Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest Post (by popular demand): So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities...

13 comments:

  1. Seriously, a number of people have suggested we put this into our blog. Comments on the original post, and around facebook, have been interesting, with some people wryly agreeing and others taking umbrage at either (or both) the dean's cynicism and the student's naivete. What do you think?

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  2. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703735804575536322093520994.html; English is not in danger at Texas A&M; Aerospace Engineering on the other hand...

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  3. Wahhh. Oh god, I just don't know *what* to think of this at all.

    I have to say that, in Canada, many professors are paid quite well, and the crazy ups and downs of funding that happen in the US, and that predatory tenure cycle that assumes a pretty high attrition rate (especially in the Ivies and the like), do not really cross the border. So if you can get a gig as "a college professor," it's likely to be a good one (barring the Spousal Issue, of course). This might be why we find it harder to discourage our own students: if you can get there, it's a pretty good gig, actually. If I was in the situation 'the dean' describes, I would find it a lot easier to tell my own students to run from the profession.

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  4. The stuff about Harold Bloom is hilarious.

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  5. Before I started my MA, I was always warned that being a TA was slave labour for the University, but it isn't that bad, really. I'll be surprised if I actually end up working all the hours that they are paying me for. Then again, all of these warnings do seem to come from the US - I guess things are much worse there? At least we don't have to worry about the health care issue when we inevitably end up working part-time.

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  6. Here are some sobering stats: In Canada, based on the CACE (Cdn Assoc of Chairs of English) and ACCUTE (Assoc of Cdn College and University Teachers of English) hiring survey 2009-2010, there were 24 tenure-track positions available (compared to 26 in 2008-09). Of these, 2 did not result in a hire, 2 were still in process at the time of the survey, and 1 was cancelled. Of the 19 completed tenure-track hires in Canada, 5 were not advertised since 4 of these were conversions from CLTAs and 1 was a spousal hire. The result is 14 completed tenure-track hires in the country in our discipline. The average number of applications for these positions was 43, with a high of 104 applications. Of those 19 hires, none were hired directly out of the PhD: 1 had been tenured elsewhere, 4 had held tenure-track positions, 5 had held CLTAs, 5 had held postdocs, and 4 had held sessional positions. The sobering statistic is that in the same year, of the 19 institutions reporting, 148 PhD students were admitted and 77 were graduated. This means that 13% of PhD graduates secured tenure-track jobs in 2009-1010 down from 25% in 2008-09.

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  7. Well, I think those statistics are only sobering to people who have been drunk on the idea of actually becomming a full time/tenure track professor right away. I'm pretty much resigned to teaching part time as long as it takes and making about $40k/year after 10 years of schooling with no benefits - at least the majority of our care is covered, unlike in the US where you're completely screwed without benefits.

    Sadly the girl in the video reminded me a bit too much of myself - I'm in it because I love it, and for the flexibility, and the fact that I'm tempermentally not suited to office drudgery, regardless of the fact that my office job that required no educational background at all paid about as well as being a non-tenured professor will. I'm not sure what the hiring stats are for History, but I'm pretty sure they're just as dire as for English (or perhaps even more dire as in my experience English departments tend to be quite large).

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  8. Damn. We have 100 apps at least for most jobs here, and without giving away entirely who I am, I'm near where "The Dean" lives. I know the stats are higher elsewhere in the US, at the more "attractive" places (i.e., the coasts). Oh, and in US dollars, per-course pay for adjuncts is approx $5000-$7000, no benefits. That means PhDs teaching for $20-28K year with no benefits. Canada sounds pretty sa-weet. (Just kidding, of course.)

    And I thought you *made* this video, Heather. :)

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  9. PS: Why is the woman a Dean? Because she's well-dressed? She shares an office with four other profs!

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  10. Well, I was basing my $40k/year on my University, where the rate is $7k per full credit course, and many of the 'part time' professors teach 5-7 courses a year depending on whether they pick up summer courses or not. The other thing is our Universities are a bit more centralized, so you're not stuck teaching 2 courses at a University out in the middle of nowhere. There are two Universities in my city, for instance, and many of the part time professors teach at both.

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  11. I don't mean to be on the doom and gloom side of things, but I tend to think that the video fulfills the "it's funny because it's true" scenario. I also think that this "truth" is a bit of a new thing. I mean, yes, the number of available academic jobs in Canada has been decreasing for years (in an inverse proportion to the number of doctorates). Somehow, however, it feels like the last two years are something really, really different. To use a completely dorky analogy, the lack of jobs this year and last are not equivalent to the apocalypses from Buffy seasons 1-6. They're a Buffy season 7 apocalypse. The big one. The one that changes everything.

    Of course, I have absolutely no statistical proof to support me in this feeling (besides the MLA job stats). I only know my own tiny little field, in which, of the five jobs last year that were a) posted, and b) not actually cancelled due to budget cuts, all except one went to people who already held tenure-track jobs. I'll also add that they were all in the US. There was nary a job in Canada.

    This year it's even worse. There's only one job in my field and housed in an English department in all of the US and Canada, and it's at my current institution. The result is that the level of the applicants is outstanding, particularly for a school with a 3/3 teaching load.

    So. This whole dearth o' jobs may just be a bubble, but as more and more courses are taught online, as more sessionals/adjuncts are hired instead of TT folks, as more for-profit schools rake in students, I tend to think that the lack of hiring brought on by "emergency" budget cuts will actually set a precedent for the future of the academy. I'm guessing that it'll go something along the lines of: why grow (or replace retirements) if we can continue to "function" with the bare minimum? We did it during the economic downturn; why change now?

    Then again, I'm still brand spankin' new to the world of the full-time employed, so I may just feel residual bitterness from my job-hunting experiences (and those of my friends) during this past year.

    P.S. I love this blog! In terms of future posts, I'd love to see something about the US/Canadian job market interactions (in the sense that nowadays it feels as if one must either get a PhD, a postdoc, or a job in the US if one wants to land a job in Canada).

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  12. This video is brilliant because it addresses so many of the problems within the humanities and which the humanities are facing: and it does so in just over four minutes. The statistics Heather drew our attention to should be sobering. It’s actually not OK that many people in our disciplines are making $40K per year. It’s not OK that the majority of sessional positions are held by women. I agree that the situation in Canada is better than it is in the US. I also agree that having a secure or tenure-track position is Canada is pretty darn good. At the same time, we don’t live in a bubble here. Those of us who live in Canada and have secure positions still have good reasons to be worried.

    I also agree with Joanne Wallace’s point in response to the previous post, “When Should We Break Their Hearts?” While the humanities are in crisis, a lot of other professions are too. It’s important that we warn our students about the state of the humanities and the job market, but I would be hard pressed to find an alternate profession to suggest to my students. I also think it’s a bit snooty to suggest to my students that they won’t get a job, when I did—and the warning was given to me too. Actually, it would break my heart to suggest to my students that they turn their backs on the humanities: I’d be contributing to the death of my discipline.

    How could we live in a world where people aren’t engaged in reading and critiquing history, literature, and culture? We need to encourage our students to go into this profession and to change and shape it; to write dissertations on “the death of literature” rather than “death in it”; to communicate more broadly than just in obscure academic journals. Even the reference to Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society in this video is fitting. Despite the romanticization, Mr. Keating was, after all, trying to challenge conservative institutional politics and change the discipline within which he was working.

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  13. Heather,

    Your statistics from the CACE/ACCUTE hiring survey sound dire enough as it is, but they are actually worse than that. You haven't factored in the origin of the PhD--i.e., of the 13% of PhD graduates that year, how many of those actually graduated from a Canadian university?

    We don't know. The reason we don't know is because CACE has compromised the way it collects data. The June 2010 ACCUTE newsletter reports quite triumphantly that "Of 19 completed tenure-track searches, 89.5% hired Canadians (as opposed to 67% last year)". However, this only tells us citizenship, not whether those particular Canadians did their PhDs in a Canadian university.

    The last year for which we have reliable CACE data on both citizenship and PhD granting institution is in the June 2009 newsletter for the 2008-09 hiring season, although that data was presented in a way that skews the narrative unless the reader did the math herself. The June 2009 newsletter reports that "Of the 26 completed searches, 17 (65%) hired Canadians, 8 (31%) hired Americans, while 1 (4%) hired someone from another country. Of the 17 Canadians hired, 4 had degrees from Ameri-can or European universities." This means that in reality there were 9 foreign hires plus 4 Canadian hires with foreign PhDs for a total of 13 foreign PhDs out of 26, i.e., 50% of tenure-track jobs went to people who did not obtain their PhD in a Canadian university. This corresponds to the last detailed report produced by CACE in the September 2008 newsletter for the 2007-2008 year. In 2007-08, "The Origin of Highest Degree of tenuretrack hires was 46% Canadian and 54% non‐Canadian (compare to 50: 50 for 2004‐05 and 58:42 for 2005‐06.)"

    In sum, for the past decade (i.e., since HRDC eliminated the two-tier hiring system in 1999), there has a been a rising trend to hire more and more PhDs from US and UK universities. Several of these are Canadian citizens, since that is the criteria the government retained, but we should not be deluded into believing that they are the products of the Canadian higher educational system. They have been trained in the US and UK system--because, really, to our colonial Canadian mindset, isn't anything American or Brit inherently better than?

    So, of the 13% of new PhDs who got jobs, you should assume that 50% of those PhDs were actually obtained in the US or the UK. Of new PhDs from Canadian universities, you should assume that in reality only 6.5% obtained tenure-track jobs right out of university.

    When are the associate and full professors of your generation--who were lucky enough to get hired under the old two-tier system--going to fight to restore that system? At the current rate of hiring 50% foreign PhDs per year, soon there will be no more Canadian-trained PhDs teaching in Canadian universities!

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