Should Anybody’s Daughter Aspire to Academe?

26 01 2009

I have a daughter drooling over doctoral programs in English, so this definitely caught my eye:

The Chronicle of Higher Education
January 30, 2009
Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go

It’s hard to tell young people that universities view their idealism and energy as an exploitable resource . . .

Nearly every humanities field was already desperately competitive, with hundreds of applications from qualified candidates for every tenure-track position. Now the situation is becoming even worse. For example, the American Historical Association’s job listings are down 15 percent and the Modern Language’s listings are down 21 percent, the steepest annual decline ever recorded. Apparently, many already-launched candidate searches are being called off; some responsible observers expect that hiring may be down 40 percent this year.

What is 40 percent worse than desperate?

. . .As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:

* You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.

* You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.

* You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.

* You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.

Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them.

Bad news all around. OTOH, this same English professor (who himself writes under a pseudonym) suggests in a less brass-tacks column, that Favorite Daughter’s name rather than her field, might determine her academic destiny:

I haven’t done a study, but I’ve noticed that “a disproportionate number of academics have long, peculiar, and nerdy names.

. . . I have to wonder whether I was helped in elementary school because I didn’t have a name with working-class, ethnic associations that might have destined me for manual labor or the police department in the eyes of my middle-class teachers. My name was distinctive, and so they often noticed me in positive ways that only reinforced the negative attention I sometimes received from my peers.

. . .If your name is Hussein, are you likely to get a job teaching English? Have you ever met a Seungyoung who teaches phys ed? What if your name is MistyMarie? Could you ever work as a biochemist? And what if you’ve invested decades in a name that belongs to a marriage that no longer exists?

We may not choose our names, but I am convinced that to some extent, our names shape us. . . .

Or with this Chinese New Year this week, celebrating that culture’s zodiac transition from the Year of the Rat to the Year of the Ox — President Obama is an ox by birth, who knew? — maybe I’ll just refer Favorite Daughter to this satiric column of Benton’s, instead:

The Academic Zodiac

I humbly propose the abolition of the career-services office for advanced-degree-seekers and instead plead for the restoration of the long-lost science of astrology — recognized as legitimate by most every newspaper — to its rightful place in academe.

Instead of asking, “What was your undergraduate major?” the academic astrologer will ask the far more important question, “What is your sign?” Once that is known, the appropriate advanced-degree program can be selected with an accuracy that is quite competitive in relation to the results of the Myers-Briggs personality-trait assessment, the Strong Interests Inventory, or the latest labor-shortage prediction.

See for yourself whether your sun sign captures your academic identity and prophesies the fields in which you surely will meet with the greatest success . . .

😉

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5 responses

26 01 2009
Meg

Interesting, though it seems like the English Phds have been complaining of the job market for AGES.

Boy is talking about grad school, but not in Humanities. So, between time and field of interest, he should be fine. OTH, being a white male is definitely a mark against him.

26 01 2009
JJ

Maybe his sign of the zodiac or his good, solid-sounding name will help too? 😉

26 01 2009
JJ

You’re right that an English Ph.D. has never been a ticket to fame and fortune, maybe not even a meal ticket. Although I heard on the local university NPR station this morning, that MBAs are in a world of hurt right now, wondering where those fancy high-finance jobs went —

28 01 2009
Crimson Wife

My godfather has a PhD. in English but was unable to find a tenure track position in that field so he went back & got an M.B.A. (he was a classmate of my dad’s). He wound up becoming a business professor specializing in corporate communication. Not exactly what he originally imagined but it did allow him a successful career in academia.

3 02 2009
Old Question Rears Its Head AGAIN: What’s in a Name? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Doctor Seuss wasn’t EITHER kind of academic doctor but no one disses him for using the title much less for fraud, probably because he clearly mastered power of story for kids, you know, like Jill Biden and as Favorite Daughter aspires to do?? […]

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