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I completely agree with other posters about placement being the most important thing, far more than ranking, but I'd urge you to look deeply into placement numbers. Ask the schools for all the records they keep - sometimes the university's graduate school compiles statistics, as well as the department itself. It's not always easy to find, but not keeping good records is a red flag in and of itself. Are there particular subfields (or advisors) doing notably better than others in a particular department? What sorts of jobs is each school placing people into? By that, I mean not just tenure-track vs. lecturer or adjunct, but also what sorts of schools and positions - ones that are heavy teaching, with 4-4 loads, or research universities that give you more time for your own projects? Many "lower-ranked" programs place quite well because their grads are looking for totally different types of jobs, in which case their raw numbers become incommensurable with schools more focused on training researchers. It may be that you'll want to think very seriously about what sort of job you envision yourself in, and make your decision accordingly.

 

My (admittedly under-informed) impression is just that Buffalo is in a completely different league than West Virginia - they're definitely a "known" program in a way that WVU isn't. They're also known for having an untraditional, hip, theory-oriented program. That's not to say Buffalo is necessarily right for you, but I think it's important to keep in mind as you figure out where you want to be. Good luck!

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Well, after giving myself a couple of days to come down off of cloud nine, I have officially accepted my offer from UT Austin. Hook 'em horns, y'all!

I have made my final decision. I will be attending The Ohio State University for my PhD in English. GO BUCKS.   What a difficult decision. I LOVED everyone at Riverside, and Irvine is an amazing pro

I just accepted Buffalo and turned down WVU.   Now I've got the blahs. I am very excited about Buffalo, though. Yay!

I don't think you're crazy for considering WVU over Buffalo (maybe if it were WVU over Berkeley or something...  ;) ).  I do think that rankings matter, but WVU v. Buffalo is a special case: the former has a strong placement rate, whereas the latter has a kinda shitty placement rate (I remember feeling "meh" about UB's placement stats when I was scouting out programs).

 

Basically, I'm in accord with other posters about this: I don't think you can go wrong, really.  Either program would be a good choice.

 

I was curious about Buffalo's placement record after reading this, so I checked it out. Is >50% TT placement after 5 years bad?

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I was curious about Buffalo's placement record after reading this, so I checked it out. Is >50% TT placement after 5 years bad?

I don't think so, at all. 

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On 4/3/2013 at 3:39 AM, ghijklmn said:

I was curious about Buffalo's placement record after reading this, so I checked it out. Is >50% TT placement after 5 years bad?

On 4/3/2013 at 6:30 AM, Swagato said:

I don't think so, at all. 

 

Okay, so maybe not "bad," but a 52% TT rate isn't exactly something to get excited about either.  It's discipline-standard at this point in time, I suppose.

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On 4/3/2013 at 6:53 AM, Two Espressos said:

Okay, so maybe not "bad," but a 52% TT rate isn't exactly something to get excited about either.  It's discipline-standard at this point in time, I suppose.

 

Well, I honestly don't know much about what I'm about to say, so I'd invite corrections rather than people pouncing on me...but here goes.

 

Is http://oldsite.english.ucsb.edu/undergrad/aftermajor/gradrankings.asp a valid starting point? It's from 2001. Anyway, I'll assume not much has changed since then. Buffalo isn't exactly among the tippy-top programs, though they are ranked nicely for Lit Crit/Theory. 

 

Should we expect a stellar placement rate to TT positions? I mean, programs like those at Chicago, Johns Hopkins (and I'm sure you English folk can insert a slew of other names) have continued to gather strength over the intervening years. As best as I know, placement from such places continues to be pretty damn impressive. 

 

And we all know department/institution/advisor--these things carry weight. So what's the consensus? "For the level of program Buffalo's is...." is 52% good, unexpectedly high, or unexpectedly low?

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The latest figures that I've seen from Harvard (for an admittedly loose definition of a top program) had them with a 67% academic job placement rate over a five-year period, three years after completion of the program. How they define academic, exactly, I'm unaware. The overall employed rate among that same group was 81%, so you had an additional 14% of the people in that time frame were employed but outside of academia. I have heard that they have had an upswing in recent years, and that data is from the middle of the 2000s, so take this with a grain of salt. One thing about this is you need to balance the desire for recent information with a large enough sample for the numbers to be meaningful. You can't overextrapolate from one particularly bad or good year.

 

Here's a good, typically depressing article from a couple years ago: 

 

http://chronicle.com/article/An-Open-Letter-From-a-Director/64882/

 

Among other things, it makes the good point that you can't simply focus on placement; you have to look at time-to-completion and percentage who complete the degree.

 

 

 

Barbara E. Lovitts, in her book on Ph.D. attrition, Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of Departure From Doctoral Study (2001), estimates that the attrition rate for Ph.D.'s in the humanities is well over 50 percent. I suspect that figure is low, because it is so hard to track students who are no longer in course work.

 

 

In other words, if these people and their research is correct, you are more likely to drop out of your PhD program in English than to graduate. 

 

 

 

 In his "Report on Data From the 2004-05 MLA Guide to Doctoral Programs in English and Other Modern Languages," Steward counts a total of 6,457 students in English Ph.D. programs in their first year through their fourth year and beyond who were supported by various teaching assignments: composition instructor, literature instructor, discussion leader, paper grader. His companion "Report on the Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2004," however, notes that 933 Ph.D.'s in English and American language and literature were awarded that year (a typical number in recent years). That means roughly 5,500 Ph.D. students who were reported as holding teaching assignments during their first four years did not complete, or had yet to complete, their Ph.D.'s—and were thus stuck in professional limbo.

 

So I would argue that time-to-graduate and graduation percentage are just as important, or more important, than placement rate. You have to get the degree first before you worry about a TT job.

 

 

 

In 1975 more than half of the teaching work force in higher education was tenured or tenure-track; by 1995 the proportion had dropped to 49 percent; by 2005 it was down to 32 percent; and it will certainly continue to drop. Eventually anyone landing a tenure-track job within a year of earning a Ph.D. will be an anomaly.

 

I would argue that, in addition to universities having to return to a TT-dominant model (which may be a pipe dream at this point), literature departments have to stop taking on so many candidates. They are flooding the market with far more PhDs than job openings, both ensuring that a lot of people are left jobless and also reducing the leverage of those who do get hired. I look at department websites and see so many students in some programs and I'm just agog.

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I would argue that, in addition to universities having to return to a TT-dominant model (which may be a pipe dream at this point), literature departments have to stop taking on so many candidates. They are flooding the market with far more PhDs than job openings, both ensuring that a lot of people are left jobless and also reducing the leverage of those who do get hired. I look at department websites and see so many students in some programs and I'm just agog.

 

Interestingly enough, a lot of programs seem to think that they have sufficiently reduced their programs to account for the lack of jobs, but I think further entrenchment is really necessary.  UT accepts 20 people a year still, which I think is a crazy large number, and that's apparently down from 25 students a few years ago (granted, UT has freakishly amazing placement numbers). Whenever I see lower ranked programs with horrible placement rates accepting 10-15 students a year, I'm kind of shocked that they don't feel a twinge of guilt. Then again, many of those programs require their TAs to teach 2-2 with very small stipends, so perhaps having a disposable workforce is more important than getting students jobs at the other end of the tunnel.

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Interestingly enough, a lot of programs seem to think that they have sufficiently reduced their programs to account for the lack of jobs, but I think further entrenchment is really necessary.  UT accepts 20 people a year still, which I think is a crazy large number, and that's apparently down from 25 students a few years ago (granted, UT has freakishly amazing placement numbers). Whenever I see lower ranked programs with horrible placement rates accepting 10-15 students a year, I'm kind of shocked that they don't feel a twinge of guilt. Then again, many of those programs require their TAs to teach 2-2 with very small stipends, so perhaps having a disposable workforce is more important than getting students jobs at the other end of the tunnel.

 

I think another thing that pushes departments away from small cohorts is that it would lessen their impact/network. My department accepts cohorts of 4 people a year, and always has; while we have a pretty great placement rate, with such tiny cohorts there is never the critical mass of grads to be able to work the alumni connections or really build the awareness of the program in the wider English community very easily....smaller cohorts limit a program's reach and power and many programs don't want to give that up.

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Right, and I should say that the blame doesn't lie with the departments alone. The administrations at their schools often make it impossible to teach the number of classes they're mandated to without relying heavily on TA labor.

 

Aha. But this, to me, indicates that they are the same problem--if they would just hire more TT people, they wouldn't need to rely on TAs, and the two problems would solve each other. I always wondered why, when so many more people are getting BAs than ever before in history, the job market for professors is so shitty--this doesn't make mathematical sense, does it? Except that it does when you realize that it's because they're screwing over the professors and using graduate students as cheap labor rather than as "apprentices" that will move into stable positions. There could be balance in the system--there used to be, to a certain degree, but it's the whole cheap labor/outsourcing (or insourcing in this case) mentality that has taken over the university, along with the rest of the world...

 

... but anyway, Yay, we're all getting PhDs!! :rolleyes:

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Aha. But this, to me, indicates that they are the same problem--if they would just hire more TT people, they wouldn't need to rely on TAs, and the two problems would solve each other. I always wondered why, when so many more people are getting BAs than ever before in history, the job market for professors is so shitty--this doesn't make mathematical sense, does it? Except that it does when you realize that it's because they're screwing over the professors and using graduate students as cheap labor rather than as "apprentices" that will move into stable positions. There could be balance in the system--there used to be, to a certain degree, but it's the whole cheap labor/outsourcing (or insourcing in this case) mentality that has taken over the university, along with the rest of the world...

 

... but anyway, Yay, we're all getting PhDs!! :rolleyes:

Tbh, I really don't think it's grad student labor that's making the job market shitty; the oversupply once they finish, does have a big impact..but it's the shift away from TT faculty to adjunct staff that is lowering the number of TT positions available. I come from a country without tenure and, honestly, I feel like the US would benefit from a reappraisal of the need for tenure...why aren't permanent, non-tenure track appointments more common? Hell, why aren't they the norm? Tenure is lovely and all that, but it's really expensive, there are good reasons for universities not to want to hire TT faculty but because it's seen as the gold standard post-Phd job, you end up with a wildly uneven and difficult job market where the choice is between ultimate security (tenure) and ultimate insecurity (adjuncting)....there is a perfectly reasonable middle ground that is completely unavailable because academics cling to the idea that tenure is necessary. 

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Tbh, I really don't think it's grad student labor that's making the job market shitty; the oversupply once they finish, does have a big impact..but it's the shift away from TT faculty to adjunct staff that is lowering the number of TT positions available. I come from a country without tenure and, honestly, I feel like the US would benefit from a reappraisal of the need for tenure...why aren't permanent, non-tenure track appointments more common? Hell, why aren't they the norm? Tenure is lovely and all that, but it's really expensive, there are good reasons for universities not to want to hire TT faculty but because it's seen as the gold standard post-Phd job, you end up with a wildly uneven and difficult job market where the choice is between ultimate security (tenure) and ultimate insecurity (adjuncting)....there is a perfectly reasonable middle ground that is completely unavailable because academics cling to the idea that tenure is necessary. 

 

I think the part that I would have a hard time with is, what exactly does a non-tenured permanent job look like? Does it just mean that you make a living wage and get benefits? Is there any component of it that would make firing you difficult? I agree that tenure is probably not going to last much longer, and that we need to figure things out, but I feel like opening the door to non-permanence would allow administrations a too arbitrary method of deciding whether you stay or go. Granted, there are far too many tenured faculty in the country who are essentially useless (bad teaching, no service, little research), so I wonder what a system of non-tenure would do in weeding those out.

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I think the part that I would have a hard time with is, what exactly does a non-tenured permanent job look like? Does it just mean that you make a living wage and get benefits? Is there any component of it that would make firing you difficult? I agree that tenure is probably not going to last much longer, and that we need to figure things out, but I feel like opening the door to non-permanence would allow administrations a too arbitrary method of deciding whether you stay or go. Granted, there are far too many tenured faculty in the country who are essentially useless (bad teaching, no service, little research), so I wonder what a system of non-tenure would do in weeding those out.

I don't know much about labor laws in this country, but in the UK almost all academic appointments are permanent and non tenure track (though an increasing number are fixed term, e.g. three year contracts)... you're protected by the fact that you have a contract...if you perform the duties that you've been hired to do, it should be kind of hard to fire you. 

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I don't know much about labor laws in this country, but in the UK almost all academic appointments are permanent and non tenure track (though an increasing number are fixed term, e.g. three year contracts)... you're protected by the fact that you have a contract...if you perform the duties that you've been hired to do, it should be kind of hard to fire you. 

 

Wow, three year. That's mildly terrifying. I mean, I think it depends on what kind of academic you intend to be, but as someone who feels strongly about scholar-activism, I can think of instances and people who would never get job security because their views are not in line with the more conservative administration. That's why that kind of thing would worry me, but I can see how it would be possible, I guess. Do people in the UK stay in place for long? It seems like there would have to come a point where these contracts were just a formality. And I have read an argument for 7-year appointments rather than tenure, but I think I"m too idealistic to let go of some of the benefits of tenure and not idealistic enough to think we could ever convert the academics of this country to a contractual model.

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Wow, three year. That's mildly terrifying. I mean, I think it depends on what kind of academic you intend to be, but as someone who feels strongly about scholar-activism, I can think of instances and people who would never get job security because their views are not in line with the more conservative administration. That's why that kind of thing would worry me, but I can see how it would be possible, I guess. Do people in the UK stay in place for long? It seems like there would have to come a point where these contracts were just a formality. And I have read an argument for 7-year appointments rather than tenure, but I think I"m too idealistic to let go of some of the benefits of tenure and not idealistic enough to think we could ever convert the academics of this country to a contractual model.

I understand that concern, but in practice it doesn't bear out (in the UK at least). I personally find US academia far more stiflingly homogenous than UK academia, and I think  the tenure system is probably partly to blame: you have a very strong incentive to tow the party line, so to speak. 

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WVU has the Appalachian Prison Book Project, which is a huge draw for me, and they're really invested in recruiting me. 

 

I just looked this up - so cool! Have you read Meg Sweeney's book, Reading is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons? I'll cop to not having gotten to it yet, though I've been meaning to, but my friends in my department rave about it (it's also won several prizes). Meg is also brilliant, lovely, and a truly fantastic teacher. Seems like it'd be a great resource for reference if you end up getting involved in that project at WVU (and maybe even if you don't - seriously, people describe this book in terms I'm not used to hearing too often about academic books - "moving," "engrossing," etc.)!

 

As for the tenure discussion, I second dazedandbemused. Tenure has its problems, but it also has a crucial purpose: it protects intellectuals from the whims of the market and the political sphere. We've already lost so much ground; totally giving up on tenure seems like resigning ourselves completely to the business model of the university, and in that, relinquishing much of the value of our role. Maybe it will have to happen eventually- obviously something does - but we should not cede that ground willingly and in accordance with a market-driven vision of the university. This article, which calls for senior professors to protest more vocally about the abuse of adjuncts and grad students, seems to me a much better direction.

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I just looked this up - so cool! Have you read Meg Sweeney's book, Reading is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons? I'll cop to not having gotten to it yet, though I've been meaning to, but my friends in my department rave about it (it's also won several prizes). Meg is also brilliant, lovely, and a truly fantastic teacher. Seems like it'd be a great resource for reference if you end up getting involved in that project at WVU (and maybe even if you don't - seriously, people describe this book in terms I'm not used to hearing too often about academic books - "moving," "engrossing," etc.)!

 

As for the tenure discussion, I second dazedandbemused. Tenure has its problems, but it also has a crucial purpose: it protects intellectuals from the whims of the market and the political sphere. We've already lost so much ground; totally giving up on tenure seems like resigning ourselves completely to the business model of the university, and in that, relinquishing much of the value of our role. Maybe it will have to happen eventually- obviously something does - but we should not cede that ground willingly and in accordance with a market-driven vision of the university. This article, which calls for senior professors to protest more vocally about the abuse of adjuncts and grad students, seems to me a much better direction.

Ugh that book is so good. She assigned a chapter for class and I immediately went out and read the rest. Not only is it fascinating and meaningful, it is also totally accessible. She's great.

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As a prospective academic, I'm cool with renewable fixed-term contracts, though I think they should be at least for 3 years or so (having to move yourself and/or your family year-to-year would be rough).  And, of course, these contracts should include a livable salary, benefits, and protection from dismissal for political, intellectual, etc. reasons.  I agree that tenure is a slowly dying institution.  And the answer certainly is not to make us all adjuncts.  The exploitation of academic labor is one of the most significant and pernicious problems that developed countries face right now: it's something acknowledged and pitied but largely left alone (or worsened).

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I just looked this up - so cool! Have you read Meg Sweeney's book, Reading is My Window: Books and the Art of Reading in Women's Prisons? I'll cop to not having gotten to it yet, though I've been meaning to, but my friends in my department rave about it (it's also won several prizes). Meg is also brilliant, lovely, and a truly fantastic teacher. Seems like it'd be a great resource for reference if you end up getting involved in that project at WVU (and maybe even if you don't - seriously, people describe this book in terms I'm not used to hearing too often about academic books - "moving," "engrossing," etc.)!

As for the tenure discussion, I second dazedandbemused. Tenure has its problems, but it also has a crucial purpose: it protects intellectuals from the whims of the market and the political sphere. We've already lost so much ground; totally giving up on tenure seems like resigning ourselves completely to the business model of the university, and in that, relinquishing much of the value of our role. Maybe it will have to happen eventually- obviously something does - but we should not cede that ground willingly and in accordance with a market-driven vision of the university. This article, which calls for senior professors to protest more vocally about the abuse of adjuncts and grad students, seems to me a much better direction.

speaking of wonderful scholars, your valerie traub came to LSU recently! super interesting to basically witness a workshopping of her new book rather than a traditional invited talk. she had some good advice for us too. Edited by inafuturelife
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After being courted by several schools, I'm going to UC Irvine. Glorious southern california sun-factory.

Hooray :) I was like 95% sure that I would go to LA a couple months ago, then had my heart set on staying at Cal, and never really thought until the past few weeks that I'd end up picking Irvine, but at this point it's almost a lock. Almost.

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