Responses to E. Dickey’s survey on problems of PhDs without jobs, April 2014
Report compiled by E. Dickey and friends, May 2014
Note: the original questions are in black, followed by an analysis of the numerical responses in blue, followed by a small selection of the comments made on that point, also in blue, followed by conclusions in red.
Response basis: 152 questionnaire replies that were at least partly usable (including 9 that arrived late and are omitted from a few of the numerical calculations below), plus numerous separate comments. An Excel spreadsheet with the raw numerical data is available on request from E.Dickey@reading.ac.uk.
1. Below is a list of suggestions people have produced for helping PhDs who do not have secure (or any) academic jobs. Suppose there were an organization dedicated to helping people with PhDs and no permanent academic job: which of the following should it try to do? Please rate the suggestions on a scale from 0 (= this is definitely not the right solution) through 1 (= this would be mildly useful) to 2 (= this would be excellent)
Responses indicated: ‘low’ = average rating 0-1; ‘medium’ = average rating 1-1.5; ‘high’ = average rating 1.6-2
The average ratings for Classicists and for the UK (i.e. people currently located in the UK) are the same as the overall average unless otherwise noted. ‘Superstars’ refers to a group of prominent Classicists whose views I already respected before getting their responses and whose opinions I therefore consider to be of particular value, at least in terms of what could be achieved and what might result from doing things.
For the summary I converted the original ratings to ones on a 0-100 scale by multiplying the original score by 50; this is because the original ratings have a lot of fiddly decimal points, particularly as most things got a rating between 1 and 2. For this purpose I used an average taken to two decimal points, whereas the ratings below go only to one decimal point, so sometimes the figures in the summary are not exactly 50 times the ones here.
a. Lobby universities, funding bodies, and governments for a mandatory and drastic reduction in the number of PhD students accepted (in rating this, consider how you would have felt if denied the opportunity to do a PhD, as well as the fact that this solution would result in the closure of many graduate programmes, with unpleasant knock-on effects on the conditions of academic life in the departments that lost their programmes; ultimately it will reduce the number of real academic jobs still further)
Average rating 0.4 (0.3 for Classicists, 0.2 for UK, and low for all groups)
Several respondents reported that a few US institutions are already reducing their PhD intake, but this practice seems to be restricted to a few high-end US institutions; no sign of it was reported in the UK or elsewhere. Some respondents argue that if the good universities cut back, the rejected applicants will simply be accepted by weaker programmes. Weaker departments cannot afford to cut and in some cases are expanding: they face a struggle for survival, in which graduate student recruitment is crucial. Before any such programmes are asked to make cuts, a culture change would be needed so that such a move would not damage them. Some parts of that culture change are beyond our control, but we could work on not judging senior academics by their graduate student supervision tallies or their graduate recruitment draw.
There were many negative comments. Note particularly the nuances in 10: “On doctoral students (I speak having been Director of Graduate Studies over some years for both my department and my school): I disagree profoundly with suggestion 1a for statutory cutting of the number of doctoral students or of the funding of doctoral students (after all, as countless other of the suggestions made to you make clear, a doctorate is a pathway to many other things). But I do think that on the whole, our Universities admit too many people to do doctoral degrees who may well be able to write a thesis but who are highly unlikely to do anything thereafter (in Classics in Britain a particular problem is those who don’t have adequate languages to be professional Classicists afterwards, though they may know enough to write a thesis). It tends to be the weaker doctoral students who are most surprised at the lack of jobs at the end of the process. I can see, and have felt, the temptation for supervisors to say yes to admitting someone not that well-qualified because the student is interesting and passionate and they themselves want to supervise a(nother) student because it is part of being an academic (or less charitably put, in order to benefit their own careers and self-esteem). Personally I now advise students, if they ask me, against doing a PhD unless they get scholarship funding; I tell them at the start that none of them has a right to expect a job and that they should be doing it for fun and self-improvement. Some departments (in other subjects, in US/Netherlands Classics [Eleanor notes: a Classicist from the Netherlands informs me that they do admit self-funded students there. No country that only admits funded students for the PhD in Classics has at present been identified by me.]) only admit funded doctoral students. Is that the right place to strike the balance? Should departments consider adopting this as their normal policy? I disagree with the suggestion that a cut in the number of weaker doctoral students will necessarily weaken departments — though it may do. I found out as Director of Graduate Studies that my university educates home doctoral students ‘at a loss’ (if you’ll forgive the vulgar monetization), while breaking even on the Master’s and making a profit on undergraduates. The weaker doctoral students who pay their own fees out of savings or loans are themselves potentially losing not only the fees, but years of potential earnings and their self-respect; the weaker students tend to occupy more of their supervisors’ time. If we had fewer, better doctoral students, it would let academics give more scope to focus on other types of teaching and applications for research funding.
And 27, from Canada, adds “The provincial gov’t here has cut funding which has cut student spots and programs because they don’t value the humanities and any program that doesn’t clearly bring the province big revenue. For us to lobby them to do so would seem like agreeing with the government’s short-sighted plans.”
146 says: “I would have been very sad not to be allowed to do a doctorate. Admittedly I say that having then been lucky in getting a job, but at the time I really wanted to do the doctorate for its own sake. My supervisor gave me a firm lecture on how there are no jobs, specially in my area, and I said the thing was that I just wanted to do graduate work in the subject, even if I couldn’t then take it further. I felt that it was what I really love and I only get to live once. I’d feel that way again. I don’t want to deny other people that chance. It’s one thing to give them accurate information, another thing to deny them the chance of doing a PhD because we judge it not in their best interest–who really has the right to judge their best interest?”
30, a senior US Classicst, says “I don’t see any such mandatory reduction happening. No one has the authority to do it. Moral suasion seems much preferable: professional associations such as the APA and the Classical Association (not sure whether the latter would consider this within their remit) could issue urgent pleas to doctorate-granting departments, asking them to consider admitting fewer students. But in many cases the students do necessary teaching for the departments and the departments would be loath to give up often hard-won sources of funding. ”
149, someone who did a PhD after a career as a lawyer, says: “What surprises me most about the PhD industry is how easy it is to get a place to do one. Getting an undergraduate place is very difficult, and getting any sort of paid position is even harder; in both cases the universities invest a huge amount of time and resources in scrutinizing applications, short-listing and interviewing. To get a place to do an MA and then a PhD I don’t think you have to submit to any kind of assessment at all except to produce evidence of having a 2.1 and an MA respectively. This is highly anomalous. Presumably the universities or individual departments calculate that PhDs are profitable in terms of the fee to supervision time ratio, and increase the size and therefore status of the department and are a valuable resource as teaching assistants. If we want fewer, better and more motivated PhD students the most economical way of achieving that is to make PhD places harder to get by interviewing to determine ability and motivation, and failing the majority of applicants. [Eleanor says: a Dutch Classicist informs me that in the Netherlands the majority of applicants do currently fail.] A further and bolder step would be to grade PhDs. Again, I find it anomalous that this doesn’t currently happen when undergraduate and master’s degrees are graded. At the moment it is highly predictable that getting a PhD place will entail getting a PhD (or at least it will seem that way to the candidate when he applies for the post; I am guessing that most failures result from less of motivation during the period of the PhD rather than lack of ability). It would be an additional discouragement to the applicant if he or she could be confident of getting a PhD but had to entertain the possibility that it might be a bad PhD.” [Eleanor’s note: in some places they do grade PhDs. It doesn’t seem to help.]
Conclusion: as it stands, the solution is not a good idea. The PhD is worthwhile even if you do not get an academic job, and we have no right to prevent well-qualified applicants from attempting one. Such a move would also be very damaging for the profession. Nevertheless, it could be that certain programmes are accepting applicants so poor that they have no chance at an academic career. Is this necessary? If not, could it be changed?
b. Publicize the fact that, since there are permanent academic jobs for only 20% of Humanities PhDs and most jobs advertised are fairly restricted as to subject (making it impossible simply to select the best 20%), success in the academic job market is now largely due to luck. Persuade high-profile senior academics to admit that they owe their positions to luck as well as merit, to end the stigmatization of those without jobs as deserving of their fate.
Average rating 1.2 (1.1 for UK; low or medium for all groups)
Comments of 34 were typical: “I would give the first 16 words a 2; and it is true that luck plays a role — but it doesn’t help anyone to suggest that *anyone* with a PhD would make a suitable University academic, and that the market is not highly competitive as well.”
But 27 says: “It seems like a lot of op-ed articles to this effect have been published recently. I would suggest that something more academic like an international colloquium on the topic take place, and a journal issue or book be published on the topic to make it more credible.”
146 says: “Some of the senior academics I most respect have already done this–not e.g. on national television, where I suspect the point would just reach a lot of people with no understanding of what it’s about, but with the people they were mentoring. [My supervisor] is the shining example of course, but I’ve come across other people making the same point. I’m not very senior but I also tell people I was really lucky–especially when they show signs of thinking they just have to copy the choices I made in the past and they’ll be fine. A downside to this approach is that those of us with jobs feel insecure and undeserving all the time, and probably the people with the best jobs feel the most so; such people might feel shamed into saying publicly that they owe their success to luck as well as merit–something they may well feel everybody knows anyway–, but they might also then not be able to cope at all.”
113 says: “I would love less stigmatization! But stigmatization is a hard thing to break from the top down.” [Others also made this point, but can we break it from the bottom up? Is this just a way of absolving ourselves of responsibility?]
Eleanor notes: some individuals who initially reacted like 34 became more positive after longer discussion on this point. Of course one cannot succeed without merit, based only on luck; no-one has seriously suggested that about modern US/UK academia. But luck is necessary to foster merit in the first place. For example, there is some luck involved in getting graduate funding, as many funded places are restricted to certain categories of applicant: it is not always and only the very best who are funded. Now if A and B are both equally good when they start the PhD, but A is fully funded and B has to work 20 hours a week doing something else to make ends meet, after 4 years the chances are that A will have done far more than B. That added merit is real (as demonstrated by the fact that some fully funded students do not do a good job: success also requires hard work and talent) but at the same time it was only possible because of luck four years earlier.
The biggest luck, in my view, is in getting one’s first permanent job. There are now so many good candidates applying that it is very difficult to choose between them on pure merit, and hiring decisions are often based on the subjects needed by individual departments, which are impossible to predict years in advance when a student chooses a thesis topic. I got my first job not just because I was a good candidate, but also because a job came up for which I was a good fit, and no-one better than I applied for it. Is there anyone out there who cannot say the same? If not, surely we can afford to acknowledge how lucky we were, and to admit that if we had not been so lucky, we would not now be not only where we are, but also who we are. It does not detract from the merit of good or even great scholars to admit that even though they attained success by having a good minds and working really hard, that success also required some luck; such an admission is only honest. And by being honest that way, successful scholars can remove the horrible, crushing stigma of deserved failure that afflicts people many of whom are what we would be if we had not had that luck. Not all, to be sure; no-one would deny that there is the occasional graduate who fails to take advantage of his or her opportunities or whose knowledge is not sufficient. The existence of such people does not, however, justify allowing those who have not deserved unemployment to suffer a stigma of deserved failure.
Nevertheless care will be needed in making this point, as it could be used against individuals, subjects, and academia as a whole. It would be particularly unfortunate if attempts to make this point were misinterpreted by successful scholars as personal attacks, and therefore action in this direction would need to be led from the top, by people so successful that there is no-one above them who might feel attacked.
Conclusion: although there is resistance to this solution, I am convinced it is vital and am not prepared to abandon it. It needs to be better expressed, though (perhaps the key is that both luck and merit are necessary but not sufficient conditions for academic success?), and its implementation requires great care.
c. Try to change the widespread view that people who leave academia after the PhD are ‘failures’, so that their careers are perceived as a different kind of success story (ideally, bringing credit to their supervisors and their institutions equivalent to that carried by PhDs who become successful academics — only thus will supervisors and institutions not have a vested interest in stigmatizing those who leave academia)
Average rating 1.6 (1.7 for Classicists, 1.8 for UK; high or medium for all groups; superstars average 2 and those with permanent jobs 1.8; lowest rating is 1.3 from unemployed academics)
Numerous respondents commented that this is by far the most important thing that could be done.
27 says: “I for one would like to see blogs like http://www.hookandeye.ca/ linked to on department websites, if not discussed in a mandatory course such as the one I mentioned above. If you train grad students from the start to not feel like they’re the only one considering leaving academia, eventually/hopefully there would no stigma attached to it.”
30 says: “This and e below are crucial. To lose at a game where the chances are so far from being even is not the sign of failure. If only one in five of a group already selected for their aptitude and hard work can make the grade, that means no breast-beating is called for by those who are not among the successful twenty percent. ”
Eleanor notes: Some respondents said that US graduate programmes are judged by their (academic) placement rates (though others have alleged that such placement rates are kept secret, precisely to prevent such judgments). Any use of solely academic placement rates in evaluating programmes would have to change if this solution were to work fully, since otherwise the institutions will have a strong incentive to stigmatize those who pull down their ratings. To complicate matters, most people starting PhDs want an academic career (see below on 1 e), so there will be a continuing demand for academic placement rates on the part of potential applicants.
One respondent evoked a memory of accidentally attending an alumni event and feeling desperately out of place for being an academic rather than a rich person: “I don’t want to draw a straightforward equation between leaving academia and making tons of money, but we have such funding problems that we should really really be keeping in touch with our alumni who did graduate work and then went into other things. If we could have a reunion from time to time for people who e.g. did a doctorate in [subject X] at [University X], and focus especially on the people who haven’t gone on in the field (after all those who have will see each other at conferences, places where they’re being interviewed for the same job, and suchlike), and really welcome those people back and take an interest in what they’re doing these days, and in their opinions on the time they had with us and on changes we’re planning for future doctoral students–if we could do that some of them might give us money, and we’d have a genuine reason for treating them well (including the ones who don’t have money to give us or have other priorities for their money, because of the effect they might have on people who might give us money), and current students would get to see that we really do care about our alumni. I know it’s crude to bring in money, but I think this could really be part of a solution.”
Conclusion: Clearly we have to do this, and the suggestion presented at the end might be a good way to start.
d. Try to ensure that universities make clear to students that PhDs usually do not lead to academic jobs BEFORE students commit themselves to doing a PhD (in rating this, consider that it will lead to a reduction in the number of graduate students and a consequent closure of programmes and reduction of academic jobs)
Average rating 1.3 (1.2 for Classicists, 1.3 for UK; medium for most goups, but 1.6 from current students)
Comments of 34 were typical: “absolutely: a moral duty, I would say”
22: In my experience this doesn’t have much effect, but it should nevertheless be done. If it deters people from pursuing PhDs, that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing, if the person being deterred is someone with unrealistic expectations who is going to be badly disappointed.
Eleanor notes: The point that such information has no effect was made frequently, as was the related point that it is already available. But one respondent had a telling story: having been told by a senior colleague that the complaining graduates had only themselves to blame for their unemployment because they had known the situation when they entered, he asked if he could make sure of that for the future by including a leaflet on academic job prospects in all PhD application packs. Permission was refused. Another respondent, who always warns applicants about the grim job prospects without effect, reported being appalled when a promising prospective student then failed to apply; she was afraid of having communicated the impression that she did not think he was good enough. Both these stories suggest that we have developed ways of telling people the facts in such a fashion that they will not be put off; this is no doubt a subconscious process.
One respondent adds: “I think it is also the case that to hear this from people who have been successful is by its nature unconvincing. This is certainly true in music, where there is a long tradition of ruthless honesty to students about their prospects – but even so, to hear that almost no-one gets jobs from people who have them, and good ones, is a weak message. Not least because people look at their prospects through their relationships and role models, not statistics. I would also say to people, always have a Plan B. It is practical and it makes you feel better, because it reminds you that you have options and some control over your life. I always had a Plan B when I was younger and I still do! In fat, more than one! Helps me not feel trapped…”
27, an MA student of unusual intelligence and common sense, reported that she had received such information and therefore decided not to pursue a PhD. This is clearly a loss to the profession, and we have to reckon with more such as that information gets around, though it is no doubt still right to let these excellent people leave. On the transmission of this information 27 remarks: “I was given this info by my BA advisor/MA 2nd reader, who perhaps had no vested interest in me becoming her PhD student, not only because she wasn’t interested in my proposed PhD idea, but also because she’s of the school of thought that you shouldn’t get all of your degrees at the same place. If this was the norm, i.e. that a PhD was done at a different school than the MA, perhaps there would be no conflict of interest in your MA advisor giving you the heads up on the post-PhD market. Aside from increased encouragement to go elsewhere for a PhD, I wonder if having a ‘closing interview’ for BA/MA grads would be the best time to disseminate job market info.”
But the almost universal enthusiasm on this point was tempered by 120, who pointed out: “The data would need to be robust here, and everyone would need to be saying similar things, rather than trying to outdo a rival University in this market economy. Of course, Oxford/ Cambridge might rightly paint a rosier picture than, say, Reading in this regard. If you have a really excellent student, do you recommend Oxford/ Cambridge or one’s own institution as place for PhD? I think the market forces issue might make this suggestion difficult to implement.” [To make things worse, it was subsequently pointed out that data cannot be robust, since it often takes years to get a job: even with the best measurements in the world, we can only know how the people who got PhDs 5 years ago or more have fared. It is impossible to know exactly how students entering the job market in 2015 will fare, and even more difficult to predict the futures of those beginning a PhD in 2015.]
And one respondent noted that as women are more likely to be discouraged by such information than men [she said there were studies showing this and that she could produce them if needed], provision of more information could lead to a gender imbalance in academia.
Another point raised was that established academics are often judged on the number of their PhD students; this can give the potential supervisor strong motivation to recruit a graduate student and thereby make it difficult to be fully honest.
Conclusion: We should provide this information in a more effective fashion than at present: how could that be done? Students considering graduate work typically seek information from at most two sources: their current institutions and the ones they are thinking of attending (if different). No external body, including professional associations, has much access to them, so it would not be helpful to, e.g., publish information on an APA or CUCD web site. At the same time, the issues raised by 120 will make it difficult to change information delivery from those academics who do have the ears of the applicants: academics (including, in the UK, those at the applicants’ undergraduate institutions, as UK departments often recruit their own students for their graduate programmes) have a strong vested interest in recruiting students, and they may therefore be tempted to deliver the necessary information in a way that does not actually discourage applicants. Perhaps this problem could be ameliorated by reducing at least the personal incentives that academics have to recruit students, for example by ceasing to judge senior academics by the number of their PhD students or their PhD recruitment draw. Such evaluation may, by disadvantaging scholars who actually do discourage applicants, tempt people not to do so. Yet even if personal incentives are removed, many academics will still be influenced by a public-spirited desire to see their departments thrive as a result of recruiting talented graduate students.
e. Try to ensure that universities present the PhD, from the time students enroll in it, as not primarily preparation for an academic career but a more general type of education, so that they would provide graduate students with tailored careers advice leading to non-academic fields that value the PhD (e.g. law) (in rating this, consider that it may lead to a reduction in the percentage of students who complete the PhD, since most careers that like PhDs also like people with graduate work short of a PhD, and that the resultant fall in completion rates will adversely affect departments that are judged on such rates)
Average rating 1.2 (low or medium for almost all groups, 1.0 from students)
149 (in the UK) commented: As a former lawyer I find your suggestion that the legal profession likes PhDs surprising (to put it mildly). I have never come across a practising lawyer with a non-law PhD (I believe that at least at Oxford there is no such thing as a DPhil in English law because of the legal fiction that all law already exists and the court is merely expounding it, a bit like the slave in the Meno, and that original research into the law is therefore impossible). I would expect that a lawyer recruiting potential employees would regard a PhD in something else as evidence of want of motivation either in general, or specifically want of motivation towards a career in the law. I could be wrong about that of course. If university careers departments are responsible for advising PhDs as well as undergraduates, it would be useful to get them to research this kind of point and to put in writing their conclusions on extra-academic (and indeed academic) employment prospects, gloomy as they are likely to be, to applicants for PhD places. Even better if they could discriminate between funded and unfunded PhDs.
Eleanor comments: The original point about law came from the US; this could be a regional difference or depend on particular law firms.
146 says: “I have no problem with providing careers advice of the kind you mention, but I think there are enough other kinds of qualifications for people who want to do something other than the PhD in its current form. The PhD should be for people who want to write a thesis–either because they want to be academics while accepting that that might well not happen, or for its own sake, or a bit of both.”
10 commented: “One of our students — an AHRC scholarship holder who has decided against an academic career — recently held an AHRC-funded internship at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology — they had previously had interns from the other research councils, but he was the first from AHRC. He came back wanting to evangelize about how much respect the civil service had for humanities PhDs as a qualification, and wanting to tell all his fellow PhD students about it. He’s now applying for the Civil Service fast stream. Anyway, this struck me as a small step forward.”
22 gave this a 2 and commented: “Very important, and some subjects, such as History, have made great strides in incorporating training for wider careers into their PhDs.”
27, who as noted above has decided not to do a PhD, says she might later for this reason but comments that “it’s tough to convince an advisor that you’ll be as committed to your program as someone who is looking at it as a last step to their career.”
Eleanor adds: As 27 notes, funding for PhD places, and in some cases admissions, often prioritizes people who intend to have an academic career; there is a sense that a place is ‘wasted’ if it goes to someone who says from the outset that he wants to do something else. If this were changed, it would be a small but painless way to reduce the number of PhDs who want academic jobs. Additionally the presence of people who intend to do something else might broaden the horizons of graduate students who had not thought about other possibilities.
34 gave this a 2 and commented: “might even help professionalise students’ approach to the PhD”
27 noted “I can’t help but think that presenting the PhD from the beginning as general education is something worth exploring, but perhaps not how the question is worded. I don’t think a PhD program is the place to provide tailored career advice for non-academic fields, but I don’t think the expected end goal should be obtaining an academic job. As far as I’m concerned, a student entering a field such as Classics should be doing so because they have a question that needs to be answered and keeps them up late at night, and entering a grad program is first and foremost to explore that question to its fullest extent. Once that question is answered, chances are you know whether you want to continue on in that field as a career, and at the point you’re at a place to enter the job market. But if answering the question is all you wanted to do, leaving academia shouldn’t be that mentally stressful. I applied for an MA program ONLY because I had a question I hadn’t fully answered in my BA thesis. And for 5 years after graduating from my BA, no one else had come up with an adequate answer, so I felt it was my duty, in a way, to return to school and figure it out myself. Of course going back to school made me consider doing a PhD because I can’t find a day job that keeps my brain engaged like academia does, but being a grad student revealed the problems in the system that I hadn’t been aware of as an undergrad. If I had another burning question like the one I’ve addressed in my MA and received an adequate amount of funding like I did for my MA, I would feel inclined to seriously re-consider entering a PhD program, not to get an academic job, but for self-improvement. And sure, I wouldn’t be opposed to an academic job if the right opportunity came along, but entering a PhD without that expectation would likely make things a lot easier post-PhD. If, as the conclusion to 1a says, ‘people see [the PhD] as worthwhile for its own sake’, shouldn’t consideration be given to pushing the idea that the PhD should not be considered as solely a pre-professional degree?” [Eleanor notes: the important point here is that the alternative to considering the PhD as a pre-professional degree does not have to be considering it training for some other kind of employment; it could be accepted as simply valuable in itself, without leading to any kind of future employment.]
30 commented “Somehow classics (and other humanities) departments need to sit a lot looser to the idea of an academic career as the proper and fitting end of a doctorate. One way to accomplish this would be to collect some stories (with names attached if the subjects of the stories were willing to have this information shared) of people who got a doctorate in classics and then had a successful, satisfying, and well-remunerated career in another field. I have a friend who in the seventies did not get tenure at the college where he was employed. He used his skills (many of them highly transferrable) to go into banking. He is now grateful to his former employer for sending him away from the provinces to live in New York. I have another friend who got a Ph.D. in classics and did not find an academic job at all. He now works in the world of business in London. A beloved niece of mine just decided to leave a graduate program in philosophy, where conditions were deteriorating and job prospects were dim, to try her hand at one or another of the many kinds of gainful employment for which she has talents. A fund of such stories might encourage graduate students not to think of themselves as instruments with one note, with no choice but to hang onto dimming hopes. They might think of leaving academia as something positive.”
93, a scientist, gives a salutary reminder that the PhD is often not a good route to other careers, even in fields where it is more ‘useful’ than in the Humanities: “This is a topic to which I have given a lot of thought, especially as my friends and I are new entering/ are new to the job market for people with PhDs. We are all in the sciences, and we are experiencing some of the same challenges as people in the humanities. Some of us want academic posts, but others want to work in government/ the public sector or industry. Regardless of where we end up outside of academia, we find that there’s a mismatch between our level of training and what the job market actually requires/ needs–we are over-qualified. Often, governments assume that more PhDs equals more innovation, so they implement policies and programs that encourage bright students to get PhDs. However, they do not create policies that lead to societies that fully utilize the skills and training of people with PhDs. As a result, we end up in positions that are not challenging and feel as though our PhDs are unnecessary. On top of that, we face messages that tell us that PhDs are a waste of time for people who do not want to be professors. The PhD might need a PR or public awareness campaign.”
Eleanor notes: the overqualification point was also made by people in the Humanities, with some painful illustrations (see 2 ee below, but that was not the only one). Apparently after four or more years spent on a PhD, a person may be seen as less employable than he was before it; the mere fact that he/she is not wholly unemployable does not compensate for this problem.
113 says “I would love another option, especially one with a real salary and which did not require much more training, some of which is expensive.” [This is important, especially for people who have gone into debt to fund the PhD: many graduates simply do not have the financial resources to retrain. Most of the good conversion options appear to require retraining.]
95 says: “yes, I think this is right, but there’s a limit on how much can be poured into the pint pot. There’s a lot of emphasis already on transferable skills-training. We do need to be realistic and accept that all this means a reduction in what can be expected of the PhD thesis itself, but how that aspect can be managed needs thought, and it hasn’t had it so far. Reducing the [dissertation] word-limit is far too simple an answer. [Eleanor notes: this is important. If the PhD in its current form is not so great for non-academic jobs, the way to change that is to devote more time during the PhD to activities directed towards non-academic employment. But unless we make the PhD longer, which no-one wants to do, that means reducing the time spent on the dissertation, and in the US probably also time spent teaching. That will make the PhD less good as a pre-professional training and so disadvantage (in the academic job market) the people from programmes that implement these changes.”
One respondent said: “But I don’t believe that a PhD does give students transferrable skills that are so much better than those of BAs or MAs as to justify the extra investment. [Eleanor notes: this is true; see links below.] I also think that since many people starting a PhD would not know what they wanted to do at the end, if not become an academic, it would be difficult to assure them that their acquired skills would be valued – it might be true of a few employers but very likely not of many more.”
22 (a senior UK Classicist) says: “ I am firmly in favour of broadening the remit of the PhD, and presenting it as further research training which is not directed solely towards academic careers. That said, I have been meeting a brick wall in discussing these issues with the PG students in my own institution, who are to a man and woman adamant that an academic career is the only one worth considering. An initiative like this, publicising the job situation, is very salutary for them.”
Eleanor notes: This is a key point. People who do a PhD often want an academic career; that is why they do the PhD in the first place. They are often uninterested in the other options. Academics sometimes encourage this desire, particularly with the good students: we may tell them how useful to the scholarly world their dissertation will be when it is published, and we are sometimes genuinely sorry when good work is never published. We may even be sorry when a good scholar stops doing academic work and cuts off future books. Such encouragement of those whose work we value does not seem harmful; it seems kind. And yet if it leads our students to persist in pursuing a goal they are unlikely to attain, it may turn out to be very unkind indeed. Given the severity of the job crisis and the role of luck, it is very difficult to know for sure that a student is so good that encouragement of that individual will not ultimately have this unkind effect.
122 says: “In the end, it seems to me that the question hanging in the background is how much does our culture value research in the humanities? I wonder what more could be done to communicate the usefulness and importance of the work that is done is humanities departments, and to show implicitly what our culture would lose if this work were not done. One idea that occurred to me when thinking about this further, was that PhDs might be recommended to students on something analogous to the ‘Teach first’ model–as something like ‘Research first’. If more were done to show students (and employers) how PhDs equip you with transferable skills for a future career, and to communicate that investing several years in ‘Research First’ is an exciting way to both gain skills, and contribute to human knowledge, perhaps humanities departments would become healthier. In such a programme, one thing that could be done is for universities to encourage students to prepare a ‘feature’ style article on their research to publish in one of the city’s newspapers. This may not work for every project, but it would for many; historical and archaeological features seem to be popular on the BBC website. Such a piece, presenting what is exciting about a project in language that is accessible, rather than academic, would be a great way for PhD candidates to be engaged in raising the public conception of the value of the humanities, and would also communicate to prospective employers both the intrinsic value of their time (partly sacrificially) invested in Research First, as well as the practical skills it has given them, of communicating in both academic and readily accessible voices, pursuing a project, problem solving, lateral thinking, that are all readily transferable to the work place.” [Eleanor notes: unfortunately this idea arrived too late to be tested in the full survey, but many of the people who have seen it since then are enthusiastic about it. 27 says “ Rather than conceiving a PhD as general education would provide tailored career advice, this is the type of general training that a PhD should be providing, both for academic and non-academic careers. As Stephen Pinker has said, academic writing is often needlessly obscure, and grad students are the worst offenders (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE-TTz13P7w). For everyone’s sake, students should be taught to write in an accessible style. I wouldn’t go so far as to require students to publish articles in a local newspaper, particularly as this might push students to research pop topics rather than what they’re really interested in. A requirement of any grad program in my department is a one-hour a week seminar on research methods and ethics, though the majority of it is just practical information (i.e. the best websites for archeologists, how to write a good scholarship application) and checking in with a prof to make sure we’re making it through our first semester of grad school. Since a lot of time was ineffectively used in this course, I would’ve been happy to have an assignment over the course of the semester be to write a piece specifically geared towards non-academics, and maybe have a blog on which to ‘publish’ our pieces. I’m not sure if other schools have a similar course though, so I don’t know how practical such a suggestion would be. Another suggestion in a similar vein of broadening and making your research/writing skills applicable outside of your field would be to allow students to be a TA/RA in a different department; I graded undergrad papers for the Engineering department, so I saw first hand how my skills were transferable to a topic I had no training in. At the very least, it should be encouraged to take a grad course outside of one’s department. I know some programs don’t allow that flexibility, but luckily my program was interdisciplinary, so I took half of my courses outside of Classics, including an English course, a Literary Theory course, and Old Norse. Not only did that increase the number of profs I could get reference letters from, but my Old Norse prof arranged a job offer for me. More importantly for me though, I learned how to write on a topic that I knew my prof knew nothing about.”]
Note this article from the Economist with figures on employment of PhDs outside academia: http://www.economist.com/node/17723223. It states that although on average people with PhDs earn more than those without, the average premium for a PhD is only 3% more than the premium for an MA, not enough to make up for the cost of the degree. That average conceals variations by subject; in numerous subjects the premium is zero or even negative. This article is based on a study by Bernard Casey, ‘The Economic Contribution of PhDs in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 2009; Casey does not specify premiums for fields as specific as Classics or Philosophy, but if Classics counts as ‘Languages’ neither an MA nor a PhD gives any advantage at all over a BA. For ‘Arts’, where both fields are likely to fall, the MA brings a real premium over the BA, but the PhD increases that premium by only 1% for women and decreases it by 9% for men. Casey also notes that the production of PhDs benefits society as a whole, but that may be cold comfort to the holders of degrees with a negative premium.
Conclusion: there are many issues here. One, the PhD is not generally a real asset in the non-academic job market, though there are individual exceptions to this principle. Two, academics make little effort either to prepare doctoral students to get non-academic jobs or to promote to the non-academic world the advantages of hiring people with PhDs (see below on 1 hh for how this could be changed). Three, admissions policies often favour students who want academic careers, and once they start students (especially the good ones) are often encouraged to continue in the profession. Four, significant preparation for non-academic jobs would probably either increase completion times or reduce graduates’ competitiveness in the academic job market — though that probably does not apply to the ‘research first’ suggestion of 122. Five, academics often have little understanding of the non-academic job market, little time to learn about it, and neither the time nor the skills to promote ideas to it. Advisors from the non-academic world might be able to help, but it would be difficult to choose such advisors well, given our lack of understanding. Therefore determining the solution to this problem is exceptionally difficult. The options available are: 1) Accept what seems at present to be the case, namely that the PhDconfers little practical advantage in the non-academic job market (though it does have an intrinsic value not tied to career success). 2) Invest a large amount of time and energy, and accept a decline in the quality and/or the speed of that professional training, in order to broaden its appeal to other types of employer — with no guarantee of success. At present I think the only practical option is to accept that the PhD really is a pre-professional degree, but at the same time we could easily improve matters by not selecting students based on their career intentions and by encouraging them to present their research to non-academic audiences.
f. Lobby to improve the conditions of non-permanent academic staff (particularly part-time and hourly-paid teachers) and lobby their colleagues to treat such people more humanely
Average rating 1.7 (high from all groups)
30 comments: “Whom should we lobby in the universities, which are run by bean counters? When has lobbying people to be more humane had any notable success? I can see glimmers of hope in efforts to do something about the toxic teenage culture, where person A can feel good only by making person B feel bad. But much more important than getting others to treat the academically unemployed in a different way is for the academically unemployed to think of themselves not as condemned to failure but as having other options. When that happens, the departments that now exploit them will see that they won’t necessarily have them to exploit forever. ”
Another respondent offered this answer to 30’s point that lobbying people to be humane is always unsuccessful: “Abolition of slavery? Of apartheid? Hanging? Public corporal punishment? Private corporal punishment? Creation of offence of marital rape? Franchise of women? One could go on, and on, and on.”
And 120 (in the UK) says: “pointless; as we have both said, there is a widening gap between ‘the Department’ and ‘the institution’; the latter holds the purse strings and is looking for value-for-money; it cares little about collegiality and discipline niceties (it doesn’t actually really like ‘disciplines’, as this suggests ‘Department’, ‘silo mentality’). I’d like to think, however, that Classics colleagues make their temporary staff as welcome and valued as they can.”
153 (in the US) says: “One thing that needs to happen – and is, but not always loudly, and definitely not always in an organized way – is for the people with protected positions to actively engage with administration to change labor practices. Adjuncts and lecturers don’t have the stability or the authority to make much noise. Also, my job has made me acutely aware of the isolation that lectureships and adjunct positions can impose – providing physical space for adjuncts/lecturers to participate in the culture of the department would improve working conditions for them.”
Some respondents argued that as long as there is an oversupply of desperate academics they will be mistreated: it took the Black Death to make agricultural labour valuable in medieval Europe, and it will take a mass exodus of academics to make the labour of those who remain valuable. Much of the exploitation is caused not by a lack of empathy but by the economic pressures facing universities. Some people think that any action here might just make things worse by encouraging would-be academics to remain and continue the oversupply; these people are not necessarily unsympathetic or hard-hearted.
Note these web resources:
A site on which US adjuncts can share information on their salaries and duties: http://adjunct.chronicle.com/
An article in the CUCD Bulletin about the plight of adjuncts: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/classics/cucd/Bulletin2007.pdf
A facebook group with advice (not personally verified, as I am not on Facebook, but I report the link as I received it): https://www.facebook.com/groups/estoyenparo
Conclusion: the humanitarian arguments for helping are so great that it seems impossible not to try, but we must acknowledge that oversupply is inevitably going to cause exploitation, so efforts here need to be coupled with efforts in other areas.
g. Lobby departments not to segregate staff into categories on web pages, photo boards, etc. but to put everyone together so that no-one feels marginalised
Average rating 1.1 (medium from all groups except students, where low)
120 gave this 2 and commented “a very easy and sensible way forward.”
22 gave this 0 and commented: “Cosmetic, easily achievable, but not tackling the problem.”
34 gave this 0 and commented: “political correctness? In fact it is important to the ethos / narrative / public face of a Dept. to be clear who its permanent staff are, and who the leaders are. And important for students knowing what to expect if they choose a particular Dept.” [Eleanor remarks: currently that clarity is often lacking (prestigious people who are not physically present at the institution concerned may be listed, for example, and the total omission of information on low-status people who are actually teaching can be hard on those who need to contact them).]
27, a student, may explain the low ratings from students with this comment: “I think dividing staff into categories is useful for students – at my school, I can’t have a sessional as a thesis advisor, so I need to know which instructors I can work under.”
112, a non-permanent staff member, says one of the worst problems for her is “teaching for a university (for several years) but not having my name mentioned as a member of staff on the department website (Open University)! None of the associate lecturers are listed, yet we do almost all of the teaching! I find this somewhat humiliating and unbelievable (particularly as some universities do list their part-time staff). People could easily think I am lying about my job when I tell them I work for the Open University. After all, if they were to look me up on the department website, I am not mentioned anywhere despite all the work (including teaching, supervising postgraduate theses and marking exams/theses) I put in! Listing ALL staff would be a very cheap way to give ‘part timers’ (part time salary, full time work) the credit they deserve. I should add that this seems to be an Open University wide policy – not specifically my department. None of the other departments at the Open University (humanities or not) list their associate lecturers either.”
Numerous respondents who do have permanent jobs thought that segregation on web sites is rare, but it does seem to be the norm, and even the situation at the OU described above is far from unusual. Part of the problem has to do with lack of resources to update sites frequently with the arrival and departure of short-term teachers, but that is not the whole story. People with good positions genuinely do not see why people with poor positions should be upset to find an accurate reflection of reality on the web site. Is this parallel to a situation in which men do not see why women should be upset if ancient history is entirely a narrative about men?
Eleanor remarks: when I was webmaster at Columbia I dealt with endless complaints that people could not be located on the web site, by re-organizing the hierarchy-based list into one list in alphabetical order that included everyone with any sort of position in the department — but everyone had his/her title next to his/her name. People seemed to be really pleased with this compromise, as it ended both segregation and unclarity and allowed everyone to be located quickly and easily, without hiding useful information.
Conclusions: the lack of agreement here is striking. Nevertheless there does not seem to be any justification for leaving some teaching staff off lists entirely, and it should be possible to find a compromise in which information on rank is readily available but not unnecessarily emphasized. Given the fact that such a solution would benefit practically everyone, it is worth pursuing despite the comparatively low average rating.
h. Lobby for a reduction in both workloads and pay of the permanent academic staff, so that significantly more permanent academic jobs could exist in the same economic framework (in rating this, please consider that there are currently FIVE TIMES as many Humanities PhDs as jobs produced each year, so this solution would still leave more than half the new PhDs without jobs and no-one with a good salary)
Average rating 0.6 (0.5 for Classicists and for UK; low or medium from all groups)
95 (a senior scholar) says: “Senior academics are often surprisingly willing to accept personal pay cuts to improve conditions for the young; I know of one case, and you may too, where offers along those lines were stamped on by the administration, and I don’t think the union likes it either.”
34 commented: “well, an apple-pie 2: but unrealistic, so ironically = an additional burden of wasted energy” [Eleanor notes: obviously this solution is impractical, but the goodwill of senior scholars thinking it is in principle a good idea is worth noting and appreciating.]
27, a student, said “A reduction in workload at least at my school would translate into more TAs doing more of the work. And if the number of student spots are reduced, this doesn’t work. I would argue for a reduction/streamlining of committees and administration meetings which permanent academic staff take part in, leaving that work as potential positions for PhDs.”
120 says: “0 – pointless; institutions all want to ‘attract the best’, and this means pay competitive with rival institutions. This is simply not going to happen – the Unions are of course pushing for the opposite.”
Eleanor says: I know of one case where this was actually done; a senior classicist agreed to halve his salary so that a young one could be hired too. But they devised such a great interview technique for finding people’s weaknesses that they couldn’t fill the position . . .
Conclusion: this is impractical.
i. Lobby grant-giving bodies to lift their current restrictions so that people without an academic affiliation could apply for research grants
Average rating 1.4 (1.3 for UK; very diverse responses, but generally high from those who would benefit and low or medium from others)
8 commented that making it easier to get grants will just raise the bar and make it harder to get a job.
22 commented “This is part of a set of proposals to set up an ‘alt-ac’ community, so that those not in university posts can continue doing research. If it’s to extend the period over which a person can hunt for a permanent university job, it’s making the problem worse rather than better, and if it’s to create a situation in which people carry out research while pursuing other careers it’s not very practical – I think it’s better to have a career about which one is whole-hearted, rather than working to support an unpaid research career.”
34, giving this 0, commented: “there is a need to prioritise, and a prior need to secure Departments rather than people — no Department = no jobs at all”
146, giving this 2, commented “I have a problem with the way that academic research is currently funded as it causes people in academic jobs to spend too much of their time applying for grants. But it being the case that this is the model, grants should be awarded on merit and not on the basis of academic affiliation.”
120 says: “0 – nice in theory, but the funding bodies are looking to reduce the number of applications they receive, expecting a carefully-monitored and filtered system at institution level. They are unlikely to open the floodgates here.”
Conclusions: unfortunately 120 is right, and this particular approach to making grants available cannot be pursued, at least in the UK.
j. Lobby universities not to cut off the affiliation of their graduate students upon receipt of the PhD; persuade them to allow such students to retain their e-mail accounts and library access as long as these are needed
Average rating 1.6 (1.7 for Classicists and for UK; high for most groups but medium for superstars)
32 notes that Durham allows all its alumni perpetual online library access.
Oxford gives all its graduates physical (but not online) library access in perpetuity. Oxford now also gives its Classics PhDs 3 years of full affiliation (including e-mail and online library access) for 3 years, but this does not happen in all subjects.
Most US & Canadian institutions allow all former students to keep their e-mail addresses in perpetuity (though often only as a forwarding service, not a full e-mail account). This happens because it is useful for the universities to be able to contact their alumni via their old e-mail addresses.
106 comments: “I think that ‘j’ is the single most helpful thing on this list. It will solve most of the other solvable concerns. In a possible-ideal (!) world, if all phd-graduates could have the opportunity of retaining their email and library access for a nominal fee (e.g. £10 p.a. so that the university has some proof that these services are being used), then any graduate will have affiliation (marking they’ve completed doctoral study) and can give papers at conferences, submit articles through ‘scholar one’ and carry out whatever research they wish to or have the time to do – with minimum cost involved. It would then be good if there were also grants available to ECR’s from eg. the CA, Roman Soc, etc, which could offer financial support for attending conferences (some conferences already offer this).”
But 30 comments: “Graduate students who can see that they are unlikely to achieve the career they seek will be well advised to cut the cord. They should not be encouraged to linger on in a sort of half-way status.”
Conclusions: if any help at all is offered to the unfortunate would-be academics, this is the thing to do for them. It would not be too difficult as there is already a trend in that direction.
k. Lobby universities to make their lectures and libraries open to everyone, regardless of affiliation or background
Average rating 1.1 (1.0 for UK)
27 comments: “The problem with this is that books needed immediately by students doing research under a deadline might not be able to get said books if thousands of non-students have access to those books. Also, there’s the potential of ‘crazies’, for lack of a better term, taking over lectures and being disruptive to the students who need those lectures for grades. It would be better to leave the system as is, where, at least at my school, you can take a course as an ‘Open Studies’ student as long as the prof agrees. As an Open Studies student, you have access to the library for the entirety of that course.”
Eleanor notes: At some universities lectures are generally open, and I have heard that sometimes disruption does occur. Many university libraries are already open to the public, with some even allowing non-university people to borrow. The ones that are not generally open are, of course, the really good libraries, which have good reasons to restrict access — but even they can be surprisingly generous. The libraries where access for unaffiliated scholars is a real problem are not university libraries.
Conclusion: this is impractical.
l. Lobby journals to make blind refereeing blinder: make sure that the author’s affiliation or lack thereof plays no role whatsoever in article acceptance or rejection
Average rating 1.6 (1.5 for Classicists and for UK; high for most groups; medium for people with full-time jobs of all types)
146, in Classics, was typical of many Classicists in saying “I think blind refereeing is good. However, I think refereeing is already pretty much as blind as it can realistically be, given that in some subject areas it just is a small world.”
34, giving this 0.5, commented “but probably irrelevant: is there any evidence that this is an issue in our field? [My more radical utopian idea is to make people *publish* anonymously so that journals are blind read!]”
70, a philosopher, claimed it was a serious problem and when asked for evidence said “This is really a species of the complaint that blind review is corrupted at many journals. At my current department, this is very widely believed, and it is widely believed that Analysis is one of the worst offenders. Many of us have Academia.edu webpages that tell us when someone searches for us. So, for example, someone will submit a paper to Analysis and then someone will search for the article’s title, or our name, or search for the opening sentence of the paper, or something like that, and then receive a rejection. This has happened to me in the span of an hour, and so I am very skeptical that they gave the paper any kind of close reading, or bothered to determine anything about it other than that it was written by a graduate student. I do not know specifics about unaffiliated scholars, but I strongly believe that the review process at many journals is in serious need of reform.”
95, a senior scholar, comments: “The problem of blind refereeing seems to me greater with monographs, where publishers pay a lot of attention to track record before awarding contracts. This makes life particularly difficult for young scholars who need the boost of a contract most.” And 30, also a senior scholar, reported an incident in which a major press had refused to send a book out for refereeing on the grounds that the author had no affiliation; this story has a happy ending because 30 successfully defended the author, but it shows that the problem identified by 95 is a serious one.
Eleanor notes: some responses showed a disturbing lack of awareness that certain articles really should not be published: the refereeing process is there for a reason, and when a piece is rejected multiple times it should be dropped. Academics give their time for free acting as referees, and it is not easy to find that time, nor does writing damning reports give most academics pleasure. It is a heavy responsibility that many academics avoid if they can, and when forced to accept it they usually take it seriously; it would help if authors appreciated that fact. One thing that referees find very annoying is that when they sacrifice time that could be spent on their own research to help an aspiring author, by writing a helpful report explaining how a piece would have to be changed to make it publishable, they sometimes receive another request shortly afterwards from a different journal, asking them to referee the same article without any changes in response to their helpful report. Authors could greatly reduce the number of rejections they receive by simply reading the reports of referees and following the advice given in them. It is not advisable to annoy referees and editors by wasting their time. Moreover, it is unwise to threaten editors with violence when a piece is rejected: they cannot simply accept everything that is submitted, not only because of a responsibility to the readers, but also because of page quotas!
Also: some journals are blinder than others. For example, if an author submits an article with his/her name on the first page, CP will not accept the submission until the name is removed, whereas GRBS will figure that if the author did not care about concealing his/her name, they have no obligation to do so either. Viator appears to tell referees the names of authors even when a submission is properly anonymized. In Europe, ZPE does not practice blind refereeing at all, but Mnemosyne seems to have particularly good identity protection (and it takes articles in a wide range of Classics subfields; if you are worried, you might try sending your article to them). In all cases authors should remember that they may compromise their anonymity by posting on the web the information that they have written such an article, or even that they have given a paper with a similar title: if one can find your name by Googling the title of the article, is a lack of anonymity the fault of the journal?
Conclusion: Problems with particular journals are subject-specific issues and should be dealt with by the professional bodies involved. In Classics, no action is warranted unless someone produces real evidence that people are being discriminated against. In Philosophy, is there a volunteer to take this issue to the relevant authorities? In both subjects authors should practice good behaviour and intelligent journal choice, and mentors could help by encouraging such practices among their protegés.
m. Lobby conference organizers not to ask for affiliation when abstracts are submitted and judged
Average rating 1.5 (1.4 for Classicists, 1.3 for UK; high or medium from all groups, but highest from the unemployed; 1.5 from permanent faculty but 1.1 from superstars)
30 comments: “The APA already has blind submission of abstracts for most papers.”
Eleanor notes: Several people commented that blind refereeing of abstracts is impractical. Also, many expressed unease at not being able to make use of one’s prior information on who is or is not a good speaker: it is legitimate to avoid speakers who have a track record of incoherence and/or an inability to keep to time, in the interests of having a good conference.
Conclusion: This has to be left up to the organizers of individual conferences, but they might want to be aware of the perception of possible bias inherent in attaching names to abstracts.
n. Lobby organizers of conferences to offer reduced fees and if possible payment of travel expenses to those without jobs (funding could be provided by charging those with jobs higher fees)
Average rating 1.5 (1.4 for UK; high or medium from all groups)
134 says: “although ashamed to tell this, I have not been going for the last two years, for financial reasons since I am unemployed; yet I would love to go”
113 says: “I personally have been unable to attend conferences where I had a paper accepted, because the cost was too great.”
One respondent confused this with a student bursary scheme (which conferences often have), thereby illustrating that some people have not grasped that there is a problem for people who are no longer students but not (yet) fully employed.
Several respondents pointed out that some conferences already have subsidies for ‘unwaged’ participants. Could that be extended to other conferences?
Conclusion: Again this will have to be up to organizers, but they might want to offer an ‘unwaged’ option; not every non-student has the fees covered by his/her department.
o. Lobby conference organizers not to put affiliations on name tags, to avoid humiliating independent scholars
Average rating 0.8 (0.7 for UK; low from most groups but 1.4 from unemployed)
34, giving this 0, commented “better work on removing the stigma; institutions need exposure: see above”
22, giving this 0, commented “Strikes me as a bit impractical, but perhaps I am not being empathetic enough. Affiliations are for contacting people.” [Others made the same point.]
30 commented: “Silly.”
146 gave this a 2 but said “Bear in mind, though, that for those who have difficulty remembering either names or faces, this will make it harder to figure out where you know somebody from.”
113 said: “I dread this humiliation at the APA, and I know I will have to endure it if I go.”
94 said: “ Just tell the independent scholars to make up a university for themselves. Really! The last few times I went to the AIA/APA Meetings I put my affiliation as Miskatonic University (which is the university of the dark arts in the works of H.P. Lovecraft). I was terribly amused and no one seemed to notice. Terry Pratchet’s Unseen University is also good.”
Conclusion: this one produces strong disagreements for the same reasons as 1g. The problem would be eliminated if via 1j people retained the right to use their PhD-granting institutions as their affiliations. This might be embarrassing for some insitutions, but arguably it is fair: if you give someone a PhD, you endorse him or her as a scholar fit to enter the community. Because affiliations are highly useful it is impractical to eliminate them, but I do not think we ought to brush off the humiliation people feel here as inconsequential: it does hurt them, and that matters.
p. Lobby for conferences and publishing ventures not to be used as income-generators but rather to be low-cost, regional, and accessible
Average rating 1.2 (1.1 for UK; low or medium from all groups)
34, giving this 0, commented “where *does* the income come from then?”
27 commented “The concept makes sense, but the fact is that if every little school had a conference, less people would go to each one, and less networking would occur at each conference. I go to conferences to think outside of the box, and going to larger non-regional conferences are much more useful for me than regional ones, where I know the majority of the presenters and am already familiar with their work. Promoting low-cost and accessibility over being regional would be more fruitful.”
95, with refreshing honesty, says “Good idea, but the only ‘income’ generated tends to be to the home institution, renting out space (though often at reduced rates). Institutions do need that money, and if everything is put on for free we’ll find universities refusing to host conferences. My own feeling is that there are far too many conferences anyway, but that’s a different issue.” [Eleanor says: Or is it a different issue? Many people without permanent jobs feel that they need to attend as many conferences as possible in order to increase their chances of getting a job by becoming known in the field. One respondent stated that for one year she went to a conference every month, always at her own expense, in order to remain competitive as a candidate. Has academia in fact developed so that such a massive investment of time and money is required as an entrance fee to the profession? If so, should/could that be altered?]
151 complains that academics working at geographically isolated institutions (a category that includes many US scholars and almost all Canadian and Australian ones), cannot meaningfully put on regional conferences; if other universities’ conferences are regional that policy could exclude these scholars. People in small specialisms have a similar issue: it can be hundreds of mile to the next person in your area. It could be argued that it is precisely these more isolated scholars who benefit the most from conferences; those who can make day trips to other institutions to hear the occasional paper are perhaps less in need of contact with the outside scholarly world.
Several respondents pointed out that some conferences charge very high fees; the CA, British Epigraphy Society, and APA are among the offenders.
Conclusion: we cannot avoid the fact that often people will have to travel a long way to get to the conference of their choice; that is simply reality, especially in certain parts of the world. Fees could be reduced, but it does cost money to run a conference, and adequate funding can be difficult to obtain; since many academics can get their institions to cover the fees, the ‘unwaged’ discount mentioned above might be better than a general reduction. Should we be considering more seriously 95’s point that there may be too many conferences, in light of the burden they appear to put on some jobseekers?
q. Lobby libraries that do not admit scholars without an academic affiliation (there are several of these, according to respondents) to change their policy
Average rating 1.6 (1.7 for Classicists and for UK; high from all groups except superstars)
30 comments: “Absolutely. How many of these are there? Most realize that a scholar is a scholar. A letter from a recognized academic attesting to the seriousness of a would-be library user should be enough.”
Eleanor notes: The two libraries that were named by respondents are the Warburg (London)
and the Blegen (Athens). Most scholars do not normally need these libraries, but both fill particular niches not met by other libraries in those cities, so denial of access could be a serious problem for certain types of research. I have not personally verified the access restriction in either case, but the respondents concerned are highly trustworthy and have Oxford doctorates.
***Additional note 21 May 9 pm: The information on the Blegen seems to be incorrect, as I have now received this rebuttal: “I thought I should write with some clarification about one of the libraries reported to not admit scholars without affiliation, namely the Blegen Library in Athens. I can speak with some authority since I was at the American School for many years, for much of which time I was in fact employed at the School as a staff member at the Blegen. I can assure you that the Blegen Library is open to all serious scholars with or without an academic affiliation. A ‘serious scholar’ is generally taken to be someone who is currently a postgraduate student or has completed a postgraduate degree; undergraduates are generally not admitted to the library. Proof of one’s ‘seriousness’ can be a letter from a recognized scholar or a copy of one’s diploma (either MA or PhD; it does not matter which). The confusion may have arisen from the fact that a reader must obtain a reader’s card before using the library and this can only be done on certain days and times each week; those appearing at other times without a reader’s card will be turned away and asked to return at the appropriate time to obtain a card. This policy occasionally makes people unhappy if they arrive outside the times for obtaining reader’s card under the assumption that they will be admitted on the strength of who they are. I should also note, since your respondent claiming that the Blegen is overly restrictive is an Oxford graduate, that the above policy about reader’s cards does not apply to members of the British School, with which the American School shares its grounds; BSA members do not need to obtain a reader’s card and are admitted to the Blegen by showing membership in the BSA. The Blegen, like the libraries of the BSA, the French School and the DAI, is heavily used on a daily basis by a very large academic community that includes large numbers of scholars without academic affiliation. As an aside, I have always found this scholarly community to be very supportive and non-judgmental of those without employment and/or wider academic affiliation, presumably because it contains such large numbers of such people; their numbers help to preclude marginalization, and everyone has access to the same scholarly resources. Finally, anyone in Athens for research might be best served by joining the BSA, which is both very affordable and fairly unrestrictive regarding membership (and certainly admits anyone with a British degree); this gives 24 hour access to the BSA’s own excellent library as well as easy access to the American libraries (better for e.g. philology).”
134, unemployed, says: “I have to order the things I need through Interlibrary Loan, through my husband’s account since he is working in a College, while at this moment I am unemployed. I don’t have any affiliation and I am in serious difficulty just to get the material I need at least to carry out my research, not to die completely!” [Eleanor says: after extensive discussion with 134, I am convinced that she means this last clause literally. For some people, the need to do research is not simply the result of a practical desire to remain competitive as an applicant; it is the fundamental longing of a scholar’s soul. Those with the good fortune to have a place in the profession ought to understand and respect such a longing, especially as it has often been fostered and developed during graduate training.]
Conclusion: since we could probably persuade the libraries concerned to be more generous, this ought to be tried. However, as relatively few libraries are involved this solution will not affect the majority of the unemployed.
r. Lobby publishers not to charge enormous fees to unaffiliated scholars for open-access publication
Average rating 1.5 (1.6 for Classicists and for UK; all groups hover around there, with superstars lower than most)
95 comments that this is irrelevant, since at least for the moment there is no reason for anyone to pay open-access fees anyway: “This was a huge issue eighteen months ago, and was pushed hard by some of us then; HEFCE was absurd in thinking that authors would always have their fees covered by their institutions, when many of the neediest authors would be precisely at that immediate post-doc phase where they have no institution – certainly not one that would pay for something that might not be REF-returnable because the individual might not be with them, even if they had a post for the moment. The move to a green rather than gold requirement has pushed that into the longer grass as far as journals are concerned, and no-one knows what’s going to happen with monographs in REF terms. – I am however very worried about a looming danger of publishers offering to publish unrevised theses at £5000 or so a time, and I suspect that’s the version of this question that will have real bite.”
Conclusion: no action is needed.
s. Try to raise the profile of teaching and in particular of excellence in teaching in the profession, so that staff who don’t have time to do research are respected
Average rating 1.4 (all groups hover around here)
34, giving this 0, commented “’don’t have time’?? It’s either in your contract or it isn’t. Anyway, dangerous to keep selling the idea there is a pay-off here.”
27 commented, as if in reply, “I’m not so sure that it is a matter of respect versus a school’s policy. My school doesn’t expect adjuncts to research, just to teach, so they aren’t given the time for it. But the majority of them do research, on their own time, meaning they’re much more exhausted than the permanent teaching staff, who get course relief and/or sabbaticals to research. If the policies were changed where one, permanent or not, could choose a solely teaching position or a teaching and research position (like with academic librarians), perhaps that would change the view.”
120 says: “1 – raise the profile of teaching, yes, but this must be relative to research (esp. research-inspired teaching); ‘have no time to do research’? Sorry, you will never get an academic job this way. Institutions want publications, the book of the thesis, ideas on impact etc.; teaching just needs to be good. It is the research profile that ranks Universities with Classics above the former polytechnics. Develop ‘excellence’ in teaching AFTER you have gained a permanent contract; concentrate on the book of the thesis first. This is a brutal truth, but one simple enough to say … ”
Eleanor notes: This may not be a solution to the problem posed. Many universities already have permanent teaching-only posts, and these bring their own problems. The academics who research desperately all summer in an attempt to publish before they perish feel bitter about the (perceived) easy life of those who spend the summer relaxing, and this bitterness may find expression in denigrating the teaching-only staff, who are often considered second-class citizens. Tenure in such a post requires serious evaluation of teaching excellence, and the methods devised for such evaluation can be unfortunate (e.g. attendance at pointless courses that take time away from grading the essays that your students want returned; teaching excellence may also be measured by what percentage of students do well on exams, and that system can cause an unpleasant conflict of interest when the exams in question are set and marked by the teacher who will be evaluated by their results). Lastly, really good teaching is unpredictably distributed; it is neither consistently associated with researchers nor regularly found with non-researchers. Teaching must be done by those who care about doing it well; nothing but your own inner drive can make you do it well, and interference in the form of external scrutiny often does more harm than good.
Conclusion: teaching is important. It is far more important than research, and any decent academic already knows that. But given the other issues involved, action is probably not desirable on this point, at least not as part of this project.
t. Try to make academic culture more supportive and compassionate, and less competitive
Average rating 1.2 (1.4 for UK; all groups low or medium, with superstars lowest of all at 0.8)
22 commented “Who could disagree with this? But being nice to each other won’t create jobs.”
But actually many did disagree, including 151 who is fed up with low standards (particularly people who do not know Latin and Greek properly doing things that require such knowledge, such as teaching the languages) and said that academia is not competitive enough.
Many respondents said that this is hopelessly vague and unachievable.
27 said “I find competition is good in some respects, and support/compassion can only get you so far. My advisor has basically supported every word in my thesis, which has allowed me to become a confident scholar. However, I find that the prof who disagrees with everything I say has provided me with the most useful constructive criticism that has made my thesis into a publishable body of work.”
One respondent added: “I think we can and should be more compassionate, and that it’s entirely possible to do this while being rigorously critical e.g. of people’s work, so we should model it.”
Conclusion: no action.
u. Lobby universities to introduce simpler and more uniform applications, to reduce the amount of time it takes to apply for every academic job that is advertised every year
Average rating 1.3 (1.4 for UK; people with multiple part-time jobs give this a 2)
27 summed up the problems by saying “If it doesn’t take long to apply, you’ll get more cut-and-paste applications that don’t really show that the candidate really wants that particular position, and you’ll possibly get more candidates that decide against the position when offered it, because they never really wanted it in the first place.”
30 comments “And thereby encourage people to hang on for yet another depressing season of rejections? Whom does this help? ” [Eleanor notes that some respondents found good permanent jobs after a very long time on the job market; unfortunately it is not clear that unemployment in one year can be taken as a definitive indication that one is out of the running in following years.]
One respondent commented that many UK universities already have uniform applications for every kind of job — the lecturer and the gardener have to answer the same questions — and that this illustrates how silly the whole idea is.
Conclusion: no action.
v. Lobby universities to make the job-search process less painful, for example by providing prompt and courteous notification of all rejections and waitlistings
Average rating 1.5 (1.6 for UK; all groups pretty similar)
113 (a US Classicist) says: “The Wiki is good; they will have to be better than that.”
Eleanor remarks: for non-US academics and non-Classicists, the way this Wiki works is that when people get interview offers from a particular insitution, they post on a designated site the insitution and the date of the offer. Since each instution normally sends out its interview offers all at once, once one person posts about that institution the other applicants know that they are out of the running. At first glance the system may appear brutal, but the wiki is nicely run (the posts are anonymous and strictly factual, not gloats or discussion); candidates often see this as less stressful than getting a rejection letter. It is certainly less stressful than not getting any letter. Should we encourage people to use something similar in the UK? Do the philosophers have anything similar, and if not, should they get something like it? You can see the site by going to http://classics.wikidot.com/ (login instructions can be found on http://famaevolent.blogspot.co.uk/); if you do, please offer feedback on whether an extension would be useful.
27 says: “I had no idea the US wiki site existed. Perhaps department websites could link to it?”
95 says: “I can understand why it’s difficult to provide everyone with feedback every time they’re not shortlisted, but it would help so much if we could find time to do it. I do try to do so for people I know when I’m involved in an appointment process, but it’s hard to do everyone. Perhaps a committee should share it out. But like so much, it takes time, and time is what we don’t have.”
Eleanor says: the fate of the CUCD protocol on temporary hires serves as a warning for what can go wrong when one tries to effect improvement in this area: nearly everyone who looked at this agreed that it was good and if adhered to would make life better for a significant number of people, but even its authors agree that it has had no effect. Realistically there may simply be little that we can do, particularly in the UK where hires are controlled by central administrators, but one person suggested that it would be helpful if the CUCD sent an annual reminder about the existence of this protocol to all heads of Classics departments in the UK.
Conclusion: we should ask the CUCD to remind UK Classics departments annually about the temporary hire protocol, and encouraging jobseekers to use some version of the Wiki (and institutions to link to it?) may bring good results.
w. Challenge the romanticism of academia so that people no longer have that dream that is so hard to give up; try to prevent people from seeing it as a vocation rather than just another job (in rating this one, please consider what it would do to the experience of students if they were taught by people for whom teaching was a job rather than their vocation)
Average rating 0.7 (low from everyone except those who have left academia)
54 comments “This would kill something genuinely good in this cruel world.”
27 comments “Like you say, I wouldn’t want to be taught by someone for whom teaching was just a job. The romanticism of academia is an inherent part of academia. If it wasn’t liberal arts universities would have no place in a world of for-profit instructional institutions which hand out the 1-year certificate you need for a particular job.”
30 sums up the views of many in saying “This is just plain wrong. An academic job, for most people, is a vocation and a satisfying one at that. You don’t do anyone any good by simply telling lies about it. The truth is that such a job is no longer an option for four-fifths of those who seek it. The four-fifths should take this on board and act accordingly.”
22 comments “I couldn’t agree more with this; I think the ‘vocation’ idea is idiotic and unhelpful. You need a vocation to join a monastery, not to teach Latin effectively.”
94 says: “People do this because they can’t not do it. It’s like any art.”
120 says “2 – there is nothing ‘romantic’ about academia; one need not be pessimistic, but there is a dangerous myth that needs to be dispelled (academics sitting all day thinking deep thoughts, teaching enthusiastic students, going to international conferences …).”
Conclusion: no action.
x. Help part-time/adjunct/sessional staff unionize and negotiate for better working conditions
Average rating 1.6 (1.5 for Classicists; most groups had similar ratings)
34 commented “I am not a Union member, but / and / because the failure of the Unions to have this on their agenda is shocking to me.”
51 commented “This is the absolute worst idea of all. I work at a university where the part-time staff are unionized. It has resulted in fewer, not more, opportunities for those without permanent jobs. Our part-time staff have negotiated, among other things, a seniority system that maintains those with experience in place as long as they choose to remain. The typical sessional lecturer is now a full-time or nearly full-time schoolteacher giving a course at the university on the side, or somebody else supplementing other means (an academic wife, for example). In the meantime, the door is largely closed to well-qualified new entrants into the part-time job market.”
30 commented : “If the exploited were to decide not to be exploited and to go elsewhere to make a living, the exploiters would have to treat better everyone on whose labor they rely.”
95 (in the UK) commented “Though I’d put it more in terms of getting the union to behave in a way that was more concerned to protect the jobs and less its members. It’s a shambles.”
Note that there is currently such a drive underway at at least one US university: see http://www.laloyolan.com/news/adjunct-faculty-aim-for-union/article_a50f1164-4777-11e3-9204-0019bb30f31a.html?mode=jqm
Conclusion: it is unclear how helpful unionization would really be; it would be prudent to observe the unionization drives currently underway and see whether they work out well for the people concerned before deciding whether to do anything.
y. Provide a mentoring system for early-career scholars who are struggling to keep their research going in a focussed way
Average rating 1.5 (high or medium from all groups)
Several people pointed out that such schemes already exist, e.g. with the WCC in the US and internally at many UK universities. PhD supervisors and examiners also very often act as mentors, sometimes for decades after the thesis is completed.
146 comments: “I’m all in favour of mentoring but I’m completely against organised mentoring schemes. They just waste time. Real mentoring is when you go to somebody whose opinion you want for that particular thing. People without jobs aren’t stupid–if they’ve done a PhD they know how to do research and have got at least some idea what academics do to get their work published.”
95 says: “Very desirable, but I don’t quite see how this can work other than informally for the unattached. I think senior scholars are alert to the need, more so than their institutions, though time pressure can mean that none of us do as much as we would like to.”
102, an isolated and struggling ECR, says “It is only growing bureaucracy.”
but 128 says: “And we need mentors; mentors who we can use as a point of reference and a sounding board and as a senior colleague to advise us. For too many of us the mentoring is cut dead following your PhD submission. And I have since met far too many ECR’s who have had no mentoring whatsoever during their PhD and do not know that they should have and still need it.”
11 comments (from Eastern Europe, well out of the range of the mentoring schemes I know of): “It would be helpful if academic staff altogether would be included in a (co)mentorship-network; some acknowledged scholars should be chosen (according to their academic fields, off course) for cooperation in mentorship of PhD candidates abroad; so a candidate from, for example, Poland, has a mentor in Poland, but also a co-mentor from some high-profile European university to turn to for some advice. This does not mean that I think mentors of small universities are necessarily unhelpful, but a PhD thesis is usually some new field of research and the mentor who is assigned to you is always a little bit “out of his league” in that area; a colleague with another perspective could only help!”
Several respondents pointed out that young scholars can and should take the initiative themselves to seek help from established people they admire, and that such sallies are often very effective. Established scholars can (and do) also take the initiative to reach out to newer ones, and when this happens the relationship can be very positive for both sides. Exploitation (in either direction) is, of course, a real possibility, and both sides need to work to ensure that the relationship is equal in terms of the amount of time put in: if the great Sir X offers to give you comments on your article, you should not only send it to him in really polished condition, but also offer to do something like checking proofs for him — but you shouldn’t end up doing the index to his 900-page book. Both parties should be free to cut off a mentoring relationship, and each should be aware that if it becomes exploitative the other is likely to do so.
Conclusion: we need to find out more about who feels the need for another mentoring system and why such people are not happy with current arrangements before we can decide whether it would be useful to set up another one. Perhaps a new scheme really would be helpful for people like 11, but perhaps she could be incorporated into an existing one. At the same time young scholars could be encouraged to seek their own mentors and to remember that it has to be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
z. Provide small travel or research grants to those without permanent academic jobs
Average rating 1.5 (high from the unemployed and those with part-time jobs, medium from others)
146 comments: “If this can be done I think it would help academics without jobs feel that their participation in the academic community was really wanted. Of course there’s a down side if this is done via grants which are available only to such people, as they may feel that they’re getting special treatment and that may feel demeaning. It would depend how it’s done and perhaps on the indidivual, I think.”
Several people pointed out that small grants are the ones most likely to be open to independent scholars anyway, so there is no real need for this service.
Conclusion: no action.
aa. Pay open-access publication fees for unaffiliated scholars whose articles are accepted by top journals
Average rating 1.2 (1.3 for Classicists)
There was a wide range of responses, but those with most understanding of the open-access debate gave this option low ratings. In particular, 95 pointed out that the problem has largely been solved; see above under 1 r.
Conclusion: no action.
bb. Provide an organization through which people could apply for real research grants, access to libraries, etc.
Average rating 1.5 (much more enthusiasm from those without a solid affiliation than from those with)
Several respondents expressed scepticism that this option would be feasible as regards the grants; probably it would be resisted by both the universities (who stand to lose if the pool of grants is further divided) and the grant-awarding bodies (who as noted above under 1 i want to reduce the total number of applications). It might be a waste of time as regards the libraries, since as noted above there are easier solutions to those problems.
Conclusion: this should not be a priority at this time, but we might want to revive it later if it would be useful.
cc. Provide a service that would give jobseekers a realistic evaluation of their chances at ever finding a job (ideally anonymously)
Average rating 1.2 (medium from almost all groups)
Many commented that since luck is indeed a big factor, accurate evaluations would be impossible. (The original idea had been a response to complaints from former jobseekers who felt that they had wasted years on the market because no-one had had the courage to tell them frankly that they had no chance. Despite the large element of luck in the job-search process, there is general agreement that some applicants are so poor that they really will never get anything, and that therefore predictions could be accurate in those cases. It was suggested that it is very difficult to tell a young person you care about that he/she has no chance, in a way that gets the point across without creating a dreadful reaction, and that an anonymous service that the worried candidate had to ask for himself/herself might serve a useful function.) An essential pre-requisite for providing this service would be the participation of senior academics with appointment-committee experience, but several such people volunteered to help provide it, so from that perspective the proposal is a viable one.
30 says “Hmm. Might be worth trying. But would those not impressed by the statistics stacked against them be any more amenable to persuasion by a service that gives them the same bad news?”
Conclusion: no action at present, but this idea could be revived later if there is more demand for it.
dd. Provide an organization through which people could be tapped to review books, referee articles and grant proposals, and otherwise utilize their expertise and have it appreciated, ideally with a small subsidy for the time spent in such tasks
Average rating 1.4 (1.3 for Classicists; high from those primarily outside academia and with part-time jobs, medium from most others including the unemployed, but low from superstars)
146 says: “I find it hard to believe that the expertise of unaffiliated scholars isn’t already being tapped like this, but if it can be made easier for people who would like to be part of such an organisation then yes.”
34, giving this 0, commented “imagine an analogous situation for people who didn’t get the nursing job they wanted . . ”
Some respondents worried that scholars who had never succeeded in having a book or article published might be unfamiliar with the expected standard; they might well be too harsh as referees, and with a grant proposal those who had not held grants might not understand e.g. what it is reasonable to expect to be accomplished in one year’s work. In fact some unaffiliated scholars have substantial publications and would not be open to such objections, but there is evidence that independent scholars with good scholarly reputations are already sought after for such tasks like affiliated ones.
Conclusion: more evidence is needed that this would be a good idea, and no action should be taken until that evidence emerges.
ee. Provide people with an academic e-mail address
Average rating 1.1 (1.2 for UK; most responses hover around here)
27 commented “This would mean retaining the email of the school a student graduated from. This might cause confusion as to whether they’re still a student or have a position there. Would perhaps be better for something like Academia.edu to provide email addresses, and to see a lot of scholars with positions use that so it doesn’t seem strange.”
Conclusion: this would probably not be helpful, and certainly not if 1 j can be implemented.
ff. Provide library (or at least e-resources) access for people without an academic affiliation
Average rating 1.6 (1.7 for UK; high from those without a solid affiliation and students, medium from those with full-time jobs)
34 commented “join the Hellenic or Roman Society or CA for library + JSTOR access!”
Conclusion: 34 is right! But is there an equivalent solution for philosophers?
Note: after this report was posted I received the following from the library of the Hellenic and Roman Societies: “Unfortunately we are no longer able to offer remote JSTOR access to members; it is something we’re working towards but this may take time. Obviously not to discourage people from joining as they will still get access in the library or via email requests for specific articles but we wouldn’t want anyone to join with false expectations. Also worth pointing out is that anyone actively researching Classics without an academic affiliation can apply to the Director of the Institute of Classical Studies for free reference use of the library which I am sure would be useful for those who find themselves struggling financially. Additionally membership of the societies enables people in the UK to request postal loans and all members can get scans or photocopies sent to them which is something that many people (current members included) don’t realise. There is a cost for these services which perhaps doesn’t make it ideal for people seeking work although our recently acquired scanner means it now 5p per page for an emailed scan. Hopefully that clarifies everything- we at the library are all too aware of the challenges being faced by young researchers and are eager to help in whatever way we can.”
New conclusion: we need to rethink this issue, but it still seems likely that these organizations will be part of the solution.
gg. Provide a support network of people who will at least be kind to each other if no-one else will be kind to them
Average rating 1.0 (1.1 for Classicists, 1.3 for UK; all groups gave fairly similar ratings)
151 comments “honestly academia is not and should not be a charity institution – there are far worst problems in the world for which charity and compassion are really needed – I feel that in any case those embarking in a PhD are a privileged group” [Eleanor notes: personally I disagree with this, but probably many others would not. If this view is wrong, how could it be countered?]
Conclusion: no action.
hh. Provide support for the transition to non-academic life, for example careers advice, training, or help in starting a business
Average rating 1.6 (most groups fairly similar, but the unemployed academics rate this option only 1.4, the lowest of any group)
There are various suggestions of professions that might be good targets; see also under 1e above. One group of suggestions is the ‘alt-ac’ set of positions: university administrators, librarians, etc. Such jobs have certain obvious advantages, in that they allow people who do not want to leave academia to remain within it. But this very advantage can also be a drawback, since someone who really wanted a teaching/research position and did not get one may be better off making a clean break than being constantly surrounded by other people who did get such positions. Instances have been documented of people in such positions being motivated by jealousy and bitterness to make life difficult for those whom they see as more fortunate, and teaching/research academics sometimes display contempt for ‘managers’ who are also ‘failed academics’. It could be argued, in fact, that much of the internal nastiness at universities results from treating university administration as a good career for the ‘academic failures’. Now of course that’s another reason not to call it failure, but still, is there anything we could do to discourage this solution to the job problem?
30 says “Items dd, ee, ff, and gg are more bandaids. Item hh is right on the money. Low-cost or free career counseling would be a real step in the right direction.”
146 says “Yes and no. These things should be accessible to people but I’m unsure whether the problem is really any lack of availability of these things already. In Oxford the careers service focusses to a very large extent on non-academic jobs and remains available for ever to people with a degree from Oxford. If other universities aren’t already providing something similar they could be encouraged to do so. But nobody should be forced to take careers advice unless they want it.”
95 says “Best done, probably, by particular institutions rather than nationally.”
Eleanor notes that most institutions already offer something in this direction, both for current students and for alumni. Some universities even have specialist careers advisors for graduate students, who work particularly on non-academic placements. But some respondents commented that often these services are not very good, because the people providing them do not actually know what kind of company would be interested in hiring someone who has written a book on Greek tragedy (vel sim.), or how a detailed knowledge of Seleucid history can be portrayed as a useful real-world skill. For this reason it might actually be better if specialized help for e.g. people with PhDs in Classics or Philosophy could be provided by professional associations in these subjects; there are some resources already but more are probably needed. As noted above under 1 e, the PhD is usually not a big help in getting non-academic jobs (it may even be a hindrance), and expensive retraining may be necessary.
Few respondents think it would be good to make attention to such matters mandatory during the actual time as a graduate student (see above under 1e); nevertheless it would be good to have help available as an option, and that option has to remain open to PhDs until such time as they feel they need it, which is usually several years after leaving their graduate programmes.
A further complication is that someone who has devoted 4 (or 6 or 8 or 10) years to attempting to have an academic career is often demoralized, poverty-stricken (or even indebted), old enough for age to be a disadvantage, and generally not in a good condition to start over with something completely different. The transition is a genuinely difficult one, and many people either cannot manage it or cannot manage it without help. Often these people would have found the transition far easier after the BA. We have to be realistic about this; although we can and should help here, it would be foolish to pretend that an improvement in careers services can by itself solve the problem.
Any action on this point should start from the excellent services that some groups already provide. These include but are not limited to this web site for PhDs and institutions: http://versatilephd.com/. The University of Chicago seems to be a leader in providing this type of support; note these sites: https://careeradvancement.uchicago.edu/jobs-internships-research/graduate-student-externships and http://www.eventbrite.com/e/getting-a-start-in-publishing-registration-11239448493. Additional tips can be found here: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/impact-and-evaluation/what-do-researchers-do, and some encouragement appears here: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/03/what-can-you-do-with-a-humanities-phd-anyway/359927/
Conclusion: certain institutions could be encouraged to help their PhDs more in this area, and professional associations should also provide specialized, intelligent, knowledgeable help. There are some good resources already, which could be more widely used and/or duplicated elsewhere. But doing all this will not fully solve the problem, particularly if a stigma of failure remains associated with career change.
ii. Provide support for people wanting to move into school teaching, and try to remove the stigma associated with such a move and replace it with the respect that teachers’ hard work and impressive skills really deserve
Average rating 1.7 (1.8 for UK; most groups were fairly similar, but the unemployed academics rate this option 1.5, the lowest of any group)
Respondents reported some excellent programmes in the UK to lure people into teaching: Researchers in Schools (http://www.researchersinschools.org/) for people with advanced degrees, and Teach First (http://www.teachfirst.org.uk/) for people with a BA. But upon investigation it turned out that neither programme will accept people with Classics degrees (any degree). Could that be changed? On the positive side, there is a new programme that offers teacher training to Classicists thinking of working in primary schools (http://classicsincommunities.org/).
106 (in UK) says: “Problem: the PGCE classics only exists in 2 universities – it’s more over-subscribed than academic jobs (yes, it really is!) – 70+ applications per 12 places”
94 says: “In the USA there is very special training required for pre-college-level teaching, so this isn’t so practical here.”
Eleanor notes: in both countries private schools accept people without teacher certification, and those jobs can be very good ones. But many Classicists have political persuasions that make them prefer to teach in the state/public system, and certainly more state-certified Classics teachers are urgently needed. Can we as a profession make it easier to get the necessary training, for example by setting up another PGCE programme (perhaps even one geared to people with graduate training?). Alternatively, if academics are not willing to take such action, should they considering changing the way they express their political opinions, so as not to create graduates who feel guilty about teaching in the schools that will welcome the training academics have given them?
34 commented “I am surprised / shocked to hear that there is a stigma? Actually, in general, I wonder where all this reputation stuff is coming from. Established academics (I really hope not) — or peers?”
30 says: “Lots of PhDs make this move. If people feel that to teach school is demeaning and stigmatizes them, there is not much that can be done. Teaching the young is an honorable profession, and associations such as the APA devote a lot of time and energy to serving this group of their membership. Whether anything more can be done to improve the perception of this profession is unclear.” [Eleanor says: that stigma is real, not just in the minds of teachers. Not, mercifully, in the APA, and certainly not in JACT, but in many universities. It would help if there were more interaction between academics and teachers, not only the kind of interaction where the teachers learn from the academics, but the kind where the academics learn from the the teachers, who have some impressive skills. How about teacher exchanges between schools and universities, where we swap places for a week or so? If one is tempted to respond that such a thing would not be possible because the schoolteachers are not qualified to teach at universities, is that an expression of the very stigma that causes a problem here?]
95 says “Provided it’s the right sort of people, evidently a very good idea. More involvement with local schools throughout the PhD would help – as much to test aptitude as to train skills.”
113 reminds us of some of the other problems: “I would like this option more if I could teach Greek in secondary schools.” [Think before you condemn her: how would you feel about giving up Greek?]
One respondent (see general comments at the very end of this document) said that declining birthrates mean employment opportunities for teachers are also going down. This can be a particular problem in the US, where each state has its own certification and you cannot just move to take a job in another state without being re-certified.
Conclusion: there are real obstacles here, and we as a profession (particularly Classics — I am not sure this route is much help for Philosophy) can and should do something about them.
jj. Help with the creation of a new school or schools staffed entirely by PhDs (with appropriate training etc.)
Average rating 0.8 (0.7 for Classicists, 0.6 for UK; no-one is very enthusiastic about this)
95 says: “Absolutely not; there’s no reason to think that PhDs make particularly good teachers, and the knock-on effect might be to devalue other teachers who were not so qualified.”
Conclusion: no action.
kk. Other (please specify):
95 says: “Any positive suggestions coming out of this had better be hard-headed about the ‘we’ who would provide this. A lot of the decisions taken have got to be hard ones. A university may need to extract money from its facilities to fund graduate scholarships; therefore it charges for its use of facilities, including for conferences. It may cut down on research grants to senior academics, and then they don’t go to the conferences, and the graduates don’t get as good feedback or such prestige from the ensuing publications. Of course there just needs to be more money in the system, but we’re not going to get that any time soon.”
42a comments: “Graduate programs should try, as much as possible, to maintain a network among those graduates who went into other careers as well as among those who obtained academic jobs. This could make the transition out of academia easier, especially for recent PhDs in search of advice, options etc. It would also help if graduate schools had better careers advice units (there seems to be plenty for undergrads, but not much for upper-level students).” [Eleanor notes: such a network would benefit institutions too, e.g. for fundraising; that is why many US universities now let all graduates keep their e-mail addresses. We could link this to 1 j above, but avoid bombarding people with too much e-mail.]
42a also comments: “The first stage of all job interviews should take place via Skype. There is no reason why graduate students should travel to a major conference for only a thirty-minute meeting. This January, I attended the APA [American Philological Association annual meeting] all the way from Australia (it cost something in the realm of $AUD3,000 just for tickets); I had two interviews and although I had asked both committees whether they could Skype me, I received either no reply or no precise confirmation. Few people can afford to waste that amount of money.”
94 echoes this with: “Do you know what it’s like not to be able to afford to apply for a job because you can’t afford to go to the conference?”
On this point Eleanor says: This is really an APA [American Philological Association]-specific issue, not one that could be solved by any external group, but someone should probably raise it with the APA Placement Committee (who have probably already thought about it for themselves, but it would do no harm to make sure). Such a change would have big implications, as it would effectively mean the dismantling of the job-search component of the APA meeting and thus a reduction of the size of the meeting (not only would the jobseekers not come, but the hiring committees would not come either, and between those two groups the average US job search probably contributes c. 6 attendees to the APA meeting who would not otherwise be there). It would also reduce the control that the APA Placement Committee exercises on the US job market, a control that is largely to the benefit of jobseekers. Moreover, once hiring committees were relieved of the need to get short-listing done before the meeting, the US job season would become longer and less intense, with real tenure-track positions coming up after Christmas as they do in the UK. In the long run I suspect that this shift will take place whether the APA likes it or not, because Skype is much cheaper for the hiring institutions as well: at present they have to fly a committee to the meeting and not only pay hotel bills and registration fees, but also hire a meeting room for the interviews.
142 comments: “At the institutional level the departmental review process should be used to track this problem. Departmental reviews should include a mandatory check on the treatment of precariat scholars, asking if their employment is lawful and whether they are being treated fairly and respectfully. As part of the review the department should be called upon to provide a full record of precariat employment. The back story here is that this is how my position became permanent. Our department was reviewed and the committee was appalled by my situation and that of another colleague. Our continuous contract-to-contract employment over many years was unlawful. A key recommendation of their report was to address our situation. The positions were advertised and we were both made permanent. It helps that the committee featured high profile members of the discipline.” [Eleanor notes: This is a heartening tale, but it is worth remembering that the result of advertising a position is not always that the person who has previously been doing it is made permanent.]
10 is one of several who believes expansion is possible: “Going back to your initial e-mail. I think that you are actually too pessimistic about increasing the number of academic jobs. For example, in Britain, I know of only one former polytechnic that has an ancient historian (Jason Crowley at Manchester Metropolitan). But lots of students studying history at Universities without Classics depts. would like to study the ancient world. How, practically, we inspire ex-polys to create ancient history jobs, I am not sure — but it can surely be done, and might even be a gateway to bringing in other Classicists. There are loads of other non-Classics departments into which Classicists can fit: philosophy, linguistics, theology, literature, etc. Moreover, as a subject, we *can* expand. Subjects have expanded (and declined) even in the old University system, and now that the cap on places is being removed, there is still more scope to do so. It is not a zero-sum game.” [Eleanor says: do we want the different Humanities subjects to compete with each other like this? We all share the same problem, and I would prefer it if we could all work together to solve it. But perhaps co-operation is not feasible?]
10 also remarked “One other practical proposal: one could also make is for better ways for people to leave a doctorate early with honour intact. We have the MPhil here, but it is little used.”
134 comments: “When universities decide to terminate the Classics program for budget problems or other kind of problems (which is often happening), create and provide support for those junior faculty who have been teaching within that program and are thus unfairly fired, some support in terms of offering some alternative positions or a relocation, instead of leaving them to themselves with a sense also of betrayal (after all one has done for the students and the university itself, they just let her/him go not needing any more her/his service!). Also, help create some kind of alternative jobs/paid activities in the editorial area (publishing company, journal etc.) where one can use her/his own academic expertise and keep being tied to the academic world.” [Eleanor notes: further investigation revealed that there may actually be scope for some useful action here on the part of professional organizations. For example, the translation of academic books should be done by specialists in the relevant field, and more could be done to steer such work to qualified unemployed academics.]
108 says that because her Classics PhD had an interdisciplinary component, she was able to get a post-doctoral position in another field, where jobs are less tight. She attributes this to having really interacted with the other field during her PhD (i.e. attending conferences in that subject and joining research networks, not just reading their literature and using it in her thesis), and she suggests that more PhD students should be encouraged to think of such activities as a survival strategy rather than a waste of dissertation time. [Eleanor notes that people opting for this strategy would have to pick the other field carefully, since in some other fields the job market is worse than in Classics. Moreover, interdisciplinary PhDs sometimes face special difficulties on the job market in Classics; an interdiscipinary researcher may be seen as insufficiently qualified in both fields. Nevertheless the point that interdisciplinary work can keep multiple options open is an important one.]
94 (in the US) says: “Universities do discriminate against the published. State colleges will not hire anyone with a book on the c.v. because they cost too much and clearly are interested in research rather than teaching (as though it were a zero sum game). Even upper level schools prefer to hire those with maybe an encyclopedia entry and who are still “wet behind the ears” so that they can mould them (not to mention bully them and have them take longer to get a promotion and raise). I would be most appreciative if there were some way to make publication an advantage on the job market.” [Eleanor says: This may sound absurd, but it is not. Third- and fourth-tier US institutions often do not want to hire academics who will be able to get another job and leave, because every time someone leaves the department faces a risk that the position may be cut. Although the ‘better’ applicants find it infuriating to be passed over in favour of the ‘less qualified’ ones, the reasons why this happens may be perfectly sound, and in my view no attempt should be made to put pressure on such institutions to change their policies. (And I say this as someone who has herself been rejected on such grounds.) But it follows that academics need to keep this in mind when advising students: a great research record is not always a good thing on a CV.]
22 (a senior UK classicist) says: “I’m disturbed at the number of suggestions here which aim to allow non-affiliated scholars to continue research careers, not because I’m against that per se, but because it seems a counterproductive approach to the problem: if PhDs spend longer and longer looking for a job, writing more and more, going to conferences and networking, and still end up without a post, then they will have sunk even more time and energy into the process, and at the same time will have made the competition even more intense. I know that some people are so driven that they will subordinate everything else in their life to the chance to do hourly tutoring in a university (in fact I know several who have done this), but it’s not a decision that many are happy with by the time they’re in their 40s.”
In the same vein, one person commented that the proliferation of post-doc opportunities in the Humanities may make things worse. Twenty years ago there were only a few JRFs, too few to affect the overall market, so a graduate either got a real job and was effectively settled, or he got a temporary teaching position and had no time for research; in the latter situation he was clearly out of the running for real jobs after a few years and normally (though not always) accepted that fact. The result was that they people on the job market were by and large only those who had gotten PhDs in the past three years or so. Now, because of the rise in short-term research posts, people whose PhDs are five years or more ago are still very much in play, exponentially increasing both the number of people on the market and the length of time it takes before it is clear that someone is out of the running for permanent jobs. That latter fact means that those who drop out of the race have now wasted more of their lives on it than they used to. And yet I doubt that anyone would seriously advocate a reduction in the number of post-doctoral positions.
There is a widespread theory that the reason people with PhDs put up with poor jobs is the lure of the allegedly rich, hassle-free life of the permanent academic (see e.g. http://alexandreafonso.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/how-academia-resembles-a-drug-gang/). But several respondents pointed out that most permanent academics are not in fact rich, and indeed that their lives can be pretty harsh. Many work incredibly long hours, are badly paid, and endure painful hardship, including but not limited to:
- tenure-track faculty being subject to arbitrary abuse and exploitation by colleagues who have the power to deny tenure if not adequately grovelled to for 5 years (8 years at some institutions).
- enormous amounts of pointless admin.
- at many institutions, constant threats that the department/subject/programme could be drastically cut or eliminated completely if unrealistic targets are not met; fear of unemployment as a result.
- being forced to do things that they regard as unethical, and in general to make hard decisions that hurt the conscience. For example, one may be faced with a choice between actively recruiting PhD students who are never going to make it in the job market or seeing one’s PhD programme closed and colleagues made redundant.
For a scholarly paper on the problems facing employed academics and how the problems of the unemployed are part of a wider crisis in academic culture, see http://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/depts/cmci/people/papers/gill/silence.pdf. There is also an interesting article from 2002: J. Huisman, E. de Weert, and J. Bartelse, ‘Academic Careers from a European Perspective: The Declining Desirability of the Faculty Position’, in The Journal of Higher Education 73 (2002): 141-60 (available online via Project Muse); the authors predict a coming shortage of job applicants, which has not in fact happened, but despite this some of their points are good ones.
While no-one denies that the sufferings of people without permanent jobs are much greater than those with such jobs, it might help if jobseekers appreciated a) that the goal they are so desperately striving for may not be worth it, and b) that when established academics act in ways that can be seen as unethical, often such actions are the result of pressures that are very hard to withstand, not simply because established academics are lazy, self-centred, or uncaring. If the theory that it is the attractiveness of the permanent jobs that keeps the people in the temporary ones going is correct, simply disseminating better information about the life of a permanent academic might in fact reduce the problem considerably.
At the same time, this communication would need to be handled carefully, as it will not be helpful if the impression is given that people who are comparatively well off are just complaining. 95, after considering this dilemma, suggested: “The most effective way, I think, is actually a less frivolous version of the ‘how X thinks I spend my time’, ‘how Y thinks is spend my time..’ etc pie-charts that have quite an existence on the blogosphere; I saw a serious US survey along those lines going around on Facebook only this week – sadly can’t now find it. OUP have a series which started ‘So you want to be…’ – a brain-surgeon, I think the first one was. ‘So you want to be a practising academic’ would be a good one to have in that series, with a mix of hard data on hours spent on different tasks, numbers of us having to live apart from partners, numbers of ultimate successes and numbers of interviews necessary before getting those jobs, etc etc – in fact very much what you’ve collected; also some profiles of people, anonymous doubtless, on what it’s really like, ups and downs included. I’d guess that a lot of them would end up tilting towards the all-the-same-I-wouldn’t-change, but it would provide a lot of food for thought.”
Conclusion: we should try to find sources of funding as well as volunteer power; someone should raise the possibility of Skype interviews with the APA; those serving on departmental review committees should be encouraged to see if they can put pressure on institutions to treat temporary staff better and/or make them permanent; the provision of ‘honourable exits’ from PhD programmes could be advantageous; it might be a good idea to counter the myth of the rich and carefree tenured academic by some fact-based publications; it might be possible to encourage publishers to hire people with PhDs for jobs that would in fact be better done by such people; and we might also want to think about some of the other ideas here.
2. Below are some disadvantages felt by people who do not have permanent (tenured or tenure-track) academic jobs. If you are in that position, please rate each on a scale from 0 (this is not a problem for me at the present time), via 1 (this is unpleasant but bearable), to 2 (this aspect is absolutely dreadful for me). If you do hold a permanent academic position or have retired from one, please skip this question unless you have been in this position recently enough to remember what it felt like:
Note: in preparing the executive summary I singled out those problems rated 1.2 or above (i.e. 60/100 in the converted rating). Ratings were accepted from everyone who answered this question, some of whom had been on the job market for a very short time period and/or had not yet finished their dissertations; as such respondents have in general experienced little hardship and have not yet encountered problems such as the sense of failure, they often produced low ratings. Probably for this reason, ratings of questions in this section were generally lower than those for question 1, but nevertheless almost every respondent gave a rating of 2 (‘absolutely dreadful’) to one or more problems. Further analysis of the data in this section would probably be useful by revealing more about what type of respondent is most unhappy and what issues are worst for these unhappiest respondentes. As for question 1, the ratings of Classicists and those from the UK can be assumed to be the same as the overall rating if they are not given separately.
a. The sense of failure resulting from not getting an academic position
Average rating 1.1 (Classics 1.3, UK 1.0; lowest rating 0.6 is from those with primary employment outside academia)
b. Having to give up my dream
Average rating 1.1 (Classics 1.2; note 0.5 from those with primary employment outside academia and 1.6 from those with multiple part-time jobs)
c. Being under constant pressure to give up and stop pursuing my dream of an academic career
Average rating 0.8 (Classics 1.0, UK 0.6; low of 0.5 from those with primary employment outside academia)
d. Giving up the professional and personal intellectual identity on which I had invested so much
Average rating 1.2 (Classics 1.4, 1.8 for those with multiple part-time jobs, 0.7 from those with primary employment outside academia)
e. The feeling that I have wasted all the time and effort I put into my PhD
Average rating 0.7 (Classics 0.8, UK 0.6, high 1.1 from the unemployed; low 0.2 from those with primary employment outside academia)
f. The constant fear that everything I’ve put in on my career will turn out to have been wasted
Average rating 1.0 (UK 0.7; high 1.4 from unemployed academics)
g. The anguish of not knowing whether I should give up (and waste what I’ve invested so far) or keep trying (and perhaps waste even more of my life)
Average rating 1.3 (UK 1.0; note 1.8 from unemployed academics, 1.4 from people who did eventually get a real job, and 1.6 from those who are still students; low of 1.0 from people in full-time temporary jobs, perhaps because they are mostly new PhDs?)
h. Regret that I did not get a proper job as my friends did but instead went for a PhD that has turned out to be useless
Average rating 0.5 (highest 0.8 from those with multiple part-time jobs, lowest 0.3 from those who did eventually get a real job)
i. Having to do a boring menial job that does not reflect my qualifications and that I do not like
Average rating 0.8 (Classics 0.7; UK 0.6; much variation by region; high of 1 from those with primary employment outside academia, low of 0.4 from those who did eventually get a real job)
j. Fear of being too old to switch to another career
Average rating 1.0 (Classics 1.2; UK 0.8; much variation by region)
k. The constant pressure
Average rating 1.2 (UK 1.1; much variation by region; high of 1.7 for students, 1.6 for the unemployed academics, low of 0.8 for those with primary employment outside academia)
l. Having to work incredibly long hours to keep up my research while doing another full-time job
Average rating 0.9 (Classics 0.8; UK 0.6; much variation by region)
m. Not having any time to do research
Average rating 1.0 (much variation by region but interestingly no job category rates this highly: highest 1.4 from those who eventually got real jobs)
n. The constant uncertainty about the future
Average rating 1.6 (Classics 1.7; UK 1.5, the lowest of any major region. Those with primary employment outside academia give this a 1, and all other employment groups give it at least 1.6, with a high of 1.8 from the unemployed and those with multiple part-time jobs)
o. Never knowing what country I’ll be in next year
Average rating 0.9 (Classics 1.0; UK 0.6; highest 1.0 from people who eventually got a real job, lowest from those with primary employment outside academia)
p. Spending my entire life applying for things
Average rating 1.1 (UK 0.8; much variation by region; high of 2.0 from those who are still students, which seems extraordinary)
q. Total demoralization associated with the endless applications
Average rating 1.2 (UK 1.1; variation by region; note 1.8 from those with multiple PT jobs and 0.9 from those with primary employment outside academia)
r. Seeing endless very specific job ads, so that it sometimes looks as though half the jobs are rigged but none of them rigged for me
Average rating 1.1 (variation by region)
s. Constantly having to move from one place to another
Average rating 0.9 (Classics 1.1; UK 0.7, varies by region but none are very high)
t. The way in which universities treat me as someone exploitable and expendable
Average rating 1.1 (UK 1.0; varies by region but none are very high; however by job type note 1.7 from people who eventually got real jobs, the highest of any group; 1.4 for multiple PT jobs and 1.3 for PT jobs)
u. Colleagues treating me as a second-class citizen who deserves the exploitation I get
Average rating 0.6 (varies by region but none higher than 1; by job type highest is 0.9 from people who eventually got real jobs, the highest of any group; 0.4 from those with multiple part-time jobs and 0.7 for those with single part-time jobs)
This is interesting: is it that temporary staff are not treated as second-class citizens, or that they do not mind? I suspect the latter, both because I have worked in four universities and in all the temporary staff were indeed treated as second-class citizens, and because the people who rated this problem highest are those who, having later gotten real jobs and moved out of the second-class-citizen category, feel vindicated in declaring that such treatment was unfair. Does this mean we need not worry about such treatment, on the grounds that most of the recipients don’t mind? Somehow I do not like that conclusion, but is there any flaw in it?
v. Being tormented by employers who hold out hope that my temporary position may become permanent
Average rating 0.6 (UK 0.4; varies by region but generally low; no variation by job type)
w. Fear of total unemployment
Average rating 1.1 (UK 1.0, most other regions are higher, esp. WEurope; by job type highest 1.7 from students and 1.6 from the unemployed)
x. Not having nearly enough money
Average rating 1.1 (UK 1.0; varies by region but not much by job type)
y. Being cut off from the intellectual stimulation of an academic community and missing academic interaction
Average rating 1.0 (UK 1.2; high 1.4 from the unemployed)
z. Lack of library resources owing to not having an academic affiliation
Average rating 0.7 (varies; high 1.2 from the unemployed)
aa. Lack of opportunity to attend conferences and do research owing to not having an academic affiliation
Average rating 0.7 (Classics 0.6; UK 0.8, low nearly everywhere)
bb. Not being able to start a family
Average rating 0.8 (Classics 0.9; high 1.7 from students and 1.4 from those who did eventually get real jobs)
cc. Not being able to live with my partner
Average rating 0.7 (Classics 0.8; varies)
dd. The contradiction I see between the values professed by academia and how people are really treated
Average rating 1.2 (Classics and UK 1.3; high 1.6 from those who did eventually get real jobs)
ee. Other (please specify):
A significant number of respondents said they were discriminated against in non-academic or even academic hires because of being overqualified; some had convincing evidence of this. (Most of these complaints came from outside the USA/UK core of responses.) For example, 11: “Because of my PhD I had problems at other jobs I applied for. For example, head masters of high schools felt intimidated and endangered by my academic title and therefore did not want to hire me as a professor of Greek and Latin, saying I was “overqualified” (?!) for the job.”
134 says: “Fear (and ensuing frustration) that applications are not given the attention and consideration that they should deserve (the committee’s members are always too busy, and tend to overlook the materials); there are unfortunately faculty people that really do not have any sensitivity and a minimum of compassion, since for them – at their time – all was very easy, no stress, no competition etc.” [Eleanor notes: of course it is not true that we in our day had no stress or competition (except perhaps in certain countries outside the UK/USA core of responses), but we may prefer not to remember our own time on the market; the problem with compassion is that it is so painful to empathize with real suffering. But if it would really help the young for established academics to show more compassion, there is a case for doing so despite this problem. When asked how compassion could be demonstrated, 134 said that a personalized rejection letter showing actual knowledge of what was in the application would be a good start; at least it would show that the application had been read. This is not an isolated view; 95, a senior UK academic, opined that all rejected candidates (including those not interviewed) should get real feedback. At my last university we were expressly forbidden to do this, but I believe that policy is not the norm: should we try harder with the feedback where that is allowed?]
134 also says: “Depression, and even some sort of shame since, in the end, you do not have a job, are socially marginalized, and subjected to the easy judgment that surely there is something wrong with you.” [Eleanor notes: this raises the point that the stigma of failure is coming not just from within academia but also from outside it; naturally that makes it harder to challenge.]
Vulnerability to bullying/abuse of power
I was treated dreadfully by one of my immediate colleagues, upon whose favor I depended for further employment. When I read women’s accounts of being in an abusive relationship, I see strong similarities with the experiences I had with this person (whom I dubbed my ‘anti-mentor’, because their address to me was consistently aimed at diminution and discouragement). My sense is that academics with bullying tendencies dine out on casual academics because they (rightly) figure they can get away with it. [Eleanor notes: tenure-track faculty report similar problems.]
Non-reciprocity of exposure
I did the same job for 7 years, over 5 separate consecutive contracts (each contract noted that the university was ‘uncertain of ongoing operational needs’). Every time a contract ended and a new one began I had to submit all my documents (CV, Teaching profile, teaching evaluations, etc) to my immediate colleagues. This was non-reciprocal – I had no access to their documents. It seems minor but at the time this non-reciprocity really bothered me because it strongly bespoke the power relationship. Later on it bothered me because, as I discovered, my colleagues used my teaching profile as a template for their own profiles, in one case adopting my exact phrasing in their description of their individual approach to teaching! This is the kind of thing that routinely happens to casual staff. [Eleanor notes: there were other complaints about this type of non-reciprocity, though no other reports of plagiarism resulting from it.]
During my time in the precariat responses to my successes were always extremely strange. If, for example, I published something, got asked to give a keynote, received recognition from students, etc., there was never the standard ‘Ah good for you’ type response. Instead there was … I find I can’t even describe it – there was a kind of non-recognition or ‘wiping’ of the success, as though it never happened, as though it was somehow embarrassing or perhaps inconvenient that someone in my position should even have (albeit very mild) success.” [Eleanor notes: This is not far-fetched: I saw it happen at Columbia with the successes of a non-tenure-track faculty member.]
94 says: “Do you know what it’s like to get fired because you failed a student who never took a final OR handed in a term paper, but who whined to the vice-provost that she had to graduate?” [Eleanor notes: While of course this type of thing is difficult to verify, I have seen something similar happen.]
128, who did a PhD as a mature student, says: “What is the single worst aspect of this whole situation? Aside from the exhaustion and the schizophrenia [by this she means doing too many things at once, so that you are so overextended it drives you mad], it’s the emptiness; the ‘coming up empty’. I studied and sacrificed a huge amount to get here and to be a scholar. I really thought it would get easier and yield fruit. It hasn’t. It has got harder and I am poorer and more exhausted than I ever was. I am very very good at what I do. I know that. I know things and can research and can write reasonably well. But I, like the others, think every day about giving up. For those who are younger, they can. They can go into business or work for government or move overseas. Not for me. I am stuck with this choice and have to make the best of a bad lot. I know that at the AHRC and in other bodies, the new ‘buzz word’ is ECR’s. But is it lip service? Or do senior colleagues and funding bodies really want to help us? And what will happen when ECR’s are no longer ‘on trend’? Will there be any supports left in place for them? Just being Cassandra.”
A 2012 article about the 33,655 US PhDs (many with part-time academic jobs) on food stamps: http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/
A 2013 article about UK academics on zero-hours contracts: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/sep/16/zero-hours-contracts-at-universities
Two frightening pieces on what happens to those who go to grad school:
Conclusions for question 2:
There is intense unhappiness, but its exact source is variable; the average scores conceal wild fluctuations within as well as between groups, much more so than for question 1. Nearly every respondent rated several problems with 2, which was defined as ‘absolutely dreadful for me’; the comparatively low average scores are because the causes of unhappiness are different for different people, not because only some respondents are unhappy. The best generalization one can make about the causes is that the worst aspects are psychological rather than practical, but this generalization is a significant one. Some respondents who have permanent jobs stated that our priority should be reducing the practical problems rather than making people feel better, and initially this view seemed right. The responses, however, suggest that feelings are actually the main problem, and under those circumstances it is unlikely that any solution that does not take feelings into account can be successful. Indeed, it looks as though in many cases people without permanent jobs would be perfectly capable of living with the practical problems of their lot if they could be helped to feel less awful about it. In other words, if the feelings could be addressed, to a large extent there might not be a problem: many respondents already have other solutions to their financial and other material needs. Moreover, respondents have indicated the approach that could be taken to make them feel less rejected. More compassion could be shown, and more respect (after all, many of the people who do not get permanent jobs are nevertheless excellent scholars and teachers, and those of us who have been on hiring committees all know that; of course some are not so good, but that fact need not rule out showing respect and compassion to those who are). Departments that repeatedly hire temporary faculty could try to give those faculty members as much stability as possible and treat them well.
3. There is a protocol for the employment of short-term academic staff that has been agreed by UK Classics departments via the CUCD (available at http://www.rhul.ac.uk/classics/cucd/tempstaff.html). Did you know that this existed?
Twelve people said yes, but that includes those who wrote and posted it.
4. Do you have any views on this protocol or its effectiveness?
Twenty-five people said they thought it was good or very good; only four of those had previously known about it. But some also said it was not effective, including its sponsors.
123 said that the protocol is fantastic and asked the CUCD to send an annual reminder about it to Classics department chairs.
I would be extremely grateful if you could also answer these demographic questions, which will help me evaluate whether particular groups share particular views. This information will not be used in any way that could identify individuals. If you do not answer at least the first question and tell me your academic subject (Classics, Philosophy, etc.), I shall not be able to make much use of your ratings provided above.
5. What is your current academic employment situation?
Primary employment outside academia
Part-time academic job
Multiple part-time academic jobs
A temporary but full-time academic job
A permanent (i.e. tenured or tenure-track) academic job, or retired from such a post [If you fall into this category, there is no need to answer the questions that follow apart from telling me what subject you are in. Thank you!]
Of the 150 respondents who answered this question (88 from Classics), 52 (39 from Classics) had or were retired from permanent jobs, including 43 (34 from Classics) who did not remember a period of unemployment themselves; there were also 45 responses from people with non-permanent academic jobs, 17 from unemployed academics, and 15 from graduate students.
6. Do you want a permanent academic job?
Yes, of course: any job, anywhere!
Yes, but only at a good university
Yes, but only within certain geographic restrictions
In theory, but I’ve given up trying
92 respondents answered this question; only 9 (10%) did not want a job, but most respondents reported some restrictions on their job searches, either by university or by geographical region.
7. While you were doing your doctorate, did you expect to get a permanent academic job eventually?
Of the 94 people who answered this question, 58 (62%) expected to get a job. In the US it was 94%; 86% among people with PhDs from Ivy-League universities and 100% among people with PhDs from non-Ivy-League US universities (though such people are widely believed to have less chance at a job than those with Ivy-League PhDs). In the UK only 52% had expected a job, and the expectation gap went in the other direction: 60% of those with Oxbridge PhDs had expected a job, compared to 46% of those with non-Oxbridge PhDs.
64% of Classicists and 60% of philosophers had expected jobs.
87 comments: “Yes, although as I expected to spend 5+ years in consecutive temporary academic jobs en route to my permanent job. I was completely unprepared to end up with NO academic work whatsoever. My PhD was fully-funded (at overseas student fees!) by competitve grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, ORS, and ORS-linked scholarships from my university; in the final year of my PhD I won a prestigious Canadian fellowship in my discipline (open only to Canadian citizens in the final year of their PhD program). I thought this success meant that I’d have no trouble finding academic work.” [Eleanor notes: This should perhaps remind us that funding is not sufficient as a gate-keeper to real jobs; 87 is far from being the only fully-funded student to end up jobless.]
8. Please enter the subject, awarding university, and year of your doctorate
88 responses from Classicists, 31 from philosophers, and 22 from people in other Humanities fields.
9. What country/countries are you a citizen of?
10. What country do you now live in?
Most responses were from the US and UK, but Canada and numerous other European countries were also represented, as well as South Africa, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand. Unfortunately most of these areas were represented by only a few replies; the data from Canada and Australia might be usable but the other regions are too poorly represented to allow one to draw conclusions.
11. What type of academic employment have you held since gaining your doctorate?
I have held full-time academic positions ever since gaining the doctorate
I had a full-time job until I left academia, but since then I do something else
I have always had something, but it was not always full-time
I have had some academic jobs, but some years without them
I have never held any academic post
Other (please specify)
12. Do you now have a source of income other than an academic job?
Yes, so I don’t need an academic job
Yes, but it’s not what I want to do, so I’m still trying to get an academic job
Yes, but it’s not enough money to live on, so I’m still trying to get an academic job
Other (please specify)
13. How many academic jobs (including temporary and part-time posts) have you applied for in the last 12 months, and what success have you had?
Some people apply for a lot of jobs: although half the 50 respondents who specified a number of applications had applied for fewer than 10 jobs, the half that had applied for more included eleven with 40 or more applications in the last 12 months, up to a high of 65. The waste of time here is staggering.
14. What is your gender?
Respondents were predominantly female, but males are also represented at all levels. In defiance of the stereotype that women are the compassionate ones, the senior Classicists who acted out of altruism included a large number of males. More could probably be done in terms of data analysis by gender.
15. What is your age?
Most respondents were in their 30s or 40s; more could probably be done in terms of data analysis by age, but in any such analysis it would be important to separate the altruistic respondents from those who had aged in unemployment.
40 says: “I will make a few general comments from the point of view of an American with a PhD in biology who long ago gave up on having an academic career and is now retired.
(1). Over on this side of the Atlantic at least the overproduction of qualified graduates at all levels in virtually every field has been going on for decades and has gotten worse over time. One of the driving forces at the postgraduate level has been the exploitation of graduate students as teaching assistants and research assistants – these people are paid a fraction of what regular faculty are paid and the research that they do is usually uncompensated. It’s basic economics that if an employer is allowed to classify some people as trainees and pay them less than a living wage, they will classify as many people as trainees as possible and use them as much as possible just as workers. IMHO American Universities are not very different from the robber barons of the 19th century in this respect.
(2). The student loan system we have over here has added an appalling dimension to the situation of graduates, because so many people, especially those who go on to get advanced degrees, carry heavy debt loads for their education. Even public universities have become completely dependent upon student loans, guaranteed by the federal government but originating with, and of profit to, the private financial sector. This is a pernicious system and if there are signs of its introduction on your side of the Atlantic it should be fought tooth and nail.
(3). Be realistic about the prospects of alternative employment. I know that over here the educational pundits who talk about going into K-12 teaching are completely ignoring demographics – the fact that the 20-35 crowd who can’t find stable employment aren’t having children and that the current low birth rate is going to create a trough in K-12 enrollments. Traditional white collar alternative jobs for the educated are being exported abroad at an accelerating rate.”
71 (in the US) comments:
“These questions are close to my own experience, though I did eventually land a permanent academic job; I was on the market for 8 years straight, and it was 13 years between PhD and tenure. I left the field at one point (for 4 years), worked as a software manager, and came back to teaching in 2001.
In any case, a few thoughts: to some extent, I think it will always be the case that we will produce more PhD’s than there are jobs. If we didn’t, the system would break down – there wouldn’t be enough students to pay for the jobs that currently exist, and that would lead to reductions in staff and even fewer jobs for the fewer PhD’s. Horrible though it is, I do think it’s a bit like professional sports. Hundreds of people try to become qualified to get perhaps 10 spots; and though that’s cruel to the other 90, there’s no way to know in advance who the 10 are who will succeed. So the only way is to make the resources available, do our best with the students we have, and then do a much better job than we currently do of finding alternate employment for the 90 who don’t end up going on. They’re talented and smart, and most of them do end up doing interesting (and often lucrative) things; but there’s simply no way to create academic jobs for each of them.
Also – the fact that there are only 20 permanent jobs for every 100 job seekers is not as dire a statistic as it sounds (speaking as someone who lived through this). Most people are on the market for several years in a row, often starting with a 1-year or 2-year job. In my experience, most of these candidates generally do land a permanent job after being on the market for 3-5 years. It is terribly difficult, and it’s hard to get published at first, and yes, luck does play a role. But so does talent and hard work; we recently had a post-doc here who had a 50% teaching load for a year. We advised her that this was a golden opportunity to get some publications into the pipeline, while she wasn’t teaching full time. For whatever reason, she simply didn’t do that – and now her prospects do look rather bleak. One doesn’t like to blame the candidates for their difficulties – but some people don’t do what is required in the current market to get a job.”
Eleanor notes: The statistics I used gave not a jobs-to-applicants ratio of five to one, but the information that only 20% of PhDs would ever get a permanent job; my source is, however, The Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/17723223), perhaps not the most rigorous source of academic research. In any case, because job markets fluctuate and it takes years to get a job, and because the situation is different in different countries and in different subjects, there will never be total agreement on the statistics. So 71 is not the only person to have questioned the figures in the questionnaire. 74, a person of significant authority, says that in US, 40% of PhDs in foreign languages have a tenure-track job after 5 years, and 80% are working somewhere in academia (but many in low-paying adjunct positions). This looks a lot better than 20%, but one might ask whether the successful 40% have Latin and Greek as their languages, or whether e.g. Chinese or Arabic is driving those figures; moreover some Classicists (and all Philosophers) have specialisms that are not easily described as ‘foreign languages’. (To complicated matters, some respondents argue that in Classics the unsuccessful 80% are the ones without good language skills, often with the implication that this makes it okay if they end up unemployed. Whatever one thinks of the implication, the argument is itself incorrect, as many Classics PhDs with superb language skills remain unemployed, and some with minimal linguistic competence do get jobs; evidence on both these points exists but is by nature confidential. It is important that we not take the route of dividing into factions and fighting over who should get the jobs (more than we already do at each hire); we can only solve the actual problem if we work together in a constructive way.)
77, who is just finishing a PhD now, comments: “I also wanted to take a moment to address the suggested solutions of cutting the number of PhDs or on the opposite side the need to keep incoming PhD students in the dark about their job prospects in order to keep up the number of students. Neither to me seems a necessary or fair step to take. Personally, I will never think that my PhD has been a waste of time, even if I move into a career in a different field. At the end of the day I would have wanted to do a PhD as an end in its own right, not purely as a stepping stone to an academic career. I don’t think it would be right to take that choice away from people to do a PhD just for itself if they want to. But I also do not think it is fair to try to keep people in the dark about job prospects. Potential students need to know what they are getting themselves into and then they can make an informed decision on whether it is the right choice for them to pursue a PhD when it is most likely that it will not lead them to an academic job. The logical step to me is that we have to start expanding our thinking on the types of careers that Humanities PhD can go into and, what goes hand in hand with that, is to de-stigmatize the path of leaving academia after the PhD, to normalize that. At least in my institution in the US there is a growing awareness of alternatives to academic employment – “Alt-Ac” careers and how humanities PhDs can market the many skills we have gained to a wide range of careers. Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part, but from attending a number of careers services events at my institution, being marketable as a PhD in fields outside academia is entirely doable, with hard work of course. There are alternative career paths out there and you don’t have to perceive yourself as a “failed academic” if you end up doing something else. I apologize for the lengthy email but I wanted to try to get across that as someone nearing the end of the PhD who is considering my options for the future, the prospect of getting a job in a field outside academic does not make me regret the decision to enter a PhD programme. Even if I do not end up with a permanent academic job, as I think more and more is the most likely scenario, I won’t have “failed”. Getting my PhD will never have been a waste of time or effort for myself, even if that is how it is perceived by others. At the end of the day I’ll have a PhD and I will celebrate that for the achievement it is!”
106 says: “Much of the issues of marginalisation happen within all spheres of employment and the professional world, and I doubt that it’s fair to expect it to be different in HE. (I’m speaking as an ECR who’s held jobs in other spheres – I held part-time jobs in FE throughout my post-graduate career. I was told I would be breaking contract if I gave a paper at a conference, was asked to attend paid work on days set aside for attending university, and was made redundant from my last post while writing up and submitting my thesis. The mistreatment of staff in FE is so much worse than in HE.) [For those of you in the US, HE is Higher Education and FE is Further Education, i.e. post-16 but not university-level.] Also relevant: this year, the ICS have kindly funded the Early Career Seminar for Classical Studies (http://postdocsem.hypotheses.org/). This has provided the chance to bring together a wide range of early career researchers, with or without any institutions. In fact, our publicity specifically does not give affiliation for any speakers to avoid prejudicing those whose affiliation is questionable (sessional lecturers technically have no affiliation to that institution). We’ve had some really positive responses to this venture, and I wonder if it would be possible to link it to the points you’ve raised in 1:dd, 1:gg and 2y below. We’ve also published a piece in CUCD about it! Historians have a group called ‘History Lab Plus’ (http://www.history.ac.uk/historylab/plus), which has a large committee, and runs seminars, workshops etc. It would be good to create something similar for Classicists.”
134 (who got a tenure-track job only to have her department close and deposit her back on the market) says: “We do feel left alone in a complete desolation, disregarded, scared we will never get / re-get a job etc. etc. Certainly, if this initiative will have some impact, I am aware that it will take time, and that, unfortunately, there will not be the prompt solution that we (I and those in a similar situation) wish. But the first step is to sensitize or re-sensitize people – above all in academia – to this problem, which I am quite sure many pretend not to see. . . . I am a passionate teacher, not only a scholar; and I cannot describe properly how sad I am about the job problem, the pressure I feel, the lack of compassion I often see, and the sometimes-very-cruel competitiveness (although I do understand each of us wants a job, however sometimes I have had the impression of being in a world well represented by the Latin (plautine) motto ‘homo homini lupus’ – it is so sad!).”
Further reading (in addition to links and references provided above):
M. Yerkes et al., ‘Who are the Job Seekers? Explaining Unemployment among Doctoral Recipients’, in International Journal of Doctoral Studies 7 (2012). [This study of unemployment among Dutch PhDs at the moment of the defence/viva (a time when in the UK many graduate students are not yet expected to be employed) found that there was a strong correlation between weaker academic performance and unemployment, but that almost no other factors correlated with unemployment; it is uncertain how well the results could be generalized beyond the Netherlands, which has a doctoral training system rather different from those in the US and UK.]
M. Benito and R. Romera, ‘How to Boost the PhD Labour Market? Facts from the PhD System Side’, Working Paper 13-28, Statistics and Econometrics Series 024, Sept. 2013, Departamento de Estatdística, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. [This paper focuses on non-academic employment of PhDs resulting from a 31% increase in the number of doctorates granted in OECD countries between 1998 and 2009.]
L. Auriol, M. Schaaper, and B. Felix (2012), ‘Mapping Careers and Mobility of Doctorate Holders’ (http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k4dnq2h4n5c-en).
From the Women’s Classical Caucus: http://wccaucus.org/blog/cloelia-n-s-3-fall-2013-introduction-to-margins-of-academia/
From the 145th APA meeting: http://apaclassics.org/annual-meeting/145/abstracts?keys=contingent&=Apply