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PhDont

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Leave This Academic Factory.

“I am what’s called an adjunct. I teach four courses per semester at two different colleges, and I am paid just $24,000 a year and receive no health or pension benefits. Recently, I was profiled in the New York Times as the face of adjunct exploitation…Rather than use my situation to explain the systemic problem of academic labor, the article personalized – even romanticized – my situation as little more than the deferred dream of a struggling PhD with a penchant for poetry.”

Another for the PhDon’t file: Im the Guardian, James Hoff sets the record straight about the reality of today’s academic factory floor. “The adjunct problem is about the continued exploitation of a large, growing and diverse group of highly educated and dedicated college teachers who have been asked to settle for less pay (sometimes as little as $21,000 a year for full-time work) because the institutions they work for have callously calculated that they can get away with it.” It’s a nightmare, people — avoid it if you can. (Adjunctimir via here.)

Academia: A Sucker’s Gambit.

“The de-professionalization of the faculty is another long-running tragedy that gets a little sadder every year, as teaching college students steadily becomes an occupation for people with no tenure, no benefits, and no job security. These lumpen-profs, who have spent many years earning advanced degrees but sometimes make less than minimum wage, now account for more than three-quarters of the teaching that is done at our insanely expensive, oh-so-excellent American universities. Their numbers increase constantly as universities continue to produce far more PhDs than they do full-time, tenure-track job openings, and every time cutbacks are necessary — which is to say, all the time — it is those same full-time, tenure-track job openings that get pruned.”

In a long, angry, and sadly on-point essay for The Baffler, Thomas Frank laments the corporatization (and demise) of the American university. “Just about everyone in academia believes that they were the smartest kid in their class…So tenured faculty find it easy to dismiss the de-professionalization of their field as the whining of second-raters who can’t make the grade…Then again, they will all be together, assuredly, as they sink finally into the briny deep.”

In very related news, an interested reader passes along this extended infographic on the adjunct crisis, which is excerpted above. Click through for the entire dismal story.

Good Tom Zhang.

“The stereotype, outmoded though it is, is that new mathematical discoveries emerge from the minds of dewy young geniuses. But Zhang is over 50. What’s more, he hasn’t published a paper since 2001.”

In a surprising mathematical coup, UNH lecturer Yitang “Tom” Zhang has apparently cracked open a centuries-standing “twin-prime” puzzle about the “bounded gaps” in the distribution of prime numbers. “Yitang Zhang couldn’t get a teaching job after receiving his Ph.D., and things got so dismal at one point that he even became a Subway sandwich artist in order to stay afloat.”

Adjuncting Gets Even Worse.

“Allison G. Armentrout, an adjunct instructor at Stark State College, doesn’t get paid by the hour. She earns $4,600 to teach two English composition courses…On a recent week, she spent three hours preparing for her lectures, close to six hours in the classroom, and 16 more grading assignments for a grand total of about 25 hours. So she can breathe a sigh of relief because she won’t lose her job: She came in under the college’s new 29-hour-a-week wire designed to keep her ineligible for health-care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

Leave this academic factory, you’ll find me in the matinee: Compounding life in the Nine Circles of Adjunct Hell, more and more college and universities are trying to game the system so they don’t have to pay for adjuncts’ health care coverage. Because if you’re going to exploit your desperate, over-educated workforce like it’s a Gilded Age factory floor, why not go all the way?

“What is happening — and I’m finding this even with just two classes—because of the grading load, I’ve been put in a position twice this semester where I’ve just had to lie about the number of hours I actually worked. I don’t want to have to make a choice between having a job or not.”

PhDon’t. | JD’s a Bust too.

“[W]hat if I told you that by ‘five hours’ I mean ’80 hours,’ and by ‘summers off’ I mean ‘two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning’? What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘Othering’…I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure — largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.”

Another one for my burgeoning PhDont tag: Literature professor and Kafka scholar Rebecca Schuman explains once again why getting a humanities PhD is a terrible life decision these days. “No, you will not get a job – In the place of actual jobs are adjunct positions: benefit-free, office-free academic servitude in which you will earn $18,000 a year for the rest of your life.”

What she said: The jobs are not out there, the wheels have come off the tenure-track cart, and many people are in a bad way. I count my lucky stars every day that I had a prior career to fall back on.

Update: “More attorneys are finding themselves in plights similar to that of the thirty-four-year-old lawyer with more than $200,000 in school loans and a job that would never pay enough to retire them: ‘It’s a noose around my neck that I see no way out of.'” As Stephen Harper points out in Salon, law school isn’t the best answer either. “The promise of a secure future at a well-paying job is often illusory. The persistent problem of lawyer oversupply rose to crisis level, and the market for new talent has remained weak…For most of the nation’s forty-four thousand annual graduates today…positions were never there at all.”

Update 2: “Once, being a college professor was a career. Today, it’s a gig…Since 1975, tenure and tenure-track professors have gone from roughly 45 percent of all teaching staff to less than a quarter.” More fuel for the pyre: The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissmann offers a graph depicting the demise of tenure. “[T]he big story across academia is broadly the same: if it were a movie, it’d be called ‘Rise of the Adjuncts.’…The AAUP reports that the median pay for teaching a single course was $3,200 at a public research university, and just $2,250 at a community college.

Poor Life Decisions, Graphed.

“Politicians and businessmen are fond of talking about America’s scientist shortage — the dearth of engineering and lab talent that will inevitably leave us sputtering in the global economy. But perhaps it’s time they start talking about our scientist surplus instead.”

The Atlantic‘s Jordan Weissman takes another gander at the sorry state of the PhD life in America, with an emphasis on the sciences. “The pattern reaching back to 2001 is clear — fewer jobs, more unemployment, and more post-doc work — especially in the sciences. A post doc essentially translates into toiling as a low-paid lab hand.”

Note also the dismal situation of the humanities in the graph below. The average salary for a humanities PhD is not only less than I’m making in speechwriting these days — it’s less than what I was making in 2001, before I went off for grad school. It’s also less, or at the very least comparable, to the average salary of a public school teacher in America — a job where you’re probably much more likely to make a difference in the lives of your students. But hey, check out the big brain on me.

The upshot here, at least for the humanities? It’s generally a bad idea to spend a decade apprenticing yourself to a job that barely even exists anymore.

Update: “Let me start with the bad news. It is not even news anymore; it is simply bad. Graduate education in the humanities is in crisis. Every aspect, from the most specific details of the curriculum to the broadest questions about its purpose, is in crisis. It is a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels.” Literature professor Michael Bérubé surveys the sad state of affairs in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Piled Higher and Deeper.

At latest count, we have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.

By way a history friend, How the American University was Killed in Five Easy Steps. (Hint: It has to do with the Powell Memo.) I’m finishing up my PhD because I’m pot-committed at this point but, when anyone asks, I never recommend that they follow suit. It is UGLY out there. When the chips were down, I was fortunate enough to have a prior career in speechwriting to fall back on. Most people don’t have that luxury.

Don’t Stand So Close to Me.

“‘No man is an island,’ said Nicholas A. Christakis, a professor of medicine and medical sociology at Harvard Medical School who helped conduct the research. ‘Something so personal as a person’s emotions can have a collective existence and affect the vast fabric of humanity.’

Forget H1N1: Psychologists uncover statistical indications that loneliness transmits like a social disease. “Loneliness is not just the property of an individual. It can be transmitted across people — even people you don’t have direct contact with.” Hmmm. Well, that explains grad school, then.

Academe: Fun While It Lasted.

“Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.” In the NYT, Mark Taylor, the chair of Columbia’s religion department, reads the writing on the wall and calls for a complete overhaul of graduate school education in America. “Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).” Ya, sounds about right.

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