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Out of Touch Academics


The response to the job crisis among elite academics is a combination of cynicism and being completely out of touch with reality. A few years ago, I was at the Labor and Working Class History Association meeting. LAWCHA is the big organization for labor historians. As it happened, I ran into one of my former undergraduates. who had recently completely a master’s degree in labor history as a solid university. He would make a great historian, but he’s also not an idiot and so he couldn’t see why he would spend several years of his life working toward something where he had no chance to find an academic job. I said that I felt his pain and thought he was making the right decision, talked about what bullshit academia had turned into. Then, a prominent labor historian, someone some of you might have heard of, spoke at the reception and said, as if this was an optimistic or good thing, that even if you don’t get a job, the press that she ran the labor history series for might still publish your book! I was just like, JFC, c’mon now. I think my eyes rolled to the back of my head and former student started laughing about it, just shaking his head too with how hopelessly out of touch these people are. I didn’t really blame this very senior historian, they were trying to give people a shot in the arm, but in the most ridiculous way possible. Yes, let’s do even more unpaid work to turn this dissertation into a book that will also make me no money!!!

That’s what I thought of when I saw this piece:

Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Emma Dench said students should pursue graduate degrees out of passion for their research rather than a desire for professorship during a Tuesday interview with The Crimson.

Dench also discussed the newly instated requirement for personal statements in graduate admissions, a change that followed the Supreme Court’s effective strike down of affirmative action last summer.

Despite a report by GSAS faculty last fall finding that over half of science and engineering postdoctoral fellows do not enter tenure-track positions, Dench implored students to keep open minds towards alternative careers within academia.

“I think it’s great to not have a fixed idea that ‘I’m doing this in order to be a professor’, which I just think was always too narrow a view,” Dench said.

“I would advise going in with eyes open and thinking, ‘I’m doing this for the love of the discipline because I think it’s really important because I want to do research that gets to places nobody’s been before,’” she added.

Dench also highlighted the broad range of job opportunities available to students out of graduate school.

“We all need to be very realistic about the prospects of our students and get excited,” Dench said. “Over GSAS as a whole, about pretty much 50 percent of our graduates are going to not end up in academia, and they’re going to do everything else and there’s a whole lot of brilliant options that are available to them.”

That’s not exactly wrong–most of students even at Harvard are not going to get tenure-track jobs. But then why do this degree at all? Love of the discipline? Get out of here. That’s completely ridiculous and just embarrassing. And these alternative careers in academia? Do you really need a PhD in History that takes you 8 years to complete in order to get a job in Student Services? This is just abject nonsense.

The problems in academia and legion and largely structural. Having academic leaders spew absurdities does not help. Veritas, indeed.

Me, I work for money, not love.

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