Post Academic

The Journalism vs. PhD Showdown: One, Both or Neither?

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionIn 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?

Bérubé writes,

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.

Speaking of Unhappy Customers …

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on May 4, 2010
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Yesterday I linked to guru Seth Godin, who singled out colleges and universities for “amateur and bland direct mail” that encourages applications or donations.

Maybe Godin should have revised “amateur and bland direct mail” to read “mail that will piss former students off and lead to craigslist meltdowns.” One student received a brochure the student’s alma mater, where the student received an MA in public policy. Alas, the school’s timing was bad, as the student remains unemployed, despite a pricey MA:

So, what I want to know is, why are you wasting money on glossy fundraising brochures full of meaningless synonyms for the word “Excellence”? And, why are you sending them to ME? Yes, I know that I got a master’s degree at your fine institution, but that master’s degree hasn’t done jack shit for me since I got it! I have been unemployed for the past TWO YEARS and I am now a professional resume-submitter, sending out dozens of resumes a month to employers, and the degree I received in your hallowed halls is at the TOP OF IT and it doesn’t do a fucking thing.

You know, maybe if you wanted a little bit of money from me (and these days you’d get about $3) maybe you should send me a fancy color brochure admitting your role in the bubble economics that got us all in to this mess.

Note to institutions of higher education—perhaps your alumni might be willing to send you money if you printed those brochures on newsprint because full color gloss is expensive. Second, you might get more respect from your alumni if you sent them brochures about what your career center has to offer.

Best of Craigslist > Seattle > Dear University Alumni Office

Last week on Post Academic (4/25-5/1)

Posted in Housekeeping by postacademic on May 2, 2010
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At the end of one week and the beginning of another, we catch our collective breaths on the blog and gather up links to some of the posts that have either cycled off the home page or might have been lost in the shuffle.  Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and thanks for reading!

* We covered some things grad students do over the summer–part-time jobs–instead of what they should be doing–studying for qualifying exams or working on their dissertations.  Caroline brainstormed for ideas here and here, while Arnold focused on his experiences teaching test prep to help you maximize your hourly rate and minimize the amount of work you take home with you.

* Caroline examined what academics can learn from marketers and what hamster worlders can learn from university administrators.

* Arnold found out who were 2007’s most cited scholars, who might also happen to be winners/losers in the “Bad Writing Contest”.

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.

What Disco and Academia Have in Common

Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionThe article “A Letter From a Graduate Student in the Humanities” over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed provoked a comment frenzy. The article, by Katharine Polak, rightly calls for academics to stop panicking and start thinking of solutions to the glut of PhDs and humanities adjuncts.*

Some of the comments stirred the pot, but one commenter offered a simple suggestion that might help academics shift gears:

The secret? Always be on the lookout for work, always say yes — to any work for which you are arguably qualified. Don’t hold back for that good fit job, or that academically rewarding job. Hustle. If you are not smug, do not have a sense of entitlement to a tenure track job, if you are willing, available, and present, you will likely work.

I don’t agree that all academics who are out of work harbor a “sense of entitlement” and are turning down jobs because they’re not tenure-track. Entitlement really doesn’t matter when the economy is in the toilet. However, the commenter’s advice to “always say yes” and “hustle” is completely on target.

In a tough situation, the survivors are always the ones who are willing to “do the hustle,” so to speak. Having an open mind, learning new skills, and taking on jobs outside academia could open up some wonderful career opportunities. Administrators and tenured faculty could also learn from this advice and think of new ways to market the humanities in an era of budget cuts.

*Though there’s nothing this Post Academic enjoys more than the occasional freak-out over a broke-ass school.

A Letter From a Graduate Student in the Humanities [Chronicle of Higher Ed]