doubt about how competitive a career in music would be. Not only were there auditions to contend with (for my instrument, 25 undergrads competing for 4 orchestra seats) but everyone – teachers, administrators, upperclassmen, alumni mentors – explicitly and repeatedly told us we needed a back-up plan because 1) almost no one would get a job in a professional orchestra, 2) it’s hard to make a living teaching music lessons and freelancing, and 3) you might injure your hands and not be able to play. That advice from people I respected was frequent and ruthless, and though, like Squadrato, I was ambitious, driven, and extremely hard on myself, it sunk in.

    It’s perhaps a laughable sign of my cluelessness that the undergrad English degree was, at the time, part of my back-up plan! But my point is that no one in English – either at the undergrad or graduate level – has ever spoken to me so explicitly about the bleak prospects of a career in this field. I realize now that it has become as competitive as music, if not more so. I realize now that the competitiveness is part of a decades-long trend, but no one would ever dream of telling a music student, “You’re very talented, and if you keep practicing, win competitions, promote yourself, expose yourself, and audition for every orchestra job that comes along, you’ll eventually have a career.” That is hardly a rosey picture, yet I think it’s a similar message that some of us are objecting to.

  33. Historiann on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    JJO wrote, “I think (and I think this is what TR is getting at) the best way to change the profession is to begin to make conscious changes in those implicit messages — to make non-academic or non-professorial career choices acceptable, and to foreground that in the graduate training process.”

    Yes. This is where most Ph.D. programs would benefit from a re-think. If they did that, then there might be fewer complaints that “nobody told me I might not get the exact job in this field that I prefer.” But by continuing to train humanities Ph.D.s only for the classroom, they’re sending the message that that’s the ne plus ultra.

    Deborah writes that “no one in English – either at the undergrad or graduate level – has ever spoken to me so explicitly about the bleak prospects of a career in this field.” At what point? When you declared it your major for a B.A.–because you taught at a secondary school teaching job after college, right? I guess it all depends on what you define as “a career in this field,” but I don’t think that “a career” necessarily means a tenure-track faculty position at a 4-year university. (My sense is that History departments are further along the line because of the opportunities in public history–whereas many English Ph.D.s have a “backup career” as permatemps who teach composition classes. There’s more of a demand for them at that level, but less of a demand for them outside of the academy.) Maybe TR’s and JJO’s ideas are a spur to the culture change you want to see?

    What I find extremely weird about the conversation over at TR’s place was the fetishization of teaching jobs, and the rejection of any other training and the idea that any other way of being a historian might be an acceptable outcome. I guess they don’t read a lot of faculty blogs, which tend to b!tch a LOT about teaching and other aspects of faculty life, not to mention that the job is in a rural/isoloated/unpleasant place, has poor prospects for partner employment, has a 4-4-4 load plus a January term, etc.

  34. truffula on 15 Jan 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    I agree with Emma, the social contract is being broken all over town but I’d go farther an suggest that it is a fragile young thing in any case. I think the rise of organized labor changed our collective view of and expectations for work outside the home. As the power of the union has waned (for the record, I’m Union Proud and we’re not down yet), the ink with which the social contract is written has grown faint. To my mind, a fundamental problem facing the professoriate is that we think of ourselves not as labor but as management (or at least as “professionals”).

    As to Historiann’s question What would your graduate advisor said in a conversation about your feelings? My MS adviser once told me that unmarried women become mentally unstable over time. He was immensely supportive of me as a scholar but I didn’t really seek out conversations about my feelings. My doctoral adviser would have been happy to talk about feelings, I think, but his replies would have involved the Battle of Waterloo (or maybe The Blitz) so again, I didn’t go there. Myself, I talk with students as they seem to need it and I try to help them think situations through. I’m also willing to share parts of my own tale of woe, perhaps as a sort of prophylactic. I don’t perceive many of my colleagues in this department to be willing to talk with our students about life issues.

    I have more to say about the mommies wanting to “have it all” malarkey but now I must go teach. !

  35. Deborah on 15 Jan 2010 at 2:23 pm #

    To clarify, by “a career in this field” in the context above, I did mean a tenure-track teaching job, but I didn’t start thinking about it that way until later, until a few years into the secondary school teaching job. I agree with you that “a career” doesn’t necessarily mean a tenure-track faculty position at a 4-year university, but that was my reason for leaving the high school job to go to graduate school. If, back then, I could have had the perspective I have now about the prospects for university teaching, I don’t think it would have changed my mind about going to graduate school, but it would have changed how I used my time. For example, I might have continued foreign language study beyond the foreign language exam. There’s work around here for translators. Or, I might have pursued, in addition, a master’s in library science. Or, after my TA-ship ended, instead of continuing to teach ABD as an adjunct, I might have sought work outside the university, where I could have built up experience.

    Yes, TR’s and JJO’s ideas definitely speak to the culture change I want to see. Teaching composition as an adjunct is not something I want to do as a back-up plan, not because I don’t like teaching composition (although I think I’m better at teaching lit) but because I don’t want to contribute to the adjunctification of the profession more than I already have — it’s a path that’s bad for me, bad for my students, and bad for the profession as a whole. I’d rather do something else, but I’ve not prepared myself well for what that might be.

  36. Kat on 15 Jan 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    “I realize now that the competitiveness is part of a decades-long trend, but no one would ever dream of telling a music student, “You’re very talented, and if you keep practicing, win competitions, promote yourself, expose yourself, and audition for every orchestra job that comes along, you’ll eventually have a career.””

    Um, as a conservatory trained musician (undergrad and grad), let me tell you that, yes, that’s EXACTLY what they told us. Over and over again.

  37. Deborah on 15 Jan 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    Maybe an institutional thing, because it was exactly what I did hear over and over again. Maybe at a conservatory not affiliated with a four-year university, as mine was, the message is different? Or, maybe it gets back to the issue of perception, too.

  38. Deborah on 15 Jan 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    Oops, now I’m getting ahead of myself and being even less clear. There’s a “not” missing in that last comment. I’ll just be quiet and listen for a while.

  39. FrauTech on 15 Jan 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    perpetua:”Therefore, grad students are taught implicitly and explicitly, if you are Good and Do Everything Right, you will be rewarded.”
    -I think this is part of a general societal problem (not just snowflakes) where if you ask, say, an employee what the level of work they do is, they will all say they are “above average.” If you ask someone what kind of driver they are, majority will answer “above average”. We all think we are above average, so when somebody says the chances of something are small, we think no problem, we’ll overcome.

    And to the people who say “nobody warned me booohoooowaaaaambulance” ja right. Your parents never asked “why are you majoring in english, what are you going to do with that?” your classmates never asked? it never even OCCURRED to you? no. You just thought you were above average, like everyone else does.

    I agree with Historiann about much more sympathy for auto workers. For the most part, students getting PhDs have a family that encouraged them to go to college and had the option (I know i know, this is where all you snowflakes raise your hands and tell me how poor you were and how hard your lives are/were and how you had to work through college or go on scholarship). But really, most of us getting degrees have a lot more options than plenty of people who have NO option to get a degree. And up until 3 years ago, nobody thought the auto industry was going to collapse like it did. I’m sure people knew it wasn’t going to be as profitable, but they still saw it as a way to survive. Now they can’t even survive. Those of you who whine about moving back home with Mom&Dad in your 20s still have options other than going on welfare, so cheer up.

    Also I misread the excerpt from the blog: “the heads of graduate students” and almost spit out my coffee; I have this image of Historiann lying to grad students about their job prospects only to lure them into several years of servitude for her and then putting their heads on pikes as trophies :D

  40. Bardiac on 15 Jan 2010 at 3:46 pm #

    My dissertation advisor would have said wanting to talk about such things was further evidence that people who hadn’t gone to private school didn’t deserve to go to grad school anyway, and then he’d have told me to leave.

  41. Dr. Crazy on 15 Jan 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    My dissertation adviser probably would have said something along the lines of “talking about your feelings won’t get you any closer to a finished dissertation, and you’re certainly not going to get a job without one of those.”

    I’ve got so much to say about this thread and TR’s, but I’m so late that it would be a novel-long comment. So I’ll limit my remarks to the following: While it is true that an education is one step on the path toward future employment (and that is true whether one is learning a trade, is getting a more ‘professional’ sort of degree, or is doing something liberal arts-y), I think it’s exceptionally problematic to equate “education” with “job training.” There are reasons to study literature (or history, or biology, or whatever), whether at the undergraduate or graduate levels, that have nothing to do with employability. If we buy the idea that the *only* or even *most important* reason to get a PhD is to get a t-t job at a 4-year university, then sure, it makes sense to follow the money or the job opportunities or whatever and to close up shop in every discipline with a glutted market. But I think that there are good reasons to pursue an education in those disciplines that aren’t (only) about getting a job and that aren’t (only) reducible to “true love” or naivety about one’s prospects post-degree for a career in the academy. Nor do I think that everyone who pursues a “useless” degree thinks they’re special or that they will be the above-average exception to the rule.

    (This is not to say that getting a job or being able to be a self-supporting adult with health insurance isn’t important. It is only to say that are those really the most central reasons for people choosing to pursue a PhD? Really?)

  42. Bookbag on 15 Jan 2010 at 4:56 pm #

    I found it annoying that so many graduate students felt duped by their advisers or academia in general, and surprising how angry and surprised they were by their situations. I don’t feel that way at all – my undergraduate and graduate advisers have been very up front about the difficulties of the academic job market. I decided to go to graduate school anyway, and I’m happy I did. But I also got frustrated by the implication — and I do sometimes get this impression from you, Historiann, I’m sorry if I’m misreading you — that prospective graduate students should be given a stern talking to on the poor life choice they’re about to make. Like I said, my undergraduate advisers were very clear on the difficulties of tenure track employment, but they also mentioned other career opportunities and helped me secure internships in those areas so that I would have connections in those fields post-phd. But I did have one professor – an adjunct — who went apoplectic when he heard I was going to graduate school and went on a half-hour long rant about how I would have to live apart from my spouse (I didn’t even have a boyfriend at the time, so this seem irrelevant to me), how I would never be happy again, etc. The experience was not especially informative but kind of condescending — the person didn’t seem to feel like I had any idea of what I was getting into, and seemingly no interest in hearing why I was going to graduate school and if I had any career interests other than that of tenure track professor. Many of the comments made by professors on TR’s post seemed to be in this vein, and I don’t really support it as an effective way to advise students.

  43. Anon on 15 Jan 2010 at 5:03 pm #

    I don’t say this to apologize for anyone’s tone; I’m just offering a possible explanation. I can understand why tenured faculty don’t like the tone of some graduate students and what they are saying about the current jobs crisis. I think that part of it is venting anger at the only folks who have the power to do something about it. Now, I admit that faculty don’t have that much power in this situation, but grad students have none and attacking faceless administrators has less appeal. I actually think that the best way would be for faculty and grad students to work together rather than fighting with each other because as someone in this thread said (it may have been Historiann), more permanent faculty benefits tenured folks too. And, this is becoming a problem across higher education.

    I do have one question about this thread and the one at TR: Why do tenured faculty always maintain that the job market was horrible in their day? I don’t doubt that many of the current crop of tenured faculty had to pass through hell to get their jobs, but the thing about it is that it does nothing to address the real concerns of grad students who have seen jobs disappear during their career and seems to prop up a system that is becoming increasingly unjust. I know that some of it is nostalgia–in my day, and so forth. I don’t say this to blame anyone, I just really don’t get it and am curious to hear from you folks why this is so.

    p.s.: I would never talk to my advisor about my feelings. I think that she would find it quite strange. She makes great comments on the work I send her though.

  44. thefrogprincess on 15 Jan 2010 at 6:11 pm #

    Oh boy. I’m coming to this late, clearly, and I’ve just had a long conversation with a friend about this so I’m more heated than I would be normally.

    First of all, while it isn’t productive to blame individual professors or even individual programs for failing to get you a job, I’m not willing to let academia as a whole off the hook. The reality is that programs admit way more students that can get tenure track jobs at the same time that they hire loads of adjunct faculty members, in effect closing down tenure-track slots. It’s fundamentally unethical.

    Moreover, I found that although I had researched graduate school thoroughly and did extensive reading about the pitfalls, most of that advice focused on how not to get stalled in the process of writing a dissertation; the idea that the majority of people wouldn’t get the kinds of jobs they went to graduate school to get never came up. And that’s really what we’re talking about: hundreds of history PhDs are churned out each year and the majority of them won’t get tenure track jobs. I find that abysmal.

    Schools are not always forthcoming about placement figures, either. Recently, the graduate students in my program received the placement figures from a dean’s report from a fellow graduate student. These figures were significantly worse than I’d been led to believe by my own department. The point isn’t that I’m not responsible for my choice to go to graduate school; I am. But I think academia as a whole has to take responsibility for the fact that the entire profession has had a vested interest in masking the truth.

    Also, Historiann, you’ve mentioned a few times now that you don’t believe anybody’s spreading the rosy-picture myth. I’ve got to disagree. People may not be saying, “Oh, things are great and fantastic,” but I’ve found it incredibly rare to hear someone say, “There’s a pretty decent chance you won’t get a job, regardless of what stellar advisor you have or what stellar institution you go to.” Too often nothing’s said at all. The advice I got was that if you went to a Top-5 school or worked with one of a handful of advisors, you were pretty much a shoe-in. Even now, I can’t get a straight answer about job prospects from my advisor and I have friends who are being told that they pretty much will get a job, if they do x, y, or z. So people are not making decisions with the full information at hand. Too few advisors are having the kinds of conversations John S. and perpetua call for.

    Finally (and my apologies for going on too long), I personally think it’s vital for the academy to become more diverse, especially along racial and class lines. But academia in the humanities as it currently stands is incredibly hostile to those who are first-generation academics, or more importantly, first-generation professionals. Spending six or seven or eight years getting a degree and then not getting the kind of job you trained for is failure in many communities. Spending five or six years at a major institution and then moving back home because the money’s run out is failure. Academia still has a certain cultural cachet: being a professor still implies a certain comfortable middle-class life and the only reason someone would know different is if their parents were academics. It’s become clearer to me over time that academia doesn’t want people from diverse class backgrounds because the very system classes out people who can’t afford to spend 3 years waffling around before they go to grad school or who expect a halfway decent shot at the job they spent the better part of a decade in school to get. That, I believe, is the biggest crime of all.

  45. Janice on 15 Jan 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    What would your graduate advisor said in a conversation about your feelings?

    He would have been genuinely concerned, giving me a wide-eyed look of sympathy followed by a “there-there” and encouragement to buck up. Then we would have been back on track after an entertaining discussion involving the Madonna of the Bookstore or some other painting in the university collection.

    I knew before I started grad school that the chances of getting a tenure-track job was very slim. I planned, if I wasn’t successful by the time I finished grad school, to return to the states and take up that management position in a fabric store that my previous employers had offered me. Or to leverage my computer skills into another position (I eventually juggled several years of lucrative dotcom consulting along with my academic responsibilities during the 90s). I was quite shocked to actually get a t-t offer in Canada and I remain grateful for that chance almost twenty years on.

    But if, by chance, we are the first people to tell you that there aren’t a lot of academic jobs out there nor are any of the many of very deserving doctoral candidates out there likely to get t-t jobs in the next year or years, please don’t shoot us. We’ve been saying this for years and don’t blame you for the situation nor for your lack of information, either (really!).

  46. HistoryMaven on 15 Jan 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    I’ve just returned from a fifteen-hour round-trip drive for a job interview (outside academe), in my soon-to-be-collector’s item Saturn Astra (only made in the US for a year; more about the reason I mention this later).

    Several comments, after reading the comments at TR and here:

    First, I don’t understand why faculty are held up as all powerful and all knowing. If current graduate students or recently not-yet-employed Ph.D.s are lamenting that faculty don’t understand their anger, stress, fear, may I ask that they try to understand what faculty members experience? Twenty years’ worth of advising graduate students at public and private universities on the East Coast and in the Rust and Corn Belts tell me that (a) yes, it’s incumbent upon departments to tell students what to expect in the job market, but (b) some students won’t listen, and (c) the real job of an adviser is to do his/her level best to place an advisee in the best position possible for that market. I couldn’t refuse to work with a student because I had the statistics in front of me that said that said student had a poor chance of getting a job. I was presented with students who had applied, had been accepted, and my duty–and I absolutely loved it–was to labor on behalf of that student. Not all my students got the jobs they wished, but I don’t think any of them blame me, as a faculty member, for their bad experiences in the job market. (After all, I shared with them my bad experiences in the market. And for those folks who heard that from advisers that they had five interviews and three offers, consider that they were not gloating; it was a statement that helped the utterer try to understand what had changed!) Good faculty fight like hell for their students, but you wouldn’t know it from the comments I, with bleary eyes, read at TR and on the academic job wiki.

    Second, faculty can do something. At some universities–not all–they can teach more. Last year I quit my tenured position because I couldn’t stay in a dysfunctional department who is trying like hell to imitate (not be, nor achieve the status of) a first-tier research institution–and that means a 2-2 courseload. (It’s a matter of pride.) The idea of teaching more courses was seen as diluting the all-important research agenda, rather than helping the profession and raising standards. And the thoroughly researched plans created by a colleague and me to increase our courses in public history, museums studies, etc., were summarily rejected. At a fourth-tier university.

    Although I firmly believe that adults who wish to pursue an advanced degree should do so (especially at public universities), I also grew increasingly appalled at my former department’s admission of students who had low GRE’s, okay grades, and poor writing skills. These were good and earnest folks, but they weren’t prepared. Yet they were carried into a second year or a third year because of the need for TAs. And they tended to work with professors who would look the other way at poor work. I couldn’t ethically stay.

    I’m on the market again. I’m old. I have student loans and other debt. I’m adjuncting at a local university–no office, no perks, but I got the offer from excellent people who believe in me. It was the best they could offer under conditions not of their own making.

    At my interview this morning one of the great questions lobbed at me asked that I review my intellectual/educational/professional “pilgrim’s progress.” It was an excellent exercise–I rehearsed the story of how lucky I was to attend my undergraduate school at a time when a cohort of historians were inventing a new type of history–although, of course, I never knew that at the time. I never received any funding for my graduate education (as a daughter of parents who didn’t attend college and could be called working class) I really didn’t understand that part of the process. But I was lucky enough to find jobs, from sweeping the floor on the night shift at the local steel mill (before it went under) on summer vacation, to being an accounting assistant, working the midnight shift at a commodities broker and walking directly into a three-hour seminar on Friday mornings, working as a secretary in a university program office, then as an editorial assistant because I could type, then becoming managing editor of a scholarly journal in my field. And while I wrote my dissertation I took on a 4-4 teaching gig that other folks in my department REFUSED because it was beneath them (they also took longer to find jobs, and I have yet to be unemployed in way or another). All that opened me up to a number of employment avenues I don’t think I would have considered had I been offered a fellowship.

    Did I, at some point, feel entitled, after all that work, to have at least a semester’s worth of a fellowship? Yes, definitely, and I raised holy hell about it. What I wanted was acknowledgment of my work in the currency that my fellow graduate students counted. Because I hadn’t funding, I was considered a lightweight. When I got a really great job after the dissertation, several folks admitted to me they couldn’t believe I could snag such a prize. We look to our advisers, our fellowships, our jobs–as sorts and sources of validation.

    So I don’t know how someone can state that as a (okay, once) tenured type I cannot understand or don’t sympathize with their plight. And the humanities are about…?

    I’m now living off of some cashed-in retirement funds and, besides the adjunct pay, working on two great exhibition projects on a third of what I used to be paid. Some folks call me brave. I think I’m just being resourceful as I wait out this recession.

    I may not get the job. But I count myself lucky to have the training and perspicacity to be eligible to apply. All but three of the good folks at my old Saturn dealership lost their jobs; Jim, the great guy who helped me figure out what was wrong with my car, was one of them. He still hasn’t recovered; he has survivor’s guilt. He said to me “I lost my family.” I have a profession full of people who really do care but also need to protect themselves from the predations of burgeoning administration and the economy that affects us all.

    And, sadly, my former university isn’t going to hire for my position any time soon. Not my fault.

  47. Geoff on 15 Jan 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Anon and thefrogprincess beat me to it. The profession owes the people it is training more than the current offer: “You spent four years getting a bachelor’s degree. Now, spend seven or eight more in graduate school at hard labor and low wages to find out if you’ll be eligible for a career.” The length of investment in time and energy before a student finds out if they will have a career or not is simply too long, and is unparalleled in any other field, even medicine.

    I did my job market research as an undergrad and baled out of grad school after two years and have a successful career in an altogether different area, so I bring a bit of schadenfreude to these discussions. But I sympathize with those who perceive an implicit meritocracy in academia, and with those who don’t think all advisors are having frank discussions with their graduate students. Furthermore there is a performative contradiction in saying, on the one hand ‘you should think hard about your chances in this market’ and ‘we’ve reviewed your application and find you superior to many other applicants. here’s an assistantship which will continue for the duration of your stay here. we think you’d make a great addition to the discipline.’ If you’re 23, and everything has been rolling your way in life so far, which message resonates?

    In other threads Historiann has addressed the class biases of academia and the role of tenure track professors at the top of a labor hierarchy in ways I think the currently unemployed PhDs would find admirable. As tenure-track faculty are in some ways the beneficiaries of the extended apprenticeship of the graduate students, it would be heartening to see more concrete action from faculty on these matters.

  48. Another Damned Medievalist on 15 Jan 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    Um … us old folks? Ok, I was born in the tail end of the Boom, but I finished my PhD in 2000. I just got tenure this year. Adjuncted/visiting positions for 4 years before this job. NOT retiring fer nobody. Hmph.

    Also, I think it might be useful to remind people that the vast majority of college faculty in this country, tenured or contingent, do not teach on campuses that award the PhD, and many of those people also do not teach MA level students.

    The job market *has sucked for years*. The year I got my job, I applied for 33 positions and was qualified for all of them. That might sound really good. It might imply that it was a good year for medievalists. Nope. Of those positions, about 10 were for medievalists, and there were about 6 that I had no chance of getting because of my lack of publications. And the list included visiting positions and positions as a generalist at community colleges, and I had made sure that I had those qualifications when I left grad school. But that was a bizarre year. I applied for every job I could. In the three years prior, there were only 20 or so such positions, and this year seems to have been even worse. For people who are looking only at R1s and selective SLACs, the market has been this way for as long as I can remember. An applicant pool for a medievalist job will seldom be below 75 well-qualified candidates. It’s generally well over 100 for my colleagues in modern and US history. Hell, there were 180 applications for the job I got.

    Anyway, I may have to blog on this myself this weekend. And I know I’m sounding very harsh, but… well…

    I’d feel much more ripped off by a degree in creative writing than in history. And I guess I know, online or in RL, too many people who are really good writers or musicians or artists who *should* be able to make it on what they love, but have to work a day job. Even really well-known writers like John Scalzi have blogged about how hard it is to make it. Sometimes we are very good at what we do, and it’s not enough, and it’s not fair, but life isn’t fair, is it?

  49. thefrogprincess on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    ADM says: The job market has sucked for years.

    That’s exactly my point. The job market has sucked for years and yet some programs continue to accept dozens of students a year, most of whom only want to be professors and will only be trained to be professors. The job market’s been bad for ages and yet still students are told they’ll be fine if they go to top schools and work with top advisors. Although I’m reaching the end of my program in a particularly bad job market, my concern isn’t about what’s probably a temporary (though devastating) tightening. It’s about the fact that candidates have outstripped available jobs by the hundreds for years (decades?) and students are still being spun the line that a generation is about to retire. (And yes, in the mid 2000s, I got told this line.)

  50. Paul S. on 15 Jan 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Re: TR’s post and the comments – They make me glad that I got a realistic glimpse of prospects in academia during my 2 years getting an MA. I went in fresh from undergrad with only the vaguest idea of what an academic career actually involved, and I gradually realized that although I still loved the subject material, I didn’t necessarily have the focus or self-discipline to pursue it, at least not at that point in my life. I was there from 96-98, and even then there was a LOT of talk among my fellow students about how difficult it would be to get a tenure-track position, and how the idea that there would be a boom of t-t positions as the baby boomers retired was bogus because academic institutions simply weren’t going to hire as many t-t faculty in the future. It helped that, unlike me, most of my fellow students were in their late 20s or older and were returning to school after having worked in various fields, so they had much more experience with the world of professional employment in general and more realistic ideas. Also, a lot of them had friends or relatives who were or had been in academia, so I got to hear stories of the difficulty of finding t-t positions, or in some cases even full-time non t-t positions, and how people who had hoped for academic positions sometimes ended up getting non-academic jobs which would hopefully have some connection to their academic interests.

    When this was added to a gradual realization that I wasn’t necessarily all that good at doing research or teaching, it gradually moved me toward taking the MA and then going out into the job market. I ended up with a job that had no connection to my academic experience, but that’s another story.

    My personal experience (which might be very atypical) was that I relied mainly on fellow students as a source of information, however anecdotal, about the job market. The faculty didn’t make glowing promises, nor did they give much in the way of stern warnings – they just didn’t refer much to the topic at all.

  51. Indyanna on 15 Jan 2010 at 11:27 pm #

    Wow, impossible to catch up with this interesting thread this far into it, but just as impossible to ignore it and still hope to sleep, so I’ll just add a tiny mite. I think pretty much everything that could be said has been said here, on most sides of all substantive questions. I spent much of the day in the company of a large number of fairly advanced dissertators and early stage post-docs and heard more than a little about searches, convention interviews, and what not else. And I also attended a practice job talk by someone with an on-campus trip next week to a place I’d probably go to right now for, say, $1 a year, plus benefits.

    I’ll just take a shot at Historiann’s question about her advisor, and my own (who I’m pretty sure is the same as John S’s). Historiann, your advisor evolved a good deal in the decade before you got there in terms of realizing that the old Ivy-Network effect wasn’t going to get it done, and also that a job outside the research-factory loop was still something that you could be proud of. This was largely, I think, a result not just of being responsible for his own students, but for the many from dozens of other grad. schools at the center he ran, and seeing their travails, their resilience, and their adaptability. When I first got there some of the old boyz (not him) would admit that the job crisis was real enough, to be sure, but that it would *never* lap high enough to wash away anybody at dear old BFU. That faculty generation couldn’t very well advise us too much. They didn’t know what a convention interview was and had never heard of a “search committee,” because they didn’t EXIST (save maybe for university presidents). Some of them evolved and your advisor was one of them, to his great credit. The history profession (I know that a number of people on this blog are from other disciplines and/or walks of life) doesn’t really do any better of a job than the law, medicine, or engineering, do–in their respective fields–of educating its generations of newcomers about the history of the history profession. (Beyond a few adages about conflict v. consensus, progressive historiography, the Annales School, and tired workhorses of that sort).

    As for what he would have said on the “feelings” question, I smile… I think JJO has it down pretty well, except I would add maybe a reflexive and involuntary “sniff” in there in that chain of initial, awkward, one-word sentences. But when he got that chapter, it would come back extensively commented on.

    As for my advisor, I think John S. got it pretty much right. He was more prone to the two hour talk, if you wanted or needed it, only it wasn’t about “feelings.” More just a blindingly multi-perspective analysis of the different ways you could look at a given thing. He never told you what to do, just how you could consider or understand a sitution. He also practiced a form of academic planned parenthood. He would never turn away a potential advisee, but he also never sought out or took students just for the sake of having them, and he never sought acolytes. It was years of prowling the stacks of the library before I found a signed dissertation by him in what the world would have considered “his” narrow subject area, but many that he signed on other subjects. He was almost everybody’s second or third reader, and sometimes got more profuse praise in dissertation acknowledgments than did the director of record. He gave as much time to undergraduates as he did to his own graduate students. He never refused to give advice just because you had ignored his last piece of advice, and that seemed pretty rare. I could go on. I had every version of every possible conversation along these lines, more than once. Dropped out, dropped back in, hung out, hung in, rested up, took the gigs and opportunities he sent my way, and finally got it right. Hopefully.

    John S., we’ll be looking for whatever it is you FedExed to Philly, although in truth, if it’s later than Sunday, I’ll be heading the other direction, into the Tall Trees!

  52. Nikki on 16 Jan 2010 at 8:15 am #

    I have to agree with Paul S., don’t graduate students talk amongst themselves? I had no idea about the job market when I began my PhD, but certainly by the time I was studying for my comps I had been apprised of the situation by grad students further along in the program than me. Quizzing the recent hires produced the same results, even if my own adviser had a rosier view of the market than warranted. (although to his credit, when he finished his PhD back in the 70s he said there was ONE job in the entire country for him to apply to, so maybe anything since has seemed better.) So I knew what was up well before I had invested a lot of time and made my decision with open eyes.

  53. Historiann on 16 Jan 2010 at 9:07 am #

    Hi everyone–sorry to have had to check out for most of yesterday. (More on that later.) I want to thank everyone commenting here for keeping it friendly and civil. (You guys are the best!)

    Like Indyanna, I appreciate the many excellent points raised in this thread, from both the faculty and the graduate student perspectives. I also appreciate History Maven’s call for trying to understand both perspectives. As she says, tenured professors weren’t born that way, nor did most of them have their careers handed to them on a silver platter. This is something I of which I still have to remind myself, when I think about the “stars” in my field. One thing that’s really helped with understanding this perspective was getting more involved with the Berkshire Conference, where one can meet and network with women from 22 to 90 and learn all about their careers. As it turns out, everyone I think of as a “star” in my field has her story of being denied tenure, of being bullied on the job, of having a baby or two held against her, etc. There are no charmed careers–not at least among the women scholars I know of. At the same time, people who get tenure-track jobs appear to forget pretty quickly the struggles of the grad student years, because they’re on to the next struggle (tenure, getting a better job, etc.). A little more humility and perspective from faculty who don’t hate their jobs and are no longer eating beans & rice every night is necessary, too.

    I am concerned to hear from some of the grad students in this thread (like thefrogprincess) that they’re still being reassured that everything will work out for *them* if they study in the right programs with the right advisors. This is magical thinking. My guess is that the faculty advisors who are spreading around that kind of fake sunshine either are extremely arrogant, or are suffering a kind of status anxiety themselves and need to believe that they have the magic keys to the kingdom of academe. (Or both, perhaps.) This is malpractice. Full stop. As many have suggested already (Paul S., Nikki, and others), your fellow graduate students and more specifically, the ABDs and recent Ph.D.s from your program have better and more realistic intel about your future job prospects. Don’t discount them or assume that everything will be different very soon–they are you in a year or two or three, and as I and many others have commented in this thread and in recent posts on the AHA, the job crisis in history employment is nothing new.

    Geoff and thefrogprincess note the ways in which the academy reproduces itself, because of the many hurdles to a career in academia that are difficult if not impossible to negotiate if one is a first generation college student and/or from a working class background. I think this is an excellent point, because the struggles of the job market tend to weed out students who don’t have a family/financial cushion to fall back on. Even in the “golden years” of the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was lucky enough to get my jobs, it was de rigeur to have at least a year or two of adjuncting or teaching in non tenure-track jobs. (I did 3 semesters like that and had my Ph.D. in hand before I got a t-t job offer. It was already unusual for ABDs to get job offers.) But, not everyone has the time or money to try the job market again and again. Many people have family responsibilities, geographical mobility issues, financial pressures, etc. that mean that they can’t keep going back indefinitely until their number comes up.

    This is the harsh reality that ends up weeding people out–and as TR suggested and many of you agree, these people would be better served if they had training in skills beyond research and teaching (such as admin, public history, etc.) That’s all I think she was trying to suggest by initiating this conversation.

  54. Another Damned Medievalist on 16 Jan 2010 at 10:10 am #

    I guess my response to thefrogprincess is yes, departments keep accepting more students than will get jobs. Some of that is about natural attrition. In my cohort at Grad U (fairly prestigious, but not an Ivy), the department usually brought in 12-15 fully funded students a year (we came in with 4 years of funding), plus a few MA students and 2-3 people willing to pay their own way and not willing to take no for an answer. Generally, 1-3 students left after their first year, because grad school wasn’t what they’d hoped for.

    Now I do realize that this is far different from the bigger campuses (or even English Departments) where there is also a need for labor. And I agree that bringing in cheap labor is not a good reason for admitting people to grad school. But again, when I was looking at grad school admissions, I was offered a place with TA-ships that were not guaranteed, a couple of places with just tuition (where I had stupidly applied just to the MA programs rather than to the PhD programs), and to Grad U, which offered a nice package to pretty much all its PhD students. But again, isn’t that something that incoming grad students should be looking at? The information for graduation and employment rates compared to students admitted is not that difficult to find.

    I think one of the issues here is that many students going into grad school think of it as more school — and it is. I know I did. I had no idea of what else I *could* do with a degree in History, so grad school and being a professor sounded pretty cool. But if you think of it as professional training, which it is, then I think a lot of the feelings that the system let you down go away. Except for some of the medical professions, any sort of professional training produces more qualified people than there are jobs.

    But then again, I am still boggling over the idea that people will pay to go to grad school (unless it’s in the UK — and only at certain unis –, where there aren’t really many bursaries and the prestige of the degree and the specific training in research really can help to justify the costs). But a lot of the people complaining about betrayal have also said that they came from non-traditional backgrounds, and nobody explained how it worked. Well, so did I, and it never occurred to me that I could go to grad school, because I didn’t have the money and was not about to take out $100k in loans I had no idea how I’d repay. My undergrad advisors gave me little direct advice about grad school or the job market, but they did tell me that good programs had funding, and that I shouldn’t go unless I got the funding (which of course, they said, I would).

    But the idea that we suffer and suffer and give years of our lives for a job we may never get? I may get the best job in the world and get cancer and not be able to keep it. Or even just not get tenure. But if a person’s entire identity as a useful human is wrapped up in only one goal, and nothing else will do, then I have to question the wisdom of the person.

    Analogous to this — look at astronauts. Talk about people who have to do some serious training, including graduate degrees. And the number of people who get those degrees and go through the training compared to the people who actually get to go into space is pretty large. Yes, the non-astronauts are employed, and they may be some of the best minds of their generation, but no one ever guaranteed them a spot.

  55. Historiann on 16 Jan 2010 at 10:30 am #

    ADM (and others above): great points about the funding and the foolishness of debt. I tell my students (few though they are) who want to get a Ph.D. that it’s unacceptable to go into debt for the degree. (None of these folks had inheritances, to my knowledge.) I’ve had three u/g students in my career (14 years) enroll in a Ph.D. program. All three won fellowships, however: winning a graduate fellowship is no Golden Ticket. Here’s the rundown: I think one dropped out ABD, one has finished her Ph.D. and is a non tenure-track instructor, and the other is still a graduate student (second year). My guess is that these numbers are probably comparable to my peers teaching in departments that don’t award Ph.D.s.

    Dr. Crazy made this point above, and over at her place in response to this post and the one at Tenured Radical, to wit: there is a point to (and value in) learning beyond a direct route to employment. However, even she (like most of the faculty in this thread, I’m guessing) is adamant that she won’t bless students who want to get a Ph.D. by going into debt.

  56. Emma on 16 Jan 2010 at 10:44 am #

    I don’t think it’s true that new PhDs aren’t going to get a job. It appears that the vast, vast majority of you aren’t going to get the job you thought you were training for: tenure track teaching position at the research university of your choice. But you’re probably light years ahead in getting a job.

    But, hey, new PhDs I’ll revisit your inability to get a job when you start joining the army and going to Iraq because there’s no other work available for you.

    Re: Unis hiring adjuncts while taking PhD candidates: It’s about the money. Period. It isn’t a program-specific issue, it isn’t going to be solved by reforming programs, admission policies, disclosure policies, or even whole universities. It’s a society-wide problem and until it’s looked at that way the commodification of everything will continue.

    You’re mad b/c you’re being treated like just another commodity, just like every other line worker that makes money for the business owners. The Ivory Tower privilege of being special has pretty much worn away for everybody. You ARE a line worker and you’re just as expendable as any other line worker. Is that unethical? Maybe, but it’s not something a University is in any position to fight because it’s the way of the world. Change the world, the U will follow.

  57. thefrogprincess on 16 Jan 2010 at 11:09 am #

    ADM, I don’t think we disagree all that much. I do view graduate school as professional training rather than just more school or a pleasant holding pattern, an approach that, incidentally, hasn’t done me any favors. (On a side note: at least among graduate students in my program, appearing to be too concerned with professionalization is a strike against you.) But I do think viewing this process as professionalization means different things to different people. For me, it means that, while I am in the field because I have questions I want answered, I expect to have a decent job, with decent benefits and a decent salary; and no, that doesn’t mean an R1 job for me. If I didn’t have those expectations, I’d have skipped the past five years that, frankly, have been pretty miserable (for reasons unique to me).

    Again, nobody owes me a job. And maybe I’m too young and my friends haven’t had enough bumps in the road, but I don’t know anybody who went to medical or law school who isn’t employed in the medical or legal professions currently. (What is happening, at least on the law side, is that firms have hired a lot of people and then are paying them to not work while the market sorts itself out. I’m assuming that some of these people will be laid off but again, that’s an issue of this recent economic downturn, not the status quo for the past few decades.) Moreover, my friends in other professions are frankly horrified when they hear about the job prospects in academia. I’m sorry but I just don’t think the comparisons to other postgraduate-degree-requiring professions hold up.

    Also, cohorts of 12-15 people sound reasonable to me. It’s the 25-30 group that seems ill-advised.

    Totally agreed on the funding point and the strongest advice I did receive was on just this point. This message I do think is getting out loud and clear: don’t go to graduate school unless you’re being paid to do so.

    I may be blogging about this later over at my place because I have some thoughts not immediately germane to this conversation.

  58. LadyProf on 16 Jan 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Because my field is law I’m not at the center of this (fascinating!) discussion, but I had an experience on point two years ago when one of my former students from 11 years ago decided to quit being a lawyer and seek a liberal arts PhD. He asked me, along with two of his undergrad profs who obviously went back even further, to recommend him. I complied, warning him of the job market and telling him under no circumstances to pay tuition. His applications went 0 for 8. He applied again this year to a wider set of schools and I think he’ll get in.

    For me the interesting part has been his reaction to my warnings about his job prospects. He has told me in no uncertain terms to shut up. I’ve e-mailed him some informative links from this blog and TR; he asked me nicely to stop. As for validating his feelings, he thinks I’m a complete failure because I have expressed ZERO sympathy re: his misery and frustration practicing law in today’s terrible market.

    So, a propos of Historiann’s question about who exactly is promising the rosy scenario: If I’m coming across to him like a mean old boor, then his undergrad recommenders must be telling him nothing about his job prospects?

  59. Bookbag on 16 Jan 2010 at 11:40 am #

    I wonder if one reason why some profs still offer encouraging words is not out of arrogance or ignorance but because they hate confrontation or to be the bearer of bad news? It’s still not acceptable, even in that case, but it seems like a plausible explanation to me. I can see how hard it would be to have to fill someone in on the gory details of academic employment, so maybe they just take the easier path of “oh, sure, it will be okay.” But it’s hard for me to say since I don’t have experience with this problem.

  60. Historiann on 16 Jan 2010 at 11:47 am #

    LadyProf: Wow. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. When he e-mails you in 8 years to bitch about his job prospects in the humanities, just delete him.

    What’s the line between “give me an accurate view of my prospects in this profession” and “don’t harsh my buzz?” I don’t know, but my instinct is that most professors try to be encouraging and suppportive while also being realistic. Smart students will realize that different proffies have different personalities and different experiences, and so will have different advice for them. But if a students comes to someone seeking advice about grad school and/or seeking a recommendation letter–well, if ze won’t listen to our advice, what makes hir think our letters of recommendation have any value whatsoever to an admissions or hiring committee? (LALALALA–I can’t hear you!–LALALALALA–hands over my ears!!!)

    Since you were asked for a letter of recommendation, you were just doing your due diligence. Your former student is clearly someone who wants to get a Ph.D., and damn the consequences, but I don’t understand the expectations that you commiserate with him about the crappy job market in the law now without wanting to be aware of the even crappier job market for humanities Ph.D.s.

  61. life_of_a_fool on 16 Jan 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    My advisor at my Fancy Pants grad program was aware of different types of institutions (i.e., didn’t suggest that everyone would or should or would want to end up in a R1 university, and seemed respectful of those who took, for whatever reason, a different path, including a non-academic one). He also kept a file of rejection letters, and would sometimes bring that out and share with students. These are two of my favorite things about my advisor, and two of the most helpful.

    However, I work with some people who I think contribute to the myth of Work Hard and Succeed. This is all the more distressing since we have a lot of first generation college and MA students, many of whom don’t have the cultural capital or connections elsewhere to compensate for this. And I think Historiann offers a good explanation when she suggests they “are suffering a kind of status anxiety themselves and need to believe that they have the magic keys to the kingdom of academe.” It takes self confidence to admit publicly that you have experienced failures and are lucky to be where you are.

    I also gained a lot of experiences (outside of my grad program) while I was in grad school that made me more competent at all aspects of my job and (I think) would make me more qualified and marketable outside of academia (which isn’t, of course, to say that this would be an easy path). It also contributed to me having a manageable amount of debt. However, I suspect that this also worked against me, directly and indirectly, in the academic job market. Directly, because the experience isn’t high-fallutin’ enough to appeal to elite departments, and indirectly (and more importantly), because all that outside work means I finished grad school with fewer publications than many of those who focused exclusively on academic research. I don’t regret these choices and I think they made me better at what I do (and relatively debt free). But they were choices with consequences. In comparison, I have friends with much more prestigious jobs and a much higher debt, because they made different choices.

    Which is to say that I think there are consequences of trying to keep yourself marketable in multiple arenas. I agree it’s a good idea, but also it’s one with (potential) costs.

    Similarly, I think TR”s suggestion to not admit anyone less than 3 years out of undergrad is a good one. In retrospect, I would have benefitted from this. (though, I think the chances are high of me not taking advantage of those years and the chances of me never going back to grad school. The latter might be part of the point, though it reinforces the perpetuation of a very homogenous and privileged faculty). And, the reason I didn’t do this (I remember one undergrad professor recommending this) is because I was too young and immature to do so. Which of course is the reason I should have listened. But I agree with those people pointing out that many people go against the odds, because *they’ll* be the ones to succeed and that many people don’t want to be told what to do, particularly when it looks like they’re being told they’re not good enough (i.e., the successful academic telling the students the odds are against them).

  62. John S. on 16 Jan 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    I’ll chime in on Bookbag’s point with a slight defense of graduate advisers. Training grad students can be a tough job. Moreover, it’s not one that people prepare you for. It’s not something that they can teach you how to do in grad school, and in many departments they just seem to assume you know how to to do it right off the bat. I’m not saying this as a “waaah! waaah!” moment but merely to point out that there’s a learning on the job factor here, even as you’re helping other people get jobs. You can try your best and get it wrong.

    Relating to Bookbag’s point: sometimes grad students don’t want to hear it. They hear the news about the job market and are convinced *they’re* the exception. (I mean–200 applicants for one job is tough, but somebody’s got to be the one, don’t they?) You warn them that there will be fewer jobs in upcoming years and they fire back with an anecdote about a professor who was replaced with two new hires. (True story–happened to me this term.) You have to tread a fine line here between nurturing someone’s enthusiasm and urging them to be realistic.

    Moreover, we’re not omniscient; sometimes people who seem less promising turn out pretty good and do buck the trend. Historiann’s adviser has an impeccable track record–but he also once dumped a student for picking a “bad” dissertation topic that eventually secured said student employment at One of the Oldest Universities in the World. Grad advisers are as fallible as everyone else.

  63. Another Damned Medievalist on 16 Jan 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    argh. Part of this is that so many students go through their college careers thinking they are exceptional. It’s the Lake Woebegone effect gone wild. When I started college, and when I went to grad school, I was used to being one of the smartest kids in the class. Note: I went to school in California in the 60s and 70s, and they put all the scary-smart kids together, so after 6th grade, I was never *the* smartest kid — everybody was smart. When I was in college and grad school, I gravitated towards the smartest, most interesting, funniest people, and we shared our lives, commiserated, and competed with each other. The same is pretty much true of my academic friends and close colleagues (most of whom I know through blogging or conferences). I tend to want to hang out with people who know as much or more than I do, because they make me work harder (even though they totally let me feed my imposter complex).

    I think there are a lot of academics who also derive joy out of hanging out with the other smart kids and don’t see it as taking away from who they are.

    But there are a lot of my students who are used to being the smartest in class, and getting away with a lot as well, who don’t handle it at all well when they find that they are now surrounded by other smart people. And in grad school, there were rather more people like that than I would have liked. People who had been very good and considered top in their UG programs, but had never really thought about the fact that, in grad school, everybody else had also been a top student. And those people seem to be in denial about having to work hard once you get through the door.

    I see it in my students, who think that, having made it into college, they don’t need to up their game. I saw it in grad school, where there was more resentment of those who did well than self-reflection on how their assumptions that they were superstars might not actually be true. And I’ve seen it in my colleagues, at SLAC and in the field, where there are incredible snots who seem to think a book is a big deal (it is and it isn’t — we’re professors, dude, we are all supposed to publish). If you have the luck (and hard work) to get the job, the contract with the right press, the right connecetions, you get validated. If you don’t get those things, and were never ok with being one of many of the best, then I can see how you might really be pissed off at the system.

    The funny thing is, at least in my field, some of the scariest, best-known scholars are also the people least likely to judge a person based on where they teach, or even whether they have a full-time job. They are interested in you if you are doing interesting work.

    I have no idea where I was going with this. Damn. Except that a lot of this conversation really seems to be rooted in how we see ourselves and our own qualifications, and what they should mean. And I think a lot of the people who sound very entitled have never really figured it out that the competition just gets tougher the higher you climb. That’s a good thing, but it sucks sometimes.

  64. Historiann on 16 Jan 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    ADM says, “the competition just gets tougher the higher you climb.

    Amen, sister!

    It’s true not just of life in the humanities, but also in the sciences and medicine. Interestingly, a friend of mine (a Ph.D. microbiologist) has recently left bench research for law school, and another friend left pediatrics to train in peds ICU and has found that she has substantially FEWER job opportunities at that level of training. Of 5 friends (inc. me) in college, the 2 friends described above were bio majors, and another was a chem major who went to med school and trained as an OB/GYN. The last 2 of us were history majors (me and a friend with a public policy M.A.) And yet, it’s the two bio majors/MD/Ph.D. who have retrained in early mid-career, not the 2 history majors or the OB/GYN. We’re still working in the fields for which we trained in college and/or grad/professional school.

    (It’s nice to have an MD to fall back on, but not everyone wants to treat sniffles and RSV in primary care the rest of their careers.)

  65. Matt L on 16 Jan 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    I like this thread. Not the news mind you, but a lot of great comments. I snuck into the office to make a couple more revisions on my tenure portfolio before I heave it over the transom… but I cannot resist contributing my 2 cents!

    Graduate Advisors are not omniscient – check! but the good ones do give you a realistic appraisal of the possible (whether its your dissertation or your career prospects).

    Recent PhDs and ABDs in your own program have a more realistic appraisal of the job market. – Yes and No. They can tell you what is going on in the short term –what’s the market like this year– but very few of them have long term perspective. Which is where your grad advisor should help, because plenty of them know former students who bounced around several temp positions before they landed a tenure track job. Thats what they mean when they say, “good people get jobs.” Mind you not every good person gets a job, but some people eventually do.

    Emma and ADM (and TR) have it right. Most people with a PhD get a job. For most PhDs its not going to be 2/2 at an R1 – the job your program supposedly trained you for. It might be in a library, it might be a 4-4 at a state uni. It might be selling cars, but you will find a job. Neo-Liberalism doesn’t get any better than that.

    Fraud, Deception? Maybe. I agree with Historiann, nobody is out there putting rose colored glasses on the fresh scrubbed faces of undergrads urging them to get a PhD in the humanities. And certainly grad students have a marvelous capacity for self-deception (I know I did).

    But, so long as R1s and even some R2s bring in graduate students to teach undergraduate courses as TAs and grad instructors, I can see how graduate students feel cheated or abused. Frankly these History Departments are participating in a scam. Graduate students are cheap labor; the academic equivalent of the 18-year-old working the fry-station at McDonalds. Period. Your job as a grad student is to grade tedious blue-book exams and serve up those discussion sections ‘hot-n-fresh’ so your advisor does not have to. The university does not have an obligation to you after your three or five years of funding (or indentured servitude) is up. It should say that in the graduate catalog.

    As far as not taking loans out goes, that is absurd advice. Ten years ago, as a grad student I received a 10 k stipend and a tuition waiver for two semesters. (No summer money). You couldn’t live on that in major metropolitan area then and I doubt that those stipends have gone up. Rent has, along with almost every other expense (how much do your students spend on books & copies for seminar? anyone?). I advise students who plan to go to grad school to take out as few student loans as possible and be creative with the side work and living arrangements.

    There is an upside – when I started paying back my own student loans, I had a much better feel for how venality of office worked and felt during the Ancien Regime.

    Off to force my way into the bastion of tenure! Failing that I am going to get white shoes, a white belt and start selling cars…

  66. John S. on 16 Jan 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    I’ll just second ADM’s point, based on my experience with someone from that field in my department. One of our medievalists retired two years ago and we held a little celebration for hir in which we read little testimonials from hir former students and friends. And I remember hearing one that started “Back when [my Senior Colleague] and I were Assistant Professors at Harvard…”

    I remember almost doing a spit-take in front of the assembled crew. I’d never heard my friend once mention that s/he’d gotten a job at Harvard out of grad school. Once. How many people in academia would creatively find ways to drop the fact that they had once worked there into as many conversations as possible? Pretty much 97% of my department, I would wager. (And I have two colleagues who would work it into *every* conversation.) But then, my Colleague Emeritus/a always treated the adjuncts and assistant professors s/he encountered here with the same level of respect s/he treated the tenured profs here. I’d be shocked if s/he discriminated based on where one worked. As s/he told me once, in a perfect world, everyone who does important work would get a t-t job, and the people who do the best work would be at the best universities. But that’s not the world we live in, and treating people as if academia worked like that leads you to make all kinds of faulty judgments.

  67. Emma on 16 Jan 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    but I don’t know anybody who went to medical or law school who isn’t employed in the medical or legal professions currently.

    I know several people who went to law school who aren’t working in law.

    I know LOTS of people who went to the local top 10 law school and aren’t working on Wall Street making $500,000 a year, i.e. the equivalent of an R1 institution AFAICT, and haven’t yet paid off their school loans. As for those law firms paying 1st year associates not to work: compare the number of law grads who got that (with no guarantee that they will actually be employed by that firm this spring) with the total number of law grads in the 2009 class. It’s a very minute portion of grads being paid not to work. And, in fact, most of them still have some training other responsibilities to their firm in the “off” time.

    Further, these grads are NOT being paid their full salary. One person I know was paid $20,000 for 11-12 months and out of that was expected to pay for bar exam, food, housing, etc. etc. In New York.

    The grass is always greener, I suppose. But there’s plenty of law grads wondering why, 10, 15, 20 years on, they still haven’t paid off their school loans and aren’t as wealthy as they were led to believe they were going to be if they just went to the right law school, worked hard, etc. etc. etc.

  68. Anon on 16 Jan 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    One thing that I think should be said is that part of the problem is the point of bottlenecking. That is, in many fields, the bottleneck occurs at the apprentice stage or below. For instance, how many pre-meds get weeded out in the first year of UG? Then, they are further cut down during med school and most med school grads get jobs. Of course not all the equivalent of R1, but I don’t know a realistic grad student who does not think that getting a job like that would be like hitting the lottery or the rookie baseball player who hits a home run in their first at bat. Statistically possible but highly unlikely.

    Now humanities grad programs also weed out some folks in only accepting some of the people who apply, but after that, there is not really a point at which they get pushed away until the job market. And, to be clear, we are not talking about people not getting the job of their dreams; we are talking about people not getting any jobs. So, in my opinion (so take it for what it’s worth), the problem is not people being told all their lives that they are exceptional, it is that these are really smart people who took a shot and are disappointed that it is not working out (and pretty specifically not working out due to circumstances beyond their control). I don’t think that it is right of them to lash out, but I can see where their coming from.

    I also think that there are two things going on here. One is the economic crisis has made work outside of the academy very hard to come by. There are no soft landings for those leaving. Second, leaving for a while because of the economic crisis basically means that you are giving up on all that you worked for for years. And there is not a get out crisis free card. Not getting a job in the first couple years out because jobs fell by half over two years is just bad luck. But if things improve, no one is going to let them back in. Nor are they trying to help them now. Maybe I am wrong and people can get back in. So, in short, there are a lot of folks in the humanities without jobs who would have been hired in previous years. It is not that advisors are necessarily blowing smoke up peoples $#@es. There really are people just plain getting screwed and there really is nothing we can do about it.

    For the record, I am not yet one of those people. Does anyone remember the study a few years back that correlated success in academia pretty specifically to whatever job people landed in the first year out? I remember reading it and finding it chilling with the roll of the dice that is the job market every year. I am too busy at the moment to look it up.

  69. Indyanna on 16 Jan 2010 at 6:47 pm #

    Anon is very right on the (second to) last point, above. I *hope* this crunch isn’t going to turn out to be another “snows of yesteryear” debacle of the sort I survived, but if it does… the bad news is that this isn’t an industry that has *any* taste for retrieving survivors on the battlefield. When the lost generation market did begin to glacially improve in the mid-1980s, one of the lessons I learned was that institutions far preferred to reload and move on with new people. And by “survivors,” I don’t mean people who were merely still breathing. I mean people who had cobbled together many successive years of temporary, visiting, or adjunct teaching; holed up creatively in public history situations, invented the sphere of “independent” scholarship, published things, and the like. For the academy to have scoured the ocean where the Titanic went
    down to pluck such people out of the water would have only prolonged the *institutional* crisis, as opposed to the individual crises. So it was better at the institutional, programatic, and departmental levels to just hit flush and rebuild, or so the thought went. The only reason I survived is the length of time I dawdled at the ABD level, with the help of some public history institutions, and–per Historiann’s very astute point somewhere upthread (can’t even find it at this point), some *very* indulgent familial circumstances.

  70. LadyProf on 16 Jan 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Emma’s right: law grads are in dire shape these days. My own school is ranked just below the top quartile–nothing great but historically solid enough–and most of my students who graduated last June don’t have jobs.

    As Anon and others, including Historiann, have pointed out, the terrible macro-economy looms over us as we try to advise our students. Let’s say these advisees sensibly abandon all hope of a Ph.D. What other work can they pursue? Few of us have enough wisdom about the gloomy big picture to say something like “Given the bad alternatives plus your serious talent, it’s worth it for you to take a shot” versus “If I were you, I’d go for the crappy B.A. job [or law, business, etc.] because your prospects will be even worse out of graduate school.”

    And that assumes we’re willing to harsh their buzz. I am, but I know I come across as rude. In the USA it’s considered unkind and wrong to tell a young person not to follow hir dreams.

  71. Geoff on 16 Jan 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    To pick right up where LadyProf left off, I think there’s a false dichotomy in academic t-t job = dream and law or business = crap. I don’t believe LadyProf really thinks that, but she is certainly reflecting preconceptions in many academic humanities departments.

    If a student’s only dream is tenure track, they should go back to the dream drawing board and consider a few alternatives. Here’s what I’d say to the student considering grad school: “You have strong oral and written communication skills, and your work in this discipline shows a high ability to research problems, analyze them and come to an independent conclusion. Your affinity for academia likely reflects a respect for intellectual integrity over financial gain. Unfortunately many talented people like yourself fail to find secure and satisfying employment in academia. Fortunately those qualities which might serve you well in academia will also distinguish you in the private sector or civil service. While we in academia take pride in our roles, there are hundreds of thousands of other professionals working in innumerable ways to meet society’s needs and solve its problems. While venturing into today’s job market is daunting, if you focus on your core affinities and competencies you are likely to find a role that is at least as satisfying and more secure than academic teaching.”

  72. Paul S. on 17 Jan 2010 at 1:01 am #

    The more I think about it, the more lucky I realize that I was, even though I didn’t end up following the path that I had originally planned. Like I said above, I was lucky enough to get to know fellow students who were older, further along in their studies, and wiser about academic life and employment in general. I was also lucky in that I left grad school in 1998, and although academia already had a lot of the job issues that it has now, the economy in general was as good as it’s been in my lifetime, and one could get a decent paying office job quickly. There are other ways that I was lucky, too, related to support from my parents, but I should probably write about that on my own blog.

    I can see where almost everyone is coming from in the comments both here and over at TRs blog. It frankly sucks for anyone who has planned for their future based on what turned out to be unrealistic assumptions, and it sucks even more when one is faced with an economy in which getting a professional job of ANY kind is difficult, even one that’s not related in any way to the degree that you just spent years of money and effort acquiring. In their situation, I’d probably feel somewhat betrayed or at least upset, and I would be tempted to want to lash out at anyone who seemed to be blaming me for my own situation – especially if the faculty I had known had been less than forthright about the difficult career prospects ahead. If I had been born 10 years later and my life had followed roughly the same kind of path that it did, I would be one of them now. On the other hand, I can see why faculty who have to deal with quite a few students who have inflated views of their own abilities and future prospects, and who refuse to listen to good advice, just get tired of hearing the same complaints, and resent the implication that they are somehow to blame for the fact that there is now a shortage of academic jobs and a glut of applicants for those jobs when these things are outside their control. I suspect that there are both too many students with expectations that are divorced from reality, and too many faculty who unwittingly help perpetuate these unrealistic views. Combine this with trends in academic administration and the overall economy that squeeze both faculty and students harder, and which neither group has much control over, and you have an ideal climate for making lots of people touchy, anxious, and ready to point fingers. (This last part is just a vague thought about the overall situation, not referring to anyone here.)

  73. Feminist Avatar on 17 Jan 2010 at 5:55 am #

    There is a couple of contradictions here: one is the implication that the glut in the PhD market is caused not just by a lack of jobs, but by people who are not really *good enough* doing PhDs against advice. At the same time, everybody who has blogged recently about being on a job committee is commenting on how impressive and even over-qualified all their candidates are for the position. Perhaps, the fact is that there are plenty of people who not only make good, but great PhDs and lecturers. And, while they are few and far between, jobs still exist in academia and somebody needs to fill them- why not you? So, how do we decide after u/grad which ‘special flower’ gets to pursue *that* career [which also presumes PhDs do not have merit outside academia, when they do!], when there are lots of equally gifted people competing- especially when being a good lecturer does not always mean having exceptional grades as u/grad?

    And the other side of this coin is that grad school is BIG business! Universities make big money from grad school tuition fees- which pay for jobs. So, in some ways, discouraging PhDs just makes the pool of money for jobs even smaller.

  74. cgeye on 17 Jan 2010 at 5:59 am #

    Funny how the shocks about feminists and post-feminists faded in this discussion, but the discussion of grad school hijinx goes on and on and on….

    Maybe a separate post?

  75. life_of_a_fool on 17 Jan 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Feminist Avatar: I don’t see people saying that the glut is a result of people who aren’t good enough getting PhDs going to grad school. You’re right there are many more good, qualified people than there are jobs (but I think the main posts and at least most of the commenters know this – that doesn’t mean the odds are against all of us).

    It also occurred to me, though, that we all have to go against the odds to be successful. We submit to the journal with 10 % acceptance rates, we try to be the few that get university press contracts, etc. etc. Being successful in academia takes the tenacity and the determination that would likely make one not take advice to think of other options.

    I also loved ADM’s last comment above.

  76. The History Enthusiast on 17 Jan 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    I’m only going to weigh in to support thefrogprincess’s points. Here’s my background in a nutshell, and yes, I realize this is only *anecdotal* evidence:

    2000 – Was a history major but not sure what I wanted to do (this was sophomore year), and my advisor said I’d need to get an M.A. to work in a history field of any sort (museums were my first choice at that point). NO MENTION was made of the job market in the academy at any point in my undergraduate career, even once I had changed to thinking about being a professor. I was uniformly encouraged from all fronts.

    2003 – Entered M.A. program at Fancy Public Ivy and was, once again, never told about the job market’s perils, and since I was only a first year student I didn’t form friendships with the ABDs who’d by this point moved away, etc. Advice from other grad students was non-existent.

    2005 – Entered Ph.D. program at Top Public University and was only encouraged with sayings like, “The market’s tough, but you’ve got what it takes to succeed.”

    2010 – Technically, though I’ve received more honest advice in the past year, I have yet to be told that I won’t be able to get a job. Perhaps this is because my uni has a really excellent placement rate, but all I am hearing is encouragement. This is coming from mentors, my advisor, and people from my program who’ve already landed a t-t job.

    And before people trot out all the objections (i.e. I should’ve done more research, I am entitled, etc.), those are categorically not applicable to me and 90% of the students in my program. The concept of working outside academia is appealing to many of us (and I’ve applied for those positions), and none of us would ever, EVER say that we feel entitled to a position once we graduate. None of us come from privileged backgrounds and consequently we’re all up to the challenge when it comes to hard work..

    Let me emphasize that: I did not believe that there would be a job just sitting there, patiently waiting for me once I graduated. I am the only academic in my family (only one of my parents graduated from college), so the concept of hard work is something I saw modeled for me each day. Yes, I am white and that accords some special privileges, but my family is lower middle-class and the opposite of elitist. Overconfidence does not run in my veins.

    From where I’m sitting, the graduate students who feel betrayed are being misunderstood, and while perhaps that is their own fault in some ways, this is the crux of the matter: while we don’t feel entitled to a sweet t-t gig, there is something fundamentally wrong with an educational system that is so completely out of touch with reality. Yes graduate advisors are only human, and no one I know is studying history with the hopes of making it rich, but in what other profession is it acceptable to train for 7+ years and then be told, there are simply no jobs available!

    My comments are probably incoherent at this point and I really am just summarizing what others have said. But, I do want to point out that the market is especially bad this year, so complaints about how terrible it has always been fall on somewhat deaf ears. Yes, it sucked ass three years ago, or five years ago, or whenever. But can anyone who values quantitative data really claim that this year isn’t the worst year in the last few decades? The statistics are becoming available so this isn’t an exaggeration on my part.

    I don’t want this to be a “who had it worse” game–’cause frankly the market is always a crap shoot–but I would also encourage everyone to remember the reason why we are having this conversation in the first place. Thanks to the f-up workings of academia, combined with the economic crisis, this is a challenge to job seekers that is unlike any that a young t-t assistant professor experienced in the early 2000s. I don’t mean for this to be a condemnation of any one comment or any one person. My thought is that we need to keep some perspective and understand why this conversation is taking place right now and why students are panicking.

    Lest I be the annoying person who will “check back 100 times a day to argue with everyone else in the discussion,” I will leave it at that and not comment further on the matter.

  77. Emma on 18 Jan 2010 at 7:56 am #

    What would people be doing if they weren’t in a PhD program? It’s not like there’s some other surefire path to a job that people passed up to go to grad school.

  78. Matt L on 18 Jan 2010 at 8:00 am #

    I think that the posted comments by some of the graduate students & PhDs on this thread and the one over at TRs point to a big problem with this discussion. There are plenty of people saying that they got bad advice and therefore, somehow, the system, or someone else, is to blame because they are not getting their t-t job. My question is this, what about your own Agency?

    Lets translate the grad school decision into another realm of life. If you were buying a car or house would you just go on the advice of a few car-salesmen or real-estate agents? Probably not. If you were smart, you would go to consumer reports, edmunds, etc to research cars. Or you would spend a few months learning about the real estate market in the town you were planning to buy in. If you didn’t and you just took what was offered to you on the lot or in a couple of open houses, then you would be to blame if you ended up with something less than satisfactory. Buyer beware.

  79. Historiann on 18 Jan 2010 at 9:28 am #

    Please, please, please everyone remember: the job crisis in academia is nothing new. Students and recent Ph.D.s who are convinced that they are graduating into a uniquely bad job market are being willfully myopic. Review Robert Townsend’s recent data to see for yourselves.

    To say that “this is a challenge to job seekers that is unlike any that a young t-t assistant professor experienced in the early 2000s” might be true, if the comparison is to that one moment in time. I have repeatedly commented on my good luck in looking for work, but we can’t abstract one bright moment where things were slightly less crappy out of the past 40 years and use that as a comparison to the current moment. The vast majority of faculty commenting in this thread were looking for work in the 1970s, 1980s, early 1990s, and more recently. (And IMHO: the collapse of the job market for 1970s Ph.D.s was much more traumatic, because their advisors truly couldn’t have predicted the end of the party.)

    This is not a new problem. That doesn’t make it any less of a problem, but we can’t hope to find solutions without acknowledging the long history of this ongoing crisis.

  80. thefrogprincess on 18 Jan 2010 at 9:34 am #

    This discussion is going nowhere but I’ll venture in one last time. Why, Matt L, the assumption that we didn’t do our research thoroughly? Couldn’t be any less true, in my case, or in the case of anybody I know. I find the idea infuriating, once again, that because I didn’t know every intricacy of academia, I didn’t do my research. As I say over at my blog, you can’t get answers to the questions you didn’t know you were supposed to ask, especially when the field itself is very invested in not stating the truth clearly.

    As for agency, I own the decision I made to go to graduate school and I don’t know anybody who isn’t owning their decision. That doesn’t preclude me from recognizing that my department wasn’t quite straight with me about their less than stellar placement rate. I can still recognize the many, many times I haven’t heard the phrase “you might not get a job” when I should have. The History Enthusiast says it well in her comments above. The message isn’t getting out to graduate students as clearly as you all think it is: academia couldn’t survive if it did. And for what it’s worth, I already know graduate students who think it’s fine to continue to encourage/persuade undergrads to go to grad school (which is different from supporting people who’ve made an informed decision to go).

    Finally, I do have to wonder. It seems like at some point, if I somehow manage to get a job in the field, a switch is going to flip and suddenly I’m going to think it’s totally fine that the field as a whole is bringing in people with the promise of a certain kind of job, only to say after 7-10 years, no dice. I hate to think that’s the kind of person I’ll become.

  81. Emma on 18 Jan 2010 at 11:34 am #

    That doesn’t preclude me from recognizing that my department wasn’t quite straight with me about their less than stellar placement rate. I can still recognize the many, many times I haven’t heard the phrase “you might not get a job” when I should have.

    Those are two different things. I thought people just alway understood that they might not get a job, regardless of what job they were training or applying for.

  82. Kathleen Lowrey on 18 Jan 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    I’m very very very late to the party, but I think thefrogprincess has put her finger right on something very sad: the dynamic in which profs with jobs are varying degrees of cavalier about “oh, you should have known better” and seekers are varying degrees of “oh, you should have told me more!”

    I’m surprised no one has (I think — I did read down the thread but may have missed it) mentioned Marc Bousquet’s book, _How the University Works_, which does (to my mind) such a persuasive job of showing why we should stop pointing fingers at one another and start looking at the fact that while undergrad enrollments have grown and admin has mushroomed the share of the university that consists of t-t faculty doing teaching and research has been dwindling toward nothingness. That’s a broad social problem with broad social consequences and the more PhDs with jobs and PhDs without spend their time forming circular firing squads the less we are dealing with it.

    In my view, the university is getting staked in the heart and it’s not by clueless profs nor clueless grad students, and the bad consequences for society at large go way, way beyond us. I’d love to talk about that instead!

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