April 28, 2004

Are You a Really Smart Sucker?

Posted by Ed

Then go to humanities grad school! That's what this Village Voice article says:

Here's an exciting career opportunity you won't see in the classified ads. For the first six to 10 years, it pays less than $20,000 and demands superhuman levels of commitment in a Dickensian environment. Forget about marriage, a mortgage, or even Thanksgiving dinners, as the focus of your entire life narrows to the production, to exacting specifications, of a 300-page document less than a dozen people will read. Then it's time for advancement: Apply to 50 far-flung, undesirable locations, with a 30 to 40 percent chance of being offered any position at all. You may end up living 100 miles from your spouse and commuting to three different work locations a week. You may end up $50,000 in debt, with no health insurance, feeding your kids with food stamps. If you are the luckiest out of every five entrants, you may win the profession's ultimate prize: A comfortable middle-class job, for the rest of your life, with summers off.

I think that paragraph may sound overly dire, however: I'm sure at least 25 people will want to read my dissertation, so the author's underestimating my readership by half!

The article briefly discusses the case of the Invisible Adjunct, which was also described in this much-discussed Chronicle of Higher Education article.

Posted by Ed at April 28, 2004 09:31 AM

Good catch, Ed. What would we do without you?

Posted by: Ralph Luker at April 28, 2004 06:15 PM

A lot of people whine about their jobs, but I donít think any whining annoys me more than grad students griping about theirs.

In your first two years of grad school, you are literally paid to take classes. You donít receive a ton of money, but you might be paid $20,000 for what some people pay $35,000. Making $20,000 a year at a store, a factory, or a restaurant sucks, because the work is hard, and you are generating way more than $20,000 in income for your employer. If you make $20,000 for reading books, where your output is worth nil to your "employer" you are in a completely different situation.

$20,000 for thirty weeks of "work" isnít that much for someone raised in a middle class home, but if grad students would consider how many people in America work 40-hour weeks, 52 weeks a year for $20,000 or less maybe theyíd complain a little less. Also, if you have two grad students, a husband and wife, "working" you have $40,000 a year, which is over twice the poverty line.

After you have written a dissertation no one will ever read, you may only find a job as an adjunct professor. Apparently the going rate for teaching a course as an adjunct professor is $3,000 for a semester. Is $3,000 for 15 weeks of teaching a class of motivated students, who never give you problems, who write interesting papers, that bad? I am paid the equivalent of $4,000 per semester per class, but my semesters last twenty weeks, and I do more grading, more preparation, and I have to deal with kids who can be rude and who can't put a sentence together. Adjunct professors also are paid in prestige.

Humanities students really have a knack for overinflating their economic value to society -- but if your dissertation was on Costume Design in French Comedy: 1720-1750, and only six people read it, your output was worth about $150 ($25 per book), not $60,000 a year job for life.

Many grad students complain about how hard it is to get a job in academia. They gripe about the competition, basically saying "I am entitled to a 12 hour a week, upper-middle income job reading books, everyone else with a Ph.D. trying to do the same thing is illegitimately encroaching on what I deserve." How can anyone be surprised that a lot of other people aspire to a career of few hours, physically undemanding work, travel, and high pay? You don't even have to wake up early! Grad students further complain about colleges hiring more adjuncts, and fewer tenured staff, well, the flip side of hiring adjuncts is that it contains costs for students!

Additionally, being a grad student is not a career at all. It is professional training. You are only deferring compensation. If you do finally become a professor, you have one of the most comfortable jobs in society.

There are certainly problems in this country with money and higher education. But I see the biggest problem as lower and middle-income kids being priced out of college entirely. Private colleges have long been unaffordable for the middle income, now state schools are getting to be the same way. In California, when state schools increased the cost of a tuition hour from $11 to $18, enrollment dropped 100,000 below expectations.

In a day when thousands of bright, working class kids are effectively being denied the opportunity to even start college, I have nothing but disdain for the griefs of grad students.

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