Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Jobs, Tenure, etc., part two

On Jobs, Tenure, etc., part two


Right. I thought I was done with this topic, but I'm not. The Frog Princess has made a couple of comments that I think need addressing, and they probably need a post of their own, so I'm going to bring them up here. The things I really want to address are these: the 'silencing of the debate', the sacrifices vs. rewards argument, the honesty and ethics of the field. And some other stuff (what, you thought I would limit myself?).

Here is her first comment:
I've enjoyed reading this post but as someone who remains firmly on the other side of this debate, I do have a few thoughts.

First of all, I've seen a lot of professors blog about how they refuse to feel guilty for having a job and I have no idea where they're getting the idea that they should feel guilty. As far as I read the debate, the issue is not that individual people should be apologizing for having jobs. The system worked as it should.

And yes, people lose their jobs all the time. But losing your job suggests that you had one to begin with, not that you spent a decade earning qualifications and never got a job that you could then lose.

For what it's worth, I don't think individual professors are to blame necessarily, although again I should stress that not every advisor is as up front about the realities of the job market as the professor side of this debate assumes. But graduate school is incredibly difficult (it's taken a hellish turn for me in the past several months) and I don't think it's too much to ask that there be a decent shot at getting a job. I do know this: should I not get a job, going to graduate school will have been a waste. Yeah, I'll have a PhD and I'll be proud of it, even as I hide it on my cv to get employed elsewhere. But nothing's going to make up for the ways in which my life has not progressed in service of pursuing a certain professional path.


I responded:

Frog Princess -- here's the things that, for me at least (and I expect some of the other people who have commented similarly) are problematic in your statement:

  • Those of us who have jobs have also gone through grad school. It is incredibly difficult, and has been hellish for many of the people I know. I had all sorts of health problems in grad school that ended about 4 months after I finished. All stress-related. I joke sometimes that Prozac finished my diss. I also lived with very minimal possessions, hand-me-down furniture, seldom going anywhere nice, never had a real vacation for years. Even now, I live in a small apartment because I'm only just at a point where I might qualify for a mortgage. Yes. It's difficult in what we have to do to get the degree and the sacrifices many of us make to get the degree.


  • You can think grad school will have been a waste. Fine. But it's a choice, and in life there are tradeoffs. I would most likely have got a job sooner and at a better institution had I not chosen to get married and raise a child. That choice, and that marriage, totally derailed my academic work for a long time. And I don't have that marriage anymore. Ironically, I probably would have met someone else who I love very much much earlier had I put grad school first, and we might even be together now. Or maybe not. At any rate, I have an ex-husband who is a dear friend, a child I love very much, a bunch of in-laws I adore, and my share of the post-divorce debts is almost paid off. We make choices and live with them. You can spend your life bemoaning where you might have been without grad school, but you have no idea where you'd be now. None of us do. And even getting the job doesn't mean we don't look at people who are "ahead" of us and wonder what life would be like. Hell, my little sister had a baby a month after graduating high school, never went to college, and makes $30k more a year than I do -- and theoretically can retire on a full pension in about 5 years, at 49 years old. She made some shitty choices and ended up "ahead" of lots of us.

  • yes, you need to have a job to lose it. But grad school is a job. And there are no guarantees in any training that there will be jobs. Nor is there any guarantee that, had you trained for something else, that you wouldn't be changing careers. I can very much understand feeling that you deserve a decent shot, and I don't know what your subject is, but honestly, I think "decent shot" is pretty nebulous. I know many people who would not ever have applied for some of the jobs I've taken, because they had heavier teaching loads than they wanted or because they weren't FT or T-T. But those 'lesser' jobs gave me the experience I needed to get the job I have. It's still a crap market, but it's a crappier market for people whose idea of what sort of job fits them is limited to certain sorts of institutions. Either way, this goes back to the feelings of entitlement I mentioned in my post. Grad school is already a fantastic luxury compared to what non-academics go through.

  • About the apology thing: I think some of us are refusing to apologize because of the underlying message that I see in many of the posts about this -- that we somehow just don't understand, or that somehow, we were more fortunate than we know. That's probably true for some people. But it's a lot less true than we are given credit for, I think.


And her rejoinder:
I don't disagree with what you've said, really. I just think there are legitimate reasons to question what's going on and I don't like the attempts at silencing that are going on. In my opinion, silencing the debate only perpetuates the aspects of academia that are grossly unfair. Just because everybody's been through it doesn't make it right. And I think the extraordinary sacrifices academia demands people make with little reward isn't right. There's a "trial by fire" mentality (and I don't think you're making this claim but it's out there) that I think is nonsense.

And I guess I wasn't clear: I don't think anybody should be apologizing for getting a job. At all. Your getting a job hasn't taken a job away from me, it's a totally separate issue. And while I don't think I've seen any calls for the professoriate to apologize in this debate, I do notice this among graduate student colleagues where bitterness increases when a person gets a job that other people feel didn't deserve one. That's ludicrous. My concern is the larger structures in place that have created a situation in which there are significantly more students than available jobs.

All I want is for the field as a whole to be honest about what it demands of people and what little it may give. But hey, I guess I should be suffering in silence for the comfort of the field as a whole.

And yes, I'm living with the choice I made; that doesn't mean it was the right decision, nor does it mean that the field is acting in an ethical way.



The silencing of the debate
I honestly don't think this is going on. No one is saying that the system hasn't got tremendous flaws. But I think that what we are seeing in many cases is a conflation of an academic system that is flawed in many ways with a graduate school experience that is not systemically flawed. Yes, many people are totally unprepared or unable to handle the stresses of grad school. But lots of people make it through with relatively little stress -- or at least no more stress than one finds in any other job. Many people even enjoy grad school. Some departments can suck, but others, like mine, were amazingly supportive. I was still stressed out, so much that I was sometimes ill, but I'm not going to put that on the system. I knew what was expected of me, pretty much, from the first day. I was stressed because I was not as good at it or as organized about it as I wanted to be. Obviously, this may not be true for everybody, but that's my point. Unless one is in one of the relatively few completely screwed up programs, people's mileage will vary when it comes to handling the demands of grad school. One of the demands of my program was that I pass three language exams in two years. Any medievalist coming in knew that upon acceptance. I wasn't worried about it, because I know that I can do languages. Others actually dropped or changed fields, because they hit a wall. So in the case of grad school being amazingly stressful or ridiculously difficult, all I can say is it isn't really debatable. Only we can judge whether or not it's going to be too stressful or too difficult for us.

The honesty and ethics of the field

Again, this is where I see a conflation of arguments that is very unhelpful. One of the things I've mentioned, and that others have also noted, is that many of the people complaining about the system is that, "nobody told me that I might not have a job at the end." And at pretty much every blog where there has been this conversation (and I'm talking now about over the last several years, not just this iteration), working academics have pointed out that professional organizations and grad schools have often pointed out that the retirements that were supposed to hit beginning in the 1970s and 1980s have never materialized. Now, I think that there is some variation over fields, and even in History, in some sub-fields. And perhaps medievalists are a bit more in tune? after all, we have to prove our relevance all the time in order to preserve lines. But when I think of the numbers of Americanists in my grad program compared to Europeanists, and all the modernists compared to the medievalists, it seemed pretty clear that there were more people than there would be jobs. So that's the first part. I'm not denying that some faculty mislead their students about their prospects, although I think it has more to do with wishful thinking than trying to con the students. After all, undergraduate faculty often see in the students they send to grad school mirrors of their own success, and thesis advisors often measure their real success in how many successful students they produce. But on this point, I am loath to accept that the system is any more at fault than are the students who fail to perform due diligence.

I began to address the second part of the honesty question above, in terms of the emotional, stress, and work/life costs of grad school. Again, I think part of this really is about knowing yourself, rather than there being a systemic problem. Culturally, we aren't that good at that level of introspection and actually behaving like grown-ups rather than superannuated adolescents. Grad school is a big decision, one akin to marriage and, like marriage, lots of people do it right out of college. And like marriage and having children, we have ideas of what it will be like that often omit real consideration of how very damned hard these things are. The difference is, I suppose, that marriage and family confer expectations of sucking it up and being adults, while grad school can, and often does, infantalize students. By doing so, we tend to think of it as training, as something we do while postponing our lives, when really, it's much more akin to a job or at least on-the-job training. So here again, I am not sure there is a systemic dishonesty perpetrated by academia, nor do I think it's all down to grad students being unrealistic or irresponsible. But I do think there is a clash of expectations that can lead to people feeling let down.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, and one of the crucial points in the debate: there are ethical problems. But those problems are not down to letting in more students than there will be jobs. The main problem is that the system is replacing full-time faculty with contingent faculty, and not providing the sort of long-term prospects that it should. This is a problem on many levels, and not simply for employment. Another problem is that fields and departments are being cut, and budgets cut, so that all faculty are being asked to do more with less, even while requirements for tenure and promotion for those who *do* get T-T jobs are raised. Another problem that I see is that some programs do offer PhDs in fields that they really can't support properly. Part of this is departmental politics, part is administration, and sometimes there is even external influence. In my opinion, departments shouldn't offer a PhD in a subfield unless it really has the library and faculty to support that subfield. But the reality is that being able to direct graduate work, especially at the expense of undergraduate teaching, is a carrot. And again, students with good undergrad advisors will know not to apply to grad schools that don't really specialize in their chosen fields. And again, no one should accept a place unless it comes with guaranteed money. So overall, I think that the greatest systemic ethical problems are in the reduction of T-T jobs and the replacement with (usually unbenefited) contingent faculty and accepting students that universities aren't going to fund.

sacrifices vs. rewards

Again, this is a subjective argument. As I said in my previous post, it's a choice. The Frog Princess implies that the choice is one where people who are not given the whole picture, and says that she will regret her choice if she doesn't get a job. In short, this is a variation on the "nobody told me" argument. And for me, it really doesn't work. It doesn't work because for many people, whether or not they get a job, the sacrifices of grad school are worth it. There was a point in my life where I genuinely thought that my academic career was over before I'd even had a chance to put my degree to work. I had a good job making more than I make now, and I was unsure if I'd finish before my clock ran out. At that point, I realized that I could have one regret about grad school or two: I could regret that I'd fucked things up, but still finish and have the PhD, or I could regret having written three chapters and never finished. I could regret having let my personal life get in the way of my work, rather than learning to integrate the two. Or I could deal with what I had chosen. But that's me. I'm a 'shit happens, and you make your choices and take your chances' kind of person. What I do, the choices I make, and the things that happen to me over which I have little or no control are all things that contribute to the person I am.

Here's the thing: I regret all sorts of things about my life. I regret some of the choices I've made, especially when I know that having made a particular choice probably kept me from being in the right place at the right time for something else. Goodness knows I can look at my life now and think of the crappy things about it. I hate that I'm single. I hate that my most recent relationship died in small part to the demands of two academic schedules and the costs of traveling across the Atlantic and the fact that I will never get a job in the country where my ex-bf lives and will retire. I hate that I don't own the house and am years behind on saving for retirement. If I'm disabled and can't teach till for at least another 25 years, I'm screwed, although at least I qualify for full social security. I hate that I live so damned far away from my family -- but at least I knew when I started grad school that chances of employment near them were minimal at best. BUT, when I think of all the things I do love about my life, and people I might not have met if I'd done things differently, I wouldn't change it for some nebulous alternative reality. Any one of those different decisions could also have led me to being hit by a bus and crippled.

So I'm not buying the sacrifices vs. rewards argument. It's personal. It depends on one's own value system. Perhaps it's also generational, I don't know. Maybe Gen X and Gen Y people have expectations that I and others my age don't and that's part of the problem. I'm genuinely troubled that so many people feel that they have been victims of some sort of bait-and-switch, but as the Frog Princess herself says, she may have made the wrong decision. And I think that is at the heart of the discussion. We are dealing with personal regrets about entering into a system, and those regrets tend to demonize everything about the system -- and frankly, it often comes across as an unwillingness to own your own shit (I'm not directing this at anyone in particular, especially not Frog Princess). And I think this derails productive discussions about what is really wrong with the system, and the things that we all need to work to fix, either as professionals, or as the 'paying customers' who send their children off to expensive colleges and universities to be taught by contingent faculty and under-trained and overworked grad assistants, or as the taxpayers who can't be bothered to complain about the way their taxes are or are not spent. I'm not even going to go into people who don't want to pay taxes -- unless there are huge infusions of money into higher ed, either from private donations or via public spending, this is all a moot conversation. Even cutting a hell of a lot of administrative deadwood won't fix things (although in some places it might be a moral victory!). We've got to a point where I'm not sure most places could afford to increase FT benefited positions without upping class caps, teaching loads, or letting facilities fall apart. Those are the systemic problems we have to deal with -- but I'm fairly sure that our warnings, just as the ones about the job market that some of us paid attention to more than 20 years ago and yet seem to have gone unheard by so many people, will fall on deaf ears.

20 comments:

Anastasia said...

I deleted my comment on the prior post because it was uncharitable. I'll try again here.

I don't think the fact that some graduate students have an okay experience necessarily means that the system isn't flawed. In fact, I think the comparison between graduate students you're making is unhelpful. If Graduate Student A has problems and Graduate Student B doesn't, it's very easy to conclude that the program is fine and Graduate Student A just has problems. How is that any different from pretending that the system at large is a meritocracy? Only you're making it a meritocracy of psychological health or something. The well-adjusted students do fine. It isn't our fault the defective ones have problems.

I don't think that follows. Part of the nature of the system is that it is inequitable. Inequity means the system works for a narrow range of people and it doesn't work for anybody who falls outside that range.

Pretending it is about mental health or personal responsibility is not always helpful. It could be class, race, or gender, or other factors that dictate who does well and who doesn't. My point is merely pointing out that some people do okay in graduate school means absolutely nothing.

I also don't think this has anything to do with generational differences.

newkidonthehallway said...

I was going to say what Anastasia said. Mostly, I think there's a distinction being made in the post between what happens in grad programs and the adjunctification of the profession that for me, doesn't work at all. These things aren't *separate* at *all*; they're integrally linked. The grad school experience (admitting students who teach) is what makes the adjunctification possible.

I don't, personally, regret getting my Ph.D. at all. But what I don't quite understand is why, when there *is* a strong feeling of betrayal by people going through the system, people blame those who feel betrayed rather than the system. If people keep feeling this way, regardless of all the warnings everyone's purportedly giving, then something is wrong, and it can't (all!) be chalked up to a generation feeling entitled. (Personally, I hate generational arguments.)

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I wasn't trying to say that the system isn't flawed -- I was saying that you need to separate the real objective problems with the system from individual and subjective feelings. I said nothing about it being about mental health, except in direct relation to something Frog Princess said and to my own experiences, which included depression that required drug therapy and stress-related illnesses like ulcers, back spasms, chronic bronchitis, and teeth clenching that still requires wearing a bite guard. But I know lots of people who didn't react that way.

So is it that the system is screwed up, or that I was not particularly well-suited to the stress? I think it's going too far to suggest that I'm making it a meritocracy of psychological health at all -- especially when the examples are of people who get through *despite* not handling the stress very well. OTOH, I *am* saying that there is an element of personal responsibility involved, and this is why I used the analogy of marriage in both posts. Only the people involved can ultimately decide if it's worth it.

I do agree that there is an increasing link between grad labor and larger problems in the employment part of the system, but I think that the cutting back on FT lines has increased the amount of grad student teaching, rather than that grad student teaching has caused the decrease in FT lines. I'm pretty sure that most contingent labor that is wholly in charge of courses is not comprised of grad students. Having said that, the number of teaching hours imposed on grad students has risen dramatically since I was an undergrad. Funding is a major issue and a systemic flaw -- grad programs should only admit students they can fully fund, and then not with money tied to spending at least half their time teaching. But again, even if we had a system where grad students didn't teach, colleges would be giving out piecework to PhDs rather than funding FT lines.

And maybe it's not generational. The reason I wondered, though, is that it seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon. And I'm honestly not sure if an increase in *feelings* of betrayal is evidence of *actual* betrayal.

thefrogprincess said...

Ok, I could go on and on about this. So I'll try to keep it short.

First, I really dislike the idea that people have a rough time in graduate school only because they are unprepared or unable to hack it. That's patently false; yes, there are those people but there are also hardworking people like myself who planned ahead, who knew the requirements, who met them, and get the short end of the stick. And this can happen within very functional departments; my friends and colleagues are having a swell time. They know I've been shafted.

I will also freely admit that my new belligerence is a result of a set of pretty horrible circumstances that are derailing my education. But it's precisely people like me, who have experienced the system at its worst, who need to be heard the most. It's great that there are people who've had wonderful experiences; I'm happy for them. That's as it should be. But when academia goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong and I don't think the debate is helped by ignoring altogether individual experiences.

Of bigger concern is the personal responsibility argument. It's one that I'm frequently sympathetic to. But what's pernicious about it is that there are times when people are done wrong and I've read enough academic blogs to know that this happens more frequently than perhaps we'd like to admit. But trotting out the personal responsibility card eliminates the validity of others' experiences.

We agree on some of the unethical problems; to that, I'd just say that given what we know about the increase of contingent faculty, don't we owe it to students to start admitting fewer of them?

And as for sacrifices, yeah, it's subjective and yeah we don't know the answers to what if. But I don't think eliminating the discussion because it's subjective is useful. There are a lot of people that academia warps and breaks down and then they end up teaching our students. That strikes me as important even if it's not a universal experience.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

FP -- I get that. And I get that the system can let individuals down. Hell, my department totally screwed up (as did I, because it was in the handbook) when I got married and acquired a kid -- I could have stopped my clock, but no one thought of it, because it hadn't happened before. And people do get screwed over even when they have done everything right. My point is that those cases don't prove that the system is bad.

For me, that's a similar argument to the one trotted out against single-payer healthcare -- they bring up the horror stories from the NHS and Canada, and act as though they were typical. They aren't, but they *are* horror stories, and people have the right to be outraged by those stories -- but not to blame the system.

I didn't mean to imply that everybody who has a rough time was having that time because they couldn't hack it. But so far the objections I've seen tend to that, if only because of the "nobody told me" argument. And I do believe that many people who go to grad school are not cut out for it -- they don't really know what their professors do for a living, they just know that they are good at school, and don't know what else to do.

I think one of the things we're at odds on is the 'don't admit so many grad students' thing. I don't think that's unethical. But I also have very mixed feelings about admitting students without funding them. My feeling is that, if programs are going to admit students without full funding for 4-5 years with minimal teaching responsibilities, there's a problem. The majority of students in any program should have such funding (yes, you give up your life, but at least you are getting a mostly free degree).

If programs choose to admit students who didn't make the cut for funding but still want to pay their way, then they need to make it clear why those students didn't get funding, and how that may play out down the line -- possibly no job and a huge investment of life and money. One of the people in my grad program was accepted without money, and after hir first year, was given a fellowship based on hir work. If that's a possibility, it might be worth the gamble. But I think that as long as the university is making a financial investment that in some ways matches the students' investment, it's not unethical, even if there are not as many jobs.


I'm not entirely saying we should eliminate the discussion on sacrifices, but more that it's a different discussion -- one that should be framed by questions of what all the participants expect of a graduate program, and even a critique of academic culture, rather than of a system that doesn't really exist as such.

Seamyst said...

To take thefrogprincess's view/question/complaint about personal responsibility... I think that depends on how one defines personal responsibility. To me, that means saying that yes, I got shafted by my normally wonderful program* - but what am I going to do about it? The second part is, in my opinion, more important. Personal responsibility to me means taking responsibility of your life, what happens to you, and the choices you make. Sure, things will happen to you that aren't your fault, but what you do about them is.

*I'm taking this from what I see as thefrogprincess's issue; I didn't get shafted in my program.

marry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Muhlberger said...

You know, it all comes down to societal choices about spending and taxation. There will be no significant changes in the direction that public services are going now as long as governments (and Canada is in this situation too) insist on waging 1, 2, or 3 foreign wars without raising taxes to pay for them.

thefrogprincess said...

Look, we can go down the personal responsibility path for years and, for what it's worth, I'm not actually looking for advice. Nobody here is in my situation; if they were, they wouldn't be so flip about it.

But personal responsibility arguments are always the easy way to blame the victim without doing any significant reconsidering of the status quo and people without the power always suffer at the hands of these arguments. Why are more black men in jail? Personal responsibility. Why don't we need universal health care? Personal responsibility. Individually, yes, each person is responsible for their actions but personal responsibility has no place in larger conversations about larger structures of inequity, of which academia is one, despite its sometimes claim to the contrary.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

FP, I don't think anyone is being flip about your situation, or the situation in general. It's more about trying to separate what *can* be fixed and what can't. I think that part of the issue is that there is some confusion between culture and system. I see them as different.

clio's disciple said...

My take on the "nobody told me" thing is this:
I was told the market was dire by my undergrad advisor, who advised me not to go to grad school, and subjected me to a lecture on the subject before he would agree to write my letter. So I certainly went into grad school with awareness that things were not all rosy.
BUT the culture in my (Ivy) grad school was such that faculty and administrators assured us that we would be fine: if we worked hard, jumped through the right hoops, etc. etc. The shiny name on our degree would help sell us. Not all of this was verbal and explicit, but it was definitely the culture of the place. I feel as though in some of this discussion, grad students are being portrayed as hopelessly naive, whereas my experience is that grad school faculty & admin do genuinely mislead students...perhaps out of their own naivete, I don't know. I think it's possible to have an awareness of problems from the internet, but have your grad program's message counter that.

Matthew Gabriele said...

Can I chime in to make a small request? Can we stop talking about a reified "academia" here? There is no man behind the curtain pulling the strings, ensuring that everyone is lied to (or not) or that everyone has a good advisor (or not) or that everyone has funding (or not).

Institutions and experiences differ. You see that right here in the comments.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Matt and cliosdisciple -- that's something I was trying to get at: much of this is based on individual experiences, and there is no 'system'. There is definitely a difference between culture and any given set of rules, though. And I think that there is a huge disconnect between academic and departmental culture and practice in the actual field. The two are being taken as being the same thing. I think that we can, to some extent, reify the culture, but Matt's right about the there not being a man behind the curtain.

skg said...

I don't think this is generational, though in Family Feud terms I am a terrible representative of my putative generation (late GenX). Anyhow.

I think that these discussions about "grad school" and expectation are so difficult to have because we value informed analysis but are applying those analytical tools to subjective, individual experiences. Things look remarkably different for the cohort that began five years after me in the same department/school in terms of fellowship/grant availability, teaching expectations, publishing expectations, and so on. (Heck, Matthew Gabriele and I are barely acquainted despite being almost exact contemporaries in departments whose diss committees often overlap; I'd lay money that our grad school experiences were quite different for some external, dept-/institutional-type reasons, not only personal ones.) I think that the massive variance also makes it harder for an individual feeling strained or beset by woes to apply the well-meaning advice of friends and colleagues. There's a lot of room between "Damn, this is hard" and "Here is one workable way to make your particular situation a little better." Maybe undergrad advisors should recommend that prospective grad applicants figure out whether they're good at their own problem-solving--but how do you know till you're faced with problems no one can help you with? For that matter, how do you distinguish what is genuinely unfair (e.g., senior faculty lifting your idea and publishing first) from what's "merely" a hard shot for everyone?

I've collected a lot of job-hunting and -having anecdotes over the years, due in part to being seen as non-competition. What they've shown me is what's possible; despite all the collecting, it's difficult to generalize and extrapolate usefully for someone's new, specific quandary.

Mostly I am ruminating in your comment space, ADM, so I'll shut up now. :) It took about two years for me to get over my grad-school health problems, but then I chose to take a full-time, non-teaching job before finishing, which means I still haven't really had a break since. I'm still glad I went through with the whole thing, too, for what I learned intentionally and unintentionally during grad school.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

skg, you are always welcome to ruminate here. And perhaps thinking in terms of cohorts rather than in terms of actual generation age is more accurate.

And I think that you're pretty much dead on in your analysis.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

Cohorts are indeed important - we start and finish grad school at all different ages - and my experiences hiring cohorts is that they come in at different ages as well, from the the annoyingly young mathematicians who whipped through PhDs before they were 25 to people like - ahem - me, who started here at 37.

I think grad school is deeply twisted, but not all that dysfunctional. I think that completion of a ph.d. is a pretty good predictor for one thing - the ability to defer graduation. I think folks who wanted a 2 year mba and then a job would not handle the tenure track at all well.

TheCrankyProfessor said...

Whoops - that should have read "the ability to defer gratification."

Slip?

T.W. said...

I would just add that the one red flag for me here is "will have been a waste." I too have been very conscious of potentially giving away the prime of my life for no job, in the long years that led me through graduate school and various visiting appointments. (I am now nervously tenure track. The grass is always greener.)

But one absolute I will maintain is that even without an academic job, I would not have "wasted" the effort put into my education. Now, I am in a field of the humanities where self-education or hobbyist pursuit is pretty difficult: people without several years of graduate school do not, realistically, go on to the enjoyable lifetime learning in this field which we promise falsely to our undergrads.

I'm rambling, but I do believe that, if grad school is really a WASTE without a job, it should just be abandoned. It should be a source of permanent value to you that you spent your 20's and possibly 30's having vast amounts of time to do interesting things, albeit in poverty. This doesn't exclude regrets, of course: that would be to assign no value to all the other paths besides grad school.

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Unknown said...

I think that we can, to some extent, reify the culture, but Matt's right about the there not being a man behind the curtain.