Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Few Links and Comments...

Hey all,

I'm feeling somewhat lazy and unmotivated tonight, and can't seem to put a substantive post together when there are bad movies to be watched on cable and some job listings to surf through. So instead, I'm going to just be lazy and drop you some links and my own comments on some things other folks have written, with the promise to finish up at least one of the more substantive posts later this week.


First up is the latest piece by William Pannapacker, writing about how we (grad students and non-tenure-track faculty) can work to fix higher education. He's speaking primarily about the humanities; however, I've long thought that much of what he has written in the past few years relates very strongly to the social sciences as well. Basically ... we social scientists aren't dealing with a system that's in as much crisis as humanities grads, but we're well on our way and will probably be there in no time.

Anyway, Pannapacker's latest piece calls for increased public awareness of who is really teaching undergraduate students (hint: not tenure-track faculty) and of the working conditions for those nontenured faculty or TAs. He also calls for grad students and temporary faculty to band together to advocate for change, and for grad programs to include more training for careers outside of the ivory tower.

I agree with his advice. I think that shedding public light on unjust situations is one of the only ways we stand a chance of changing them. Get people outraged about the status of university teaching, and maybe - just maybe - something will change. Also, of course, I think graduate programs have been doing their students a serious injustice by not providing them with more practical job training just in case the academic job search doesn't work out for them ... or just in case their career goals change mid-stream.

But I'm not particularly optimistic about either strategy really working. With state budget cuts in higher education each year and growing criticism aimed at the academic profession, I'm not convinced that the faculty staffing system is likely to change anytime soon due to public outrage or any other factor. And while nonacademic job training in grad school is a laudable goal, it's unlikely to occur to any large scale as long as our graduate schools are staffed by tenured faculty who have never held a job outside of the academy.

So ultimately, I agree with recent Ph.D. when s/he writes that Pannapacker's last piece of advice - to walk away - is the only part that makes real sense. If you don't get a t-t job and keep chasing adjunct and VAP positions, you're contributing to the structural problems in education ... and also selling yourself short. Sure, it's great to be doing something you love, and to get paid to read and write and think. But ultimately, I think that grad students and adjuncts owe it to themselves (and to future people in their position) to just get out. Be happy that you've had the years you've had to just read and write and think ... but don't keep bowing down before a system that will happily drag you through the depths of poverty and uncertainty for as long as you're willing to play along. It's okay to jump off the crazy train after awhile ... and often, I think it's the best choice.


Tonight, I took a quick look at the list of jobs that have been posted in my discipline thus far this job season. While I was doing this, I realized that some of you reading here might benefit from seeing a link to the Academic Jobs Wiki. I'm sure that at least some of you have seen it before (and have maybe even perused it for a few years while looking for jobs) ... but up until the year before I went on the market, I didn't even know it (or any of the discipline-specific wikis and rumor forums out there) existed.

If you haven't seen the Wiki before - even if you are several years away from going on the job market - I strongly encourage you to take a look. It includes not only the past few years' worth of job postings in many disciplines (so you can get an idea of the types of jobs out there in your field), but it also includes a number of useful links to job searching resources as well as pages where people relate their experiences on the market - both good and bad.

I think that while most of us understand that the academic job market is tight and that it might be hard to land the ideal job, many of us are somewhat naive about what it actually feels like to go through the process ... especially if it's not going well. The wiki can give you some insight into that.

Similarly, it might do your body (and mind) good to spend some time in the Chronicle's "Job-Seeking Experiences" forum. Again ... I know we all know that the market's tough, but I think that a window into the technical and emotional aspects of the process can be useful.


Also related to the job market as it's firing up yet again, I direct you back to this old post at Escape the Ivory Tower, which provides a nice reminder that while the job search process is immensely stressful and frustrating, any particular failure you will experience is likely not about you. Unless you write your cover letter in crayon or try to hit on the search committee chair, any particular job you fail to get (even if it's all of them) most likely had little to nothing to do with you. There are too many factors going into the hiring process for you to be able to figure out the one thing that will guarantee you get a job. And similarly, if you fail to get anything? You're still a great person with great ideas and a great record. You're just one of several hundred smart people who apply to every job. Those are long odds, and you shouldn't beat yourself up about it.

It's a great affirmation to keep in mind.


And finally, an old post from the original Leaving Academia site by Sabine Hikel that may provide you with some food for thought. In it, the author compares graduate school and academia more generally to a buffet, where you can devour whatever you want from it for as long as you want, until you feel full. And once you feel full - whether it's after a half plate or ten plates - you should get up and leave.

When I was first starting out on this leaving process, I found this way of thinking about it to be really helpful, because it helped me crystallize my thoughts about how I had begun to view my academic experience over the last few years of graduate school. Rather than feeling compelled to continue on over the past few years, I was becoming more and more certain that I had gained what I wanted from grad school and academia, and that I now wanted to leave. In other words, that I was now pushing myself past the point where I felt "full," and was growing more and more uncomfortable and unhappy.

Perhaps for people who still want to pursue graduate education, this is a good analogy to keep in mind. Sit down at that big academic buffet, and take in as much of it as you want/need. And when you're done? Get up and leave. Whether that's after the MA, or after your qualifying exams, or after a few years as an adjunct or prof. Just get up and go when you're full. The world won't end ... and if you keep sitting there past the point at which you've gotten full, you're just going to make yourself sick. :)


Have a great week, everyone. Remember, if you're reading and nodding along with me and recent Ph.D. and William Pannapacker? You're not alone.

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