Search results: "job market" (page 1 of 9)

Gearing up for the Academic Job Market: Don’t Dabble

There are many things worth dabbling in: Pokeman Go!, the arts, alternative medicine, old films, astrology, gourmet cuisine….the list could go on and on.  I really like when people, including graduate students, tell me they are dabbling in these things or other hobbies.  It’s probably going to help both their productivity and their overall happiness.

As much as I like “dabblers” in those types of things, here’s one that I’m really tired of graduate students saying they’re dabbling in:

The Academic Job Market

Every year, I get students that contact me saying that they are planning to “dip their feet in” or “dabble” in the tenure-track academic job market this year. And, every year, I’m left wondering why the heck they would even bother.  This blog post is a sort of plea to graduate students: DON’T DABBLE IN THE JOB MARKET.[1]

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Gearing Up for the Academic Job Market: Getting THE CALL

Mid-October is a beautiful time of year – leaves are changing, the air is getting crisp, and there are a variety of outdoor activities to partake in.  All of the wonderfulness of October is meaningless, however, to a special group of individuals: those on the academic job market that are worried about employment in the next academic year.  For this group, mid-October is typically the beginning of the horrible downward spiral of (a) hitting refresh on your inbox[1], (b) double checking that your phone is on and charged, (c) trying to have the willpower to avoid checking job rumor websites, (d) reassuring yourself that Manuscript Central still says your manuscript is “under review” instead of “awaiting decision.”[2] In other words, October is a time of worry.

For many, however, October is also a magical time when the unthinkable happens:  you get THE CALL.[3]  THE CALL can be defined as the awkward 5-10 minute conversation scheduling an in-person interview with a potential academic employer. THE CALL can sometimes come out of the blue, from a school that you sent a packet of information to months before.  THE CALL can also be somewhat anticipated, coming after an email inquiry for more information, a Skype interview, or a rumor you hear from your advisor.  Most definitely, though, THE CALL is reason to celebrate.  And, it’s reason to get to work.  Here is a smattering of advice on what to do during and after THE CALL.

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Gearing Up for the Academic Job Market: Getting Your Packet Together

It’s the last weekend in August, which means at least 1 of 2 things are happening:

  1. APSA drinking
  2. ABDs hurriedly working on their job market materials.

Since (a) is still a week away, I thought I’d take a second to offer some unsolicited advice on (b): job market materials. By job market materials, I’m referring to the CV, cover letter, writing sample, teaching portfolio, research statement, transcripts, and letters of recommendation that will make up the totality of what any academic hiring committee will know about you and your work.  It’s basically your academic life, condensed into something that can be sent easily in the mail or (increasily) uploaded to an HR website or sent over email.  It’s worth taking a lot of time to prepare these materials and to think about these materials as strategically important signals in the job seeking process.

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Gearing Yourself Up For the Academic Job Market: Before You Go on the Market

In our last installment, I indicated that this edition of Gearing Yourself Up would include a discussion of how to put together your job market packet.  I think I jumped-the-gun a bit, however.  Before putting together your packet, before trying to log on to APSA and navigate eJobs, before telling your family/friends that you are looking for jobs in academia[1], you need to do one crucial thing:

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7 Further Thoughts on Being A Better Job Market Candidate

Amanda in her inimitable style has written some very persuasive guidance about the job market. Let me add a few thoughts about what else you can do to prepare. If you’ve already been socialized to want an academic job, then you better be ready for a rough slog. Unless you happen to be among the  handful of students who get all the attention and plum interviews this job market season, you are likely to get a couple of interviews and at worst none at all. As Amanda said, most of this is out of your control. The job market sucks. There are thousands of people chasing too few jobs.

Imagine you are on the other side of the job application process and you receive several hundred applications for one job. The reality is that the committee will use some heuristics to sort through which applicants are likely to get the most attention. This may not be fair, but these criteria include (1) fit with the job  (2)  where the candidates went to school 3) who they studied with and (4) where they have published. You  have limited control over most of these, but you should be aware that this is a reality.

Still, there are some other things you can do to prepare for your dream job, and it’s never too early to think about how to position yourself to be an attractive candidate.

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Gearing Yourself Up For the Academic Job Market: Waiting

It’s getting to be that time of year again – the time when a fresh not-so-fresh crop of ABDs/PhDs gear-up for the academic job market.  I’ve been there – it can make even the most self-assured academic have an existential crisis.[1]

As much as I hated being on the job market myself, I absolutely love looking up and providing job market advice for students at Mizzou. I think I received especially good advice when I was a grad student and I think the advice I received has been causally related to my present situation (which I love).  I’d like to “pay it forward.” On my first day as DGS, I wrote a 5,000 word memo on the job market process to all our grad students.[3] A lot of the advice I give is similar to what I received when I was a grad student.  As the season approaches, I thought I’d share some of it with you.

For this post, I thought I’d bring attention to what most of the job market consists of  for most people:

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The (American) Job Market and Interpretive Methods in Political Science

M. David Forrest, a soon-to-be-assistant-professor of American politics, forwarded the following letter to the “interpretation and methods” listserv. He agreed to let me post it at the Duck. Given the methodological heterogeneity of our readership, I thought it would be of interest. It reads: Continue reading

Going on the Job Market? Pick up Fifty Shades of Grey or a Ukulele!

Traveling home today from a great conference with some awesome Ducks and non-Ducks. The conference, hosted by Debbi Avant (U of Denver) and Oliver Westerwinter (EUI) at the University of Denver, was on the topic of networks, governance, and security.  I learned a lot and will hopefully write a nice, normal research -related post sometime soon.

At the conference, one of the dinner conversations that kept popping up was the academic job market.  In general, the consensus – across age and rank divides – was that the job market is a very difficult, dehumanizing experience for the candidate.

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Status, Cliques, and the Political-Science Job Market

There are many things I find unsurprising about Robert Orisko’s claims in the Georgetown Public Policy Review about hiring patterns in academic political science. Among those are the disparate reactions produced by its summary in Inside Higher Education.

In brief, Orisko argues that academic political-science hiring displays dynamics more associated with status-conserving cliques than an efficient market. This tracks with (more sophisticated) comparative studies of hiring patterns which suggest variation across different disciplines. As Kieran Healy discussed of the earlier study back in 2003, “placement is deeply embedded in systems of departmental status that bear little resemblance to a properly functioning market.”

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The Academic Job Market and The Draft

No, not conscription (see what I did there), but sports drafts where teams take turns picking the next generation of superstars/busts.

I am inspired to think about this as October is when anxiety of academic job aspirants begins to spiral.  The thread du jour is whether the job market is “fair.”  As some get heaps of love and attention, others do not, leading them to ponder their fate.  But if we think about the job market as a draft* (despite the fact that there really is no set order of who goes first), then some stuff makes sense:

* Am focusing on NFL and NBA as they are better known (well, Canadians obsess about the NHL but who else, am I right?)

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Reflections on the International Relations job market

There’s an interesting discussion (see also here) of the issues raised by the existence of an “information aggregator” for the International Relations job market over on IR Rumor Mill.

The experience of looking for a job in the academy – or, at least, in the field of International Relations – can be a very difficult one.[fn1] At least some of the comments are best seen, in my view, as reflecting the psychological toll the job search takes on individuals, and how they respond differently to the experience.

On the other hand, it is nice to see discussion of the job market’s pathologies in an open setting, particularly from the perspective of people currently in it. One of the points of discussion concerns the tendency of colleges and universities – specifically those in the “first” and “second” tier – to cluster around at least one candidate. The comments, either implicitly or explicitly, raise a number of different hypothesis about why this is the case:

(a) There really are a few superlative candidates on the market each year;
(b) For whatever reason, a few candidates happen to have chosen dissertation topics (and, perhaps, methodological approaches) that prove “sexy” when they enter the job market – usually a number of years after they made their decision about what to write about;
(c) Colleges and universities are insecure in their own judgments and hence they exhibit “pack” behavior with respect to interviews;
(d) There’s no pattern – clustering is stochastic.

I have few ideas about how to tease out these explanations. One could argue that “a” and “b” are more plausible to the extent that the same candidates also receive job offers since. First, merit and “sexiness” would be more likely to overcome idiosyncratic factors at specific institutions then processes associated with “c” and “d.” Second, may institutions might want to avoid expensive bidding wars over candidates, so they would be less likely to make an offer to a candidate if that candidate has multiple offers elsewhere unless that candidate was truly superlative. Of course, if “c” is a really powerful factor, then we might also expect clustered job offers regardless.

There’s also a (related) discussion about the overall efficiency of clustering at the interview level. One of the commentators expressed envy with regards to a specific individual who has received a lot of interviews this year. Another made the standard response: one person can’t take every job.

This is true, but as another individual remarked: might there not be real inefficiencies created by the clustering of interviewees? After all, if we assume that many, many aspiring job candidates would be perfectly good hires, then there are a lot of people who get excluded from full consideration who probably shouldn’t be Such applicants might stack up rather well against some of the other people who are being interviewed (remember that many institutions don’t have the resources or energy to reopen their job searches, and hence will take a candidate who “passes the bar” once they lose their top choice – or even their second or third choice). Obviously, this is not a good state of affairs for applicants, but it might also be a bad state of affairs for institutions and departments, who wind up in pareto-inefficient equilibira.

Another issue, which has not been raised at the IR Rumor Mill, is market segmentation. A few years back, a friend of mine -who was something of a star on the market that year – commented that s/he had applied to a number of third-string schools that s/he was genuinely interested in. My friend received zero interviews from these schools. One reason might have been the general issue of “fit”: how departments specialize, what courses they need taught, or how they need to “round out” their programs. But such outcomes may also be a consequence of status-based market segmentation.

Many C-list schools, I believe, don’t often look at graduate students from A-list departments. The most powerful rationale for this is that someone who was socialized and trained at, say, an Ivy-League institution may be totally unsuited to teach at a regional state school, but there may also be a presumption that the candidate wouldn’t take the job and, if he or she did, that he or she wouldn’t stay.

At the same time, it is difficult for candidates coming from lower-tier institutions to be competitive for the most desirable (from a research, pay, and status perspective) institutions. It does happen, but not to the degree we might expect given how competitive graduate-school admissions are. There are a lot of really good scholars – or potential scholars – who can’t get into the “best” graduate schools. Graduate-school admissions rates, even at lesser-ranked departments, can be as low as one and five percent. Given how many excellent scholars wind up teaching at these institutions themselves, we should expect a lot of strong candidates to be coming from (at least) second-tier PhD programs.

At the end of the day, I suspect that market segmentation – and perhaps the phenomenon of interview clustering – has something to do with the “cognitive scripts” academics adopt in the face of, on the one hand, information overload and, on the other, the often poor quality of that information. There are a lot of applicants for any given position but, particularly with respect to newly minted PhDs and ABDs, very imperfect indicators of future scholarly and teaching success.

There are, however, some interesting studies that suggest status concerns may be one of the most important factors at work in the selection of first-time candidates and hires.

In sum, it strikes me that we have a situation which is far from ideal. Yet there are not easy ways to improve it. The condition of the academic job market, in some respects, calls attention to the conflicting roles scholars have: as members of a particular department, as mentors to students, as individuals concerned with our own careers, and as members of the discipline as a whole.

1None of this should be construed as an attempt by myself to imply that academics don’t have it better than a lot of other people; certainly, their overall employment prospects, and the nature of their employment, looks pretty good when compared to other professions or people at other levels of education.

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Academic job “market” season

‘Tis the season to be a neurotic mess – if you’re late-stage ABD or newly minted PhD.

Between, on the one hand, emails from students and friends and, on the other, trolling around anonymous academic blogs, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that it is, indeed, the time of darkness and pain known as “the academic job market.”

So, in the spirit of Daniel Drezner’s advice columns for graduate students, let me share my own words of wisdom hard-learned lessons bs thoughts with those hunting for their first academic job.

Before I begin, a few autobiographical points of reference. I have a PhD from one of the top schools in my field. My dissertation advisors have very impressive names, of the type that are recognized outside of their fields and, when I think about it, fill me with the urge to offer costly sacrifices at the altars of their intellects. I published while in graduate school. I managed to land a job I am very, very pleased with. Yet over the years I have:

1) Written at least sixteen applications for post-doctoral fellowships, only two of which were successful;
2) Sent something on the order of a hundred job-application packets to institutions of higher learning, out of which I received a handful of interviews and a miniscule number of offers;
3) Gone mostly bald.

What, then, is my advice?

Let’s start with the obvious. There will always be people who are smarter, better credentialed, and much more attractive than you are. Many of them will be applying for the same jobs as you. But take heart in two facts about the world. One, almost no one can physically occupy the position of assistant professor at two institutions. Two, life is unfair. Between these two laws of nature, you just might get a job offer… or even many, many job offers.

Now, the bad news.

No matter how much a job description looks like it was written for someone just like you, it wasn’t [*]. No matter how much an institution “fits you perfectly”, it doesn’t. If you don’t believe me, I can guarantee there are a lot of other people who also think the job description and/or institution matches them perfectly. Their reasons for doing so are just as good as yours are, but you can’t all be right, can you?

Okay, let’s pretend for a second that the glass slipper Prince Charming is carting around with him does, indeed, fit your foot, and only your foot. Well, remember that Prince Charming’s mind has gone completely numb from looking at far too many feet, he probably doesn’t have the greatest vision in the world anyway (he reads for a living after all), his subjects make a lot of demands on his time, and his mind might just be wandering at the very moment your toes wriggle in front of his face.

Did I mention that those damnable nobles nobles staged a tax revolt a while back? Well, they did. And the peasants got uppity. There was all this talk of “ancient rights and duties.” The Prince couldn’t pay the royal army, one thing led to another…. Now Prince Charming makes decisions by committee.

The academic job “market,” in other words, is nothing of the sort. It is penetrated by informal and formal ties of friendship and influence. Short-lists, interviews, and offers are made on the basis of many collective and individual decisions, including search committees, departments, and various high priests of the academy (e.g., deans and provosts). In aggregate, these decisions can take many surprising and unpredictable directions. Bottom line: it is foolhardy to invest your ego in the process.

Certain things follow.

1) Do not identify a “dream job.” If you already have, try to pretend that you haven’t. What looks like a “dream job” could turn out to be a nightmare, filled with colleagues you don’t get along with, dysfunctional administrators, and students very different from what you imagined. At the same time, identifying a “dream job” is a good way to increase the likelihood that your ego will be crushed by the process.

2) Do not start to build an imaginary life for yourself at Big Research University, Medium-Size State U, Small Liberal Arts College, Tiny Remedial Institute, or whatever. This advice applies even once you have gotten an interview. I recommend not looking at real estate websites, finding out every last detail about the area the institution is located, or doing anything of this sort. You’ll have plenty of time for that when you’re weighing the offer, and it can only make rejection more painful.

3) Do not do the committee’s work for them. In other words, if you’re in the ballpark of a job description, apply. Obviously, if the description asks for a China specialist and you study eighteenth-century Mexico, it isn’t worth your time. But job searches can go in unexpected directions. The marginal cost of sending additional applications is very small, particularly if you don’t make the mistake of agonizing over how to shoehorn yourself into the precise parameters of the job description.

One final piece of advice: many people barely glance at cover letters. They go straight to the CV and the recommendations. It is possible (nay, likely) that you will spend too much time and energy on your cover letter. I don’t have a lot of experience here, so we are definitely in “grain of salt” land, but the main goal of the letter, I think, is to (a) highlight how great you are, (b) to avoid calling attention to trouble spots in your portfolio, and (c) to avoid setting off alarm bells by appearing desperate, deranged, incapable of editing something as short as a cover letter, etc.

I write this knowing full well that you will ignore my advice. Been there, done that. But try to keep my words in mind. It’ll help. Trust me.

*This does not apply to senior job advertisements. In that case, the description may really be tailored to a specific individual. Or it may be completely generic simply because it is nothing more than a formality.

Unsolicited Job Talk Advice

Seems to be the time of year when folks post their advice for aspiring professors on how to succestressed-ducked at the job talk.   While there are other parts of the process–being interviewed one on one by various members of the department or getting grilled by a committee (something that happens far more in Canada than in the US), the most important (and probably not deservedly so)* part of the “fly-out” is giving a talk based on one’s research and responding in the Q&A.

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Getting Your APSA Preconference On: The Politics of Markets

I just got out of a half-day APSA pre-conference short course on the politics of markets, firms, and interest groups organized by the sociologist Edward Walker and political scientist Patty Strach. Having attended Thad Dunning’s short course on natural experiments in the past, I think there is a lot to be said for alternative formats to the traditional panel of papers and discussants. This morning, 9 panelists each reflected on a common set of questions with two discussants, Ed and David Vogel, weighing in on our remarks.

Fellow panelists including a number of folks who study American politics and business interest groups (Alex Hertel-Fernandez, Benjamin Schneer, Leah Stokes), but we also had a healthy contingent of people who study the comparative politics of states and markets (Graham WilsonTasha Fairfield, Alison Post). Others are exploring the private politics of corporate social responsibility (Tim Werner). While most of us were political scientists, some had appointments in business schools (Tim Werner, Tricia Olsen). The organizers did a good job mixing people at different levels of seniority and disciplinary focus and methodological practices, though I might have been the only straight-up IR person of the bunch.

For what it is worth, I thought I’d share my remarks on transnational social movements and markets, which reflects my sense of the state of the literature and  important questions that should be asked going forward. These remarks are informed by my experience writing my previous book, AIDS Drugs for All,  with Ethan Kapstein on AIDS treatment advocacy and market transformations. Since that book came out in 2013, we’ve been been refining and distilling further our work on social movements and markets in a piece that is wending its way through the review process. Continue reading

So You Would Like a Job at a Policy School

So, in another installment on the job market front, I thought I’d weigh in with some thoughts on possible differences of job postings and hiring  processes at policy schools. Admittedly, this is an idiosyncratic take having just worked at one of them, but I think there may be some generalizable aspects from my own experience. I have also passed through two others as a post-doc. If my institution is any indication, policy schools tend to be heterogeneous interdisciplinary places which can make faculty coordination and hiring processes even more fraught than in a disciplinary department. So, here are some thoughts on what to look out for if you are aiming for a job at a policy school. Continue reading

Non-Academic Job Searches in DC – What to Know

Many graduate students are expanding their job searches outside the academy.  As an advisor, I’m horribly underprepared at offering job advice outside of the academic job market – besides work you can get off of Craigslist, I’ve never held a real job.  Recently, I had a student come to me with questions about finding a job in the DC policy world.  I asked my great friend (and former student) Kate Kidder for her thoughts, which she agreed to allow me to post at the Duck.

For academic jobs, I really like Michael Flynn‘s thoughts at The Quantitative Peace.

Kate’s Advice:

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So, you want a job in policy?

I haven’t worked a “real job” since being an undergrad. However, I often get asked by undergrads for advice about preparations for real world policy jobs.  I recently asked my former PhD student, Kate Kidder, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security, to provide some advice for an undergrad wanting to get into the policy world.   Kate’s response was awesome.  So awesome, in fact, that I asked her to share it with the Duck community:

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Death to Job Talks!

well-prepared-before-presentation

I was part of a short conversation last night about the standard job-search process in political science. For those of you who aren’t political scientists, but nonetheless feel compelled to read this, the process for junior candidates looks something like this:

  • Starting in the late summer, political-science departments post position announcements with the American Political Science Association. Most job hunters read those announcements on e-jobs and decide whether or not to apply.
  • Prospective hires send in materials to institutions. These typically include: (1) at least one writing sample — sometimes a published article, sometimes an article-in-process, and sometimes dissertation or book materials; (2) three letters of recommendation; (3) an application letter detailing why the committee should hire you; (4) a curriculum vitate [CV]; and sometimes (5) a graduate transcript. Some institutions will also ask for an undergraduate transcript, and some will only ask for contacts should they seek letters of recommendation.
  • Committees, often composed of 3-5 faculty members, read [the meaning of “read” may vary] those applications and winnow the field down. They may produce a “long short list” of, typically, 6-10 candidates who they are interested in. They may jump directly to the “short list” of, in general, 3-5 candidates who they want to bring in for interviews. Some kind of oversight may or may not follow. Prospective Interviewees are contacted and asked to visit campus.
  • The campus visit takes place over 1-2 days. The candidate meets with various faculty, administrators, and graduate students. Meals, including a dinner, take place. Candidate gives ~45 minute job talk with a question-and-answer period.

At liberal arts colleges, of course, (1) the meeting with graduate students is replaced by (often multiple) meetings with undergraduates and (2) the research presentation is either supplemented or substituted with a teaching presentation to undergraduates. Telecommunications interviews may occur at any stage of the winnowing process. Some schools also conduct interviews at APSA. I don’t know much about the two-year college process. Otherwise, YMMV.

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Jobs and Vocations

I started this as a reply to Peter’s post in the Comments thread, but a) it rapidly got too long and b) from analysis of the site traffic I know that many of our readers don’t read comments, just top-level posts. So here is my final word on the subject for the time being — final because it’s also my final Duck post until September, since I have to get this book written this summer and so am taking a step back from blogging over here until it’s done. I am under no illusions that my reply ends the conversation, of course.

Peter’s post is an impassioned and trenchant analysis of what Weber would call the “external” conditions of the academic vocation — the institutional and organizational features of the contemporary academy, and their characteristic patterns and implications. He’s quite right that the actually-existing academy is getting to be a tougher and tougher place to exercise an academic vocation, and he’s equally right that it’s largely a matter of luck that some people get to approximate the external conditions of that vocation while others, equally talented and called, do not. Maybe that’s always been the case, although I think that luck has more to do with it now for two reasons:

1) there are simply more PhDs around, reducing the chances of anyone in particular landing a decent job (not an elite job, but a decent job — the elite jobs remain in the hands of the elite students of the elite faculty-members at the elite institutions, same as it ever was). Once you get out of the top 20 or so institutions, places that you’re not going to get serious consideration at unless you were a star at anotehr top 20 institution, you’re competing with more people for a job, and that increases the contingency of any matches that occur: maybe some hiring committees are impresed by the prestige of your doctoral institution, maybe some like your publication record, maybe some are in your extended network of professional contacts. Sure, you can game that system a little bit by attending a prestigious doctoral institution, but that only gets you so far.

2) academia itself is in such a state of flux, with jobs being redefined and modified all the time, that simply having a tenure-track job available which gives you the ability to both teach students and engage in scholarly research is a highly contingent affair. I know of at least one case of someone on the job market this year who was for all intents and purposes offered a job — nice job, decent institution — only to have the offer dissolve as the state legislature directed the university in question to freeze hiring, even though the hiring decision had already been made. Short-term fluctuations because of the financial crisis, sure, but also indicative of a broader effort (especially among state universities) to call the university to account in terms of its immediate contribution to narrower political and social considerations.

And I hasten to emphasize that it’s luck, not simply privilege. I was lucky to find a couple of very good advisers and mentors as an undergraduate student at Michigan State University (not an elite institution — certainly no more of an elite institution than Ohio State, where Peter did his undergraduate studies). I was lucky to be at Columbia during a time when there was still space to do the kind of critical constructivist scholarship that I do. My family aren’t academics either; I had no idea how to play the game until I was smack in the middle of it, and I still don’t play it well — witness my distinct lack of single-authored articles in top-ranked US IR and polisci journals, and my distinct lack of a job at an elite institution. I often feel like I stumbled into what I have, and I’m extraordinarily grateful that I can get this close to exercising my vocation — indeed, I understand part of my obligation because I’ve been lucky to involve publicly, and vocally, pointing out when things are going awry.

And things are most definitely going awry. Peter quite rightly observes:

But, the contemporary reality is the institutional forms in which one can realize Patrick’s vocation are disappearing. If you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, then yes, this profession is for you. Expect significant suffering along the way. Be prepared to accept conditions you otherwise would find untenable to realize your dream. Realize that other portions of your life will suffer to fulfill this one deeply felt need.

Yes, they are disappearing, but they don’t have to. Not if people who understand the distinctiveness of the academic vocation stand up and hold the line, and honestly tell undergraduate students that education is not about training them for jobs but about giving them space to become who they are, and honestly tell graduate students that teaching is letting learn and research is enacted philosophy manifested as social-scientific methodology (and not, say, policy analysis or technocratic problem-solving), and honestly tell state legislatures and central administrators that there is no conceivable way that anyone can do these things unless they have reasonable workloads and decent wages — and honestly tell everyone that the value of academia is in its long-term contribution to our existence as human beings, both as a storehouse of traditions with which we bring students into encounter and as a speculative space within which we combine and revision elements of those traditions to equip them for the future. Step one in this process, I think, is to have a clear idea of what it is that we academics are supposed to be doing, and what we are not supposed to be doing. The academy serves society best by being itself, and not by being a sub-department of some other mundane social or political or God forbid economic sector.

But even in the absence of broad-based reform and revitalization, I would still argue that the academy remains the only place where one can — to slightly mis-quote Peter — engage in “the practices of teaching, mentoring, researching, and mastering a certain domain of knowledge.” Peter said “or,” not “and,” and that makes all the difference; he’s right if the vocation is defined as a disparate set of activities that can be differentially combined, but he’s wrong if the vocation is all of these practices together. For me it is all of these things together, and until the good folks over at Baseball Prospectus start offering seminars where we can engage philosophical notions and literary works and thorny, unresolvable questions of ethics and theology, only the academy — with all its imperfections — makes sense for someone like me. It’s not that the vocation is an essential way of being, but that the vocation involves simulating an essential way of being, approximating it, reproducing it, striving for it. That regulative idea, that utopian ideal, gives meaning to the disparate activities that make up the academic life; without it, various pieces of academic practice can be split off from one another, leaving us with (for instance) the terrible conceit of scholarship without teaching that presumes that it has answered questions rather than provoked thinking, and the equally terrible conceit of “teaching” without scholarship that falls all too easily into the transmission of supposed truths without opening space for thinking. Teaching keeps schoalrship honest, and schoalrship keeps teaching honest; one needs to be engaged in both in order to do a good job — an appropriate job — at either.

Try doing that outside of academia. Unless you’re independently wealthy and charismatic enough to attract students, you’ll likely fail. Or you could try the ministry, but that brings me back to the basic parallel I started off with: the academic vocation is like the ministerial vocation. It is closer to religion than to the mundane, secular way that people choose jobs or are told to choose jobs. It is not to be entered into lightly, and I do not recommend it to everyone, even everyone who is intellectually capable of doing it. I only recommend it to people who can’t not do it. Everyone else should take Peter’s grim picture as a reason not to go down this road, but for people with this calling, you have no alternative that will actually make you happy and content except to do this. If enough of us who understand the vocation are working in the job, hopefully we can change some of those external conditions over time — and in the meantime, there are students who need our teaching and a whole world of “experts” who need their putative intellectual authority kicked out from underneath them.

[I am now crawling into an ivory cave and writing about the philosophy of science for the rest of the summer. See you all in September, and may the Force be with you. The congregation responds, “Amen, Amen,” or “Live long and prosper” or even “So say we all” — we are, you see, a very ecumenical kind of church.]

A better job at telling the story…

David Leonhardt does a better job than most explaining the significance of the ongoing economic crisis and its parallel to the great depression. He finally understands the need to connect the dots, from bank failure, to credit crisis to impact on your household economy.

The crucial point is that a modern economy can’t function when people can’t easily get credit. It takes a while for this to become obvious, since most companies and households don’t take out big new loans every day. But it will eventually become obvious, and painfully so. Already, a lack of car loans has caused vehicle sales to fall further.


He leads off with an interesting parable, I’ll give you the open and the punchline from his conclusion, the rest is worth a read.

In 1929, Meyer Mishkin owned a shop in New York that sold silk shirts to workingmen. When the stock market crashed that October, he turned to his son, then a student at City College, and offered a version of this sentiment: It serves those rich scoundrels right.

A year later, as Wall Street’s problems were starting to spill into the broader economy, Mr. Mishkin’s store went out of business. He no longer had enough customers. His son had to go to work to support the family, and Mr. Mishkin never held a steady job again….

But in the end, this really isn’t about Wall Street. It’s about reducing the risk that something really bad happens. It’s about limiting the damage from the past decade’s financial excesses. Unfortunately, there is no way to accomplish that without also extending a helping hand to Wall Street. That is where our credit markets are, and we need them to start working again.

Update: Krugman has a solid analysis of the two flawed narratives of the crisis. I don’t know if this Krugman comment is something to inspire confidence or deeper concern: “The real financial rescue still lies in the future, probably under the Obama administration.”

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