Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Ain't Coming to You, Not in this Life

I've been talking about how hard it is for grad students to see clearly what their job prospects are. When you're applying to grad school, and even in your first few years, when you're still doing coursework, you don't see yourself scraping by with one-year after one-year, moving every couple of years from one shitty town to the next, chasing temporary appointments. Let me make this concrete.

A good friend of mine just told me this story last week. He knows a guy who's doing philosophy at department that's not ranked on Leiter's List. That means it's below the top 50. My friend wanted to know why this guy was doing the degree, since--my friend figured--this guy has no reasonable expectation of ever landing a tenure-track job. The guy's response? He figured he'd be fine, since he didn't really want a high-powered job at a big research university. He'd be perfectly happy settling for a nice liberal arts college.

That's it right there. That's the disconnect from reality I've been talking about. Tenure-tracked teaching jobs go to people coming from the middle and bottom half of the top 50. If you're in a department that's below the top 50, you're looking at very long odds. But that's not the way it seemed to this guy my friend was knows. He figured he'd be fine.


Anonymous said...

I would add to my earlier comments the clarification that depts participate in clouding people's views. Grade inflation (we all know it) and implicitly telling Johnny that he is terribly clever and special. But I think we can point to the worst sin of all.

Most immoral is the proliferation of grad programmes. Administrators like them because they get more funding and show growth, and faculty like the cheap labor/prestige, plus they often, I suspect, simply feel entitled to teach grad students.

Thus, I would add calculated cynical, willful misleading of students to the list of crimes some academics perpetuate. Bad faith? You can offer an obligatory warning on a 1-to-1, but the institutional message counters it... I say this as a veteran of campus interviews in which we (unemployed!) tt job-seeking candidates are being told about our role in the plans for bigger (and thus better in terms of some calculation) graduate enrollments. Um, mind if I get a job before I am required have a clear sense of directing Phd students?

--New Scotland

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think you're too optimistic.

My partner has a PhD from a top 15 department and had publications before going on the market. Three graduating PhDs from that institution were hired into tenure-track positions that year; the rest went around again or took one-years.

My partner, one of the lucky ones, has a TT position with a 4/4 load, at a small academically weak teaching college, in an undesireable area of the country.

I'm across the country with our child, because they pay me here.