Saturday, January 6, 2007

academic roulette

It is that time of year again when tenure-track or tenured faculty put thousands of their fellow academics through the ringer. If this is how supposed "colleagues" treat you, then we must re-label academia so that it reflects the more base qualities that this season brings out in everyone. I haven't found the best one yet but I have come up with "academic mafia," "ivory-tower hazing," and "elite racketeers." These aren't all-encompassing; I'm still working on the best label. Feel free to add to this list. I am open to suggestions.

R is in Atlanta right now playing academic roulette. When he first threw the ball, our options for our new place of residence next fall included the following states: Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Georgia, and Virginia. (Unfortunately, he was working with half the number of job options than were available last year.) I had some favorites on that list (as did he) that fell by the wayside almost immediately. Now, after bouncing around, the ball has settled closer to the center of the wheel. It is down to southern California, Georgia, and update New York. Or the ball may fly off the wheel entirely, in which case we'll get to play this crappy and degrading game again next year. Academic roulette can quickly and easily turn into Russian roulette.

Which brings me to the point about how awful this profession is prone to be. I didn't realize this until I was too invested in the more appealing aspects - the ones that graduate programs push on their unsuspecting victims. In fact, deceptive is the best way to describe most graduate programs. They have these lofty ambitions for instruction in facts and theory - which many can deliver. But there is no required course on maneuvering the job market* and the painfully obvious bias that colleges and universities have for elites. If the degree comes from the IV league (even though the dissertation is crap - and this happens; I've read too many of them before and after they were published as monographs), these candidates turn heads regardless. Where are the bonus points for people who attended public schools and survived in an environment where the bottom line is money not academics?

So, graduate programs refine deception. I asked my general manager (whom many of you know)** how well his program placed graduates (I already knew the answer - I had researched it, but I wanted to see what he would say). He went on and on about the one - the single - graduate from the program who went to Harvard as a post-doc for a couple of years. The only example he offered was the most shining one. He was completely out of touch with his program and what it offered its graduates.

Add this example to the one I heard just a few days ago when a colleague (a first-timer on the job market) asked R what was expected in the interview session - this colleague thought that it entailed a power-point presentation of his dissertation. This guy attended one of the most elite school in his field and this is how he was prepared for the job market!

When it comes to the real world - like getting a job - most academics have their damn heads in the clouds.

*PP is the reining exception to the rule.
**This is the same person who admitted that his colleagues once failed to recognize a prospective hire in the Classics when they went to the airport to pick him up. The prospective hire was African American. Here's another reason this profession is messed up. But that would take me in a different direction, so I'll leave it for the moment.


Dolce Vita said...

In all fairness, I did fail to mention that the job market is a crap shoot (forgive the mixed metaphores). It doesn't matter where or what a person studied or with whom, getting a job is a matter of chance.

Ok; I'm done.

Rachel said...

One of the many reasons I left the ivory tower behind. :) Not to mention the awful politics, general feelings of aimlessness, and distaste for theory without pragmatism. I'm trying to resign myself to facing the politics wherever I go, though, because there are going to be petty people out to get you no matter where you go if you live long enough.

kungfuramone said...

V, I agree that graduate directors have no idea what's going on and that the game is rigged, but at the same time I don't think any of us had an unrealistic idea of what we were getting into. I was warned over and over before I even took the GRE that it was a long, brutal process that ends in the worst odds for a decent job of any profession outside of acting (or, I suppose, poetry.)

Not to say that it sucks any less for it, just that at least we went in with our eyes open. I still say it beats being corporate.

Dolce Vita said...

It does beat being corporate, but how many of us end up there anyway?

I was aware that the profession was difficult but I thought the odds were better than acting. There again, I think this is due to the unrealistic viewpoint of grad directors (most of whom went through this process when the job market was difficult but there were jobs).

Cabiria said...

They do lie -- how else to secure a pool of cheap, willing labor? Having sampled acting (our chances may be better, but only barely), corporate (wealth, alcoholism and early death in one handy package!) and academia, I agree that our chances of gainful employment suck, but our aesthetic of tortured, hungry-eyed intellectual is better than any other option. And as KFR & Nietzsche like to say, that's really why we all went into it. Now I have to go drink a pot of coffee and read an obscure, out-of-print, poorly written book.

I really wish the AHA didn't suck for everyone so much. Yuck.