Saturday, July 16, 2011

Myths About the Academic Job Market

I'm sure that many of you reading here also read After Academe's excellent blog; however, today I am urging you to go over there immediately and read the most recent post, entitled "5 Myths About the Academic Job Market."

As I wrote in comments over there, this post should be required reading for all aspiring and enrolled graduate students. The simple fact is that these myths are widespread (if not universal) in academia ... and while they may seem harmless and innocent to perpetuate, they are not. If you ask me, they are at this very minute contributing to damaging the futures of hundreds (if not thousands) of promising young students who work their butts off in graduate school, sure that all of that hard work and dedication will lead to happiness and success in academia.

Telling students that if they do everything right and are willing to move anywhere they will get a tenure-track academic job harms them. If they don't get a tenure track job, this myth will lead them to blame themselves for not working hard enough, even if they've done everything right. It can lead to jealousy and competition between graduate students, when they should be supporting one another. And it definitely leads to ignorance about the massive, widespread set of problems that exist in higher education faculty hiring. Maintaining the myth of meritocracy lets everyone believe that the adjuncts and VAPs of the world just "didn't work hard enough," when in fact the entire system of higher education is shifting steadily to a workforce comprised of poorly paid contingent faculty with no benefits or job security.

Similarly, telling students that taking adjunct or VAP positions will help them get a better job harms them. They will waste time and money moving around the country chasing low-paid temporary jobs ... and in the end, they will likely not be helping themselves on the market at all. As recent Ph.D. notes, your average ABD job candidate has all of the teaching experience that he or she needs to get a tenure track job. Adjuncting or working as a VAP won't help them become a better candidate. And in fact, it may well cause them to be viewed as a less impressive tenure-track candidate since they have thus far failed to land a tenure-track job.

Personally, I find Myth #5 the most harmful. As someone who (against all advice and with strong warnings about how much my academic career would suffer) took a part-time job to pay my bills and earn some outside work experience during graduate school, I think that this myth is the most harmful to graduate students. Telling them that they must focus 24/7 on honing their academic skills, and that if they do this they will surely land a tenure-track job seriously harms them. When some of those students fail to get academic positions they will not only be left with disappointment, anger and self-doubt, but also with no way to pay their bills and no idea about how to market themselves for even a temporary position outside academia. So not only do they wind up in emotional upheaval, but in financial upheaval as well.

I cannot even express how much easier my failure to land a job and my transition out of academia has been since I don't have to worry about paying my bills. Denying students the permission to seek nonacademic training and job experience is harming them. Again, as recent Ph.D. notes, an outside job leaves you with plenty of time to work on research. I even managed to teach six classes (not at once!) while working 25 hours a week at an outside job. There is no reason for that myth to persist, other than to maintain a captive pool of desperate grad students and recent graduates who will do the work needed by universities for low pay and few benefits.

If students choose to follow the VAP/adjunct track after graduation, that's fine. But academia is doing a serious disservice to their students by actively discouraging them from seeking training and experience for jobs outside of academia. However, as long as the powers that be in academia cling to Myths 1 through 4, they can delude themselves that they're not harming anyone by following Myth 5.

1 comment:

  1. Let me guess: VAP = Visiting Assistant Professor. You get an annual appointment and hand in your VAPID.