Archive for category: Jobs

Courting controversy pt. 2

September 5th, 2010 by

Just a quick follow-up to last week’s post on changes in higher education. The New York Times published an article on Friday, highlighting two new books on the future of the American academy and picking up some of the points I discussed last time:

The labor system, for one thing, is clearly unjust. Tenured and tenure-track professors earn most of the money and benefits, but they’re a minority at the top of a pyramid. Nearly two-thirds of all college teachers are non-tenure-track adjuncts like Matt Williams, who told Hacker and Dreifus he had taught a dozen courses at two colleges in the Akron area the previous year, earning the equivalent of about $8.50 an hour by his reckoning. It is foolish that graduate programs are pumping new Ph.D.’s into a world without decent jobs for them.

But the real meat of the article is an overview of some interesting, but slightly terrifying, proposed solutions:

As for the humanities, let professors do research after-hours, on top of much heavier teaching schedules. “In other occupations, when people feel there is something they want to write, they do it on their own time and at their own expense,” the authors declare.

The authors being “Andrew Hacker, a professor emeritus of political science at Queens College, and Claudia C. Dreifus, a journalist (and contributor to the science section of The New York Times)”. You can thank them below.

Courting controversy

August 25th, 2010 by

There’s nothing like an overtly contentious statement to bring in the traffic. And as they go, this is a pretty good one: “Why higher education is like a Ponzi scheme“.

The linked post is actually for a radio program, the content of which was based on this original article by a professor of psychology from the University of Kentucky. In it, she argues that there aren’t enough tenure-track jobs to support the PhD students coming through the system and that students are exploited to prop up the teaching and research of over-stretched professors:

“In short, I think academia shares many of the classic elements of a social trap: It is in most faculty members’ and departments’ best interests to recruit a lot of graduate students. Churning out PhDs is one of the major metrics of departmental ‘success’. Departments need graduate students to teach their classes, and faculty members need them to run their labs. Yet, as in any social trap, when everybody acts in their self-interest, a negative collective outcome ensues.”

Her solution? Not to accept any more PhDs:

“I’m no longer willing to pin my students’ prospects for their futures on an ephemeral job market that shines in the distance like a mirage … I don’t want to be part of the problem any more, and I think I will sleep better knowing that I am no longer contributing to an academic job market that bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a Ponzi scheme on the verge of falling apart.”


Portrait of the scientist as a bureaucrat

September 15th, 2009 by

tapsCambridge zoologist Peter A. Lawrence has published a thoughtful piece on the frustration of scientists (whether young or not so young) facing the ruthlessness of the research granting system (Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research). He suggests how a “drastic simplification of this grant-writing process would help scientists return to the business of doing science” and quotes a passage from a recent NYT column by Stephen Quake, who asks what sounds to me like a challenging question:

Could we stimulate more discovery and creativity if more scientists had…security of…research support? Would this encourage risk-taking and lead to an overall improvement in the quality of science?

I take this as a genuine question in search of a convincing empirical answer.

  • The full article is available in PLoS Biology.
  • CC-licensed photo courtesy of .

Study Hacks on Rethinking What Impresses Employers and being a hyperspecialist

August 18th, 2009 by

Cal Newport says people think that the more hard things they do, the more impressive they’ll be to potential employers. He calls this the diligence hypothesis. This is a leitmotiv in his blogging.

However, this trend of getting (and looking!) as busy as possible is not exclusive to undergrads (his audience). I don’t know any academic that doesn’t look stressed. We mostly hoard more tasks that they can realistically accomplish. But academics love their jobs (or so legend has it), whereas most people don’t. People who have day jobs say their long-term strategy for dealing with no life is to amass enough wealth to have more freedom of time to be able to do  things they love. We try to do the opposite: a job we love that invades every corner of our lives.


“Do it for love” and other fallacies to motivate grad students and junior faculty

April 17th, 2009 by

In a supremely honest piece, (part II) T. H. Benton says that basically, it makes no sense to get a PhD in the humanities right now.

His predictions are gloomy (and I think this applies to other disciplines):

We are entering a period in which large numbers of tenured faculty members will be released under "financial exigency" only to be replaced by adjuncts doing essentially the same work for no benefits, no job security, and much less money. Those future adjuncts are the current crop of prospective graduate students, following their dreams, embarking on a "life of the mind," doing what they "love."

Kudos to the Chronicle for publishing opinion articles like these. Ycombinator thread here.

It’s becoming painfully obvious to many academic writers that, once we remove the romantic component, faculty positions are just not that desirable (see Greenspun’s Women in science for a similar view). I think it is important to make the facts as popular as possible, so those who remain in the academic track do it with full knowledge of what they are getting and what their prospects are.