Ask the grumpies: Do I stay or do I go now, and if I go… then what?

Tired of being grumpy all the time asks:

I’m an assistant professor.  I found your blog when looking for advice on dealing with horrible departments.  I don’t like my job and have become a big ball of stress and unhappiness.  I had been looking forward to escaping during my unpaid summer months, but have been given a pile of service and administrative deadlines to deal with (still unpaid).  I’ve tried to find another job without any luck.  I may or may not get tenure.

When I read the post on one of the Grumpies quitting, I, quite literally, had the breath knocked out of me.  It had never occurred to me that quitting without a new job was something that people actually did. My husband is on board with my quitting; he even suggested it earlier this year.

I am hesitant to discuss this with anyone I know– if my department hears, I fear they will choose not to renew my contract.  I’d rather choose to leave than be forced to.  Do you have any advice, thoughts, questions I should consider as I contemplate this new plan?

We both actually have experience with this.  Not only did #1 quit recently, but #2’s husband quit a year ago (pre-tenure) without having any other employment lined up.

Neither quit happened overnight.  It’s hard to quit something that allows a lot of freedom and can’t fire you on only two weeks’ notice.  It’s even harder to give up the potential for complete job security.  Add to that the weird culture of academia where, at least when you’re new, leaving the academic track seems like failure (it isn’t!), and you get people sticking around probably longer than they should.

Sometimes sticking around works out– you can change things or go on to other jobs.  Sometimes you just need a year of leave (and you can often get a year of unpaid leave off the tenure clock to try things out– #2’s DH did that just by asking).  Sometimes it’s just delaying the inevitable.

We both know many other people who have made the jump.  All are happier for it.  We know people who were considering making the jump but with one thing or another they decided they could make it work where they were or they got a job offer at a different place and everything worked out.  They’re happier than they were too.  And we know people who are still working on making the decision.

#1’s experience of quitting was that, somewhat thankfully, it got bad enough that I felt good about leaving.  If it had been less bad, I might still be there.  Perhaps that’s where you are.  It took me a year to decide to quit.  Other people in my department also have exit plans (and every year we’ve been hiring to replace recent exits), which tells you how bad it is there.  My experience has been that quitting my job makes me feel amazingly good, but I don’t think I would have felt that way if I’d left pre-tenure.  I also have financial luxury to faff about until I figure out a new career.  And I might hate my next job, too!  (But at least it will PAY MORE.)

Also, consider this:  it’s likely you can outlast administrators.  However, consider the direction your school as a whole is going in (your department, college, university as a whole).  That was one among many clues that I didn’t belong in that particular place.  It was hard, hard, hard for me to give up an academic career– that is, until I was ready to do it.  Everyone has a different breaking point.  While you’re finding yours, save money like a fiend.  Try to stay sane.  Maybe start consulting on the side if you want to turn that into a new career.  This could be an opportunity to move to where you really want to be!  (Better work environment for husband, closer to family or the beach, lower cost of living, whatever.)

There must be something you love about academia to even go into it.  There are also things you hate.  Are they things you hate about the career, or this particular job, or some of both?  If you can figure out the particular *aspects* that are turning you into a ball of stress, you can look at adjusting them within this job or in a new job.

Things to consider:

Academia is just a job

Pre-tenure angst *read this book*.  If you feel trapped, this book will help you feel untrapped and will give you the tools you need to get to freedom, whether that includes staying where you are with an exit plan or making a big jump.  It will help you turn the risk of losing/leaving your job into a calculated risk, increasing the upside and decreasing the downside.

For the past three years or so, #2 has been talking about getting ready financially for her DH to quit, dealing with him being out of work, and adjusting to his new income, off and on in her monthly mortgage posts.   Savings and lowering monthly expenses create the luxury of being able to make a measured risk.

Are you a scanner?  As #1 says, think about what aspects of work make you happy and read up on what kinds of jobs fit those aspects.  For example, like Cloud, my husband is a scanner, so he likes shorter projects.  He likes working in groups.  He likes figuring out problems.  He needs mental stimulation.  He needs regular validation.  He’s currently getting all of these things in his current job, but wasn’t getting them in academia.

From a practical standpoint, it took #2’s husband several months to get consulting contracts and job interviews, but they all kind of hit at once, probably because of the way hiring cycles and budgets work.  He started lazily networking in May, then more seriously in September, and by November he was working in his new job.  (He did get an unsolicited offer to continue teaching off the tenure track at the university, but had no problem turning that down.)

If you quit, you’re not alone.  If you decide to stick it out, you’re not alone there either.  If you decide to stay for a while and work on a gradual exit plan, that actually seems pretty common.  You can make any choice into the right one, if you can find what fits well for you and your life.

Does that help?

And now, check the comments for thoughts from the Grumpy Nation.

Resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia

In between bouts of sorting, de-cluttering, and apartment hunting, I’ve also been working on my job search. Here’s some helpful links I’ve found during my search.

How to avoid hassle during an out-of-state job search.

I might sign up for freelance editing work on  things like oDesk or eLance (any tips, readers?).  I don’t want to freelance forever, probably, but a little cash here and there might help.  Mostly I’m looking for an office job.

PhDs at Work looks interesting, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on there.  Does anyone want to investigate and report back in the comments?

Miriam Posner discusses what alt-ac (alternative-academic) jobs can and can’t provide.

There is a LinkedIn group called PhD Careers Outside of Academia, which is where I found this huge collection of links and articles for scientists transitioning to industry.  (I’ve also been checking out Ask A Manager but mostly for giggles.)


Do you have any recommendations for resources for PhDs seeking jobs outside of academia?  Specifically for social scientists or scientists who have some data skills and good writing skills, but only tiny amounts of programming skills, and nothing in biotech/pharma?  Thanks!

Is who we are what we do?: A deliberately controversial post.

Usually these posts start out with someone complaining about being at a cocktail party and being asked what they do.  The person complaining generally does not have a job.  Ze is financially independent or a SAHP or HouseSpouse or unemployed etc.  Depending on who is writing, the post becomes an ode to not working for The Man (and how you can only discover who you really are through Early Retirement and going to exploitative conferences in Portland, OR), a discussion about how taking care of hearth and family is the Most Important Job, or how to turn awkward and unfair conversations into networking opportunities instead of reasons to feel bad about ourselves.  And they all talk about how we’re so much more than our jobs and we shouldn’t be defined by our jobs.

This post is going to go a slightly different route.  I don’t know about #2, but I haven’t been at a cocktail party that wasn’t attached to a conference for *ages* (me either!) and when you’re at conference, you’ve got those helpful name-tags plus everyone knows that more likely than not you have a discipline-specific PhD.  Especially once you no longer look like a graduate student.

So this post is specifically going to focus on the question– is who you are what you do?

We say, Yes and  No.

We were both raised Catholic.  (We are recovering.)  And if you’re Catholic or Episcopalian, then belief is not as important as Good Works.  You’re not a nice person if you torture puppies even if you feel sad when you torture them.  If you ignore the impulse to torture puppies even though you desperately want to, you have as much of a shot at salvation as someone identical who would never dream of torturing puppies, maybe more, because you resisted a temptation that most people don’t have.

In economics terms, we tend to only believe preferences when they’re “realized,” which is just a fancy way of saying, “what you did”.  You’re showing what you preferred through your actions and your choices (very behaviorist!).  In that scenario, desire to torture or not torture puppies is meaningless– the lack of torture means that you preferred not to torture given the circumstances.  You are not a puppy-torturer unless you actually torture puppies (given your budget constraint).  We don’t know what’s in the black box or what the shape of your utility function is, but we can see exactly where your utility function hits your budget constraint.

In some sense, what we do defines us.  There may be some inner person trying to get out, but we can’t measure it unless it comes out.  We are what we do.

But also, no… Who are we if we’re not what what we do?   We are what we like and don’t like.  We are how we organize information. We’re a bundle of preferences and actions– we are what the outside world sees of us, though usually we are not how the world perceives us.  The patriarchy tends to twist our actions and our very existence to fit its own warped narrative.  We are bundles of energy and stardust masquerading as humans for now.

We are social scientists, through years of training.  Our disciplines shape how we see the world: how we make sense of the external world and our internal thoughts.  The narratives we tell ourselves, how we make decisions.  One of us used to be a mathematician, but that aspect has been dulled and replaced over time with graduate training and day-to-day work.  We are feminists of various flavors, and that shapes how we interact with people and information.  What we are directly affects what we do, and what we do shows who we are.

However, we are not our jobs.  They’re what we get money for, and they’re not all that we do.  We will still be social scientists without our current jobs.  We will still be teachers without our jobs, even if we never give another formal lecture.  We’ll still be cat-lovers and feminists and book-lovers and partners and friends and almost everything else that labels who we are.  We may no longer be “professor” without our jobs, but very little will change in terms of personal essence in the instant a job is left and a new job taken (or not taken).  Personal growth and change can (and will) come before a job change and after, but we don’t suddenly lose who we are or become a new person with a change in employment.  Maybe a happier (or temporarily sadder) person, but that kind of happiness seems to be more of an “estar” (in the moment temporary kind of being) thing than a “ser” (permanent kind of being) thing.

Who are you?  And how do you even define that?

The Shoe Drop’t

I quit my job.

(Wild applause, cheering)

This means I’m getting off the tenure track by default, because I don’t have another t-t job, and I’m not willing to live in terrible places (like this one) and teach high loads anymore.  I would consider maybe coming back to the t-t for the right position, but that’s not how the market works.  If my dream job appears I might apply, but the probability is low.  The dream job involves no teaching but not being on soft money.  Uh… and a pony?  I tried to bloom where I was planted, but it turns out you can’t bloom in poisoned soil.

Quitting my job is absolutely the right move.  There has been a lot of unbloggable toxicity that’s been damaging my sanity and health.  I very nearly quit in week 2 of the semester, and all the tenured colleagues I talked to said that I probably should, based on what had happened.  My partner said he would support me if I did.  Senior colleagues at other universities have told me, privately, to run-not-walk on outta here.

However, for a long time I was ambivalent about the end of my tenure-track career.  SO AMBIVALENT!  Because now I have tenure, and I’ve been working towards that since I was in high school.  I love so many aspects of academia (intellectual freedom, flexible hours, my own office, a variety of tasks, getting paid to do research, library access…) and I will really miss the job security.  The security of tenure let me sleep at night.  I have applied for numerous other t-t jobs while I’ve been here and gotten no hits, and finally had to jump.  I don’t know what I’m going to do without tenure.  I’ll figure something out.

But I will NOT miss teaching.  The more I thought about it, the less I even *want* another t-t job, because I am soooo burned out on teaching.  I just can’t, with the teaching, anymore.  Not even a leave of absence or sabbatical would fix it, because I would still have the residue of this university on me like slime that won’t wash off.  No more.  Not even grad students, not even small classes, not even my favorite topics.  Not online, not in a seminar.  I can’t handle students sucking my life force anymore.  Every semester for years on end: too many students, too little money, and twice a year two hundred 19-year-olds get to write inappropriate comments about my personal appearance on course evals, and then my boss reads them.  Who needs it?

I don’t know what I’m going to do about my next job and/or career.  Something research-based, perhaps.  You may see some self-absorbed bloggy rambling (e.g., my ideal work day).  We are very lucky that my partner makes fat bank and is willing to support me while I figure things out.  First-world problems.

Let’s tally the blog peeps right now: I technically have tenure this summer but after that I will be formerly tenured and (temporarily?) out of academia entirely… and unemployed for a while.  My partner has never been an academic, thank FSM.  #2 is currently tenured.  Her husband is a former academic who is much happier in industry.  (#2 is also much happier with her DH’s non-academic salary!)

I guess it’s true that people who have just quit their jobs are the happiest people in the world.

We are moving out of state and back to civilization as soon as we can (Current plan is end of August).  It was going to be sooner but this state is trying to kill us, and we haven’t been physically able to plan and implement those plans.  First my partner got the flu real bad for 2 weeks (which never happens), then we had 1 week of being ok, then I got pneumonia, which I’ve had for 3 and a half weeks(!) now and am still not well.  Also my partner needs frequent physical therapy for his genetically-misaligned knee and might need knee surgery.  The cat is not well and is now on a specialized diet which may or may not be working; I’ve been too sick to get back with the vet and I had to cancel my massage and dentist appointments due to pneumonia.  HALP.

I will miss the horse I ride, and a few of the people here, but that’s not enough to make me stay in such a toxic place.  (#2 notes: she also got paid next to nothing, even with the tenure bump.)  We are working on downsizing from our ridiculous-large house out here in the boonies to an amount of stuff we can maybe afford the housing for in a city.  We have plans about when and where we’re going apartment-hunting, when we’re moving, summer travel plans that were previously in place, work, insurance, legal stuff, we have a plan.

Wish us luck.

Your Ideal Work Day

A few years ago, get a life phd asked readers to think about what their ideal day would look like.

My ideal work day definitely does NOT include teaching or ANY emails from students.  It does, however, include research and friends.

I was at this conference when I realized I was having my ideal work day.  No students.  No student emails.  I talked to colleagues about research:  theirs, mine.  I got inspired to learn about a new statistical technique.

I saw good friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I ate good food.  I had time for a nap in the middle.

I met a new research collaborator and we talked about what research we do and could share.
I could choose what was most interesting to go hear talks about.  Setting my own schedule is awesome.
That is an ideal work day.


I think mine would start off with me checking my email to find a desk accept.  :)  Or an R&R from a top 2 journal.  Follow it up with a request to do something relatively trivial using my expertise for a large sum of money (like reading a proposal or giving a discussion).

These ideal day exercises aren’t so useful to me because my fantasy scenarios mainly depend on things that are outside of my control (last week was not an ideal week– the summer started with two conference rejections and a journal rejection, also our unscoopable paper that coauthor sat on for two years got scooped), and because I’m pretty happy with my life as it is and trying to optimize instead of satisfice just makes me grumpy.  It may not be a perfect life, but spending time and mental energy trying to make it better tends to make it worse and take time and energy away from things that actually help my life improve.  I remember the morning that I first heard about the willpower research on only being able to make a limited number of decisions each day, I was completely useless because I’d second guess making any decision instead of just making it, thus adding to my mental load.

Now, if I were miserable or unhappy, then the amount of time thinking about what makes me happy would be totally worth it.  A little bit of introspection might be able to make big short-term changes.  Fortunately for me, that’s not where I am right now (rejections aside).  We will see what the future brings.

What’s your ideal work day?

Calling sociology readers!

One of us has a question about the AJS– if you can help, can you shoot us an email at ?

More generally (for those who don’t want to email but do have info):  If a person wants to write a “Comment” on a prominent AJS article (new research finding exactly opposite results, for example, that don’t contradict the findings of the paper but show that the paper is not externally valid for an important subsample), what are potential outlets for that?

How do you get through piles of grading?

The reward method:  Grade an essay or grade a problem and then you get to read a book chapter (or a section of a book chapter).  Sure it sounds like it’ll take longer, but it takes a lot less time than procrastinating by hitting reload on the internet for hours and not actually grading anything.  Works best with short sections (romance novels!)

It helps to be on a couch away from people and away from the computer too.  Distractions are difficult to resist when grading, so they need to be minimized.  Having a big pile (on your lap, or on both sides of you) that’s difficult to escape from also helps, but you have to remember to use the restroom between problems or else you could end up in a bad situation.

My best tip is to grade in colored marker.  Any and all colors that you love.  The benefits are two-fold: 1) it makes grading more fun when you get to play with pretty markers; and 2) it prevents you from writing too many comments, so the grading goes faster.  Students who want details can always come see me in office hours, but they rarely do.  The thickness of a marker means you have to write your comments pretty big to be legible, and not a lot of words fit in the margin.  As it should be.  If you really MUST say a lot of things (why??), then you can always use the marker to write “Come see me.”  Switch colors whenever you get bored.

#1 prefers Pilot G2 gel pens (sensuous) or colored pencils (erasable!).  But we’ve had this conversation before.

Those of you who are or aren’t procrastinating, how do you get through your piles of grading?

How do you mentor junior faculty?

Being in a promotion and tenure meeting for the first time, one learns things.

Encourage junior faculty to publish on their own — get that dissertation work out, but also start steering a more independent course from the diss advisor.  (This may vary by field.)  If in a field where multiple authors is the norm, it’s important to have papers authored with different people (as in, not just the dissertation director!).

Book-article-book-article: make a choice and stick to it.  If you can, steer the juniors towards projects that will pay off faster.  If they do choose the book option, make sure they have a realistic idea of how long (very long!) it takes for the book to be published and all the obstacles that may come in their way through no fault of their own.

Tell them it gets easier after the first semester, and definitely after the first year.  It does.  But also don’t let them think it’s ok to do nothing their first year.   Yes, designing and teaching new courses is important, but often showing improvement in teaching over time is good enough to meet the teaching requirements for tenure (and you will improve).  Giving up that precious year of getting work done and getting your name out may make your research journey more difficult in the future.  Try to help junior faculty set up a research pipeline.  Research must start on day one, or you’ll never find a way to fit it in.

Share your strategies for recruiting, hiring, and managing students, if applicable.

Strongly encourage them to write.  It turns out some of our junior faculty didn’t want to “bother” those of us with tenure, until we explicitly told them that we wanted them to come to us with questions.  We said we’d be happy to read their drafts and give feedback about writing, journals to target, etc., and they said, Really? Great!

Here at Grumpy Rumblings we’re big fans of group accountability and research meetings.  Schedule writing dates where a group will get together to work in writing for a few hours in a coffeeshop.  Or start a weekly research group or writing group where one person presents each week and gets feedback at whatever stage they need.

Talk up their work when you’re out at conferences or giving talks.  Or while talking to administrators and other important people at your university.

Tell stories about how many times your papers and grants got rejected before they finally hit.  Show them all your tips and tricks for minimizing grading time.  Share rubrics, standard email responses, syllabus rules, “secret” resources on your campus, and the names of who to ask for special favors.  Sometimes there’s unofficial money that can be used for research, travel, paying a student, etc., and you just have to ask for it.

Model decent work-life balance, if you can.  My colleagues know that I don’t work on Saturdays, ever.  You might have different rules.  Talk about your hobbies, maybe.  Tell people who are new to town where they can sign up for a belly-dancing class.  Don’t ever assume that having a baby pre-tenure is incompatible with tenure.  Or that not having a partner is incompatible with staying in a small town.  (Or any number of wrong and -ist things that are even worse.)  And stop any of your senior colleagues who suggest such a thing, especially behind closed doors in important meetings.  They are wrong and their beliefs can end up being self-fulfilling.

Defend them from student complaints, and let them know what’s going on.  Share tips to avoid the problems.

Encourage junior faculty to come to you before they take on any service activity, and steer them away from useless ones.  Someone wants you to be on a committee with contentious members that doesn’t improve your working conditions or get you a publication?  Say no!

Take them out for drinks and food; tenured people often have more money than juniors.  Help them find a cat-sitter.

Give the gift of books by Ms. Mentor.  Celebrate every time they get an article accepted.  (If you tend towards jealousy– remember, at least after you’re tenured, colleagues who are more productive than you are more likely to benefit your career than hurt it.)  Cheer their progress.  Don’t let them disappear.


Savvy readers, what did we miss?

Ask the grumpies: Classroom gender resources

Grad Adviser asks:

I’m hoping that you have some ideas for resources that might help the graduate students in my department.  First, a little background.

The female graduate students in my department are in the process of raising the issue of an uncomfortable (I don’t know that they would say hostile) climate – there isn’t one specific incident that strikes anyone as completely outrageous but there is a pattern of behavior that they find dispiriting. Hopefully this will lead to a discussion among the faculty about what to do – including changing what we do in the classroom to foster a better climate and what we can do to help the graduate students be aware of these issues (so that they behave more professionally while students and then be a part of the solution, rather than the problem, once they are faculty members themselves).  But, when we get to that point – assuming we can convince my colleagues that there is a problem – the question is what to do.  The female students say that they are interrupted more, and talked over more, than the male students, and that this leads to them not speaking up as much in seminars.  Then they get criticized by the faculty members for not talking enough. (Some of them also feel uncomfortable during seminars because of inappropriate sexual statements from male graduate students, though I heard about this third-hand so don’t know that it is appropriate for me to bring it up, or to whom, or in what context. It’s a problem, though.) The female graduate students say that they are not encouraged to pursue [important mathy stuff] as much as the male students are, and that if they express any doubt about their abilities (which women are more apt to do), it changes how the faculty see them (in ways that does not seem to occur with the male students). Classroom dynamics seem particularly bad in the [mathy] classes, except for the one that I teach.

Do you have suggestions of books/articles/online resources that address managing the graduate classroom in a gender neutral way? (I’m not even sure that ‘gender neutral’ is the best phrase to use.)  Or that address advising and mentoring as well, now that I think about it?

It might help if we had a more diverse department, as well – one of you mentioned, in one of your posts or in a comment somewhere, that search committees in your department follow some kind of ‘best practices’ that allow you to mitigate problems of implicit bias etc. somewhat – we don’t do anything like that but I would like to suggest it as something we ought to be doing.  Do you have  suggestions of good sources of information about this?

I have tried to look for material on these issues, but most of the classroom-related content I’ve found is about primary or secondary education, and I’ve seen a few outdated (or, pretty old) websites about hiring.  I was hoping that you would have better suggestions.

Some initial thoughts.  We’ve found that things that work in secondary education also tend to work in collegiate education.  20-somethings aren’t that different than teens, even the motivated ones.  And, several of the studies from the 1980s+ are actually still valid today, at least the ones that you’re likely to have come across are still valid.  So don’t completely discount them.

The hiring stuff we do is to a priori decide what the important things we’re looking for in the search are– Research fit, Scholarly publications, Teaching, Diversity, or whatever you want (it doesn’t actually matter so long as it isn’t something that has disparate impact!).  Then each faculty member ranks each resume (or each resume that makes the initial cut) on a Likert (1-5 or whatever) scale for each of these items.  This ranking serves as a check to each faculty member’s implicit biases– you don’t put the numbers together and average them or anything.  It’s just a way for people to see how they’re stacking up the candidates against each other and they can notice when they’re giving someone (usually a guy) with 5 top articles a higher score on research than someone (usually a woman) with 7 top articles.  It’s a little extra paperwork but pretty eye-opening.  (There’s mixed research on whether or not asking people to justify their answers helps or hurts– I would not add that step in here.)  And I should have citations for you, but unfortunately I refereed that paper when home on house arrest and it didn’t end up getting accepted to the AER or wherever I was reviewing it for, even though it was really good.  So I can’t find it.  :(

The other step is that after you’ve made a short list, you simply look at the highest ranked woman and the highest ranked targeted minority groups and compare them to the lowest ranked person on your short list.  Sometimes you’ve accidentally overlooked someone good because of implicit bias.  Sometimes the pool just isn’t very good and the next highest ranked woman or minority is a standard deviation below.  That’s ok, the point is just to make that check.  If it turns out that the woman or minority is equal or better, then you replace someone or add another person to the short list.

Since you are in an NSF-defined STEM field (for readers at home, NSF includes several social sciences in their definition of STEM along with engineering and sciences, but does not include most interdisciplinary departments like B-schools, Med schools, etc.), one good place to start looking for more up-to-date information is from ADVANCE.  ADVANCE is an NSF-funded program to transform the climate for women in academia in the STEM fields. They’ve funded many colleges and universities around the country to study and fix these issues. Check out their list of who they’ve funded and see if there are any schools whose ADVANCE centers you’d feel comfortable asking for information, particularly if there are any that are geographically close to you that could send someone out to do training.  You may even some day want to put forward your own ADVANCE grant, though that would be a university-wide thing, not just for your department.  In addition, they have some resources through their webpage, including this one from VT.  Best hiring practices can be found here and here.  Here’s a pamphlet for your chair.  There’s lots more.

I’m not finding much on teaching, though, possibly graduate students are not ADVANCE’s main focus.  There was recently a study on Harvard business school that made a lot of news…

#2 should have some information on this though… except I don’t.  My suggestions involve things like asking people to read and discuss articles about the effects of subtle biases (e.g., this one), especially this one, and Virginia Valian’s book, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women.  There are pedagogical techniques for working with classrooms where some students dominate and interrupt other students and so those other students don’t get to contribute; you can find out about these things from places like teaching websites or even maybe google how to run a good meeting as a manager.  Strong role models of female full professors who can prepare students of all genders for the challenges of science and academia are what really helped me, and you may have to be proactive in seeking out speakers and getting students connected with positive mentoring through their professional organizations.

Come to think of it, seek out the professional organization(s) for your area and see what resources they have for students and early-career faculty.  Often sciencey orgs will have some sort of gender program with resources (e.g., Society of Women Engineers).  You should check out whether AAAS has programs — if they don’t, they should.  Their publications sure have put their foot in it enough!  This article has a bunch of links to resources that may help you.

Do our readers have any suggestions on literature about how to run a gender neutral classroom?  How about best practices in hiring?

Why are academic jobs seen as the holy grail or only grail in fields with the worst job markets?

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re going to be doing a series of posts on academic job market dysfunction and the market for PhDs outside of academia.

In this comment, Miriam writes:

I think it is shameful that many Anthropology programs (including mine) don’t encourage and support non-academic careers. There are both public sector applications and, for those of us who got burned out on low wages in grad school, highly paid corporate anthropology work. User experience research is cultural anthropology. When I compare my experience to my Computer Science husband’s, it’s ridiculous. In my department, I almost had a professor withdraw from my committee when I let slip that I was considering a public-sector Anthropology career instead of an academic one. In my husband’s, the department used the amount of graduates placed with companies like Google as a selling point. More than that, the department actively built corporate links to help with placement.

Given the job market in Anthropology, it is cruel to pressure candidates to value and look for academic careers. Yes, one person from a grad cohort occasionally ended up in a tenure-track job. The overwhelming majority ended up with post-docs or one-year lectureships leading to more lectureships or adjunct positions. I will never understand why professors would expect intelligent people to look at the amount of tenure-track jobs available and not figure out that the odds are heavily against us. I also don’t really understand the bias against public-sector or corporate research. Yes, the research is more constrained, but it’s also more practical. Perhaps one sign that I was always a bad fit for my particular program is that I valued the idea of doing ethnographic research in service of a specific application more than doing it to publish an article or book that would probably only be read by other academic anthropologists.

I’ve noticed this as well.  Humanities PhDs seem to be less encouraging of outside careers than are STEM PhDs.

I do wonder if it’s that there are more obvious career options outside of academia for engineers (for example, my DH is working on something very similar to his PhD work for a start-up, large scale work he couldn’t do as a TT professor because he didn’t have the funding) and economists (government, consulting etc.) and all those other disciplines that have pretty decent academic markets.  It’s true that in my grad program, our advisers were disappointed when top students chose government positions over great R1s, but for the rest of us they were happy to write non-academic job letters for government and consulting work and they provided panels of graduates to talk about what life is like in those kinds of careers.  At my current university, academic jobs (in the US) for our graduates are rare and we funnel most of our students into private-sector jobs.

But Miriam notes that there really are positions for anthropologists outside of the academic sector.  Her professors just wouldn’t hear of them.

This musing is coming on the tail end of checking out the tweets that sent people to our deliberately controversial post on the topic.  Apparently we’re neo-cons because neo-cons are the only people who ever use the word, “entitled.”  (Note:  that means a good portion of professors who teach undergrads must be neo-cons!) We’re fairly sure those folks just looked at the title of the post and didn’t actually read the post itself, since the post itself doesn’t actually say much or take a position of any kind, and the comments decry the defunding of academia.  (Duh!)

But the truth is, even if we fully funded academia, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs for a lot of humanities folks because the more attractive we make those jobs, the more people will want humanities PhDs, because the humanities PhD is essentially a fun thing to do.  We know this because even now there are people willing to starve themselves for the chance of someday becoming humanities professors.  If you make it more attractive to be a humanities prof, all that you’re going to do is drive up supply.

Underlying these complaints, we think, is that many of these people who complain about the fact that we don’t just make tenure-track jobs for everyone with a PhD is that these folks think that PhDs can’t possibly work outside academia like the rest of the hoi poloi.  They shouldn’t have to, what with their lily white hands and all.  That’s where the entitlement actually comes in.  There’s this belief that there’s something wrong, something dreadfully wrong, with leaving the ivory tower.  That’s what Miriam, above, is tapping into.

And yes, that’s easy for us to say, being tenured at all… but…

But… maybe tenure isn’t all that.

Maybe, sometimes, it’s worth grabbing that golden ring and throwing it away.

One of us lives with someone who made the jump (though before tenure), and he’s so much happier.

Academia is still just a job, and a lot of time there are better ones out there.  Nobody should have to put up with crap because of a job, especially people with enough education to escape.

So yeah, it would be lovely if, as a society, we took money from Exxon (and you know they’d take it from children’s mouths before they cut corporate welfare) and funded education again, but that won’t solve the problem of the humanities labor market, because the more attractive you make those positions, the more people will want to have them.  There will be more jobs, but there will be even more applicants for those same jobs.  Heck, even if we cut off all production of new PhDs, folks with humanities PhDs who had given up would return to academia if there were a demand for their services.

Cloud and Miriam were right when they said that learning how to do independent research is a valuable skill, even outside of academia.  Maybe we should stop pretending that there’s something dirty about using these skills outside of the ivory tower.  Maybe we should try to find value in producing things, like Miriam said, that are read by more than just other academic anthropologists.

And who cares what your out-of-touch adviser thinks.


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