Anyone who is half as overeducated and underemployed as I am could tell you that the academic market is Teh Suxxor.
Times are tough in every field, but combined with the increasing corporatization of the university, the production of more PhDs than there are positions for them, and the continued casualization of academic labor (meaning the hiring of more and more underpaid adjuncts who don’t get benefits or job security, or y’know, offices) means that it’s bleaker than average for this “profession.”
How bleak? In the humanities, anyway (the field I know about) approximately half of those who matriculate don’t graduate, but even with that attrition, approximately 2/3 of those who graduate don’t get tenure track jobs.
To use hard numbers: 100 people start grad school. 50 people earn PhDs. 17 get real jobs. (Last year, nobody got a job.) And those lucky few who do, work an average of 60 hours a week for far less money than than the hours and the training would merit: starting pay for an Assistant Prof in the Humanities runs between 42K and 50K at most universities. Less at a community college. The 33 who toil as adjuncts tape together schedules semester by semester, sometimes teaching as many as 10 classes per term to earn enough to stay solvent, at least until some crisis strikes. (A heavy load for the decently employed is 4 classes per term) . I couldn’t find 10 classes this term. I couldn’t even find 4. I am not solvent.
But that’s not the problem. Well it’s a major problem, but it’s not the problem I’m asking about.
I have a student, a senior, who accidentally turned in a Request for Recommendation form for an Ivy League university MA/PhD program to me, so I know she’s planning on applying. She’s very smart, a good writer, and a mega-achiever. She is the type of student for whom grad school was intended.
But given the craptacular prospects for the excessively educated, I feel like I should say something. It feels irresponsible not to. But I don’t know his student very well, and and she hasn’t asked for my advice, so it also feels nosey.
The above XtraNormal video made the rounds on Facebook last week (and was also sent to me by a thoughtful reader). It’s a joke, obviously, but it’s also frighteningly accurate. Students have no idea what is expected of them, nor what they can expect 5-10 years down the line (hell, I can’t either, but I’ll wager that a humanities boom is not forthcoming.) They’re not reading The Chronicle of Higher Education, or Tenured Radical, or any number of other blogs that would cause the ivy-covered scales to fall from their eyes.
I wish I’d known before I began, if only to adjust my expectations. I do love teaching, and I do love my field, and my colleagues, but I can’t eat them (although I have some very tasty-looking colleagues). I feel I was sold of bill of goods, and the long, slow realization of how seriously fucked up higher ed is the US (I can’t speak to other countries’ systems) has been an enormous blow to my sense of…well, everything. My sense of Self, of Purpose, of How the World Works. I wish I’d known.
So my question is: should I say something to my student? Would she even listen if I did? This is really a question about balancing my knowledge/doubts against her ignorance/hopes. I don’t want to crush her dream, not at all, but I fear that the enterprise she’s hoping to embark upon will do just that. Parents: how do you handle the tricky balance of sharing the wisdom (or “wisdom”) of your experience without stepping over into meddling?