Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Show Me the Money!

Or not.  So, we now have the numbers to show that social scientists are not keeping up with inflation.  Not surprising in an era of furloughs and freezes.  I cannot complain too much as McGill has delayed but not frozen pay increases. 

But this reminds us that we are not in this business for the big bucks.  With the decline of tenure track positions, lifetime job security may become less of an incentive.  I have always told aspiring PhD students that one must have a passion for the stuff--an unquenchable curiosity to understand the political world around us. 

Of course, I am writing this while sitting in the audience of a panel at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, which is funded by one of the guys behind Blackberry.  The building is stunning--former Seagram's whiskey brewery.  So, there is some money in this business, and I have been spoiled by having access to grant money to travel to Europe and Australia, plus a defence dept junket to Afghanistan.  And I am not paid a pauper's wages.  So, life is pretty good even if my car was rammed by a school bus.

Yet, we must worry about the future of social science.  If wages decline and tenure is not longer a realizable dream, who will become the next generation of scholars who study politics, society, and the way of the humans?  Luckily, we have developed a system that takes advantage of the dreamers, promising a career that may not exist for much longer. 

Ah, the bus accident has depressed me.  The good news is that the current generation of grad students can find jobs if they work really hard, develop interesting projects and present themselves well.  There are no guarantees, but two of my students did get good tenure track positions this past fall.  I have reasonably realistic expectations about the next ones.

The attractions of the job remain--freedom to explore one's interests, to interact with college students who inquire and push and amuse, to have communal bosses with much slippage (departments cannot control individuals nearly as well as individual bosses in corporations can make people miserable), to control one's schedule and shape how one uses their time. 

It has never really been about the money.  We just have to remember that while we pay for our DVR and our new smartphones and our wifi access.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... While your welcome optimism (some might say, idealism) is appreciated, do Social Sciences, besides Economics, really have a future in tomorrow's economy (both US and global)?
And what about the trends, which currently have US universities eliminating entire Humanities' programs? (e.g. French Lit by SUNY)
Should we conclude that, beyond endangered, such careers in Humanities and Social Sciences may already be extinct?

(With apologies if you have already featured this in your blog in the past, here is an older related NYT link: