The PhDs Job Crisis

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One thought on “The PhDs Job Crisis

  1. This information takes me back to my brief academic career in the early 1990s when I was finishing a Ph.D in medieval literature. From 1990 to 1994 I taught first and second year English survey courses, as well as senior courses in my discipline. I worked like a dog for no benefits and my best year, teaching three courses and hundreds of students, I made $18k gross. I finally wised up and left academia to go write for a software start up and a new life.
    The tragedy of it isn’t that people like me were, or are, being forced out of the system so much as it is the system itself. When I was in the trenches, my department had three senior medievalists, of whom only one was teaching. The other two were in academic bureaucracy and making over $100k a year. They seldom if ever taught. Throughout the department we had several star figures in their disciplines whose teaching was confined to graduate seminars and supervising dissertations of people who often seemed to be parroting the supervisor’s theories back to their mentor (one of the reasons why UK academic Michael Burleigh got out of the game). The majority of undergraduate teaching was done by people like me, whose grasp of our areas of expertise was sketchy and half digested. For undergraduates paying steeper and steeper tuition fees each year, the condition of the teaching they received in the humanities was a scandalous fraud.
    Someone once asked how many poetry Ph.Ds a society really needed. Once I would have said, “as many as possible”, on the grounds that serious training in the humanities and in critical thinking could only benefit that society. Now, I am not so sure I would be so optimistic. If the purpose of the Ph.D mills is to turn out clones of their supervisors who compete for elite tenured positions where they do little teaching and speak to a tiny audience of their peers in a jargon so riddled with forty years of high theory that they are largely incomprehensible to laypeople, then it seems to me the system needs to collapse and, hopefully, be reinvented in a more useful way.

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