(4) How the employed can help

For employed academics, departments, and institutions:

What you can do to help


It would be excellent if employed academics could try to implement some of the changes we think would be constructive. Below is a list of things that you could do: there is no suggestion that you should to tackle them all, because action on even one of these points will make a difference to the problem. Please attempt only what you think is achievable in your institution. Whenever you succeed, please send an e-mail to E.Dickey@reading.ac.uk so that we can keep track of improvements (and, if you give permission, publicize them)

1) Allow all your PhD graduates to retain their affiliation with your department (including keeping their e-mail accounts and full library privileges) for at least three years after graduation, ideally longer. This practice benefits alumni immensely, and it also benefits institutions. It gives new PhDs an edge in the job market by making it easier for them to publish their theses (something that absolutely requires full library access) and is thereby beneficial to institutions; it also helps institutions keep in touch with their alumni, which is handy for many purposes. Although such a policy is most efficiently implemented via the central administration, it can also be implemented by departments, who can make their PhD alumni visiting scholars (or whatever the designation at your institution is) and pay any associated fees on their behalf. In the long run the costs can be recovered through the enhanced fund-raising potential provided by a group of alumni who have retained a connection to their institution and are easily contactable via their old e-mail addresses. (See question 1j in full report.)

2) Keep in touch with all the alumni of your PhD programme, especially those who have gone into non-academic careers. Invite those non-academic alumni in particular to come periodically and talk to current graduate students about career possibilities: this will not only give your current students good ideas but also show them that you as a department do not look down on alumni who leave the profession. Moreover, the alumni with non-academic careers may offer fund-raising possibilities if treated well. It might also be a good idea to have occasional reunions for graduate students from your department, and to invite current PhD students to those reunions. (One easy way to keep in touch with alumni is to allow alumni to keep their e-mail addresses for life; if you cannot afford to give them proper e-mail accounts in perpetuity this can be done as a forwarding service, which is relatively inexpensive. But note that the forwarding service suggested here is not the same thing as the forwarding service currently offered by some UK institutions, in which the new e-mail address is different from the one the alumnus had as a student: those are ineffective in maintaining communication with graduates, because comparatively few students bother to use them.) (See question 1c in full report.)

3) Try to ensure that everyone who teaches for your department, whatever their position, is included in lists of faculty on bulletin boards and web sites; omitting part-time and temporary staff causes inconvenience for those trying to contact such people as well as pointlessly insulting them. If possible, try to make such lists maximally informative without being offensive to those with humble positions, for example by listing staff in alphabetical rather than hierarchical order while including job titles and posts such as head of department to make it clear who does what. (See question 1g in full report.)

4) Ensure that your undergraduate and master’s students know how bad the academic job market is before they apply to do a PhD, for example by referring them to the ‘for prospective PhD students’ page of the Hortensii site. (See question 1d in full report.)

5) Ensure that your PhD applicants know how bad the job market is before they accept an offer of a place. (See question 1d in full report.)

6) Do not penalize colleagues who have fewer PhD students as a result of being more successful in warning prospective students; doing so gives faculty a conflict of interest. (See question 1d in full report.)

7) If your PhD admissions or funding policy currently gives priority to applicants intending to follow an academic career, consider changing that policy so that applicants with other career goals are not disadvantaged; this will lower the number of PhDs seeking academic jobs and broaden the horizons of those PhD students who have not considered non-academic careers. (See question 1e in full report.)

8) Create opportunities for your PhD students to present their research to non-academic audiences, and encourage them to take advantage of such opportunities; this is an efficient way to help them become more employable in the non-academic world without detracting significantly from their academic work. (See question 1e in full report.)

9) Create an honourable exit from your PhD programme for students who realize partway through that they will not have an academic career and would like to cut their losses. (The most common type of honourable exit is a master’s degree, usually one with a different name from the master’s degree done by students who come with the intention of doing a master’s degree.) Try not to stigmatize the use of this option, so that students who are proud yet academically unsuccessful will not be ashamed to take it. (See question 1kk in full report.)

10) When graduate students or former graduate students discuss thoughts about leaving the profession, going into school teaching, etc., be encouraging or at least non-judgemental. We all want to save for the profession the students whom we think are really good, but often we do those students no favours by expressing this wish. (See question 1c in full report.)

11) Consider instituting a (branch of your) careers service aimed specifically at PhDs and PhD alumni, perhaps on the model of the University of Chicago (see e.g. https://careeradvancement.uchicago.edu/jobs-internships-research/graduate-student-externships) or perhaps via http://versatilephd.com/. This should only be done if the result will be of high enough quality to be genuinely useful to your students; otherwise it is a waste of effort. (See question 1hh in full report.)

12) If you are a UK Classicist involved in hiring or supervision of non-permanent faculty, try to follow the recommendations of the CUCD (https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/classics/cucd/tempstaff.html). Even if you are in another subject and/or country, these recommendations offer a good set of guidelines for the humane treatment of temporary faculty. (See question 1v in full report.)

13) When you are involved in hirings of any sort, try to ensure that the application process is as simple as possible (ideally requiring just a CV and cover letter at the first stage) and that rejected applicants have a good way of finding out promptly that they have been rejected (by telling them promptly, by directing them to a wiki site like http://classics.wikidot.com/, or at least by giving them a specific date after which they should assume they are rejected if they haven’t heard from you). (See question 1v in full report.)

14) Admit to your students that no amount of academic merit will guarantee success in obtaining a permanent academic job, since luck also plays a role — though of course they need to develop merit as it is a necessary pre-condition for success and luck is unlikely to help without it. (See question 1b in full report.

15) Make sure your PhD students know that even a permanent academic job is rarely the life of high-paid leisure that some media accounts imply. (See question 1kk in full report.)

16) When organizing conferences, keep in mind the needs of unemployed scholars by offering a subsidy for unwaged participants and perhaps also by blind-refereeing abstracts and, if institutional affiliations are put on nametags, encouraging independent scholars to use the name of the institution that granted them the PhD. (Another option is to omit affiliations from nametags and instead give attendees a list of e-mail addresses of all participants, so that the lack of affiliations on the nametags does not prevent people from contacting each other as needed afterwards.) (See questions 1m/n/o/p in full report.)

17) If you find yourself serving on a departmental review committee and that department is relying too heavily on non-permanent faculty and/or treating such faculty badly, recommend that the situation be improved (e.g. by making temporary positions permanent).

One thought on “(4) How the employed can help

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Hortensii | Hortensii

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