Monday, November 14, 2011

Momma, Don't Let Your Child Become a Professor

I have often been pretty dismal about the academic job market, and then I read something like this.  The historian job market must really, really suck.  I do think that tenure track positions are declining, but they are not going away entirely.  Two of my students got tenure track positions last year  My 2.5 students are doing pretty well thus far this year.  So, there are jobs out there, but competition is fairly brutal.  I would definitely not recommend grad school for the faint-hearted.  The education itself can be fun and eye-opening, but the pressures to get publications before finishing and then to get a job are immense. 

I had a beer with a visiting academic pal last night, and he pointed out that the pressure to get stuff out as fast as possible in grad school cuts against one of the major points of grad school--the chance to think big thoughts, innovate and ponder.   If you have to publish quickly, the best way is to just get somebody's dataset, add a somewhat new hypothesis and set of indicators and viola!  But that is not the path towards interesting work or significant contributions.

Anyhow, I do think we need to reduce our intake of PhD students, fully fund those who are admitted for five years so that the only debt they build up is in opportunity cost (yes, the contradicts my "no tuition freeze" position but in a pretty logically consistent way), and then provide good supervision so that they are competitive when they are done.  And don't false advertise--the job market will not be wonderful in five or seven years.  

And I will always thank my lucky stars that I am not an historian or a sociologist.

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