Post Academic


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…)

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…

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Learning to Let Go of Your Publications

Posted in Housekeeping,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 11, 2010
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Over at Inside Higher Ed, Jerry Jellison provides advice for academics who are putting together their first Hamster World resumes. He reminds readers that the resume’s goal is to answer one question: “What can you do for us?”

Along those lines, he advises that former academics (or soon-to-be former academics) skip listing publications. That can be painful since the whole point of being in grad school and academia is to rack up publications.

The issue here is not that your publications aren’t important to businesspeople. They are, but not in the same way they’re important to you. In the Hamster World, it’s less about prestige and more about your actions. Jellison suggests re-framing your academic work: “Instead of listing academic publications, describe the skills and traits that enabled you to write the articles or to conduct the research.”

Conducting research, staying organized, and forming a coherent argument are all talents that will appeal to employers. The fact that you had the tenacity to get published is more important than where you got published. So, instead of listing the papers themselves, say that you did research, conducted interviews, and crunched data.

Jellison has many more tips for translating your academic skills into business lingo. Don’t be afraid. By the time you’re done, you’ll realize that this process is way easier than an MLA interview. For more tips, check out my advice on turning your CV into a resume.

Accepting the Unholy Alliance Between Marketing and Academia

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on April 28, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn a post called “Lies I Was Told in Grad School,” the blog Some Notes Toward an Investigation lists the following at #2:

Don’t market yourself to fit academic fads.

If this is a lie, then the truth is that you should market yourself to fit academic fads.

To anyone who has been through academia, the concept of marketing one’s self and establishing a brand sounds gross. Marketing is the science of selling more stuff to more people, and academia exists to protect useful knowledge from market whimsy, right? The free market brought us Pet Rocks, Bumpits, vampire fiction, and Fall Out Boy, so why should academics or aspiring academics trust the free market for anything? Then again, a little marketing savvy might help you become a professor. Let’s consider the pros and cons of mixing marketing and academia:

Pros: Marketers find a need, and they fill it as quickly and easily as possible. Any good marketer can sum up what a product can do for you. And that’s exactly what you need to do as an academic. You don’t have to sell yourself as the Pet Rock of Professors, but you will not get a job if you do not specialize in a subject that a university needs. For that reason, you need to research the academic market just as much as you need to research your subject of choice.

Cons: Fads don’t last. Consider the Pet Rock. Choosing a hot field of study is smart, but it takes a long time to earn a degree in the humanities. A grad student runs the risk of graduating right when an academic fad starts to cool off, which means all the slots are filled. Aspiring professors with student loans can’t exactly sit around until the next fad begins. On the bright side, this problem could be solved if grad programs admitted fewer students and offered more funding so students could finish their degrees faster.

Conclusion: Fads may be short, but the number of academic jobs is dwindling so much that the pros might outweigh the cons. Furthermore, approaching your career with a little marketing in mind might help you build a side skill that you can use if you don’t wind up in academia.

Lies I Was Told in Grad School [Some Notes Toward an Investigation]

Image of a pet rock by CarolSpears, under a Creative Commons license.

The Post Academic Survival Guide to Grad School: Your summer SAT prep and study center job

Since Caroline has been covering been covering the topic of part-time work the last few days and also because you probably can’t freeload your way through summer, it’s probably timely to discuss SAT and other tutoring jobs that might be available for the taking.  Mind you, Caroline and I were lucky when we did our summer part-time study center gigs, because there are tons of opportunities for this sort of thing in Southern California, partly due to Asian ethnic communities that have transplanted the study center ethos from their home countries here.  (If you think Kaplan and Princeton Review are anti-intellectual factories, they ain’t got nothing on the study centers in Taiwan, where your college future hinges on a single standardized test!)

Here are some tips about finding study center work and how to make the most of it (i.e., how to cut corners so that you’ll be able to use the summer to study for your qualifying exams or work on your dissertation).

1. How to find a job: Word of mouth usually works well in these cases, so ask your friends (as Caroline has suggested) and check your department listservs for summer job possibilities.  Also, look for study centers that aren’t just the big chains you’ve heard of, although indie operations might be harder to find in non-urban areas.  This where getting your M.A. or Ph.D. makes you an appealing candidate, since it’s more than likely you’re at a good or the only research institution in your area.  Study centers like to boast that they have teachers from Ivy-like schools, top-notch public universities, or colleges their students would like to attend, because they assume you can magically make that happen for them too.  Also, don’t think that positions are limited to SAT or achievement tests or AP classes: some “learning centers” offer courses all the way down to middle-school standardized tests, which I tended to choose because I didn’t need the stress of making sure high-schoolers got the SAT score they wanted.

2. What to expect: Academic purity trolls need not apply here, since this is a crass money-making enterprise mostly for the study centers and for you too.  Whatever class you take, be forewarned that, in almost all cases, you are just a glorified test-cramming baby sitter, especially if you are actually teaching young kids who are really going to the equivalent of day care.  But sometimes, it’s not so bad–like your college students, you’ll find some kids who are really smart, motivated, and that you’re happy to invest your time/energy in.  And because it’s hard to care that much about a summer job, the smart alecks are a lot funnier at this stage than they will be a few years later messing up the dynamic of your comp section.

As for pay, I got $20-$25/hr for my starting rate, though it goes up the longer you teach and also with the level of class you’re assigned.  The hard-core SAT classes for the tip-top students will offer a higher rate.  I’ve heard private tutors in big metropolitan areas can get up to triple-digits an hour and some folks who basically work full-time can get paid more than a TA salary, but that might more of a commitment than most grad students are looking for.

More after the jump… (more…)

How to Make the Most of Working Part-Time in Grad School

Image SourceIf you’re planning on going to grad school, unless you’ve been blessed with some incredible funding, you should plan on taking a part-time job. In most cases, having a part-time job is pure goodness: You avoid going into debt, and you’re building up extra skills in case you have trouble getting an academic job. We gave you some tips on good part-time job options, but what happens once you get the job? As long as you follow these three tips, you can get the most out of your side gig:

Ask people in your program what they’re doing first. You’ll save time and get a crash course in networking if you use your fellow grad students as a resource. They’ll know who is hiring and might be able to refer you.

Choose a job that complements your grad school work, if possible. It all depends on what you’re studying, but the ideal job suits your current skills while letting you build new ones. For example, teaching an SAT course can help new teachers polish their classroom skills. Or, building Web sites on the side can help you prepare interactive classroom materials.

Avoid taking on too many hours. If your boss likes you so much that she offers you more hours, you are already doing something right. But don’t immediately say yes. Check your budget first because you want to avoid debt, but you also don’t want to cut into the time you need to finish your graduate degree on time. Your degree should always come first.

Image from the German Federal Archive under a Creative Commons License, Wikimedia Commons.

Part-Time Job Ideas for Grad Students

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionHaving a part-time job as a grad student can help you in several ways. First, you make a little side cash so you don’t have to live off Ramen noodles. Second, you can learn skills outside of academia that you can apply later on. Here are a few ideas that I’ve actually done:

1. Catering
Pros: Fairly easy work if you don’t mind heavy lifting, and the hours are flexible. Good tips most of the time. Leftovers.
Cons: The occasional bad tipper. Drunk guys patting your butt. Smelling like BBQ for weeks after an assignment.

2. Teaching SAT/PSAT/Etc.
Pros: Good pay. Low amount of prep since the teaching is cut-and-dried.
Cons: Not much room for creativity. Overambitious students whose mantra is “Harvard or Die!”

3. Freelance Editing and Copywriting
Pros: Many people automatically think your grammar is awesome if you tell them you grade papers. You gain experience with client management.
Cons: Some of your buyers are deadbeats. (To handle these people, visit our article “Kneecapping 101.”)

4. Programming and Computer Repair
Pros: Once you know how to fix someone’s computer problem (hint: it usually involves a reboot), you can charge more than you would for editing. Departments will want to hire you because you can fix their busted home page.
Cons: Not all clients understand the amount of work required. You might not have time to keep up with the latest technology.

5. Donating Plasma
Pros: Minimal effort required. The Red Cross will let you watch movies while you do it.
Cons: You don’t learn any new skills. Feeling like a desperate undergrad who needs beer money.

Any other ideas you’d like to contribute?

Image of woman in Esso office in Baton Rouge in 1950 public domain, Wikimedia Commons.

Administrators: Are They on the Dark Side or the Other Side?

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on April 15, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionTerri Givens wrote an enlightening article at Inside Higher Ed about the time she spent as an administrator. Earlier, I wrote about professors getting a bum rap, and I often direct my rage toward administrators, who earn far more money than professors do, at least according to Bain & Company’s recent study of UC Berkeley’s financial problems.

Givens, however, offers a perspective that makes me pause a little bit before railing against administrators:

People tend to assume that I am happier being a faculty member rather than an administrator – that I have returned from “the dark side.” Many of these people don’t seem to understand that this is a false dichotomy. I feel that it is a responsibility for those of us on the faculty with administrative skills to spend time in administration. There is no “dark side” if we consider that faculty as a whole are responsible for the governance of a university. We are all administrators in one way or another, whether you are a member of your department voting for changes to your graduate curriculum, or the president of a university.

More after the jump! Fantasy image of an administrative fatcat from Wikimedia Commons, public domain. (Actually a caricature of Leopold de Rothschild from Vanity Fair, 1884.) (more…)

Transfer Your Skills: Interviews in the Hamster World

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on April 13, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionAfter turning your CV into a resume, you need to prepare for potential interviews. Most interview advice is universal. Preparing for an academic job interview is brutal because you have to sum up your whole grad-school career in a matter of minutes. The hamster world interview will probably seem like a breeze in comparison, but you still need to accomplish a few tasks if you want to get hired:

Write Answers for the Standard Interview Questions: All interviewers will ask some variation of the following questions:
1. What are your strengths?
2. What are your weaknesses?
3. How have you overcome a challenge at work?

Write out honest, succinct answers, and practice delivering them before you go into the interview. Be warned: The second question is tricky, as you want to choose a weakness that might actually be a strength depending on the job. Being “too much of a perfectionist” might work well if you’d like to be an editor.

More after the jump! Image of office in 1710 public domain, Wikimedia Commons.
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Academic job salaries: “Worst Salary Year” meets “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on April 12, 2010
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Caroline covered the big news regarding the latest data on academic job salaries released by the AAUP directly below, and I’m following up her post by providing some more context.  The annual salary survey is not only being covered in education-oriented publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, but also in the New York Times. Great–what we really need the “worst salary year” to complement the “Worst. Job Market. Ever.” (at least in English and Comp Lit), which we covered a few weeks ago on the blog.

The key take-away point from the high-altitude perspective of the survey is that the average pay increases across different disciplines and different ranks were outpaced by the rate of inflation.  As the Chronicle article sums it up:

In 2009-10, the average salary of a full-time faculty member rose only 1.2 percent. That’s the lowest year-to-year increase recorded by the association in the 50-year history of its salary survey.

To make matters worse, an inflation rate of 2.7 percent meant that many professors actually had less buying power than the year before. In fact, two-thirds of the 1,141 institutions surveyed over two years gave their faculty members either a pay cut, no raise, or an increase of less than 2 percent, on average.

If you take a brief look at the AAUP summary, what’s most shocking is the breakdown of percentage increase of salaries across different types of institutions: you’ll notice that about 20% of faculty received a raise of 0-.99% and that 30% or so had their salary decreased.  So basically around HALF the faculty around the country had a raise of less than 1% or took a pay cut, which means that 1/3 of faculty who received raises of 2% or more really pulled up the average.  Below are links to the AAUP survey itself, and to some of the news articles covering it:

2009-10 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession [American Association of University Professors]

“Professors’ Pay Rises 1.2%, Lowest Increases in 50 Years” [Chronicle of Higher Education]; the Chronicle also offers an easily searchable database for salary comparisons from the survey results that can be broken down by school, state, and institution type.

“Study Find 1.2 Percent Increase in Faculty Pay, the Smallest in 50 Years” [NY Times]

We also compiled some links to salary information, from salary search databases and self-reported job offers on the Academic Job Wiki:

University Salaries Revealed. Kind Of (April 1, 2010)

Show me the money!: More university salaries revealed (April 1, 2010)

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