Post Academic


Where Are the Career Counselors?

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on July 9, 2010
Tags: , , , ,

The New York Times profiled yet another college graduate who has learned the hard way that higher education is not a guarantee of a job. Only the story of 24-year-old Scott Nicholson, formerly of Colgate University, has a surprising twist:

After several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

Articles like these make me start yelling at my computer. Shout #1 is “There’s no such thing as a dead-end job! It’s only a dead-end job if you make it a dead end job!”

Shout #2 takes a little of the blame off Nicholson: “Where were your advisors? And your career center?” (more…)

Advertisements

Has the Starving Artist Just Died?

The idea of artists getting involved in business has become a theme as of late. The New York Times just did a story on artists who are taking classes on how to profit from their work. In a recent Rolling Stone, David Byrne–the gold-standard example of a well-fed artist who has not compromised his vision–said:

The romantic notion that musicians can’t deal with the business aspect of things, or can’t be interested in anything outside their music–that has disappeared, thank God. When I was starting out, you were supposed to be stupid! Young musicians that I’ve worked with–St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, the National–they are throwing away that whole lackadaisical attitude. … These musicians are more engaged in the world around them, and they are going to survive.

Artists are often admonished within their communities to avoid selling out, at all costs (pardon the pun). So are academics in the humanities, who get by on grad stipends and low-paid adjunct gigs until they reach the holy grail of tenure. But starving isn’t glamorous for very long, unless you have a trust fund. The only way to share your ideas with the masses is to keep yourself fed, which is why you need to keep an eye on your money.

If artists are taking business classes and David Byrne is praising the new generation for rocking a balance sheet, then isn’t it time for academics to get more serious about being paid properly? Forming unions and organizing is only the first step. Anyone going into academia must make sure they can survive on what they are paid, and they must fight hard for the jobs they still have. It could be said that older generations didn’t fight hard enough to justify what they do and hire when they had the money, but that time might be over.

The Decline of Film Criticism: A Glimpse of the Future for Academia?

Posted in Housekeeping,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on June 14, 2010
Tags: , , , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionFilm critics have been laid off in droves as newspapers change their structure. Understandably, the critics who have been laid off aren’t happy about it, and the debate regarding the role of the film critic sounds similar to the debate regarding the role of the academic, especially in the humanities.

In the latest Vanity Fair, James Wolcott describes the responses of critics scorned, and one in particular surprised me. On a panel, Richard Schickel from Time magazine said, “I don’t honestly know the function of reviewing anything.”

I don’t know Mr. Schickel’s work. He may be a brilliant writer, but those who want to keep their jobs ought to be able to justify what they do. If he can’t think of a function for reviewing anything, then why is he a reviewer?

Perhaps if film critics could better justify what they do, more of them would still have work. I can think of many ways film critics do the public a service. For starters, they save us money by telling us if a movie is worth watching or worth renting. They are also cultural historians. Pauline Kael’s “For Keeps” is, in my opinion, a work of history as much as a work of film criticism. Why didn’t Schickel try to make a better worded, more sophisticated version of this argument?

Wolcott hat-tips Roger Ebert because he was able to adapt, and now he has created a niche for Twitter film criticism. It’s proof that you can’t make your job last solely by complaining and navel-gazing. You must be able to justify what you do and be willing to adapt. After all, Ebert hasn’t changed what he’s done for a living. He certainly hasn’t sold out. He’s just finding new ways to reach new audiences.

A manual film projector with a mini-film and box. Photo by Mattia Luigi Nappi from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Is It the Big Lie of the Mind or the Big Lie of Job Security?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionPost Academic shows up in many searches for “the big lie of the life of the mind,” which refers to William Pannapacker’s legendary article “Grad School: Just Don’t Go.”

While I prefer to defend the life of the mind, I have been thinking of another “big lie” lately that relates to academia in general, and that involves job security. Should job security or tenure be an expectation of anyone who goes to graduate school?

If you go into graduate school, the best approach is to assume that you won’t get a tenure-track job. And that’s okay. You might get a career, but it might not be the one you thought you would get. You might even find a career that you like better. Adventures in Gradland had a superb series on the types of careers that former academics have discovered, and it’s required reading whether you’re just starting grad school or you just got tenure.

It may sound harsh, but the real big lie related to academia doesn’t involve the life of the mind (or lack thereof). The real lie is that, academia is the fast track to job security, and the evidence is that non-tenure track faculty make up over 73 percent of those teaching in higher ed.

Academics must fight hard to keep the jobs that they have (see debate on why it seems that academics haven’t been fighting hard enough), but it’s also smart to start thinking of other career tracks while you’re in school or even while you’re teaching. You’re not being disloyal to your university or to academia if you think of a Plan B. You’re being smart, and you’ll be better prepared for economic upheavals than most of your peers.

Tomorrow, a glimpse of what it’s like going through a layoff, and why it’s better in the Hamster World.

Image of Mary Pickford from the Library of Congress, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

Why Are There So Many Underpaid Adjuncts in Higher Ed?

Megan McArdle’s piece at the Atlantic, which is a response to a piece on the rough lot for adjuncts at Inside Higher Ed asks a good question: If academics are supposedly liberal and pro-labor, why do underpaid adjuncts make up so much of the higher ed workforce?

Here are a few possible answers, plus my evaluation of those answers from the Hamster World perspective:

Tenured faculty members don’t pull their weight when it comes to teaching.
Response: I’m sure there are some tenured faculty who don’t carry their load and give everyone else a bad rap, but those people should be treated as individuals. In the Hamster World, you wouldn’t fire an entire department if it is harboring one slacker. You’d put the slacker on notice and then fire the slacker (or at least give the slacker a hard time since you can’t fire someone with tenure).

That’s what Socialism gets you.
Response: McArdle warned her commenters not to make assumptions and claim the academy made its own bed. First of all, too many people assume that academics are liberals. Anyone who’s been in the academy for any amount of time will tell you that’s not so. The Socialism argument is a crock because the system is obviously broken, and pointing fingers isn’t going to fix it. In this kind of situation, one’s political leanings are irrelevant.

More after the jump! (more…)

Taking Time Off Before Grad School: Part One, the Theory

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTenured 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.

Adjuncting and High School Teaching: Adventures in Post-Gradland

Adventures in Gradland (a great blog, FYI) is doing a series on based on a roundtable talk on Post Academic careers. The first article in the series is on what life is like as an adjunct, while the second is on high school teaching. Many PhDs in the Humanities work as adjuncts to fill in the gaps as they try to get a tenure-track job, while there are also those who work as much as full-time tenured brethren as “freeway flyers”–just without the benefits and perks. While it is often said that grad students are treated like cheap labor, this post suggests that adjuncts may be treated worse.

I recommend reading the whole thing, but the post’s bottom line stuck with me:

… don’t adjunct while you’re ABD unless you’re able to teach only one or two courses related to your dissertation, don’t adjunct for more than a year or two unless you want to be labeled a “generalist,” find out what course credits you need to teach high school so that you have a back-up plan, and get familiar with new technologies and online learning. And urge the MLA and the AAUP to start fighting for the rights of adjuncts.

One woman in the audience who had worked as an adjunct for several years made an impassioned plea–don’t adjunct, period. You’ll be exploited, you’ll ruin your chances of a secure academic career, and you’ll contribute to an exploitative system.

You may need to adjunct at some point because that’s what you’re qualified to do, but don’t overdo it. The cycle of exploitation is dangerous. You’ll expend so much energy on teaching that you won’t have the time to train for other careers if that’s where you suspect you’re headed in the long run. At the very least, you should be figuring out how to teach high school. High schoolers aren’t that scary, and the benefits are way better than what you would get as an adjunct.

Speaking of which, Arnold picks up the coverage of what the Gradland blog has to say about high school teaching below the fold…

(more…)

Broke-Ass Schools: University of Maine Follow-Up

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]

Science Grad Programs Start to Feel the Pinch

Here at Post Academic, I am guilty of a few assumptions, and one of those top assumptions is that grad students in the sciences have it better. Labs can get funding outside the university, and their skills and achievements are easier to quantify and monetize.

Well, I’m not entirely right based on a recent post over at Female Science Professor’s blog. FSP must be an amazing advisor because she worked hard to get a smart student into a physical sciences grad program that looked like the perfect fit. It would appear that this student did everything right and got in. And yet …

He applied and was accepted, he visited the department, and .. the financial offer was so inadequate that there might as well not even have been one. The student would have had to get a job and take out loans to make it through grad school (just as he had done as an undergrad), and no one should have to do that in the physical sciences.

FSP moved quickly and helped the student get into another group, so this student is covered. He’s lucky. Not all advisors would have been willing to help that much, nor would they have understood the financial issues.

No one should go into debt for grad school, unless that person is rich or they have a guaranteed job upon graduation. (And the contract for that job should be signed in blood.) The fact that students in the sciences are having difficulties with funding makes me wonder just how bad it is in the humanities. Anyone care to share what funding packages looked like in your departments, and how did they stack up compared to previous years?

What I Don’t Know [Female Science Professor]

Lawyers, Grad Students, and Money

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn the past, law students could shoulder massive amounts of debt because they could be fairly confident of getting a job. Now they are facing a situation that should be eerily familiar to Post Academic readers: Firms aren’t hiring the way they used to, and that student loan debt isn’t going anywhere.

Above the Law sums up the anger at the situation: “But do you know what the real bitch of it is? If it turns out you made a terrible investment by going to law school, it’s impossible for you to get out from under your mistakes. You can’t discharge law school debt through bankruptcy absent a showing of undue hardship.”

You sure can’t. But, chin up, o lawyer friends. Post Academic can help you look on the bright side! You still have it better than grad students! Here’s how:

Going to a big-name school can still help you. In academia, there are so few jobs that an Ivy League PhD can only get you so far. In fact, it might not get you far at all. A JD from an Ivy or otherwise big-time school still means you’re hot stuff, however, or at least you’re well-connected.* Even if you don’t have a JD from a top-tier school, you have a better shot at a job than your peers in the humanities.

More reasons for lawyers to feel a little better after the jump! Image of The Illustrated London News – Tichborne Case (1874) from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
(more…)

Next Page »