Post Academic


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.

Look Like You Want the Job

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox Extension,public domain wikimedia commonsDean Dad recently published an article explaining why he can’t answer the question “Can You Tell Me Why I Didn’t Get the Job?”

But he did drop a few hints about why some qualified people don’t get one of the precious few academic jobs that are available. One of those hints was this: “Your answer to x suggested that you’re settling for this job, and other candidates seemed actually to want it.”

One of the major issues with the academic job market is that there are so few jobs that people feel like they have to apply for everything. Then someone gets a job in a place they don’t like, and they spend half their time miserable and half their time trying to get out.

A smart interviewer or job search committee will be able to separate the candidates who are interested from the ones who just want a job, any job. So, if you want that job, whether it be an Ivory Tower job or a Hamster World job, you must look like you want it. Find out how after the jump!

Image from Reefer Madness from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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How Does Getting Laid Off Really Feel?

Posted in Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 28, 2010
Tags: , , ,

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionA confession: I’ve always wondered why academics and future academics panic about job security since no other profession except maybe medicine has job security. A layoff is a worst-case scenario, but if you know what to expect, you’ll be less afraid of it if it happens to you in the Hamster World. Here are some tips:

Don’t assume you are a loser. Most people are laid off through no fault of their own. I’ve been laid off, and the decisions happened from way up the corporate food chain. Since the economy is so bad, hardly any hiring managers will assume you’re a failure because of a layoff. They’ll simply assume the company you were working for had a cash-flow hiccup.

Keep your resume up to date. Whenever you’ve had a big accomplishment at work, add it to the resume. You don’t want to forget it when you are out hunting for a job again. Once I found out I was laid off, I changed the end date of my job from “present” to “1/2010.” Since I didn’t have to write a resume from scratch, I was able to send resumes immediately.

Live within your means when times are good. Yeah, yeah, easier said than done, but especially true after the latest economic bust. But unemployment takes a while to kick in,* it doesn’t last long, and it makes up only a percentage of your past income, depending on the state where you live. Saving up for an emergency fund can give you some wiggle room, and living on a budget means you won’t have much of a culture shock if you need to stretch an unemployment check.

Don’t take any old job, unless you really need the cash. If at all possible, try to find a job that suits your skill set or teaches you something new. Otherwise, you might be stuck working for crazies who are taking advantage of desperate job-seekers, or you’ll look like a job-hopper if you move to something new too quickly. With an emergency fund, you can be choosier. Without one, you might need to get anything you can.

It is not the end of the world. When an academic doesn’t get tenure, it is assumed to be the end of the world because the academic thinks he or she doesn’t have any other marketable job skills. (That’s not true, by the way.) When we Hamster Worlders get laid off, we just keep chugging until we get a new job.

*Unless you’re an adjunct, which means you don’t get unemployment if you’re not renewed, which is flat-out ridiculous.

A Young Student at His Desk: Melancholy (1630-1633) by Pieter Codde Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, public domain on Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Taking Time Off Before Grad School: Part Two, the Practice

Image SourceI 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.

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…

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Learning to Let Go of Your Publications

Posted in Housekeeping,Transfer Your Skills by Caroline Roberts on May 11, 2010
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

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]

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