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.