Category Archives: Graduate School

Changing Gears in a Difficult Job Market

Editor’s Note: There are so many stories about the difficult academic job market that it’s easy to forget some people do occasionally get jobs. Every once in a while, a tenure-track job is awarded to a lucky candidate, but more often than not, getting a full-time job in academe requires a shift in focus toward what is now commonly referred to as an alternate academic, or alt-ac, career. Sometimes this shift is only a slight pivot, but it can also mean going back to school and earning a new degree. Brian Flota’s “alt-ac narrative” falls into the second category. The English literature tenure-track market just wasn’t working for him, so he reinvented himself by returning to school and becoming an academic librarian. His story is a good example of how to take a bad situation and change it into a better one. Following is … Continue Reading ››

MLA Steps Up Higher Ed Change Advocacy With New Report

The Modern Language Association has a new report out today that contains recommendations on the future of graduate study in the humanities. The 40-page report is the result of a study conducted by a specially-convened MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Language and Literature. The study was underwritten by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Lots of good recommendations. Some I agree with, some I don't. Either way, I'm glad to see the MLA getting more involved in advocacy for change in higher ed. Having been a part of the presidential address in 2013, I can say with certainty that MLA executives and leaders do want to help; it's just a matter of knowing how to best use their resources and influence. This new task force and its findings are a good step … Continue Reading ››

Stripper With a PhD

“The first time I ever stepped into a strip club, I was 18. I walked into the VIP section where dozens of men were getting lap dances and I thought, ‘This shit is like Caligula.’” It was 1998 when “Claire” had her first taste of stripping--the career that would call her back throughout her life, even as she pursued and eventually obtained her Ph.D. in English Literature. Now Claire is in her early thirties and she still dances at a joint near where she lives in the southeastern U.S--the same region where she earned her Ph.D.* “I’ve been in this field so long that it’s in my veins. I feel at home in a strip club. Totally comfortable,” Claire reports confidently. Stripper With a PhD It’s a performance, of course. Sure, some strip club-goers are relatively innocent. Just looking for some evening entertainment and a little … Continue Reading ››

What is a Flexible Academic?

I've never been quite satisfied with the labels #altac and #postac. It seems like they don't do justice to the people they describe. Sarah Kendzior once pointed out on Twitter that these terms define a person based on what he is not, rather than on what he is. In order to be an alternate academic or a post-academic, you have to not be a normal academic. The names suggest that the alternative categories are less important than the category from which they are derived. Ever since I saw Kendzior's tweet, that hierarchical naming structure has stuck with me. I've wished for a new way to describe academics who choose to pursue other career tracks beyond … Continue Reading ››

Debt for Master of Arts Degree Increases by Double the National Average

What on earth could possess a person to borrow $43,000 for a Master of Arts degree? There is no possible way that could be a good idea. Financially speaking, an MA is worth little, if anything, more than a bachelor's degree. Borrowing $43,000 for a Master of Arts degree is insane. This $43,000 figure comes from a piece by Jordan Weissmann over at Slate in which he breaks down recent findings from the New America Foundation on the student loan borrowing habits of graduate students. Weissmann's piece is accompanied by some nifty graphics that illustrate graduate student borrowing trends and percentages of federal student loan disbursements. My favorite graphic from the piece, entitled "How Much Do Students Borrow During Grad School?," compares average grad student loan borrowing rates in 2004 to average grad student loan borrowing rates in 2012. Not surprisingly, those borrowing rates have increased across the board for all graduate … Continue Reading ››

Avoid Confirmation Bias When Considering Grad School

Current grad students should ask prospective grad students if they are aware of the job market conditions. That's one of the key bits of advice in Kelly Hanson's GradHacker article yesterday. In the piece, Hanson also gives four other solid suggestions for how current and former graduate students can be tactfully honest about the realities of grad school and the academic job market when talking to prospective graduate students. Don't go to grad school advice Hanson happens to oppose the blanket "Just Don't Go" advice that has been previously offered by William Pannapacker and Rebecca Schuman. Personally, I come down on the side of Pannapacker and Schuman much more readily. I see too many reasons these days why earning an advanced degree might not be the best use of time and money. But Hanson disagrees, arguing that … Continue Reading ››

Escape From Academia

I've read a bunch of stories lately about people leaving academe. Vitae even started compiling a Google Doc full of quitter narratives and created a special genre that Sydni Dunn dubbed #quitlit. The document has 69 stories and counting. I'm not surprised how many people are leaving the once-heralded halls of the academy--especially given the way all the good academic jobs are drying up and being converted to low-paying contingent positions. I guess it is interesting how many people are especially vocal about their decision to flee the academic life. Usually quitting a job is not necessarily something to proclaim from the roof tops. You just kind of quit quietly and move on. It suggests to me that people are especially bitter and pissed off about their circumstances in the world of higher education. Any job that causes you to do a happy dance after quitting must suck pretty … Continue Reading ››

More PhDs, Fewer Jobs

Obtaining a tenure-track professorship has always been the ultimate goal of a Ph.D. program. In the past, that made sense. But now, not so much. There was a time not long ago when being a college professor was a good job that paid well and offered a reasonable level of security. During that golden era of the university, grad programs started flooding with students hoping to land that dream job. And for about 40 years, everything worked just fine. Lots of students, lots of professors, lots of jobs. Not surprisingly, the growth of Ph.D. degrees awarded in America corresponded directly with the post-WWII expansion of higher education. The chart below illustrates the rapid increase in the number of doctoral degrees awarded over the past several decades. PhD Growth Post-WWII Data Source: The Production of PhDs … Continue Reading ››

Reinventing Graduate Education

If the Ph.D. is an endangered species, what will happen to graduate studies over the course of the next two decades? Earning a terminal degree does not accomplish the same professional goals that it used to accomplish. Thousands of Ph.D. holders graduate from American universities each year and only a small minority of them will obtain one of those coveted tenure track teaching positions. Ph.D. Policy Shift Earning a doctorate is, of course, much different from earning a bachelor's degree. Ph.D holders could have easily invested ten years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in their education. And that doesn't even factor in the opportunity cost associated with the degree. This opportunity cost results from the money lost because these Ph.D. students were not doing other things while in graduate school. Other things like working … Continue Reading ››

The PhD is an Endangered Species

Graduate programs continue to crank out adjunct professors who support the system on their backs by becoming cogs in the academic machinery, and no one is talking about what will happen when the system finally collapses under its own weight. University administrations are building their temp workforces, offering low wage jobs to any poor teacher who has a large enough debt balance and few enough other employment prospects. They do it because they can, which obviously isn't always a good reason. This irresponsible hiring rash is a temporary fix to a long term problem. Eventually it will catch up to them. Head in the Sand On the other side of the table are the graduate programs that are engaging in equally irresponsible behavior--accepting and graduating PhD after PhD, knowing full well that they are releasing their … Continue Reading ››