Are PhDs entitled to tenured jobs? A deliberately controversial post.

We have argued before that academia is just a job.

We have marveled at how willingness to do math opens up a world of opportunities.  (Though not necessarily with a math PhD… but if you’re willing to do the same math as say, an engineer, you’re in better shape.  And hey, you can always take actuarial exams or maybe work for the NSA with that math degree.)

So… does the fact that you’ve suffered for 5-7 (or more!) years in a PhD program and gotten your hood and your diploma mean that you are entitled a tenure-track job?  What about your debt?  Your lost opportunity costs?  Are you entitled to compensation for that?

The fact is, there’s an excess supply of PhDs compared to the demand for tenure-track professors in most fields.  In fields where industry can absorb those extra PhDs at salaries higher than their t-t counterparts, that’s not so bad.  You can cry about your industry job all the way to the bank, so to speak.  In fields where the PhD doesn’t provide many additional earnings opportunities, that leads to a lot of unemployed and underemployed people with doctorates.  We end up with a lot of people being exploited as adjuncts in the hope that if they put their time in they can get one of those elusive tenure-track jobs.  People are willing through their actions to accept very little pay and bad working conditions simply because they hope it will lead to better employment later, and there’s enough of these people that it drives the cost of adjuncts down.

Sometimes you work hard and you take risks and those risks don’t pan out.  It would be nice if there were exactly the number of jobs available for the people qualified for them who wanted them and they matched up perfectly and paid well.   But not only are there differing demands for different skill sets, but some sets at the same skill level seem to be more likable than others.  People like studying the humanities.  There’s not enough demand for PhD level humanities skills to ensure all humanities PhDs a living wage using those skills.

So… are PhDs entitled to tenured jobs?  Is anyone entitled to anything besides life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

The art of learning not to take things seriously: A deliberately controversial post

First a disclaimer:  We are totally AP parents.  If that infant cries, we pick hir up immediately.  We’re also not heartless– if a student’s grandma dies, ze can take time off and turn in assignments late.  And so on.  This post is not about big deals, but about moderating moderate upsets.  End disclaimer.

Sometimes kids get heart-broken over things that really aren’t that big a deal.  Falling down (but not damaging anything).  Dropping a candy (when they have more that haven’t fallen).  Another kid accidentally pushing them (again with no injury).  And so on, with age appropriate examples.

Yeah yeah, some parenting philosophies say you’re supposed to tell kids how they’re feeling.  And some say that you’re supposed to empathize no matter what.  Sometimes we’ve seen this in action and instead of soothing like it’s supposed to, it lengthens the amount of crying and angst.  (Possibly a misapplication of the philosophy.)

We sympathize with disappointment, to the appropriate degree.  Kiss the owie to make it better and go off to play.  (Occasionally a crying jag can be broken if you exaggerate for effect, OH NOOOOO, the world is going to end… that usually gets a giggle.)

It’s important to fix problems (had to take a break from typing this because DC1 got soap in hir eye), but once they’re fixed, they don’t necessarily need the post-game analysis.

Kids pick up on our cues.  If they’re not sure how bad something is, they look to us.  How upset are we?  How upset do we seem to think they should be?  Is this a quick peck and then you run off to play, or is this something that requires lots of sympathy (even if the kid has forgotten which leg got hurt by this point)?

When we make a big deal out of something that isn’t such a big deal, we may be prolonging the angst and the pain that might quickly have been forgotten otherwise.  When we provide too many cushions, we may be denying our children the chance to grow and to find inner-strength.  Bending over backwards as if to keep a delicate flower from being crushed over a small thing may keep that flower from being able to move with the wind.  Our reaction should be appropriate for the upset.

My mom liked to tell me that I was building my character whenever something didn’t go my way.  I remember telling my mom once that my character was buff enough already, thank you.  She said, and I quote, “Oh ho ho ho.  Very funny.”  Ah mom.

But the lesson is a good one.  Yes, we can recover from life’s little setbacks.  We can regulate our emotions.  We don’t always need to be rescued.  We can grow and find our own inner strength, and build that strength.

Spoiler Alert:  I’m currently rereading Foundling by Georgette Heyer, about a little duke who has been coddled much of his life and yearns to break free.  One day he sneaks out, just to see what it’s like.  He spends an uncomfortable time out on his own, but he also grows a lot too.  He comes back with a greater appreciation for the people who love him, but also with his own inner strength.  Life isn’t always about being protected from any potential upset.

So what brings this up?  Mother’s in Medicine had a post discussing whether or not it was ok to keep your kid at daycare if you yourself are on vacation from work.  The original commenter clarified:

This incident stuck with me because the child was very, very upset each morning, much more so than at a regular drop off. The conversation was about making sure you forge a good relationship with your kids while they are little. Perhaps this mother did need a break; however it seemed that perhaps her child needed a bit of vacation then, too.

Assuming that the reason for the kid’s increased upsetness was mom’s being on vacation and not say, staying up too late the night before (because of mom’s vacation) or something completely unrelated like teething, this kind of thing can be a learning experience for the child.

Mom may take a vacation without you.  She may drop you off at daycare and you may imagine that she’ll spend the entire day eating ice cream and going to the zoo without you (more likely she’s going to do boring adult things).  But she’ll pick you up at the end of the day just like always (or maybe daddy will get you like always) and maybe she’ll be relaxed enough that you can do something fun that evening.  It is highly unlikely that a kid is going to be scarred for life by not taking a vacation when he’s supposed to be going to school.  So buck up.  Mom’ll be back and you’ll have plenty of time to have fun again in the future.

And that’s a good thing.

What isn’t good is mom freaking out and feeling guilty.  Because that teaches the kid that this kind of thing is a big deal, which really it isn’t.  Everyone is much happier when we give reactions that are proportionate to events and don’t make a big deal out of nothing.

Ok, Grumpeteers.  Your turn.

Marriage: A deliberately controversial post

Mawwage is what bwings us togevver… today.

With the media surrounding the protection of marriage act or whatever it’s called [Update:  moving this post up from July 10th because DOMA, the "defense of marriage act", is NO MORE.  YAYYYYYYY!!!!!], several feminist bloggers have been making the argument that marriage as an institution should be thrown out.

They argue it has a bad history in the patriarchy of oppression.  It treats women as chattel, etc. etc. etc.

They say we should get rid of it (but while we still have it, everybody should have the opportunity to use it).

Some, but not all, of them argue that monogamy itself is flawed and marriage prevents polygamous and polyandrous and other types of multiple love arrangements.  Some, but not all, argue that marriage is a way that some women feel superior to others.

We at grumpy rumblings are pro-marriage for those who want it.

Marriage as defined today is a mostly standardized contract that is defined by law, case law, and culture.  For the most part, if you enter this contract in the US, you know what you’re getting into, at least in the state where you’re getting married.

If the patriarchy is overthrown, marriage can still exist. We can get rid of marriage and the patriarchy will still be there.  It might be a step, but then again, it might be a better step to transform marriage from within.  Maybe.

People who want to experiment with different types of [ex. non-monogamous] relationships can (in the US anyway). They just have to enter into different contracts, contracts that aren’t called marriage. That argument doesn’t work as an argument against homosexual marriage– allowing gays and lesbians to get married does not at all change a heterosexual marriage contract (meaning there is no reason for a “civil union” if they can just get married), whereas allowing polygamous marriage under the same license does.

Without marriage, we would need more contracts. And there’s nothing stopping us from having all those more complicated contracts now, but most people are happy with the standard cheap one.

I strongly believe in the monogamous marriage contract and I want mine protected. I don’t really care what other people do with their lives in the privacy of their bedrooms (or lawyers’ offices), but I like the protection of my contract.

As for, “marriage is a way that some women feel superior to others” as an argument, all we can say is Thank God (and women’s rights activists) that (while there is still sexism) women can have education and jobs now and can feel pity for any woman whose only claim to superiority is having a husband.  Because that’s really seriously sad.  Seriously sad.

New research shows that debating, and especially banning, gay marriage makes LGBTQ people less healthy.

We’re also fine with, “Civil unions for everyone, marriage can then be only a religious thing, all couples get civil unions for legal purposes and may then choose to have a wedding ceremony for religious reasons if they wish, all regardless of gender.”  But that’s some ways off.  Separating the legal and the religious is always a good thing.  You could still have a ceremony to socially mark the legal joining, but that would be a civil union.  Civil unions for all!  But again, that’s not today.  For today, marriage for all!

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Do some people *want* to be miserable?: A deliberately controversial post

We’re just curious.

We see some folks do the same negative repeating behaviors over and over again and we don’t understand it.  Complaining about the same things.  And not just addictive stuff.

Sometimes they group together and encourage others to wallow too so there’s a mutual complain and enable-fest.  Sometimes they take turns.  Sometimes they talk over each other.  However they communicate though, it seems to encourage the misery rather than taking it away.

We don’t get it.  When we complain we want to vent and then to find a solution after we’ve calmed down.  We want to be happy.

We all get hit with bad things from time to time, some of us more than others.  But some folks seem to be able to manufacture their own bad luck, or to react incredibly strongly to things most of us are just mildly annoyed by.  How people react to negative events seems really important.

We want to be around people who want to be happy.  We like people who have growth mind-sets.

We understand that sometimes people have chemical depression, and we’re all for therapy and FDA-approved (and psychiatrist-monitored) pharmaceuticals as needed.  Please get professional help if you need it!

#2 would like to note that there is a time and place for shared misery, particularly in grad school and in the early tenure-track.  But there are ALSO times to stop moaning and do your writing.  Structured groups are good for this: first hour bitch-n-moan, second hour hard work, then break for snack, more work, a closing few minutes of social time, etc.  Commiseration is useful sometimes, but it must be backed up with productivity if you’re going to survive.  My good friend in grad school pointed out that we had “a culture of stress” and that it wasn’t necessarily the most helpful.

We gotta wonder though, if you’re hanging out with people who seem to enjoy being miserable, and seem to enjoy encouraging you when you’re making bad choices (that will cause misery down the road) or just being miserable (and discourage you from making choices that could reduce the misery)… why are you doing that?  And can you explain it to us?

Does forcing kids to be bored teach them useful skills?: A deliberately controversial post

Related: does forcing kids to be with sucky people teach them important life skills?

We argue: no

Boredom leads to trouble and increased drop-out rates.   It would have to be an important skill to make up for the negatives.  But it isn’t.

As an adult, you have more control over your environment, so learning these skills (such as they are) may not be as applicable as we’d wish.

Better: give kids skills to manipulate their environment, so they know they can change it.

If they do have to be occasionally bored or to deal with sucky people, why not learn that on the job as adults? It’s an easier lesson to learn when you’re making the choice to deal with it because you’re getting a higher paycheck or other perks to your job.

And nobody should have to put up with a sucky work environment as an adult. That’s why we work so hard so we have options and freedom to change things, even if our parents sacrificed in their own work environments for us.

This post was brought to you by our childhood selves, who were bored as crap in school and got nothing useful out of grades 1 – 8.  [#2 says, except 4th grade with Mrs. A.  She was AWESOME.]

Is GDP how we should be measuring success: A deliberately controversial post

Chacha and Linda commented on an earlier post that they didn’t like the way that success of a country is measured by GNP (gross national product) or GDP (gross domestic product), basically how many goods and services are sold in an economy.  Having more goods and services doesn’t mean a country is doing better and focuses on materialism as a sign of success.  [They also talk about the lump of labor fallacy, but that's the subject of someone else's post.]

Believe it or not, in economics we don’t assume that GDP is directly a measure of success.  We really care about happiness, or, as economists like to jargon it up, “utility.”  GDP does measure stuff, and stuff is something that we put into our utility functions.  Assuming free-disposal (which, admittedly, is a pretty big assumption), that is, that if you don’t want something you can get rid of it at no cost to yourself, then more stuff is better (or at least not worse).  We’re all about maximizing happiness, and stuff is just one thing that goes into that equation.

We would love to measure actual happiness.  But… it’s hard to measure happiness.  Even if we ask people, we’re not really sure if they’re telling us about relative happiness or absolute happiness, or if there are cultural differences in how to answer the happiness question that make differences in happiness not comparable across countries.

But we can measure stuff, so that’s what we measure.

We do also use other measures besides GDP: things like poverty rate, infant mortality rate, income inequality, literacy, etc.  These tend to give a measure of how a nation’s poorest citizens are doing.  Each of these captures a measure of a country’s success, but alone each cannot give a full picture.

What do you think?  How should we be measuring success of a country?  Is GDP a valid measurement?  Is happiness our end goal?  What would you measure instead?  (And should we even be comparing countries?  Why or why not?)

Must every weekend day have planned activities?: A deliberately controversial post

Laura Vandekam has been pushing planning things on weekends.  Not doing chores, of course, but something Fun!  Something you can look forward to All Week!  Don’t waste a single weekend day!

I’m as type-A a planning person as almost anybody (I suspect #2 isn’t), but I get a little angry at the thought of someone taking away my occasional (more frequent now) completely unplanned weekend day (and #2 even more so) because somehow that’s supposed to make me happier.  It’s mine!  You can’t have it!  You can’t make me get dressed!

Planning requires mental load.  It requires looking at the clock.  It requires not being able to be completely relaxed.  It means if something comes up you have to make a choice and lose an option instead of just going with the flow.  It may even require getting out of bed at a certain time (and certainly requires getting out of bed at some point) and putting on day clothes.

Oh, but it could be something as simple as going for a jog by yourself (whose idea of fun is THAT?) or having a friend drop by to socialize or going to church.  All of these options require  *effort*.  All require putting on clothes.  What could be better than lazing around the house in one’s pajamas?  Not having to put on pants unless and until one feels like it?

But if you were a sports fan (we’re not), you wouldn’t resent having to go  to your favorite sports team’s game if you had tickets?  Well, actually, I am a big fan of many kinds of arts (definitely not sports… especially not ones that involve sitting outside to watch), but I do resent having to remember to go, having to make sure I’m dressed appropriately, having to deal with driving and parking, and having to stay up past my bedtime.  Plus, since we live in a small town, all such events tend to be on weekday nights anyway.  If I want to enjoy a weekend arts event, that requires driving into the city, something that is a major production so we only do it about once a month.  And we generally need to have the next day off to recover… doing nothing… so as to hit Monday ready to work again.

In fact, there aren’t many things in this small town that I want to do more than laze about at home with my family.  Maybe even *gasp* doing chores.  Because doing chores on the weekend together is actually kind of fun, even though it couldn’t possibly be, and even though chores should be crammed into the weekdays instead or hired out (nobody touches my underpants who isn’t related to me!).  We’re even a bit tired of things to do in the nearest real city (there’s only so many times one can see each museum and zoo and park) and have been considering exploring farther away large cities.

Now, when we were living in a city, it was much easier to have low-key planned activities every day without having to worry about stress or the clock.  We could walk to the Saturday farmer’s market, we could walk to a sushi place and a frozen yogurt place and to the library (which was even open on Sunday!).  The weather also tended to stay in the 2-digit range which made it easier to take advantage of such things.  And there were lots of untried restaurants and free activities a short drive away on the weekends (when traffic wasn’t as bad).  The bar to doing things was lower and they didn’t have to be truly planned with a set time.  Even so, the occasional weekend day off always ended with my partner saying, “I had a good day today.”  And I would reply, “Me too.”

Occasionally when I get cabin fever we’ll take an unplanned day and just get in the car and drive!  Those lead to fun times too, even if completely spur of the moment.  Sadly this part of the country has fewer bakeries and ice cream shops per capita than other parts of the country in which we have lived.  But we still find the occasional random tea shop or pie place.

Now, we’re not saying you should never do anything on the weekend.  We do something most weekends.  But we also cherish our days off.  The ones where we don’t get up until late (totally wasting the morning!) and the answer to, “Did we have anything planned today?” (or if partner is asking, “Do we have anywhere we need to be at?”) is “No.”  If you’re not happy with doing nothing, by all means, start planning stuff.  But if the thought of someone making you do something more on weekends makes you feel a bit possessive, then by golly, don’t force yourself to plan more activities.  Listen to your boredom and listen to your stress, and you should be ok.

There’s a reason many religions celebrate a Sabbath.

Vive la no pants!

Do you think every day of your life should be planned so that you get things done and always have something to look forward to?

Telling kids how they feel: a deliberately controversial post

One of the things I don’t like in many parenting books, but have found no research pro- or against- is this idea that you’re supposed to tell little kids how they’re feeling.  The books tend to call it “acknowledging feelings” and it’s what you’re supposed to do instead of praise, instead of solving kids’ problems, interfering in sibling conflicts, and a number of other verboten parent-interactions, depending on which parenting book or “expert” you’re following.

My first problem with this is, even if my kid is only two, how the hell am I supposed to know what he or she is feeling better than ze does?  Isn’t it presumptuous of me to say, “You’re sad because X” or “I can see that you’re angry”?  Sometimes I will ask, “Are you sad?” But, I’d get pretty pissed off if someone told *me* what I was feeling.  I think even very small children deserve more respect and agency than that.

My second problem with this, and mind you, this is correlation, not causation, is that I’ve hung around parents that use these techniques and their kids are either 1. holy terrors or 2. hold a bit of contempt (or just healthy ignoring) for their parents whenever their parents pull this crap.  In practice, it doesn’t seem effective.  But the parents who follow “experts” blindly tend to be less confident in their parenting in other ways, so it might be something else going on and not a problem with the actual (unproven) technique.

Do you think it’s appropriate to tell small children how they’re feeling?

Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?: A deliberately controversial post

A common discussion on PF blogs is whether or not parents should pay for a kid’s college education.  The discussants generally fall into two camps:  Yes, we are trying to save for it now (though often they don’t go into why) and here’s how, and No, we think kids should pay for their own education mainly to help build their character.

We at Grumpy Rumblings will flesh out some of these reasons, and discuss why we think some of the reasons may be more or less valid.

Yes:  Graduating without student loans is a great gift and can provide kids with a head start in life once they graduate.  They will also be better able to concentrate on their studies if they’re not forced to work all the time or go into massive debt.

No:  Kids whose parents pay may not take college seriously.  They may be more likely to goof off or drink or skip class etc.  College is expensive and parents should take care of their own wants and needs– kids can work or take out loans.  Learning how to pay off college loans isn’t a bad lesson.

Yes or No depending on your perspective:  Some of the differences in beliefs about paying for college seem to be in part class based.  One potential effect of parents paying for college is that students can follow what they’re interested in in terms of majors without having to think about how profitable that major is.  If you come from a privileged background, then being able to major in anything, even a *gasp* humanities major, is a benefit.  If you come from a less-privileged background, this may be considered to be a waste.  Similarly being allowed to experiment with different majors can be seen as a plus or a minus depending on the parent’s viewpoint.  Is college a coming of age experience vs. career preparation?  Is the goal to make the most money or to leave the world a better place?  One’s view of college depends greatly on one’s background.

What we think:

We do not believe that the best way to get kids to care about the value of an education is to make them pay for it.  The value of education in general can be instilled at home from an early age.  And if it doesn’t take, then we doubt that forcing the kid to work 40 hour weeks is going to make hir any more likely to attend class.  In fact, we think it’s going to make hir more likely to sleep through class if ze attends at all.  If that’s the case, then perhaps ze should be doing something else besides going to school.  #1′s parents paid 100% for her college education.  #2′s parents left her with a reasonable loan load.  They both took college very seriously, seriously enough to get into good graduate schools.

One thing that really bothers us is when wealthy parents refuse to pay at all for college.  The ones who value fancy cars and exotic vacations over paying for some of the kid’s tuition.  The problem is that when your parents are poor, you are pretty likely to get financial aid at some portion of the schools to which you’re accepted.  However, if you’re rich, that’s much less likely to happen unless you luck into some pretty amazing merit or sports scholarships.  That means a poor kid may be on the hook for 10K in subsidized loans after graduation, but a rich kid 40+K unsubsidized from a state school or upwards of 200K from a private school.  Even if the rich kid has had more opportunities K-12, it still seems to be an unfair burden to be on the hook for full-tuition with four years of unsubsidized loans.  Less wealthy parents should obviously secure their retirements first and their kids are likely to not come out with as horrific loan burdens precisely because of financial aid.

No matter what you decide, it’s a good idea to let kids know early on what to expect.  I felt so bad for my friends who applied and got in awesome places but then had to do 2 years at community college because their parents figured Hawaii and/or a new car was a better deal that year than paying some of the tuition at Dartmouth or Notre Dame.  On the other hand, knowing that I could go anywhere because my parents had been saving their whole lives opened up a world that would eventually propel me into a higher economic class.  If I hadn’t known I could go anywhere (and given how little money we had growing up, I wouldn’t have assumed I could), I might not have aimed as high.

Update:  Cherish the Scientist asks about her situation.

Do you think these reasons are valid?  Where do you stand on the paying for kid’s college education question?

A deliberately controversial post: The sins of the parents

should be visited on the kids.

This is a sentiment we often see on the internets.

Schools in poor neighborhoods are often terrible.  If the parents cared, they’d homeschool or move. (Because that’s totally an option for single moms on EITC working minimum wage jobs as best they can.)

We shouldn’t improve the quality of school lunches.  If parents cared, they’d be feeding their kids organic meals full of veggies made from scratch every night so one meal a day wouldn’t hurt them.

Personally we suspect a lot of this sentiment is disguised racism.  Who cares about black kids or Hispanic kids.  It’s their fault for being born something other than anglo-saxon.  But maybe not– the internet seems to think just as poorly of rural white parents from West Virginia.

We also suspect it’s a way that middle class folks feel superior.  We’re not like THOSE people.  Our kids will do just fine because we’re so wonderful.  Our schools are great not because everyone else in our neighborhood is able to pay higher property taxes, but because we made the decision to be (white and) middle class.

It’s parents’ fault is the repeated refrain.  That’s why schools are crumbling.  That’s why kids are fat.  That’s why kids are in bad schools.  Or don’t get enough to eat.  Or get kidnapped or shot.

We at Grumpy Rumblings say:  WHO CARES?

Whether it’s parents fault or not, Won’t somebody think of the children?

Kids could have crappy parents and still get a great education if all kids had access to great schools.  Sure, some kids may be too damaged to benefit from even the best interventions, but what about the bulk of kids who could benefit?  Who through no fault of their own are stuck in poverty with little way out?  Imagine if they had great preschools, safe neighborhoods, healthy food, high quality K-12… the chance to take a calculus class.  Maybe they’d have a chance to live the American Dream.

Even if their parents suck.

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