August 16, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Matilde for a nice summary of the predicament of the nonacademic job searcher (comment to "Class and the Academy"):

Cumos' article certainly does illustrate very well how difficult the transition from humanities Ph.D. to nonacademic employment can be. It's hard enough at 22 to exit college to find only menial work that you could have gotten without the degree. To find yourself in this position in your thirties, after so much more school, when your peer group is well into careers and families -- it's a bitter pill. I'm sure Elaine Showalter would argue that Chris' return on his education is an improved inner life while operating that weedwhacker, but reading his story just makes me all the more angry about the 'winner-take-all' state of the humanities professions.

Well said, Matilde. Your check is not in the mail, but luckily I am in possession of a rich inner life, which wealth I am happy to share with my readers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at August 16, 2003 11:41 PM

Cold comfort to have a rich inner life, and a job in a cubicle, or mowing lawns. Yet what would you trade for that inner life? To have more money, a corner office, and to be happy with it? Seems that the benefit of a good liberal arts education is that you can be miserable anywhere.

Posted by: Phil at August 17, 2003 11:16 AM

One little summary of the situation that I've come up with: when people enter a PhD program they seldom understand that the PhD that you sweat 7 years for is not the finish line, but just the starting line. Getting the PhD is not winning, and in the real race you can still lose.

The real scandal of it, to me, is the fact that many departments could not function without cheap labor from people who going to lose the second race. If there's a grad student who no one will be willing to go to bat for when they go job-hunting, that's a student who's doomed as far as the second race is concerned. This often can be known by faculty pretty early in someone's student career. But my guess is that usually these losers are strung along for awhile.

Posted by: zizka at August 17, 2003 06:27 PM

Awww...I'm touched.

Whenever I hear Elaine Showalter speak on the role of the humanities Ph.D., I have a very Brad DeLong moment - "what"? I'm never sure what I find more ridiculously appalling:

  1. The notion that the study of literature and history diminishes the need to have dignity in employment and food in the belly of one's children.
  2. The implication that long solitary hours devoted to study and writing in a tiny specialty, alternated with crippling criticism and political shenanigans from a committee of elders that has complete power over your career prospects and future income, combined with a long period of delayed consumption, are effective tools to promote a high inner quality of life.
  3. The insinuation that persons without a Ph.D. in the humanities lack the training to obtain a satisfyingly complex inner life.

Anyone with sufficient intelectual curiosity and scholarly interest to find a Ph.D. an attractive path also has sufficient brains and ingenuity to find a satisfying career that pays enough to allow an independent, dignified existance (if not necessarily a luxurious one). The transition to that career, however, can take some time - time that is in dreadfully short quantity when one begins that search at 35 instead of 25. Showalter isn't doing the profession any favors by suggesting that these lost years aren't a serious burden to the humanities Ph.D. transitioning into non-academic employment.

Posted by: Matilde at August 18, 2003 12:07 PM