From: "Gregory J. Murphy" <rejek@phoenix.Princeton.EDU> (61)
Subject: Young talent, jobs in academe, etc.
As a young scholar who has left academe for a job in humanities
computing, I thought I would throw in my 2-cents worth to two overlapping
discussions started by Willard and Maris Roze. I anguished about these
and related issues for many months before I made my decision, and I was
very bitter at the time, so please discount any remaining traces of animus.
First, to the much-debated notion that universities should show some
moral rectitude by acting as "gate-keepers." I don't think this is a
realistic expectation, given that, as was already pointed out, you can
never know from the onset who will shine and make great teachers five
years down the pike. _However_, since _most_ of the Ph.D. candidates in a
program will not get jobs in the profession, it makes sense to me that
graduate school directors loosen their definition somewhat as to the
purpose of a Ph.D. This means, when a promising candidate decides
she wants to "leave" the ivory tower for banking or law school, her
decision should be accepted.
Even in a healthy economy, when universities would presumably maintain
a fixed number of tenure-track positions, most students would end up
either leaving the field or falling back on administrative or part-time
work. My graduate program took in about 5 students a year, most of which
finished in around five years. There were 6 faculty. If those numbers
come close to the national average (and I suspect they don't - most
schools seem to have bigger student bodies), and if most faculty put in
around 30 years or so of active duty, then we are producing thirty times
as many Ph.D.'s as we need.
These were some of the reasons that led me to leave teaching. I was
lucky, too, as I had already been made a tenure-track offer. But an
assistant professorship of course isn't the end of the game. Less
than half of the junior faculty at the school ever received tenure.
Which meant there was a high probability that after seven years, just
after I would have come to feel real settled in my new home and my kids
would have made friends and all that, I would be back at the MLA crap
shoot, rolling my dice, praying to God that I get at least one interview
within a thousand miles of home. Chances are I would end up an academic
Golliard, wandering from two-year contract to two-year contract.
OK, I know, these are uncertain times, everyone gets laid off. But my
college friend who got dropped from an investment banking firm left with a
"severance pay" that nearly doubled what it would have taken me an entire
year to make as an assistant professor. While he was raking it in on
Wall Street, I comforted myself with the thought that at least I had free
time in which to enjoy life, whereas he was chained to his desk 60 hours
a week. But how to teach 4 - 6 courses a year, write two books and reams
of articles, attend endless committee meetings and all the rest in
anything less than 60 hours a week?
These were some of the thoughts that went through my head when I mulled
over my first job offer.
What to do? I don't think Ph.D.'s are worthless degrees, far from it. I
never learned so much in four years, and I came out of the program with
personal skills that are highly marketable, utmost of which is: I am
independently motivated. I only wish that schools would broaden their
concept of post-graduate education somewhat. Some schools have. My alma
mater, Princeton, holds a workshop once a year for humanities grad
students to help them broaden their job horizons. Sessions include
pep-talks from alums who have gone on to do wonderful things in the
commercial world, discussions of how to market all those skills you never
knew you had, lessons on how to write a non-academic resume, and
break-out groups that feature speakers in related fields like publishing
and law. Oh yes, and also, a session that addresses that most cherished of
academic myths, "is everyone in the outside world stupid?"
- Gregory Murphy