I am a proud recipent of a Ph.D. in anthropology. I worked hard for it. I always thought that I approached graduate school and the academic workplace with clear eyes but there were a series of hard realizations along the way. First, it was watching the way that hiring committees work -- the very arbitrary way that hiring decisions happen (mainly in response to departmental politics). Then it was learning that only one-third of those who get tenure-track positions actually get tenure. Then it was watching a professor in our department who was unanimously approved for tenure by the department get axed by the Dean.
I learned an immense amount in graduate school and worked with amazing professors. I was fortuate enough to have an advisor who was a true mentor. I had TAships, a private research assistantship, scholarships, and grants. But grad school took a long time. I watched older friends who had put off children during graduate school and early in their academic career struggle with infertility. Then I had children. Then I started teaching as an adjunct. I enjoyed it and I was good at it (I have teaching awards to prove it). But the pay was very low. I had an opportunity to have a position tailored for me at the small, rural liberal arts college I attend. I declined. I realized that I was now "place-bound" a fancy term for academics who can't or don't want to do a national job search and take a job where ever one appears. But I finished my dissertation and continued to teach as an adjunct, hoping that the low pay and poor treatment might some day be transformed into a real teaching position.
Then I discovered Invisible Adjunct. Its an inactive blog. But over a three week period I read every post and every comment and explored every link. Finally, I realized what a dead-end academia is for so many people (and me as well). Please pay attention to the "Academic Job Market section. Here is a brief selection from the first post in that section:
"Still, I have a mournful affection for students who remain confident of their ability to beat the odds. The young feel invincible and full of potential. And many universities view their naiveté and energy as an exploitable resource. The majority of graduate students exist to provide cheap labor for undesirable undergraduate courses and students for high-prestige graduate programs taught by tenured professors. It seems like the undergraduates are the only ones who don't know this, and they get angry when you tell them.
-- Thomas H. Benton, If You Must Go to Grad School...
In his "So You Want to Go to Grad School?" column (which I [Invisible Adjunct] blogged about here), Thomas H. Benton made a compelling case against graduate school in the humanities. He now offers words of wisdom for those who insist on following this very risky pursuit. It's important to note that Benton is not encouraging and endorsing the graduate school option. "I believe that most would not choose to go," he writes, "if they were properly informed about the risks (the most notable of which is a strong probability of never landing a tenure-track job)."
I agree. Though aspiring graduate students will readily acknowledge that they
realize the job market is "tight," many have no idea of just how grim is the situation in many fields in the humanities.
Yes, its a bit like wanting to go to Hollywood and write screenplays, maybe even more risky and less likely, and certainly less well-paid. My advice? Go to Invisible Adjunct, read the Academic Job Market section, follow the links to every Thomas H. Benton article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and then chart your future.