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« How to increase your popularity with the students | Main | This Week's Acquisitions »

December 07, 2012


Michael Bérubé

Miriam, I've just tweeted about this response, but I wanted to comment here, because once upon a time we were both members of the academic blogosphere, and I know you know that there's a critical difference between responding to a talk and responding to higher-ed press coverage of a talk. The CHE and IHE got most things right, but really, there's no reason for you to assume that I didn't think about or address the questions raised in points 1, 2, 3, and 5 (I'll pass on 4, because I didn't say anything about pedagogy). I most certainly did.


That's good to hear, Michael, because apparently it sailed right by both reporters.

Incidentally, my father points out that alternative Ph.D.s were being proposed as a solution to employment issues when *he* was a graduate student (i.e., the 1960s), and didn't go anywhere then, either.

Michael Bérubé

The penultimate graf of the CHE article contains one sentence that addresses a component of Marc's argument-- namely, that there is no overproduction of Ph.D.s. 65.2 percent of non-tenure-track faculty members hold the M.A. as their highest degree-- 57.3 percent in four-year institutions, 76.2 percent in two-year institutions. But what do we do with all these M.A.s and ABDs, then? Fire them? Send them back to graduate school?

I don't know what field your father was/is in, but the 1960s seem a bit early to be talking about employment issues-- the academic job market was bountiful throughout the decade and only collapsed (but collapsed bigtime) in 1970. Still, yes, alt-ac discussions are not new. And the most recent precedent-- 1998, when Elaine Showalter made it part of her presidency-- is very instructive (which is why I talked about that too!).

Anyway, good to "see" you again. Sometimes I miss academic blogging. And I will always love your parody of a Certain Kind of Chronicle Essay....


Re: the MAs. Yes, that's the question, isn't it? Reviving the lecturer track as a genuine tenure-line track (senior lecturer, lecturer with security of employment) would at least be one way of addressing the issue.

The era of easily-available jobs seems to have had a relatively short window, even in the age of the Old Boy Network; scarcity seems to have been the rule for most of the century, not the exception, but that's pure anecdata (listening to tales of what happened to those who got doctorates in the 50s and earlier).


I'd like to know in more detail how No. 3 was addressed, because that's such a crucial sticking point for all the graduate students I've actually known and advised -- literally 100% of students who come to me to discuss their interest in doing a PhD are motivated by wanting to be professors at the end of it. And I'm just not sure why someone with another career ambition would go the PhD route to get there, no matter how we tweak it.


Arithmetic suggests to me that not everyone who completes a PhD can be a professor, and certainly not at R1 schools. I've always thought that part of the problem was being made to feel like a failure if one finished a PhD and did not become a professor.

(In computer science, there are many well-respected and well-paid nonacademic jobs that use one's PhD training, so it seems to be less of an issue.)

An Assistant Professor

I feel that #3 is something that would need to be addressed at the undergraduate level (or admissions level) first. It's possible that some people who want to be professors would become interested in alternative careers for PhDs if they knew more about them earlier in the process. For instance, I didn't have a good grasp on any other options until I was almost done, and I pursued a t-t job anyway because that's what I was best qualified for.

However, I think the adjunct issue is the single biggest issue facing the Humanities as a career, and the problem there is about pressuring administrations, boards, and funding groups.

Levi Stahl

I agree with the comment that #3 would be best addressed at the undergraduate level. With just a few different steps/lucky/unlucky breaks in my life, I could have easily ended up going to graduate school for an English lit PhD right out of undergrad, because I liked the idea of being a professor. But despite having worked with some really good and attentive faculty, I had no real sense of what that work actually entailed, let alone the impossible job market. Now I know it wouldn't have been right for me, and it would have been a big help to have someone who knew whereof they spoke lay out the reality back then. It seems like it should be a natural intervention any time an undergrad in one's department mentions a serious interest in pursuing a PhD.

Fortunately, I didn't take that path; instead I dithered and wandered, worked in bookstores and met depressed grad students, and along the way learned that what I really wanted was to stay close to books--and thus ended up in publishing.


Further apropos this topic, but from a science point of view:

(I'm not endorsing the content of the link.)

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