January 15, 2004

Semi-Open Thread: Graduate School Reform

So much to blog, so little time.

Consider this a semi-open thread. The suggested topic is graduate school reform. It's clear from the comments to this entry (on PhD attrition rates) that there are some people out there who would like to see some changes to the structure and organization of humanities graduate programs. What, in particular, might you propose?

Feel free to digress and divert. As always, I welcome amusing anecdotes, heartfelt testimonials, playful badinage, and bloodcurdling tales of the academic macabre. But please keep it reasonably clean: I'm just a nice Irish Catholic girl who wandered into a PhD program (yes, of course I should have gone to law school).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at January 15, 2004 11:15 PM

I think PhDs should either be shorter OR they should go back to the old British style system where you get a teaching job after a couple of years of research and finish off part time.

Posted by: Duckling at January 16, 2004 06:01 AM

It's not in the humanities, but one of my fellow students who visited England for a while while working on his degree described their current system differently. There wasn't any courseload to their PhD, just two things: a research project, and a time limit. You have five years, although you were expected to finish in four.

The part of that that I personally most want to see here is that faculty members are judged by whether or not their students finished.

Lots of speakers on other threads have argued in favor of letting lots of students in to grad school, so we'd have to moderate that a little bit - but the number of students in my department who pass orals, pass their proposals, and then never finish would result in about a third of the faculty getting kicked around by the Graduate School.

Posted by: ABD Instructor at January 16, 2004 07:23 AM

Well, as an attorney, I'll say that law school, and the practice which follows, can be just as harrowing and worthy of reform. Alas.

Posted by: Dedman at January 16, 2004 07:46 AM

I think things would be better if we admitted half as many grad students, then doubled the stipends for the ones admitted.

Posted by: Music adjunct at January 16, 2004 09:16 AM

Clearly the number of grad students has to be reduced, but this would directly reduce the number of faculty, too. I don't think this would be a bad thing, since after the reduction of TAs and faculty, more faculty would be doing things like teaching freshman comp, and you might see more attention to issues like student plagiarism.

I think the graduate student over-admission problem is just one part of a much larger university problem. Very early in the 7-week or so history of my blog, I had an entry "Cheating and the Academic Transaction" that goes into more detail on one of the issues facing TAs that the faculty would prefer not to deal with (go here and scroll down.

I think some type of market based reform would be needed, which would probably have to start with some type of mandated salary increase for TAs, which would serve the purpose of heavily reducing the intake of grad students. Then you'd have to eliminate the time limit for funding. Some TAs would advance to upper-level or grad courses; others would spend a career as TAs.

I don't know if I'll develop this further on my blog or not; my own blogging has taken a different course in the last day or so.

Posted by: John Bruce at January 16, 2004 10:43 AM

ABD Instructor writes: "The part of that that I personally most want to see here is that faculty members are judged by whether or not their students finished."

Finishing the dissertation is obviously an important factor, but I don't think it's the be all and end all that some are making it out to be. Finishing doesn't matter if there's no tenure track position to be had after all the work. Hence, I think the following clause could be added to make ABD's standard more thorough: and how many of those who finish find a tenure track position.

Some administrators actually are interested in this statistic, as it speaks to the overall viability of any graduate department or program. And I know for a fact that my former grad. dept. employs a range of interpretive tactics to make the numbers appear more favorable than they actually are.

Posted by: Chris at January 16, 2004 11:06 AM

I lied. I've taken up IA's challenge on my site here.

Posted by: John Bruce at January 16, 2004 11:32 AM

Okay, I'll swim against the tide. The biggest problem with reducing the number of grad students admitted is that the faculty will continue to narrow their selections. They'll reward the people who have followed what they think is a Normal path. Anyone who's a little different--who works for a few years, who's a little older, who's actually THOUGHT about a few things, will pale in comparison to someone who has great grades, recommendations, and GRE scores, but no life experience whatsoever. I don't know the best way to combat the issues--perhaps more terminal M.A.s?--but I'm not convinced that reducing the number of people admitted will do it. My old program, in political science, had, as a specific part of the process, being admitted to the Ph.D. part of the program. They perhaps weren't as harsh as they should have been--but if you can't find any faculty to take your part and say they'll work with you, then you've got a problem anyway. Maybe that's the stage at which the decision-making could happen? And do better career placement for everyone, at both the M.A. and Ph.D. level, and include options outside of academe. And change attitudes about the worthiness of working outside.

Posted by: carla at January 16, 2004 11:44 AM

Before settling on the means to reform graduate education, it might be constructive to clearly formulate the goals we would like to accomplish.

In my reading of this blog, there are two main problems creating a crisis in graduate school education:

(1) There is a serious over-supply of Ph.D.s in most fields.
(2) Graduate departments and university administrators have few incentives to act as honest agents to graduate students, as:

(a) they are chief beneficiaries of graduate student labor,
(b) their jobs are not generally threatened by an oversupply of junior candidates, and
(c) they are generally not held accountable for the low employment rate of their graduates.

I think many people thought the market would correct itself as news of the extremely bad job prospects for Ph.D.s filtered down to potential graduate school applicants. However, graduate school enrollments are still increasing, despite much coverage in the news media about the extent of the adjunct crisis. It's time to consider other solutions.

Because universities and departments have the best information on the 'success' of their programs, the best solution may involve making graduate schools more accountable for the job placement rates of their graduate students, such as mandatory shutdowns of departments that do not place 1/2 their Ph.D.s in a job that requires a Ph.D. in the field and tying department graduate student budgets to placement.

This would likely mean shrinking the size of many graduate programs and eliminating others altogether. A 'revenue nuetral' solution would be to both increase the workload and the pay of the graduate students enrolled. This would have the adverse effect of denying graduate school to many people who would make excellent researchers. But that might be an acceptable cost to changing the current conditions for Ph.D.s exiting graduate school.

Posted by: Matilde at January 16, 2004 12:40 PM

In the first year of graduate school in archaeology we spent so much time learning about post-modernist theaory and how archaeology could not really tell you about the past (it could only reveal your current political views on power relationships) that by the end of the year my professors convinced me that there was no reason to continue my studies in that field. I dropped out and went to law school.

Posted by: David Marks at January 16, 2004 12:47 PM

I also remember a huge emphasis on postmodernism when I was a doctoral student in the college of education. Yes, I enjoyed postmodern theory, but there were never any other perspectives; I had to find those on my own. For example, we never studied education from a Marxist perspective; after all, Marxism had been determined to be too "modernistic." I guess my big gripe with postmodern theory is that it tends to lead to nihlism and a total lack of social solidarity and responsibility. It really reached the pinnacle of craziness when issues like classroom management were turned into postmodern "points of view." For example, I remember several of us classroom teachers posing serious questions about what happened in our classrooms. We weren't looking for "how-to" answers, but something better than the "what is disobedience, anyway?" I'm sorry, but if you were to spend time in an 8th grade classroom, I don't think you'd have any problem with the concrete reality of negative behavior. What was super-ironic is that whenever we would be looking at politics or power relations and anyone would give down-to-earth examples of how power REALLY operated (i.e. through control of workers, surveillance, etc.) then those became modernist concerns and were open to interpretation, not social action.

Posted by: Cat at January 16, 2004 03:01 PM

The problem with paring down grad student admissions is a fairly practical one. Large universities in particular need grad students as graders, TA's, research assistants, etc., so there's this dissonance between what the post-graduate job market can reasonably handle and the instructional workforce needed in modern university departments, especially in big humanities disciplines like English, History, etc. Strictly limiting number of grad admissions would not only be challenging for reasons some other posters have noted, but would effectively gut the undergrad cirriculum in many departments. In the end, they'd probably have to go out and hire a bunch of part-time lecturers to pick up the slack, and the great circle completes itself.

Posted by: John at January 16, 2004 05:05 PM

Carla (#8), one thing I would say in response to your remarks is that your worry -- that reducing the number of admitted grad. students will result in a narrowing of the selction criteria for admission -- is precisely what happens now at the elvel of applying for jobs. While "non-traditional" students are routinely matriculated in Ph.D. programs, the indiiduals who get hired are always, in your words, the "people who have followed what they think is a Normal path." Typically, unless they are great actors, the people who tend to get hired are decidedly not "anyone who's a little different,who work[ed] for a few years, who's a little older, who's actually THOUGHT about a few things ..."

Academics tend to place a very low premium on the kinds people you're describing as colleagues. They like them well enough as grad. students, but that is because having non-traditional students around allows the faculty to think favorably of themselves -- 'see, we're cool, we're funky'. But they're not going to hire them.

Posted by: Chris at January 16, 2004 05:15 PM

To what John says in post 12, this is part of what I discuss in the posts on my site. The problem is that the large numbers of TAs, graders, and other academic menials are in the system is because they're so cheap, and because the income they bring in by cheaply teaching sections of intro courses pays for graduate studies. Of course fewer graduate studies profs will be able to earn money teaching graduate students. Couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys, in my opinion.

The problem is that a substantial portion of the people working for cheap are doing it because they are assuming the foregone income is actually an investment in a career. Some people will be satisfied to leave with an MA and get a job teaching at a private school or whatever, and some are happy enough to have four or five more halcyon years in a university with no clear goal -- but a great many TAs have some expectation of a career in university Ph.D. teaching. They are foregoing current income in hopes of the future career -- in effect, it's an investment not much different from law or medical school, or Microsoft training for that matter. But they have far less chance of realizing that investment than medical, law, or Microsoft students, to the point where, as I say on my site, you could possibly even start to scope out a class action suit against the universities, the professional associations, and even the department and graduate studies chairs personally (hee hee).

The result of such a suit would change academics like Sherman changed Georgia, to my way of thinking. Departments would think much more than twice before admitting numbers of students they weren't sure they could place.

If you reduce the number of grad students, you reduce the number of menials. To some extent, this cancels itself out; if the price of graders or research assistants goes up, people will find substitutes, such as doing the work themselves or finding more effective ways to use computers. If the price of teaching assistants goes up, various other adjustments, such as workload, can be made.

Consider that society in the past 35 years made an enormous adjustment in deciding stay-at-home wives might in many cases be more efficiently used in the paid workforce. I would think reducing the number of grad students would have far less effect.

Posted by: John Bruce at January 16, 2004 05:22 PM

My political science department was overadmitting PhD students they couldn't place for a while because they needed TAs and instructors. The solution was to admit a more appropriate number of students and hire TAs from PhD programs with less funding available (like Anthropology) or related terminal MA programs in Public Affairs and Adminstration, International Studies, etc. This seems like a potential solution to the labor problem--the MPA students are eager to take the jobs because otherwise they'd be paying tuition, and the Political science department can choose the cream of the crop because there are a couple hundred students in the program. It really seems like a win-win, although the application of this model would be limited in scope by several obvious factors.

Posted by: Jim at January 16, 2004 07:42 PM

Apparently Poli Sci (according to an article by Daniel Drezner in that discipline's official organ) has a generally better job market than the rest of the humanities. It sounds like the real abuses are in English and History. I don't think my former English department would have remotely considered hiring TAs from other departments (though they probably would have been as qualified as ex-English majors) simply because that would have cut their own total of grad students. The bottom line issue, it seems to me, is that the worst offenders wouldn't voluntarily reduce their quota.

Posted by: John Bruce at January 16, 2004 07:57 PM

I would like to submit, perhaps off topic, that there are too many students going to college. Full stop. And I've got a link so that I don't clutter the thread.

Posted by: Kikuchiyo at January 17, 2004 06:26 AM

Amen! Not only are there too many people being pushed into college; at the same time there are too few jobs that are decent paying and at the same time only require a high school diploma. Now we have several crappy paying jobs that also require 4 year degrees!

Posted by: Cat at January 18, 2004 12:31 PM

Has anyone on this thread actually read the study done by the American Historical Association? It's provocative (The Education of the Historian in the Twenty-First Century, 2004). The study does not go far enough because it was written by academics whose vision tends to be extraordinarily narrow. However, it does present an interesting beginning for this discussion and I think it should be recommended reading for all historians (especially directors of graduate programs or chairs of history departments). While I agree that there are too many people who attend college as Cat and other posters said, I'd like to say that there are too few PhDs who understand the value of their doctoral training. If more PhDs addressed their prejudices regarding leaving academia, there would be less of a crisis in the academic job market...and wonder of wonders...we would have some really amazingly skilled and talented people doing policy work etc. Historians can and should play a wider role in society---frankly, I think grad programs should begin their reform by thinking more widely about the things which one can do with a doctorate. Compare the training of a physician with the training of an historian. While in medical school, physicians are required to work in several different fields (obstetrics etc.). As a result, physicians make informed decisions about their type of medicine which they will ultimately practice. Historians, however, are encouraged to believe that the only acceptable career path is that of a professor. The culture in graduate school is such that graduate students believe that following any other type of career path is evidence of a failure. Without knowing anything about other careers, graduate students dismiss all of their options. I would suggest that graduate schools begin their reformation by educating their students regarding the many careers which are open to historians.

Posted by: at January 18, 2004 04:15 PM

This is a puzzling post. Mr. or Ms. ____ is suggesting that if all the folks -- 60 percent or so of all grad students in the area, it appears -- would just calm down and recognize that a History Ph.D. will do just as well in starting them up in a career in forensic anthropology or network administration or securities analysis, we could all just get on with our graduate work and everything would be fine. Mr. or Ms. _____'s modesty is remarkable given the helpfulness of this insight to all of us.

What I see in many of these discussions is a little like what I see in other on-line forums where people decide they've been had in some scheme like Amway. A certain percentage of people -- either those who are in fact among the small group profiting in a scheme like Amway, or those who don't want to recognize they've sent time and money down the crapper, post saying, in effect, those who complain simply have a bad attitude. I see something like this in operation here. Those in charge at the AHA aren't perfect -- none of us is -- but if we'll just ignore these bad thoughts and go back to our prior state of ignorance, I'm sure it will all work out, and those of us who con't get the tenured History positions we're being trained for will no doubt do quite well on the National Security Council.

Posted by: John Bruce at January 18, 2004 05:23 PM

I think PhDs should either be shorter...

Well, that explains why I didn't get mine. I'm 5'10".

(Hey, our hostess asked for playful badinage, and so far this thread is all grim earnest. Just trying to balance things out.)

Posted by: language hat at January 18, 2004 10:36 PM


Re: non-traditional students. Your assertion that non-traditional students do not get jobs does not hold up with my experience at Michigan. In fact, in terms of placement and hires, most went to "non-traditionals" which I am defining as people who took at least two years off from academia but usually more (in some cases much more). When push came to shove, it was generally the more polished work (not necessarily more brilliant, but more polished) that carried the day. And for the most part, folks with non-trad backgrounds were better writers. In some specialties, such as history of medicine, it had to do with related backgrounds (the former nurse who wrote a history of nursing etc.)

Posted by: Da vid Salmanson at January 19, 2004 01:04 AM

Ha ha language hat. I like it! Your blog's good by the way.

Posted by: Duckling at January 19, 2004 11:03 AM

Ah, what would we do without language hat? *fond smile*

Posted by: Rana at January 19, 2004 01:49 PM

You're just average, Hat. Now Michelle Wie -- she's tall.

Posted by: zizka / emerson at January 19, 2004 02:12 PM

To #19,

Let's say, for example, you devote several years of your life to a Ph.D. You focus on your research and teaching. Yours is one of the more traditional fields, ranging from Modern American to Early Modern European, to Latin American History. What exists for you outside of academia, especially if you were never able or willing to take advantage of your department's offerings in Public History, which is often the only alternative to the more traditional approach? There are of course some openings out there, many of which would go to someone with a lesser degree and thus likely to command a lower starting salary.

I just can't see this as simply understanding the value of one's doctoral training, when this often only prepares one for a life in the academy. The Community College is the only real alternative I see for many out there.

By the way, I am 6'3". I guess I just got lucky when I finished. ;-)

Posted by: DM at January 19, 2004 02:59 PM

Chris (#13): I agree completely, and when the job market in political science went to hell in a handbasket in the early 90s, this puzzled me to no end. It was completely a buyers' market, so why departments didn't just hire a bunch of people, with the explicit understanding that they wouldn't all get tenure, is beyond my comprehension. Why didn't they take a chance on people doing somewhat odd stuff, as well as the people doing voter surveys? A flaw in the "the market will correct it" arguments, if you ask me.

With regard the the postmodernism bits above, I had to endure the tyranny (fetishism) of the quantitative while in grad school, particularly the rational choice/game theory version. I'm told that there have been some attempts to attack this fetishism recently, but that the attempts aren't particularly successful. Count! Measure! Model!

And with regard to the suggestion that people discourage other people from going to grad school because the market is sucky, well, I suspect that won't work. Most everyone to whom you tell this thinks that s/he is the Exception, that I, Ms. Loserpie, clearly couldn't cut it, but that s/he will triumph by virtue of her/his brilliance. Yeah. Let me know how that works out for you.

So, really, let the market decide. And provide better support for the people who don't get the tenure-track positions. But, for the reasons Matilde pointed out, that won't happen; universities need cheap, well-educated labor.

Posted by: carla at January 19, 2004 05:20 PM

Here's a naive thought: what if MA programs were thought of as self-contained-- more like the Grand Tour broadening experience many expect from graduate school-- and as a natural stopping point? Let in lots of MA students, design the program to avoid premature specialization, etc., and retool the PhD program accordingly. Then take the division between degrees more seriously (i.e., limit enrollments there, not earlier). MA students get free classes and provide cheap labor; most of them don't go on to the doctoral degree.

My graduate program more or less tacked on an MA by accident-- that is, students moved seamlessly from one degree to the next. The real horror stories, of course, came from people who started dissertations and drifted aimlessly for years. Dicking around for three years on low wages (while taking some classes) is fine; doing it for 10 is another thing altogether. So this provides some cheap labor, but it also prevents the worst of the attrition stories.

Posted by: Fontana Labs at January 19, 2004 09:10 PM

Fontana Labs is really suggesting that the MA ought to be a required precursor to the PhD, not a bail out point.

That makes a lot of sense, a two year program for people to adjust to whether or not a PhD make sense for them while they provide cheap labor for the university, rather than the longer system that currently is in place. Though it would not work in the scienses, where graduate students are so much cheaper than research assistants and you need people with more than just two years of graduate work.

BTW, http://www.qiken.org/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/321 is an interesting perspective on TAs. Really interesting.

Well, back to bed.

Posted by: Steve at January 20, 2004 07:37 AM

John Bruce: Actually, I am saying that when graduate programs produce people who cannot explain why their degree has value in a broader context, then these programs have failed. Even if one goes on to teach, one should be able to explain why a history degree has value. I am deeply troubled by graduate programs (and undergraduate programs) where students are told that they can teach with a history degree (and that's the only thing they can do with it). There are many things that you can do with a History PhD but most graduate programs do not provide information about this to their students and this, I would say, is the greatest failure. It is also a troubling comment on how professors view history (seeing it simply as a theoretical exercise which has no value in the real world). If we historians believe that the only thing one can do with the degree is teach people then we are on the way to making history completely irrelevant (it's already irrelevant at the high school level where it has been replaced with social studies---and now more and more colleges are replacing history classes with course on "Global Studies" etc. which are broadly based social studies classes---I say this as someone who taught these courses).

I used public policy as a broad example but let me be very specific and say that I think that graduate programs need to educate their students regarding public history, museum work, archival work etc. At the moment, most graduate programs do not provide any information regarding careers in these fields to their students. As a result, grad students wind up with a very limited understanding of their own profession and their options. There has been an incredible balkanization of history in the last few decades---and I would argue that this stems from the failure of graduate programs to provide their students with information about the many different ways in which one can practice history. I have been astonished by the ignorance which most historians have about their colleagues who work in museums, public history, think tanks etc.

One of the greatest problems in history---and the AHA has aggressively said this in their study (and I commend them for it)---has been the narrowness of the training one rec'es. Graduate programs routinely produce people whose knowledge is an inch wide and a mile deep. This is true not only of the scholarship done by many historians (who rarely ever seem to read outside of their own field) but also of the knowledge which historians have of their own profession. As always, I am a little confused as to why saying that historians should be taught to use their degree in a variety of ways is so controversial. Do you really think history has value only as a theoretical exercise within the classroom?

Posted by: at January 20, 2004 12:03 PM

To Mr./Ms. Blank from above:

I have not read study you cited, but the conclusions you mention are on the mind of many these days. History has indeed become too narrow and too balkanized, and the options for many Ph.Ds are too limited. I would love to see considerable change in the training of future historians. I wonder about the need for a Ph.D for many of the other possible paths that graduate students could pursue. Is a Ph.D necessary for many government or museum positions? Might it be better to create this thing known as the "practical MA", which would train graduate students for the alleged numerous options beyond the academy? As another poster mentioned, maybe we could try to restore some respect to the MA, and steer many future students in this direction. Again, I just don't see the Ph.D as being necessary or even that useful for a lot of the alleged non-academic options that await us. Obviously some departments could develop the "practical Ph.D"; however, I don't see this happening anytime soon.

Posted by: DM at January 20, 2004 01:47 PM

I think there's some confusion here, regarding (and within) Blank's comments. I knew very well the value of my studies (though I was in political science rather than history)--but getting a potential employer to see that value was another (futile) exercise altogether. There is also an anti-intellectual strain in our society that works against people leaving the academy and being welcomed with open arms. Third, there is, as you note, a lack of assistance from faculty, universities in general, etc. The economy in general sucks right now, too.

Posted by: carla at January 20, 2004 03:40 PM

The moment of truth has arrived :) The new grad student applicant files are at our department office for review - need to make offers by Feb 1....

Posted by: David at January 20, 2004 05:22 PM

Wait! I learned today, finally, the value of my Ph.D. My degree, which made me eligible to teach (for the last 5 years--post grad. school) section after section of soul and mind numbing composition courses, finally materialized into something of value. As a result of being employed by Big Urban State Univ., I learned today that I get a 50% discount on the tuition for the 4 credit Fundamentals and Principles of Real Estate course, which I will be attending for the next 15 Saturday mornings.

Hoozah! Hoozah!

How could I ever have been so ... so ... bitter about the value of my Ph.D.? I apologize to all.

So .. can I interest anyone in a 1 bedroom Trinity with below ground parking, easy access to urban delights, decent schools?

God, I can't wait for my new career to start.

Posted by: Chris at January 20, 2004 05:57 PM

Chris--you must be in Philadelphia--I don't think anyone else calls it a "trinity."

Posted by: carla at January 21, 2004 01:10 PM

Oooops ... yeah Carla, you got me.

Posted by: Chris at January 21, 2004 06:09 PM

Actually, Chris, it made my day! I also used to hear them called "father son holy ghosts." Not surprisingly, I suppose!

Posted by: carla at January 22, 2004 01:09 PM

I hear ya, Chris. Currently my PhD means I'm living in a tiny one-bedroom and amazing my co-workers with my ability to write clear, functional forms. Whoo!

Posted by: Rana at January 22, 2004 02:12 PM

I give. What's a trinity? I would have guessed a 3 1/2, except you called it a one bedroom.

Posted by: wolfangel at January 22, 2004 03:38 PM

Trinities are usually very old, fairly small three-floor houses, with one room per floor -- hence the allusion to the holy trinity. They're not very good for families, for obvious reasons, but they can be great for either singles or childless couples. I guess they are unique to Philadelphia and Baltimore, though I remember seeing some in Boston when I lived there.

(Go Sox!)

Posted by: Chris at January 22, 2004 04:46 PM

Solution: PhD programs pay the complete expense of getting a PhD, and admission to a PhD program is limited by the number of students that program can afford to support.

Posted by: Binky at January 25, 2004 07:07 PM

Solution: PhD programs pay the complete expense of getting a PhD, and admission to a PhD program is limited by the number of students that program can afford to support.

That is pretty much the system in the Western European country where I now work and live. PhD training positions are strictly limited and are advertised in the newspapers (and online) like jobs -- which of course they are.

A major part of the problem in the US, in my humble opinion, is that PhD-awarding departments have an interest in admitted too many, losing too many along the way to the dissertation stage, and then not having sufficinet interest (beyond personal pride of the adviser) in the rate by which its PhDs find jobs.

I think, therefore, an essential part of the solution must be in finding a way to make it in the self-interest (rather than say, professional or, even, human, ethics) of individual faculty members to see their students reach their professional goals, including employment.

Posted by: Spanky at January 26, 2004 12:32 PM

#s 41/42:

Heaven forbid.

Posted by: at January 26, 2004 04:09 PM

Here is a possible question that might keep discussion going during our IA's break. Currently I am in that realm, in which I await responses from the initial interview. These colleges interview 15-18 candidates and select three finalists. Several community colleges seeking Ph.Ds have upcoming deadlines. Since I would rather be a full-timer at a CC, than someone adjuncting somewhere, I am filling out these applications. One never knows. My question/wish is for others, who have been down this road, to share their Community College experiences, including the application process.

Posted by: DM at January 26, 2004 11:24 PM

Spanky wrote:That is pretty much the system in the Western European country where I now work and live. PhD training positions are strictly limited and are advertised in the newspapers (and online) like jobs -- which of course they are.

Just to venture a bit farther: because these are listed and taxed as jobs, the new PhD who hasn't found a job can claim unemployment benefit.

Posted by: Spanky at January 27, 2004 11:22 AM

Update on our grad school applications (economics). Hardly any new applications for our program - 3 people and none in fields we really specialize in. A couple though are really good (both Chinese). Of those we had to defer last year because of our limited ability to fund them some are good, so I guess we will end up filling our 4 places (we have 7 tenured and tenure track faculty). Seems a world away from the grad school models I am reading about in the humanities.... I think our applications are so low due to our university's crazy tuition/funding policies in the last couple of years...

Posted by: David at January 27, 2004 12:26 PM

I find all this very interesting. I've always wanted to pursue a couple of masters degrees-political science and geography. Are these phenomenon restricted to the humanities? I'm curious as I had a recent converstaion with a geog prof at my current school as to her opinion about a much vaunted local schools geography program: she said it was just a diploma mill, but if ALL YOU WANT IS TO GET A GOVT JOB or GO RIGHT INTO THE WORKFORCE then its ok. I've always sort of seen grad school as just that-a way to a better job.

Posted by: Ryan at January 30, 2004 03:22 PM

This is what Philosophy departments in Oxford and London do. For the first two years you take a degree called MPhil or BPhil, which is recognised as a research degree in its own right, and combines coursework and a thesis written to a strict deadline. At that point both the student and department can pause for breath and decide whether it is in the student's best interest to continue. In practice anyone who passes and wants to carry on pretty much does so, but those who have had enough can walk away with honour and a valuable degree while they are still young enough to start something else. I don't know why all graduate training isn't like this.

Posted by: Jo at January 31, 2004 03:00 PM

Re Chris #13 and David #22

On hiring prejudices/departmental dishonesties:

While a chorus of voices - each working to one agenda or another -- talk ceaselessly about lifetime professional mobility, the end of the traditional "career path" and other ominous aspects of our current and future economy, nobody really believes in this novelty, or acts on it.

In fact, there is a quite astonishing item on the MLA/ADE web site at the moment. Under "Negotiating Special Situations" on the job-seekers advice page there is a commentary on the problem of older, non-"normal" candidates for vacancies. The writer states baldly that the system simply has no place for people who would come up for tenure at age 55, for example, and concludes that (quoting loosely here) "although age discrimination is, in theory, illegal, hiring committees have to take this factor into account."

Could you just imagine for a moment what would happen if the MLA/ADE web site openly asserted that "although discrimination on the basis of race (or gender) is, in theory, illegal, hiring committees etc etc."

Difficult to secure the documentary evidence, of course, but maybe one day that class action suit will happen.


Posted by: flu in san diego at February 2, 2004 07:08 PM

Actually, my impression is that if someone is productive universities like to give tenure to someone who is say 55 as they don't think they are committing for as long as for someone who is 35... There isn't much market in Associate profs in their late 30s like me though - neither newly minted PhD or at that other extreme sells better. Well I have a job - tenure review in less than 1.5 years. I applied for a few jobs just now and not even an interview at the annual conference... this job took two years to find and moving across the World from Australia and a US temporary visa (dependent on the job)...

We just hired a full prof aged 55 who in his 40s wasn't so productive but in recent years his career really took off. Also I think in fields like economics it isn't a disadvantage to have government or business experience and then come to academia as long as you can show you can make that move well. Some can and some can't.


Posted by: David at February 2, 2004 10:25 PM

I just reviewed what all the PhD grads from our program since I joined this Uni, 1 1/2 years ago, are doing (interdisciplinary econ program). It looks almost as scary as some of the humanities stories I have been hearing on this website. Of course anyone who went back to Europe is doing fine. I know that jobs are much easier to get there (when I applied in the last few years). But in the US the job market is very hard at the moment...

Posted by: David (moom from now on :)) at February 3, 2004 06:21 PM

PS - I just sent that info to some other faculty I met with today to discuss the future of our grad program. Seemed they want to look at the few who have been a success (there were more in the past).

Posted by: moom at February 3, 2004 06:22 PM

Getting your PhD is like joing a club. The more members there are, the more reticence there is about who gets to join. I have known phds who get paid to do what their director says and after three years receive their diploma and go on to other things. I have also known phds who have spent 10+ years with no funding, struggling to complete their thesis for which no living person is as competent as they are to assess. I've read theses that are 500 pages long and others that don't even break 50 pages.

You have to ask yourself, why does one want a phd afterall? One way to improve things is to start employing people who do not have a phd to teach in university. One does not need a phd to teach, nor to conduct or direct research (or to have babies or open up your own business) etc

Posted by: Andrea Bullock at February 6, 2004 05:12 AM

Outside the US (UK and Australia) it is only recently that it has become de rigeur to have a PhD to teach at a university. In the 1960s a large proportion of the faculty hired by even research universities did not have PhDs. In both these countries the second tier colleges (equivalent to Cal State etc.) didn't require PhDs at all till the last 15 years when they were all upgraded to full universities. Both countries pretend that all their universities are as good as each other as far as the quality of degree is concerned though now that pretense is ironically breaking down just as they pushed all the faculty from the former Polys to get PhDs. This actually was a significant source of PhD students in Australia - faculty who didn't have PhDs who had to get one.

Maybe this is just credential inflation or maybe there is a legitimate consideration in natural and social science fields that there is more knowledge and specialization and so a PhD is needed.

Actually the director of my research center at the top university in Australia only had a BA degree...

It is clear that doing a PhD is a way of getting research training. But some people could get that training without formally submitting a thesis in the past. Today people who want to be development engineers, natural resource consultants etc. are increasingly getting PhDs.

One interesting idea about the limits to economic growth (I'm an economist) is that over time more and more time must be invested by each individual in education and less in their productive lifespan and thus this acts as a brake on the growth of the economy...

Let's assume that PhDs are more necessary now in the sciences. But are they necessary in the humanities? Maybe there is a case there by college administrators that the same standard should apply across the board.... but actually what we see if I can believe what I am reading on these websites is a casualization of academic labor in the humanities. College admin are thinking it seems that actually it is fine to teach this material with a masters degree. But most of those teaching with a masters degree are grad students going for PhDs... Baumol's disease also comes in here... sorry this is a flow of consciencness thing... maybe I can devise a more explicit model - it would make a good economics paper, if it hasn't already been written....


Posted by: moom at February 6, 2004 10:09 AM