In a relatively recent post, Michael Bérubé answered a letter from an individual thinking of leaving journalism for a PhD program. This individual is wisely evaluating the potential risk and how grad school might affect his life later on. Now that print journalism isn’t a stable career path, what’s a person who wants to work with words to do?
If you were to start a PhD program in 2011-12, you’d be looking at another four-five years of study, followed by … well, maybe followed by a better market in the years 2015-17, but maybe followed by a bleak market in 2015-17 made bleaker by all the people who didn’t get decent jobs from 2011-15. You don’t want to be adjuncting when you’re 35, this I know. And I don’t see how it’s possible to raise a family on adjunct wages (though many people manage to do it nonetheless).
Okay, so maybe journalism is a better career choice than the academy after all. The odds are slightly better, even with the massive layoffs.
I thought about linking to the article and saying it was cool, but then I tried to think of an answer myself. Must the answer involve an either-or: journalism or the academy?
More after the jump! Image of Pound Choice, Omagh, by Kenneth Allen. On Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
I actually found my career through a series of lucky breaks and a fondness for computers. Now I am a content writer. Once I stopped thinking of literature and writing as a paper-only enterprise, my opportunities increased. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tough (thank you, layoffs!), but there are many ways to apply writing talent that don’t involve journalism or the academy.
There’s also advertising and marketing, which doesn’t come up often enough as a legitimate career option. People view the field with skepticism, and for good reason, as it has a rep for pushing cigarettes on kids and pelting teens with sexualized and violent images. (Farting ponies during Super Bowl ads don’t help, either.)
As with anything else, good guys exist in advertising and marketing. The burden is on you to find them or to find a niche in the field that you are comfortable with. For example, I specialize in writing for the Web, not for print. Other people I know applied their teaching skills by becoming corporate trainers showing people how to use software. Still more become technical writers.
You don’t have to go into computers. There are surprising opportunities out there that allow you to work with words without a) starving to death or b) feeling like a sellout. I won’t lie: You have to dig deep to find them. Sometimes people will tell you that you are crazy for not taking a certain path. But, if you are already accustomed to the hard work of journalism or academic research, you can break into a new career.
I knew exactly what I was doing when I applied to graduate school in English during my senior year of college. First, I wanted to get my letters of reference squared away before my advisors forgot me. Not that I would blame them for doing so. Professors are busy people who are always being asked for references. They’re bound to get people mixed up at some point.
I also wanted to get the testing over with. I took the GRE and the LSAT at the same time while I was in a studying mood.
Sure, if I had taken a year off, my writing sample would have been much better. I know my statement of purpose would have been better. But it’s hard to argue with momentum.
I didn’t want to go to grad school because I had hazy aspirations of a sheltered life in the academy. I wanted to get a job and move somewhere new. I had the test scores, the papers, the references, and a few years of tutoring under my belt. It made sense to go to grad school in English, not to go to some random city where I didn’t have a job and flounder a while until I found myself.
My undergrad advisors had warned me the job market was tough. They warned me not to stay in the same place where I did undergrad. One of them even told me straight-up not to go if I didn’t get funding. That advice was a real jolt, but it was the best advice I ever got. A program accepted me, I got funding, and I started my MA in the fall.
The point of all this? Undergrads are not necessarily lost if they tell you that they want to go to grad school. Many of them have thought out a plan. Many of them have back-up plans. Just tell them the truth about the market, the funding, the job prospects, and the placements–especially the placements. If you tell the truth and they go anyway, they can’t blame you if they don’t get a job in the end. I sure don’t blame my undergrad advisors for the fact that I decided I didn’t want to be a professor after all.
An image of the game Irides, an abstract strategy game designed by J.C.Tsistinas. Image from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
Tenured Radical champions the notion that undergrads should take some time off before entering a grad program. They’ll gain focus and experience, and maybe they’ll find a career so swell they won’t need grad school:
Regardless of whether you like this or not, or whether it seems fair, it is simply a fact that actual graduate school admissions committees at select schools will regard your application more favorably if you take a significant amount of time off. Two to five years, I would say. Want to do labor history? Be an organizer; spend one of those years as a day laborer or a factory worker. An anthropologist? Leave the country and learn a language. Learn two. Cultural studies? Try an advertising agency or tending bar on the Lower East Side of New York.
This makes perfect sense. Life experience can add dimension to a dissertation, and students will professionalize themselves in ways that will help them on the market. But I almost wish that Tenured Radical just uttered the Pannapacker Doctrine: “Just Don’t Go.”
Saying “just don’t go” sounds extreme, and it is, but at least it admits there’s a problem with the grad school system in general.
Maybe the real message is that people shouldn’t go to grad school until the big problems–namely the lack of jobs and the unwillingness of the program to help current students with back-up plans–are solved. If that’s the case, then people are going to need to take a whole lot more than two to three years off.
So, tomorrow … why didn’t I wait a few years to go to grad school?
Student teachers practice teaching kindergarten at the Toronto Normal School, Canada, 1898. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Looks like the University of Maine will follow through on many of its proposed budget cuts. The school plans to suspend the following majors: German, Latin, theatre and women’s studies.
On the bright side, French and Spanish will not be suspended. Someone must have come to their senses on that one … Maine does border Canada. Of course, if liberal arts education vanishes, people might forget that important fact.
Another interesting note in the announcement:
Hiring lecturers in liberal arts disciplines of high student interest, with the understanding that those professors will be exemplary educators free from research expectations who will also teach in the Honors College …
So, “lecturers in the liberal arts.” No boost in tenure-track faculty, eh?
Kennedy Announces UMaine Academic Reorganization [University of Maine]
UMaine president approves cuts, revenue plan to close $25 million gap [Bangor Daily News]
Arnold addressed the considerable issues involving the attempt of the “UC Commission on the Future” to align Humanities achievements with those in the sciences. That’s a tall order, especially when academics are already reluctant to give hard numbers related to who is getting jobs. Frank Donoghue, director of English grad admissions at Ohio State, isn’t fond of the question, “What’s your department’s placement rate?”
Here’s what Donoghue has to say about a “typical year”:
In that recent year, we graduated 11 Ph.D.’s; four did nationwide job searches, and two of them got tenure-track jobs. The third of those four Ph.D.’s got a two-year appointment as a visiting assistant professor that may possibly be converted to a tenure-track job, and the fourth got a one-year postdoctoral fellowship. Of the seven other Ph.D.’s, five did limited searches for personal reasons, and none got job offers. They will try again next year and in the meantime will work as adjuncts. One received a tenure-track offer but turned it down so that he could accompany his partner, who has a tenure-track job at a better institution. The one remaining Ph.D. did not go on the job market at all, but instead accepted a position as an English teacher at a private high school, which from early on in his graduate career had been his professional ambition. Now, what was our placement rate? Any answer to that question can’t be quantified.
Sure it can be quantified. Here’s Post Academic’s attempt to suss out Donoghue’s meaning:
Out of 11 PhDs:
2 tenure track jobs
1 visiting prof job
1 faculty spouse
1 English teacher at a private high school
More after the jump! Image of numbers in action from public domain, Wikimedia Commons.
One of the cardinal rules of humanities grad school is that, if you’re going to go, make sure you get paid to go. Many grad school programs offer fellowships, but those fellowships are getting cut next year at the University of Iowa:
The UI’s graduate programs that were marked as needing more evaluation in a recent report won’t receive fellowship funding to recruit new students for the upcoming academic year, Graduate College Dean John Keller said Thursday.
Some of the programs affected include the following: “American studies, Asian civilizations, comparative literature, comparative literature (translation), film studies, German [and] linguistics.”
If you have a passion to attend grad school in any of these programs, what’s happening at the University of Iowa could be a trend, and it will be tougher to get funding. I’m not sure what people seem to have against learning other languages, as other nations encourage students to learn more than one language, but maybe someone will come to their senses.
14 programs won’t get new grad money [The Daily Iowan]
U. of Iowa Lists 14 Graduate Programs at Risk for Cuts or Elimination [Chronicle of Higher Ed]