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Article discouraging humanities PhD


LugubriousJones
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I'm very curious about what you humanities folks think about this article. It's written by someone with a Literature PhD who seems to think she made the biggest mistake of her life and is discouraging anyone also considering a similar path. She sounds very bitter, but she also makes a compelling argument. I had no idea the job prospects in these fields were so dismal (assuming the info in the article is correct).

So how do you reconcile your commitment to pursue an academic career in the humanities with the knowledge that those careers are so difficult to achieve? I realize that there are many motivations for such an endeavor that are outside of pragmatic career track calculations, but isn't the info presented in the article quite daunting? I'm very curious about the thought process of those about to embark on their humanities PhD.

I apologize if this topic has been discussed at length here before. If so, please refer me to the past posts.

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/2013/04/there_are_no_academic_jobs_and_getting_a_ph_d_will_make_you_into_a_horrible.2.html

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  • 2 weeks later...

In my opinion, most articles of this type unintentionally reveal the true flaws of the person who is dissatisfied with the system.  I know we're getting this individual at their worst, but they seem to lack the kind of passion and understanding of professorship that could give them a chance to really shine.  The way they look at jobs is troubling -- "Midwestern or Southern school you've never heard of" -- I'm sorry, you thought you would get your Ph.D and get to go wherever you want?  Had you ever really been to the Midwest or South?  

 

Also, she has a Ph.D in German Literature.  That's not the same as a typical English dept. person that she is trying to relate to.  I have to wonder whether she is willing to teach German language classes.

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  • 7 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...

My ideal job would be tenured professorship. However, that's only one thing I can do with a PhD in English. The program that was at the top of my list (and the one I got into, yay!) offered me flexibility in ways that other places simply don't. I'll be walking away from it with a PhD in literature and a couple of certificates in composition. Yay! I am, of course, kicking myself in the butt for not going to medical school and becoming a GP, but it's probably a good thing. I am not good with people that way.

So, anyway. I think one of the reasons they liked me was because I said I want tenure, but I can also do this, this, that, and the other thing, not to mention a few courses for this thing and I can do that and this and that, or a few courses in this other thing, and I can do that and that. Oh, and while I adore your program more than any other, I ain't going if it's not funded.

So, while I lament the state of higher ed., I don't lament it for my career. I'll have one whether I'm tenured or not. I lament it because I'd rather be tenured, but more because I think the new direction we're going in education is not just worse than what we used to have, but it's actively detrimental to students and to society at large.

I also think that the more terrifying article on the future and education isn't about academia at all. It's about offshoring. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/04/AR2007050402555.html Blinder doesn't outright say it, but then he didn't look at MOOCs.

It's hitting humanities hard right now because the recession turned Tenuretopia into an Adjunct Shanty Town. Online offerings (MOOCs don't really work) are going to start changing the face of American academics. Why hire a tenured prof when you can pay someone in India to do the same job at half the price? Online courses are already here. So are online degrees.

It isn't just the humanities that are in trouble.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm actually skeptical about whether MOOCs or much of any online-only courses will stick. The founder of Udacity has already basically admitted that his model didn't work and that he is now targeting corporate applications -- he found that people on limited resources had by far the worst attrition rates and that those with  more resources did the best, but were still going to choose more expensive options like an actual college education.

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I embrace it. The absolute shithole economy has made me a bit more optimistic about the whole prospect, to be honest. If at the end of this long process, I end up working the drive through at Taco Bell (overqualified for management, to be sure), it's still worth it.

 

Learning of all enterprises is alone immortal and divine. - Plutarch

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i think statistically, yes, the future a humanities PhD holds is bleak. but obviously that doesn't mean that everybody who gets a humanities PhD is screwed. it's helpful to proceed with caution and be aware how tough it will be, but i don't think articles like that should stop you if you're really serious about it. if you decide not to pursue a PhD from reading the articles (which includes facts AND subjective arguments), you weren't probably into the idea in the first place anyway.

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A key error is to look at "the statistics." 

 

While there is a slippery slope towards survivorship bias, there is a difference between a Lit PhD from Southwest Central Regional Tech A&M and [insert elite program here]. It is useful to know about the job market and the issues with it, but it will be most constructive to look at your potential schools and how its graduates are faring on the job market. Another thing to think about is whether your expertise is desired - for instance, I know that the political science job market is doing okay, but political theory is doing terrible while international relations is exploding. You'll have to try to assess whether your research interests will be desired.

 

Of course, the author of OP's article is a German Lit PhD and if you read her blog, the nicest I can say is that she isn't necessarily a perfectly emblematic academic. She has scoffed at TT positions at various places due to location, being a SLAC, etc. Not everyone will refuse to live in the South, or teach at a SLAC, live in a small town, etc.

 

Still, it's not pretty out there. Don't forget that. Just make sure you understand your own prospects specific to your research, your field, your PhD-granting institution, your living and teaching preferences, and all of that.

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  • 4 weeks later...

While I'm not normally keen on defending Schuman, Katie Roiphe is about atypical a case as anyone. Her mother is Anne Roiphe and Katie grew up with a great deal of privilege. She is on a tenure line at NYU after getting her PhD from Princeton. Katie has made a name and money for herself by writing a book that blames date rape victims for their rapes. She doesn't really have the ethos for the kind of argument she is making.

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