Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Make You Into a Horrible Person

by phdscam

That’s the title of a article slashdot picked up. What follows is compilation of comments that phdscam thought reasonable. Comment owners own the copyright of the comments.

“An assistant professor at Ohio State University who recently earned her Ph.D. in literature writes a warning in Slate for others following the same path. She says, ‘I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you. … Don’t misunderstand me. There is unquantifiable intellectual reward from the exploration of scholarly problems and the expansion of every discipline—yes, even the literary ones, and even if that means doing bat-s**t analysis like using the rule of “false elimination” to determine that Josef K. is simultaneously guilty and not guilty in The Trial. But there is one sort of reward you will never get: monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university. … By the time you finish—if you even do— your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: You will no longer have any friends outside academia.) … In the place of actual jobs are adjunct positions: benefit-free, office-free academic servitude in which you will earn $18,000 a year for the rest of your life.”

“All the baby boomer professors will keep working for another 10 to 20 years. Until they retire, they are taking up a huge percentage of the available academic jobs. With regards to literature majors, the death of the publishing industry has killed any non-academic work. While there is still some work available, compared to even 10 years ago, it’s peanuts.”

“They are getting rid of tenure, just by replacing tenured faculty positions with non-tenure-track adjunct positions. Adjuncts are of course a fraction of the cost of a full tenured professor, which is part of the motivation, and the other part seems to be the business types who make up administrations sticking it to the academics because they can.”

“Baby boomers or not, the number of PhD graduates far exceeds the number of professors due to the simple logistics of teaching. Suppose you start a professorship at 30, and retire at 70. How many PhD students do you advise per year? Let’s say 1.5 just to be on the low side. And suppose they each take 5 years to graduate. You just cranked out a dozen PhDs, and created one faculty opening by retiring. One should expect an advanced degree to increase one’s job prospects, but it’s numerically silly to expect, specifically, a faculty position”

“There are people in all branches of academia who have finished PhDs and are not finding meaningful employment. While a while back there was a study that declared that those who hold a PhD are seeing a much lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country (something like 2% vs the usual 9.999%) the problem is a lot of people who have that terminal degree are not getting the job they trained for. Many people are completing multiple post-doc positions and then ending up in dead end positions in academia (or industry) with no chance for professional advancement.

In other words, if the “unemployment” number for those with a PhD included those who are “underemployed” (in comparison to the job they actually aspire to hold), the number would be much, much, higher.”

“I’ve been there. Right now, I’m one of the EXCEPTIONALLY LUCKY in that I’m a 40-something who’s in a Unviersity job. (We don’t have tenure where I am, but it’s a small teaching-oriented liberal arts college of exactly the sort I always wanted to teach at.) But, I’ve been in the position of trying to find a job and not being able to, and of being on the tenure track with certainty that I was going to get turned down because I couldn’t get money out of highly overtaxed funding agencies. And I felt like a complete, worthless failure, somebody who’s life didn’t add up to a damn thing, somebody who couldn’t do anything. THAT is how a PhD (mine is in Physics) turns you into a horrible person.”

“I know 2 people with doctorates in science-related disciplines (one in physics, the other mathematics) who’ve both had very serious battles with long periods of unemployment (in excess of 3 years).

It’s not how much you know… it’s who you know. And if you don’t happen to be connected to the right people at the right time, well then, it’s mostly a matter of luck.

But then, so is being connected to the right people at the right time.”