February 02, 2004

Bart Taunts the PhDs

[Marge, Bart, and Lisa go to their local "Bookaccino" superbookstore.]

LISA: I'm going up to the fourth floor, where the books are!
BART: I'm going to taunt the Ph.Ds!

[Bart approaches the three workers at the espresso bar, all of whom wear glasses and bored expressions.]

BART: Hey guys! I heard a new assistant professorship just opened up!

[Ph.D'd baristas gasp and lean forward eagerly.]

BART: Yes, that's right. At the University of ... PSYCH!

-- from The Simpsons episode that aired Sunday, 25 January 2004; quoted by Amanda at Household Opera

I saw the episode. My reaction was much the same as that of Chris (recorded in the comments at Household Opera): "As we watched it, my friend and I laughed, and then ... we didn't ..."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at February 2, 2004 08:10 PM
Comments
1

In Amanda's words:

"SOMEBODY should edit a collection of required reading for graduate students and potential graduate students, and cite that scene in the introduction."

Take a lesson from Jesse Jackson, I.A. YOU ARE SOMEBODY!

Seriously. You'd need to find a publisher who wasn't tied too closely to the university biz. Perhaps one the specializes in skateboarding, hemp, and leather goods. (No, not really). Or you could even self-publish and sell it on the net.

Posted by: zizka / emerson at February 2, 2004 08:22 PM
2

LOL! I saw that episode, too, and wondered if anyone else saw it and caught that line.

Posted by: Clancy at February 2, 2004 08:26 PM
3

I caught the line too. . . I laughed, I cried, . . . well, you know the rest.

Posted by: KC at February 2, 2004 10:20 PM
4

I loved that line. No one else around me seemed to appreciate it. I guess you just have to be there!

Posted by: DM at February 3, 2004 12:26 AM
5

I wonder if any of the Mandarins watch something like this and feel a wave of shame? Or, is "The Simpson's" too low-brow for the Mandarin's? Probably the latter.

*sigh*

Posted by: Chris at February 3, 2004 09:55 AM
6

I have more on my site, since this is one of my favorite subjects.

Posted by: John Bruce at February 3, 2004 11:54 AM
7

I'm glad you saw that episode, IA. I thought of you when I saw it. I wonder if any of the screenwriters for that episode are Ph.Ds who've left academia? (Oh no. Now I have a new Fantasy Career...)

Chris, I know tenured profs who watch "South Park," so I don't think "The Simpsons" is too lowbrow for the mandarins -- in fact, I think it's one of those shows that are clever enough for academics to admit to watching. But somehow I doubt that scene made anyone in high places think "Gee, my department produces too many Ph.Ds and half of them won't get jobs."

Posted by: Amanda at February 3, 2004 12:33 PM
8

It makes me cry just thinking about it.

Posted by: Duckling at February 3, 2004 02:43 PM
9

This episode sums up the situation in most humanities disciplines.

As long as people practically clamor to teach for low wages and few benefits, it will not change. The law of supply and demand applies to academic jobs just like it does everywhere else.

If you are reading this message and are considering a doctoral program in the humanities, I have three words of advice for you: don't do it!

Three excellent reasons:

1. In most humanities disciplines, you will be competing against 100-250 applicants for every entry-level position. That is not a job market, it is a lottery.

2. If you are fortunate enough to win the lottery and get a job, you will most likely have no control over where in the United States you live.

3. If you are fortunate enough to win the lottery and love the area where you live, you will likely earn no more than $45,000 a year in today's dollars during your first seven years on the job--after you spent between six and nine years earning your degree subsisting on poverty wages.

In my experience, most applicants to humanities graduate programs are aware of reason 1, but they do not consider reasons 2 and 3. Unfortunately, reasons 2 and 3 are much more important as you reach your thirties.

Don't get on a train that is headed nowhere!

Posted by: Red Baron at February 3, 2004 05:42 PM
10

I tend to agree with Red Baron. After getting my Masters in Sociology, I was discouraged from pursuing a PhD partly because of the sheer volume of graduate students in Sociology (and its associated fields), partly because I'm a white male, and had heard the constant drone of AA, partly because of a half-hearted committee chair, but mostly because of the moral relativism too many of the professors/textbooks were spewing.
If I had to do it all over again, I'd get a B.S. in genetics/biology, pursue the writing courses also, and get a background in stats (best thing I took from Sociology).

Posted by: Geoff Matthews at February 3, 2004 06:43 PM
11

My last posting covered what prospective humanities doctoral students should not do.

Here are some suggestions for what they SHOULD do:

1. Get an undergraduate degree, and get a job.

2. Get an undergraduate degree, get a master's degree, and get a job.

3. Get an undergraduate degree, get a professional degree, and get a job.

Don't get on a train that is headed nowhere!

Posted by: Red Baron at February 3, 2004 06:58 PM
12

Wow this hits close to home. I have a doctorate in archaeology, no desire to sell my soul for a stinking assistant / associate professorship, adjunct teach, or move to God-Knows-Where just so I can jump through a tenure committee's hoops.

So, I started a nonprofit to do what I love, got some funding, and now I head a little tech company. Great experience even if it all fizzles.

The main thing Iím learning and showing my colleagues is that there are options, it just means constant re-tooling, entrepreneurialism, and searching outside the traditional academic route. Basically it means joining the rest of the economy instead of desperately clinging to the cozy (?) and shrinking world of academia.

It is not easy, nor do I mean to express hatred of academia. There needs to be a place for research and teaching for the sake of research and teaching! But academia is in trouble because so much of it demonstrates so little value. The worth of your work may seem self-evident to you and a small circle of your colleagues. But that isnít good enough for the competitive marketplace. The hardest part is communicating why anyone else should care, and demonstrating the value of your work. People in the humanities have a really hard time demonstrating this value, and pursing the disciplines they love outside of academia. All of this is ironic, given that the humanities theoretically should tie neatly with important engines of economic growth, the entertainment and other culture industries. So why is it that a PhD in materials science can work for Intel and an Anthropologist have a difficult time shifting to work in tourism or marketing?


Posted by: Narmer at February 3, 2004 07:00 PM
13

"If I had to do it all over again, I'd get a B.S. in genetics/biology, pursue the writing courses also, and get a background in stats (best thing I took from Sociology)."

Posted by: Geoff Matthews at February 3, 2004 06:43 PM

Geoff, see if you can get a stats degree. It'd probably be worth doing.

Posted by: Barry at February 3, 2004 11:10 PM
14

Academia features truly vicious competition for positions which shelter the holders from having to compete in the real world. Only the naive and starstruck (of which there so many) fail to realise this.

Even the left-wing nature of faculty politics is, under the mask, just one more tribal and submission ritual.

What amuses me the most is when tenured academics so often look down on the ethics of businesspeople, after a lifetime of themselves stabbing their own colleagues and graduate students in the back. I'd trust a businessperson a long way ahead of an academic with a perquisite at risk.

Posted by: ZD at February 4, 2004 02:39 AM
15

I too would trust a business person far more than an academic. The reason is simple. A business person is accountable to customers, while a tenured professor is accountable to no one (unless he or she commits a criminal offense).

Don't get on a train headed nowhere!

Posted by: Red Baron at February 4, 2004 06:03 AM
16

Re post 14 -

ZD -

I feel confident that many corporations also
"feature truly vicious competition for positions which shelter the holders from having to compete in the real world". In fact, I've seen much of that first-hand.

Are office politics in a private company really so different than squabbling at a school? I think these problems exist in any business, educational or none. I tend not to trust many business people or academics as a result.

Posted by: better left nameless at February 6, 2004 02:38 PM