Sunday, August 26, 2007

Give it to You Straight No Taste, I'ma Tell it Like it is

I've been meaning to get back to the issue of advice for prospectives, since I didn't want to leave things at empty carping on my part. (What's that, you say? You didn't realize I could do anything but empty carping?) I criticized Brian Weatherson on this stuff a couple of days ago, but he does get one thing exactly right. If you're thinking of going to grad school, you need to base the decision on considerations a lot more specific than placement stats for the humanities, or even philosophy, as a whole. So super general columns or posts--saying either "Don't go to the grad school, because the job market's awful" or "Go to grad school because the market's not so bad"--just aren't that useful. You need details.

But what details? One of Weatherson's commentors, philosopher Josh Glasgow, offers some great, great information and advice for people thinking of going to programs ranked below the top-20.

Here's Glasgow on how the job market works :
Your initial job options will likely be different than those had by PhDs from more prominent institutions. The most obvious manifestation of this fact is that, while there are a few notable exceptions, almost all PhDs from non-ranked or low-ranked programs will have to start their careers in unappealing or fixed-term (though full time) jobs, and then, if possible, work their way up to more appealing, tenure-track jobs. I had to do four years in such jobs. . .

There's a lot of candor here, and it's just what prospectives need. He's saying, you can't reasonably expect to get a tenure-tracked job right out of your program. You can expect to get various temporary gigs, and there's a good chance they'll be sort of crappy. (He talks about having a nine course per year teaching load.) And you might have to do that for three or four or five years. And even then, it's possible for you to move up to a tenure-tracked job, but not guaranteed.

Back to Glasgow:

PhDs from non-top ranked programs therefore also can predict having even less choice about where to live. I personally have found this depressing, though I’m happy to now be gainfully employed in beautiful New Zealand. . . . The point, again, is that there is an increased likelihood of having to make some sacrifices the lower down the rankings you go, but also that this fact doesn’t mean that going to grad school is a bad idea.

He's got a more optimistic tone here than I'd have, but he's also got real information. He's saying, your scramble for a job is going to mean you don't get choose where you live. And that can be depressing. Do you like seeing your family more than once or twice a year? Do you have a partner who can't pick up and follow you wherever you need to go? If you want a tenure-tracked job, you can't reasonably expect to get one near your family or your partner.

Glasgow's got more to say than just this, but I'll leave it at that for now. What's great about this is, he's giving prospectives some concrete ideas about what they can expect from a program not in the top-20. He's not saying "go to grad school" or "don't go to grad school". He's helping them understand what considerations they need to weigh in making their own decisions.

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