"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Kind of Departmental Job AnnouncementsThat Mislead Graduate Students

The following announcement was emailed by the department chair at Grad U to the entire department (apparently, somebody still thinks I'm "affiliated" enough to still be on this list). Except for names, places, and other identifying information, it is verbatim:
Dear Colleagues:

I am delighted to announce that Another Recent Ph.D. has received an appointment as a visiting faculty member in the Appropriate Department at Unpronounceable University in Unpronounceable, Obscure Province of Far Away Asian Country. In July, Another Recent Ph.D. successfully defended hir dissertation, "Something or Another in Particular Genre, 18XX-19XX."  Hir committee consisted of Charismatic Believer in Academe (chair), Boring Defender of the Status Quo, Diss Director of Your Humble Blogger, and Professor from Some Other Department.
Congratulations to Another Recent Ph.D. and hir advisors! 
Your Polite and Encouraging but Clueless Department Chair
Now, I'm not saying there's anything particularly wrong with the announcement itself. Indeed, it's a nice gesture that such a large department publicly acknowledges the successes of its graduates. At the same time, it was emails just such as this that I received all throughout my time as a graduate student that reinforced my belief in the "If You Do Everything Right..." myth.

I'd get these e-mails and think to myself, "If Another Recent Ph.D. can do it, I can, too. I've seen Another Recent Ph.D.'s CV, and mine already looks as good and will look even better by the time I go on the market." This went on for years, and I did see their CVs very early in the process and looked at them as models for what I needed to do. During the first semester after my proposal was approved, I participated in a dissertation workshop, of which professionalization was a part. In the workshop, they SHOWED us the CVs of people who had gotten jobs (and whose congratulatory emails I remembered seeing) and said, "This is what your CV needs to look like to be competitive. If it does, you, too, will get a job." The irony is that, during my last year, as I was essentially done with everything but the defense and on the market ABD, that year's workshop leader asked if ze could use MY CV as a model!! I guess because this was 2009; after the recession hit, there just weren't enough examples from those who had ACTUALLY gotten jobs. And they used to only send out these acknowledgments when people got tenure-track appointments...no shit, again, we're in a downward spiral here...

But I digress.

There are some other misleading things about these emails, too. Related further to the "If You Do Everything Right" myth is the fact that sending out these announcements without also acknowledging how many ABDs and recent Ph.D.s went on the market and DIDN'T get jobs in a given year effectively reinforces the fiction that the job market is functional. It'd also be really great if they'd say how many job seekers were, in any given year, adjuncting at Grad U., waiting for things to improve, because, you know, "it's a bad year."

Srsly. Have you ever heard anyone say of the academic job market recently that it's NOT a "bad year"?

The other thing, now that they've started sending these acknowledgments out when people get non-tenure-track jobs, is that graduate students don't tend to read past the expression of optimism -- "Another Recent Ph.D. got a job! Wow, our department has a really great placement rate!! I have a decent shot." Which is exactly the message they're supposed to get -- the message that, to cite my previous post, keeps 'em runnin' and keeps the department's adjunct pool overflowing with desperate yet hopeful job seekers. Of course, graduate students should know enough to look around their departments and read between the lines and recognize that there's some information missing. But that's hard to do when information is not forthcoming and you don't really know a whole lot of your colleagues. Once I was done with my coursework and was "promoted" (Hahahahahahahaha!) from TA to adjunct, I knew fewer and fewer of my colleagues. By my last semester, I hardly knew anyone except the 4 people I shared an office with. It wasn't until I looked up the numbers for this post and this post that I realized I had 94 adjunct colleagues (and that's not counting TAs).

Again, I digress.

The ratio of job seekers who get jobs vs. those who don't needs to be publicly visible, otherwise these nice, congratulatory e-mails merely offer false hope -- again and again and again.

*     *     *     *     *

The other thing you might not pay attention to if you were reading this most recent email as a graduate student is that, while Another Recent Ph.D. might be happy enough, it really isn't such a hot job. Depending on your perspective, it might not be any better than sticking around and adjuncting.

While I'm not against going abroad for jobs, if that suits you, this a visiting appointment, which means that in one year -- or two or three, depending on the length of the contract and whether it can be renewed -- Another Recent Ph.D. is going to be on the market again. Even if ze likes the idea of taking a job at Unpronounceable University in Unpronounceable, Obscure Province of Very Far Away Asian Country, how does ze effectively conduct hir next job search from over there? Consider the cost of having to fly back for interviews and campus visits, if ze were lucky enough to get them. And consider the lack of research resources ze might have to contend with. How does the dissertation-to-book process go when you don't have adequate resources, not because, like me, you are no longer "affiliated" but because your affiliation doesn't come with much and you are literally thousands of miles away from a library that could meet your needs? How does not being able to make much progress on research and publication make you a better candidate when you have to go on the market the next time?

What happens to Another Recent Ph.D. when this appointment ends and ze finds hirself back in the states in a year or two or three with no tenure-track job, little progress on research and publications, and out of touch with whatever potential nonacademic job contacts ze might have had before ze left?

Back to adjunctland.

I do hope things work out better for Another Recent Ph.D. I don't know hir personally, but I wish hir the best of luck with hir new job. Unfortunately, the odds are against hir. One thing is for sure, however: We will only find out if ze, in a year or two or three, moves on to another non-adjunct -- possibly tenure-track but not necessarily -- job, at which point, Polite and Encouraging but Clueless Department Chair will send out another nice message. But if ze ends up adjuncting or working as a secretary or unemployed in her parents' basement? We'll never know.

And that is just plain misleadingly unfair to graduate students who have the right to know -- from the people they ought to be able to trust -- what the profession they are hoping to enter holds in store for them, no matter how good they are and no matter how hard they try.

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