Chronicle article by Thomas H. Benton
The author argues: "Most undergraduates don't realize that there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary (though it is generally much lower than salaries in other fields requiring as many years of training). They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don't make any fallback plans until it is too late."
When I worked at a small liberal arts college, I noticed quickly how so many of the English classes were taught by adjuncts, some if whom were struggling to make it through graduate school, many of whom already held a doctorate from that graduate school, and none of whom would find that full-time job in the professorate, one with a reasonable salary and benefits.
And tenure was little more than a wafting tendril of smoke from that pipe dream that often held.
The author presents the many reasons students find to motivate going to graduate school, and I almost pasted them here, but in retrospect, I chose not to. Why? The reasons are ubiquitous to graduate students, and several I found pertinent to my own self, though I was not in the humanities.
He did leave out personal fullfillment, which should count for something in the grand scheme of getting some manner of education.
Curiously, while I was in graduate school for the third time working on the doctorate I finally would earn, my sights were set on academe. I fully expected to be a professor when I grew up, and I still am attracted to such a position.
However, the number of associate or full professorships that open in a year in the US can usually be counted on a couple of hands.
Most schools are going to balance their budgets on the backs of assistant professors and adjuncts. It helps to remember that universities are businesses also, just businesses with a different idea of what makes a long term investment.
I have no problem with going to graduate school. I encouraged a young religion major to consider just such herself, though I carefully avoided suggesting religion in graduate school because that decision should be hers.
I just think those students need to be realistic about expectations if life after graduate school, and keep their vision wide as the consider possibilities.
And keep in mind that the author in the Chronicle uses a pen name to tell the truth inane about academe.
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