I am a fatalist: Dean Dad, Tenured Radical, Historiann, Book Bag at Sunny Side, Dr. Crazy at Reassigned Time, Sisyphus at Academic Cog.
I've been reading these posts and their comments sections about the rotten job market in the humanities, the ways that universities and departments should respond to that predicament, the ways that universities and departments are responsible for that predicament, and the responses to some of the very wrong assumptions about what life as a professor is supposed to be like.
I have nothing of substance to add. Really. What the hell do I know about the systemic fuck-ups except what I see at my end? More to the point, what the hell do I know about how to fix it, either? I'm just trying to get me through my working day.
I have noticed one or two things that have struck a chord with me. Tenured Radical recommends programs in alternate career paths for historians. I whole heartedly agree. I'd probably have been on one of them if I had them or known about them or had the courage to pursue one of them back in my 20s. In my 30s, I had the chance to get a look at such programs and I did go on one of them. You can read about my conflicts with that in the first year or so of my blog, if you so care.
I'd just caution anyone thinking that one of those paths are guaranteed. I see what TR is saying, that, in the long run, this would spread around the people with degrees. That may perhaps be true. Except, as Sisyphus discusses, some of those fields are already being professionalized. By "professionalized" I mean that you have to have a master's degree in that particular field -- public history, library science -- in order to get a job; and, right now, those fields are experiencing the same crackdown as education.
In museums and archives for instance, in my limited experience I discovered that you have the entry-level jobs and the upper management level jobs and very little in between; and you have to have at least a masters to be competitive for those entry-level jobs.
If that is the situation, why are some of these programs master's programs? Given the quality of the education and my employment prospects upon graduation, my MLS program could have easily been a bachelor's program. Perhaps that fits in with the discussion of exactly what undergraduate degrees are supposed to be doing these days. I mean, if you can have education be an undergraduate major, but the majors also have to take a significant number of courses to specialize in a subject, couldn't the same be done for library science? Then, if you want more, after you start working, you go back for more, either in the professional field or in the specialized field.
I also wonder about entitlement to a job after graduation. Perhaps one of the better things that my pathetic doctoral program did for me was to impress upon me from the moment that I walked in to talk to an advisor just about the general idea of graduate studies was that "you're never going to get a job."
I swear, he said that, before even talking to me about anything having to do with the profession. I said, "hi, I'm considering graduate school." He said, "you're never going to get a job." I heard that refrain almost every single day for the rest of my time there. Sadly, it wasn't delivered to us so much as a dose of harsh reality about the state of the job market as it was an expression of the speaker's bitterness at being stuck employed at such an inferior school as my own with such dolts for students as myself, and not being able to find a better job elsewhere. Needless to say, most of the people I knew who spoke to that guy had the same reaction as I did, "what a bitter asshole! I'm going to do this anyway." Of course, now that I think about it, of those people, I'm the only one who finished the doctorate -- and spite had a little to do with that.
I think most people who go the whole PhD route do so because they can't not, for whatever reason, be it temprament, genius, talent, or desperation. I also think that the frustration of the job market is not limited to PhDs. To some extent, don't most Americans -- most people -- buy into the idea that, if you work hard enough, you will at least be able to survive -- at least survive -- somehow, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary? Or is that just an idea of the middle class and elite? I know I did, and I have always been decidedly middle class.
Every day the number of jobs goes down and down, in every type of work. The more that you invest in training or education for a job, the more upset you become -- at yourself, at people who lucked out in the system, at people who came before you in the system, at the system itself; and you lash out at everyone. I certainly did -- and still do. You feel helpless and you are terrified. If you worked this hard for this long and you are worse off than you began, what will happen if you invest in training for something else. Can debt, life, depression, get worse? You fear that it might, so you stay with the devil you know. You stay with that devil until any other devil actually becomes appealing. Or you luck into something else.
But, this is not my point in writing this post because, as I said, I have nothing to contribute to this discussion and it overwhelms me with powerlessness and panic. I began this post hopeing to try to understand that panic. Part of it is status-anxiety; but part of it also comes from the fact that I do actually have some status.
You see, I have this strange, freaked-out feeling when reading these posts. It's not really survivor's guilt, which I think that I am past (although I still live in a state of paranoia that I will be back on that adjunct track after budget cuts or some other twist of fate). The feeling is more like an anxiety attack with gratitude mixed in. What do you call that feeling when you realize, "holy shit! I was supposed to be on that plan that just went down in flames, but I missed my flight?" or "Dear god! I was supposed to be on the that train that wrecked but I was running late?"
You see, as I read all of these posts about the way things work and the way things are supposed to work and the way things do work, I realize that I have no business being where I am. Given my story and my credentials, if the world worked correctly, the way it is supposed to work as described in some of those posts and comments, well, I'd be in that cubicle life of deep misery that my parents so desperately wanted for me.
I'm not refuting what those posts are saying. I am saying: holy crap! I got here by completely blind and dumb luck, and some kind help at key points along the way. I got here in spite of myself, in spite of a crappy graduate education that I did not even make the most of, in spite of some really shitty -- I mean unethically shitty -- advice, and probably because I did one or two things that ran counter to that advice. In other words, I muddled my circuitous way toward an actual full-time job as a professor in a major city. It's not the ideal job, as I often bitch; but it is a damn good job. Hell, it's a job.
I know that I do my job well; but the thing about luck is that it can always turn for the worse no matter what you do -- although it is best not to work against it. I'm only on a one year contract, although, if renewed, it will be a three year contract. The most we get are 6 year contracts, and they are talking about talking about eliminating the 6 year ones. You can imagine what that means.
I just hope this dumb luck holds out.