Quote of the Week: Cue the Violins

The job market for academics is like a suck hole in hell.  My grad students walk the halls dispondent. Their excuses for not turning in those chapters have transitioned from “I’m too scared of constructive criticism” to “I am too scared of Welfare Lines” and you know what, I feel them.

So here is this week’s quote winner:

But by all indications, recent university hiring freezes and evaporating grant money have reduced the world’s most elite degree to junk-bond status.


I think this quote is an exaggeration. The statistics may be dismal but they do not spell out the end, that would be the freak weather (hello, anybody seen any frogs falling from the sky yet?!). While I do think that a PhD has different meanings and advantages based on the field and the proximity to other forms of privilege, particularly class privilege, many should be able to go quite far with a PhD even if it is not in academe.

And now I’m going to give you the speech, I give my grads:

You are a brilliant and amazing scholar. No one can take the heart and soul of your work from you or the extreme accomplishment it is to have finished your dissertation and survived the beat down that is graduate school. You are not worthless based on your employment status, nor will I, or any truly decent academic, look down on you if you are unemployed for an extended period of time in the current market.

The job market is not going to get better any time soon. Instead of fretting on the wiki every day or stockpiling meds (and yes, one of my grads was actually doing this until her gf called my office frantic and I had to stage a back-in-my-social-service-days-style intervention), think about what brought you joy about your research and your dreams for the future. Then figure out how you can get that same joy back in other venues while waiting for the market to turn around.

Things you can do to say relevant in the downturn:

  • keep publishing
  • network at conferences, on listservs, and yes, even academic blogs (tho get to know the milieu first b/c some are vicious)
  • volunteer in an environment that lets you use your teaching skills like a feminist bookstore or cultural center
  • keep reading
  • if you have not already, get started on turning that diss into a book
  • find and participate in intellectual communities in your area
  • go to lectures and events at universities and colleges in your area (not just the one you graduated from) and get to know the scholars there by being an active participant and networking afterwards
  • NEVER think you are better than the 1 year post-doc or 2 year research position (tho I would caution against anything that lasts longer than 2 years without the possibility of tenure)

Now this is going to be the scary part:

  • spend some time thinking about how you can parlay the skills you gained in grad school into a fruitful position outside of academe

If you do not have an offer by the end of this hiring season, YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE. And most of us will be compassionate enough to see that when you try again.

I wish all of you out there, the very best of luck. My thoughts are with you.

2 thoughts on “Quote of the Week: Cue the Violins

  1. I’ve put in a proposal at the university of no money for us to run a uni wide seminar for students on the market in this economy. Basically, its something along the lines of bi-weekly discussions of how to make the best out of the PhD even if you don’t get a job (we already have “getting hired” seminars) and inviting speakers from relevant organizations, corporations, and non-profits to come talk about alternative careers. I had someone visit my class last semester who has a PhD and works for a multi-country feminist service organization and has spent the last several years working on Women’s Health issues in Africa, India, and the Middle East. She uses teaching/pedagogy skills in raising awareness about health issues, gives lectures to funding agencies, physicians associations, and government leaders, and she uses her research skills in using her diss on women’s health disparities as a jumping off point for analyzing current health issues. For someone who has never imagined themselves outside of the classroom, it might not seem like the dream but honestly, I think opportunities for being a public intellectual and community based scholar are much more varied than what is available in academe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s