Tag: academic job market (page 2 of 2)

Your life’s work

To respond to Patrick (and then I promise this will be the last I’ll say on this until late August…), I largely agree with important parts of what he says, but as a friend pointed out to me, to be able to occupy the position required to realize such a vocation requires a certain degree of luck and privilege. Moreover, I think it is perhaps time to apply some of Patrick’s own ontological commitments to the notion of a vocation itself.

As Patrick points out, the idea of a vocation, a calling, is explicitly religious. But our understanding (and his) of that concept is filtered through Christianity, and perhaps here is where some distance from that religion is helpful. In the classic sense, the vocation was a calling to serve one’s religion, and in the Medieval context, the only institutional form for such service was the Church. And to this day, it largely remains so—the vocational calling to religion in the Christian context has one institutional outlet, the Church (of whatever denomination), which sets the terms of service, traditionally through the clergy (to which Patrick compares scholars, the high-priests of knowledge).

Things are different today—this is not the world our students enter. Perhaps lets us think of a vocation not as an essential way of being, but as a set of practices that orient one’s life. Thus, the calling is not to embody a certain essence or acquire certain qualities, but rather to engage in certain practices, certain ways of life. The vocation is not to be a university professor, but rather to engage in the practice of teaching, mentoring, researching, or mastering a certain domain of knowledge. As a friend and colleague said to me yesterday—if I had realized that my vocation was teaching, I would have scrapped IR for a much more lucrative profession and taught technology or something.

The vocation to which Patrick aspires exists only in limited institutional forms—the small subset of top 100 (maybe 200 if we are generous) universities in the US (I’ll exclude the rest of the world for now as most of my students aren’t oriented in that direction, and understandings of scholarship and teaching differ enough in other cultural settings to matter for the purposes of this meta-discussion). To get a job in this realm, you usually need to have a Ph.D. from a top 20 school. You must do as Patrick did, not as he does now—a Ph.D. from our institution doesn’t position you all that well to get the type of job that allows one to realize the vocation Patrick describes. Most academic jobs are like that friend of mine just landed—-its tenure track at a small, second tier state school in the middle of nowhere. He’ll be teaching a 4-4 load of large classes to mostly mediocre students not all that interested in Political Science. His department is small, he’ll be one of 2 jack of all trade IR / comparative guys also required to teach a service section of US government every other semester. His research requirements are to stay active in the profession—an article here, a conference paper there, but not the degree of engagement in the profession that Patrick celebrates. Indeed, such engagement in the profession is difficult from such a position given the teaching load and paucity of resources available—resources one requires to attend conferences, conduct research, subscribe to journals and buy books to keep up with the latest research.

What worries me most about Patrick’s discussion is the idea that the University is the only institutional form in which his vocation can be realized. Rather, I think one must understand what vocation actually calls them, and then explore the ways of life in which that vocation can be realized. As I was recently telling a student currently at a crossroads in her life, trying to decide upon graduate school or some other path, realize that you can engage in these ways of life in any number of institutional and professional forms.

If the calling is to teach, one can teach many places. While the classroom is the traditional place for such exploration, there are many classrooms, and many more teachable moments. Professors teach. But so can high school teachers, coaches, nurses, movie producers, artists, parents, baseball analysts, and many others. If the calling is to mentor, one can mentor in the university, but also in the community center, as a youth group leader, or even in the professional workplace. If the call is to research or to produce knowledge, again, the academy has no monopoly on that.

Why must the production of knowledge and research only rest in the academy? I’m reading (slowly—as newborns don’t allow much free reading time) Peter Singer’s Wired for War, and the introduction to the book lays out his biography, his calling to research war. He has all the requisite “scholarly” training (Harvard Ph.D. no less), but he is able to research war from a think tank, and his work has significant impact on how many (including many in the policy relevant community) are thinking about war. Some tenure committee would probably reject the book as not at a university press and not methodologically sophisticated enough, but that’s not the point, and clearly he didn’t write the book for them. He wrote the book because he couldn’t imagine himself writing about anything else. Luckily for him, it also pays well.

So, the question is, what exactly is it that you couldn’t not do? What practice must you engage in, what way of life must you lead? These days, I would submit, there are many, many opportunities and institutional forms to realize that vocation, most of which are outside the academy. One can have a love of numbers, charts, research, and public policy, and start a blog about it and turn that into a job. One can love to teach, and find teachable moments in nearly any setting. One can mentor a Big Brother, a co-worker. Why couldn’t Patrick realize his calling working for Baseball Prospectus? They research rigorously, challenge conventional methodological orthodoxy, use innovative technology to teach those lessons to wide ranges of regular and fantasy baseball enthusiasts, and the results of these endeavors have fundamentally changed how many of us understand and pursue the passion that is baseball.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the children of academics do quite well in this profession. They want to enter it, they know what it is, and they know what it is they like about it. They understand the “game” and have an intuitive sense of how to play, having grown up steeped in the family business. I grew up steeped in welding equipment and industrial gasses (the Howard family business once upon a time—can you imagine me selling gas?). For quite a while, that led me to a math, science, and chemistry focus, though eventually my love of politics and fascination with the international let me to a shift away from a math-science track to a poli sci / IR track sometime in college.

To be able to realize the life of the academic in today’s institutional form requires a significant degree of luck and a significant degree of privilege in addition to a significant degree of skill. Being smart is no longer enough—indeed it was never enough—you must also know the right people, have the right pedigree, and be in the right place at the right time. One must get the right guidance as an undergraduate in order to know which graduate programs to apply to and how to get in—its not something you can do on your own. One must get into the right grad programs with the right advisers to be competitive for a job (and grants and publications and all those other things that help get a job). And, one must have the right topic (and theory and methods) that are ‘hot’ or ‘in vogue’ to impress hiring committees. Privilege can provide a lot of this—access to the right undergraduate situation, ability to engage in the practices that impress admissions and later hiring committees, and most importantly, time to contemplate. Luck also plays a role, as some are simply fortunate to find themselves in the right time. A very bright friend from high school went to Ohio University (not known as a gateway to anything, really) but happened to get along with his history professor quite well and have a strong appreciation of the subject. His history professor was lured away to Yale and brought my friend with him as his graduate student. Indeed, the luck of age is a significant part of this. Patrick and I have discussed where our top students should apply for graduate school to do what we do, to take the next step in realizing the vocation. It’s a tough conversation, as departments have changed and there aren’t a lot of top graduate programs that can train students in our line of inquiry—Patrick’s experience at Columbia is sadly no longer possible, as the particular configuration of faculty, environment, and students have moved on and Columbia is now a different place.

What’s missing here is of course the merit part. We like to think of the academy as merit based and merit driven, and on occasion it is. Brilliant people can in fact succeed by being brilliant. But, more and more, merit is merely a necessary but not sufficient condition for success in this field. There will always be room at the top for the best of the best, but none of us are that person (well maybe one of us is—but its not me). There will always be the exceptional student slightly more driven than the rest, able to overcome lack of privilege to succeed –Patrick and I have had such students, and I’m proud of one in particular to say she’s doing quite well as a young scholar and she’s going to make it in this field all on her own.

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.

But for the rest of us, take the time to reflect on the calling you hear toward a vocation. Consider—what is it, exactly, that provides the satisfaction, that fulfills the desire, that provides a way to organize your life. This is in fact more difficult than it seems, and requires some serious personal reflection. It is not a choice to be made lightly. With that in mind, then set yourself free to realize that calling in all the novel and exciting ways that the 21st century provides.

Post script— the answer to the obvious is: Yes. But more on that later. I’ll endeavor to return to substantive postings on the actual IR stuff we all enjoy.

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No (tt) Job for You

As if there wasn’t enough depressing evidence about the poor state of the academy, Inside Higher Ed covers a new report documenting the disappearance of tenure track jobs. (H/T to Craig)

Take home point: Only 27% of all higher education faculty jobs are tenure or tenure-tracked positions.

The overall number of faculty and instructor slots grew from 1997 to 2007, but nearly two-thirds of that growth was in “contingent” positions — meaning those off of the tenure track. Over all, those jobs increased from two-thirds to nearly three-quarters of instructional positions.

The growth in these jobs — and the decline in tenure-track positions — was found in all sectors of higher education, but was most apparent at community colleges. However, one of the most notable shifts was at public four-year colleges and universities, where over the period studied, tenured and tenure-track faculty members went from being a slight majority to less than 40 percent of faculty members. At the end point of the AFT study, tenured and tenure-track faculty members do not make a majority of faculties in any sector.

“What was shocking to me, even though I think about this all the time, was that the percentage of tenure and tenure-track faculty has shrunk to almost a quarter,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the AFT chapter at the City University of New York. “The deterioration of staffing has reached a crisis point when only a quarter are tenured or tenure-track.”

Not to continue my embittered rants, but the jobs you may have been promised going into grad school simply may not exist by the time you finish. Moreover, we as a profession need to reconsider how we treat the vast majority of practicing professionals not in the cushy TT jobs, and appreciate more ‘non-traditional’ career paths. To marginalize someone because they spend time slumming with the rest of the non-tenure track crowd does a disservice to your future student will will end up there through no fault of their own.

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Perpetual Hiring Difficulties II: Academageddon

To continue a thread I started some weeks ago: If you’re thinking about getting a Ph.D., think again. Its a dysfunctional industry. From today’s NY Times op-ed pages, Mark Taylor writes:

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

The Academy is not a healthy industry. Higher Education is doing well, as an increasing number of people are going to college and seeking graduate degrees. Despite this fact, the Academy itself is in trouble. Applied research is doing well, professional schools are doing well, but the Academy as we like to idealize as our home is rapidly going the way of the newspaper.

Future PhD students, do appreciate how you will be used and abused by this system:

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

When Taylor has to pick a field to throw under the bus to demonstrate the poor state of scholarship, he of course turns to Political Science and IR.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight. There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises.

Its our field that is again singled out as particularly useless. Now, granted, this isn’t all IR scholars, I’m sure that there are many out there doing interesting and valuable work on religion and politics, but the point is these people were marginalized by the field (considered not important enough) such that they weren’t invited to the meeting that Taylor attended.

One of Taylor’s suggestions I find particularly interesting:

Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.

This echos, in part, some of Charli’s and my comments on the growth of digital media, Web 2.0 and the benefits of it as a potential outlet for knowledge beyond the traditional journal.

Can you see the day when a blog replaces a journal, or a digital video replaces a university press book? The Duck of Minerva as a ticket to tenure…. The utter absurdity of that statement is perhaps part of the problem.

Again, this isn’t to say that no one should get a Ph.D. However, it should serve as a wake-up call both to students and academics. Students: Know what you are getting into and go in with your eyes wide open. Academics: Don’t let the academy become the next Detroit Free Press–a dying industry covering a dying industry.

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One less department

In other depressing academic-job-market-related news, Wisconsin Lutheran College has apparently decided to eliminate its entire Political Science department. Indeed, they appear to be removing Political Science entirely from their list of offerings:

[A spokeswoman] noted that current majors will be able to take political science at other colleges in the area, at Wisconsin Lutheran’s expense. And she said that the college determined it wasn’t necessary to its liberal arts mission to offer political science. “We have interdisciplinary majors and other majors that can get you where you are going with your career and aspirations, whether it’s law school or whatever after your undergraduate degree,” she said.

Even though Wisconsin Lutheran College was probably not at the top of many people’s list of dream academic jobs (it may have been for some, but a college that — according to its mission statement — “integrates God’s truths into every discipline, helping students relate their faith to life in today’s world” is probably appealing to a very specialized segment of the professoriate), and even though it doesn’t grant tenure, the elimination of the two full-time jobs formerly in the Political Science department places some small increased pressure on other positions around the country.

But what’s really striking here is less the minor impact on the job market caused by the disappearance of these two positions, and more the general point made by the college’s determination that a Political Science department is not necessary to its “liberal arts mission.” Speaking as a card-carrying political scientist, I have to agree: a department of Political Science, which would have to be plugged into the contemporary discipline of Political Science, is not a particularly essential part of a liberal arts education. I maintain this despite basically agreeing with Michael Brintnall, the Executive Director of the American Political Science Association, who commented of the study of politics:

“It would be thought to be a central component of a liberal arts education. . . . The subject matter is too central to civic life and understanding where we are going in the world to not offer the content.”

The problem is that the contemporary discipline of Political Science doesn’t really do any of these things; it doesn’t promote civic awareness, doesn’t really offer undergraduates much in the way of helping them understand the world, and is a lot less concerned with any content at all than it is with increasingly narrow measurement criteria and abstruse quantitative techniques.

Put yourself in the position of the administrator of a small religiously-affiliated college for a moment. You’re facing a $3 million budget shortfall, and you have to cut an academic department. Now, if you try to get rid of one of the natural sciences, the public backlash is likely to be tremendous: whatever the economic situation, the press would not be able to get past the juicy headline “Christian College Opposed to Science.” Similarly, eliminating one of the humanities departments would likely provoke charges of cultural puritanism. So the safest bet is to eliminate one of the social sciences, since none of them have an overarching philosophy that might look like the real target of any such move.

Now, consider that in order to staff a department, one is in important ways beholden to the relevant academic discipline. This happens in at least two ways. First, the majority of easily reachable job candidates for a department are those that have been professionally trained — meaning: have earned a PhD in — the relevant academic discipline. (Full disclosure: one of the two full-time positions in the Political Science department at Wisconsin Lutheran College which was apparently occupied by someone without a PhD; the other held a PhD in Political Science.) That’s because of the tight coupling between disciplines and departments: people trained in and socialized into a discipline recognize other members of their tribe more easily, so political scientists hire other political scientists, while sociologists hire sociologists, etc. Job markets are also organized by discipline, by and large; when a Political Science department lists a job, it uses APSA’s e-jobs service, which is read by — no surprise here — political scientists.

But staffing a department is only half of the issue. Once people are hired, they also have to figure out what to assign to their students; for that purpose, they need books and articles. Naturally, people want to assign the current, contemporary research in their field if they can, but not only does that not say much about civic engagement or the future of the political landscape, but it doesn’t even say what it does say in a way that is particularly accessible to undergraduate students. “The Role of Parties’ Past Behavior in Coalition Formation,” to pick just one of the articles from the most recent issue of the American Political Science Review, doesn’t exactly sound like a page-turner. And yes, I know full well that other disciplines also have a dichotomy between their contemporary research and the kinds of things that one assigns to undergraduates, but the gulf is particularly pronounced in contemporary Political Science. (At least Anthropology and Sociology have classics that can be profitably read by undergraduates; once one gets outside of the social sciences, the humanities have works of art and literature, and the natural sciences have textbooks and laboratories.) I remember serving as a TA for an American politics class while in grad school; the professor told a lot of stories about how actual politics worked, but the reading material talked about such scintillating topics as fire-alarms versus trip-wires in governmental oversight regimes. So the students, not surprisingly, ignored the reading and listened to the stories.

I think the students were on the right track. If one wants to actually do much serious thinking about civic life and one’s individual responsibility within it, one would be well-advised to stay as far away from the last several decades of Political Science scholarship as possible. Undergraduate education in politics shouldn’t be about learning how to solve extensive-form games; it should be about learning how government works. But contemporary Political Science isn’t much help to that task. This implies that if we want students to come to articulate their own sense of civic engagement, we ought not send them to the Political Science department, but could achieve the same effect by sending them elsewhere. And to make matters worse, people trained in Political Science probably aren’t likely to know how to facilitate this for undergraduates, which further undermines the need for a Political Science department in a liberal arts college.

Now, I’m not saying that every liberal arts college ought to go around eliminating its Political Science department. (In fact, Political Science departments at most liberal arts colleges I know are actually quite far removed from the mainstream of the discipline; I don’t think this is an accident.) But I am saying that the decision makes a certain amount of sense, since the discipline of Political Science is so far away from the goals of a liberal arts undergraduate education. And that’s too bad — bad for Political Science, not bad for the liberal arts.

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Perpetual Hiring Difficulties

For any students out there who aspire to graduate education to launch a career in this discipline, allow me to offer the one bit of advice that no one wants to tell you: Don’t. I really hate to be the one who rains on the parade, but the stark reality is that the Academy is a collapsing profession–while we seem to be producing more and more PhD’s, the academy has fewer and fewer jobs to ply the trade of “academic.” We don’t appreciate or really recognize the contributions of those operating outside the university / peer reviewed journal realm, and yet that’s where more and more of our students are going to end up.

The economy’s collapse hasn’t helped things at all. The NYT reports today that graduating PhD’s are facing incredibly tough times:

“This is a year of no jobs,” said Catherine Stimpson, the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. Ph.D.s are stacked up, she said, “like planes hovering over La Guardia.”

They may find a post-doc here or a temporary / adjunct position there, but I can pretty much guarantee you that these disappearing jobs won’t come back as fast as we can flood the market with more graduates.

Andrew Delbanco, the chairman of the American studies program at Columbia University, said that the system producing graduate students was increasingly out of sync with the system hiring them.

“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker….”

Many students now finishing their doctorates began working on them when the economy was in much better shape. It often takes about nine years to complete a dissertation in English, said Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, explaining that students have to devote so many hours to teaching and making money that they don’t have time left over to write.

William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who writes a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the name Thomas Benton, has frequently tried to dissuade undergraduates from pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. He is convinced that the recession will push universities to trim the number of tenure-track jobs further.

“It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource,” he wrote in a recent column. “If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault.”

Unless you are independently wealthy or really well connected, don’t apply, he advised.

At ISA this year, much of the conversation was about how the budge crunch was impacting everyone’s department. I heard about departments where they let go all the non-tenure line faculty, departments where people had to take pay-cuts, departments where classes were cut, job searches canceled, and candidates going on interviews only to have searches canceled before an offer could be made. In IR, we’re about to have a glut of 2 to 3 year’s worth of top graduates on the market unable to find jobs. They aren’t there.

As a profession, we need to really reflect on our place in the world and perhaps find a way to get these people the jobs they need to survive, while at the same time not alienating them from the profession.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a PhD– don’t. And after all that, if you still want to, be forewarned, this is what you’re up against.

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IR Rumor Mill

The life of an academic is all about balancing the scales. The pay isn’t so hot, but the hours are good. Grading is a pain, but they give you money to read stuff. And so on.

But one thing that really does unequivocally suck about being an academic, at least in political science, is the constant rejection – or the existential threat of rejection. Russell Arben Fox captures this feature of academic life quite well (although I wish he didn’t have the need to):

April is the Cruelest Month… especially for academics, and more particularly those who act the part of such. April is when the last, lingering hopes for the efforts expended during the school year are put to rest–grants very definitely not received, promotions very definitely denied, hires very definitely not made.

What rubs salt in the wound is the way the dissemination of information about hires, fellowships, and grants work. Let’s say you’ve just finished your PhD and are applying for jobs. Most likely, you send out a ton of very thick packets over the period from September to November. Then you wait for the email or phone call inviting you to an interview… and the chances are that most of the phone calls and emails won’t come. How do you know that you’ve been rejected? Not because the college or university you’ve applied to is likely to let you know anytime soon. Indeed, I once received a rejection from a third-tier school I’d applied to over a year after I’d accepted a tenure-track job at Georgetown. Most letters never come. So, instead, you either wait and assume a particular search is over after an interminable period of time, or you hear through the grapevine.

Now, let’s also stipulate that you’re in International Relations. The field is relatively small, and many of the “top prospects” from different schools know each other through a network of fellowships. So, in practice, you’re likely to find out when, during a phone call with a friend, she causally mentions that she got an interview a few weeks ago at Prestigious State U., or maybe that a mutual friend did, or maybe that someone a mutual friend knows through their postdoc did, etc. Thus, every conversation with a friend or colleague carries the potential to slap your ego around – you learn to dread them, rather than look forward to them.

I don’t know if things are better or worse in other disciplines, or in non-academic fields, but at least in IR there’s some hope for a smoother process. Some anonymous job-seekers have set up the IR Rumor Mill. The Rumor Mill acts as an information aggregator about the job market and fellowship circuit in IR. it models similar websites in Astrophysics and Theoretical Particle Physics. Better late than never, I say.

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