Permanently ABD

It is no secret that I ❤️ The Professor Is In. She is the Bee’s Knees. (See what I did there? Because I also heart puns? And Bees? Okay, I’ll show myself out now…) I read just about everything she puts out there.

Her most recent column: “A Few Good Reasons to Switch Graduate Programs” in The Chronicle of Higher Education only touched upon the question of “should I quit my PhD program?” but having been there – and done it – that one little aside gave me a lot to think about.

I quit for a whole host of reasons, none of which are uncommon.

First, I went into my PhD program largely because I didn’t know what else to do. I had a Master’s, and I loved higher ed, I loved learning, so why not? And my thinking was that a Master’s was better than a Bachelors when it came to competing for jobs, so obviously having a terminal degree would help me edge out even more competitors. So in large part, I exited my program with just as much “meh” as I had started with.

Except I had more cynicism.

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On Grad School & Mental Health

In the not-at-all-news for anyone in grad school category, here’s a fresh take: “Graduate School Can Have Terrible Effects on People’s Mental Health.” 

Intense work expectations? Check.

Lack of sleep and social life? Sure. But isn’t that the charm? 

Little pay? Yup. When I was making $10k a year as a graduate assistant (in 2003), my dad once said: “I know you aren’t making much money. When I was getting my Ph.D., I was only getting paid $9,000 a year!” Reality check, Dad: that was 1971. When strawberries were 29 cents a pound. (Yes, I looked it up).  

And when Ph.D. students weren’t saddled with the student loans of today.

Why wouldn’t grad students be plagued with anxiety and depression? 

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Why I started this blog

It never ceases to disarm me how naive some Ph.D. students can be about the academic job market. And I’m not the only one.

Even though the undeniable bottoming-out of the tenure-track market has been well-documented, I frequently find myself conversing with grad students or recent Ph.D.s who suggest that they will take “just a research job” or something else to bide their time if they can’t find a tenure-track job, suggesting they haven’t even considered the possibility of finding no job in their field.

When pressed, they barely acquiesce, acknowledging that they may have to lower their standards over time and consider openings at non-R1 universities or lower-tier schools. This mentality was VERY prevalent prior to the great recession, but even last week, I overheard the following: “I’m not interested in the job at [XYZ]. It’s like a safety school’s safety school.”

This time of year (end of fall semester), as another academic jobs cycle comes to a close,  I start to see a lot more posts and musings about “What else can I do with a Ph.D.?” The answer is: tons! But the problem is that a lot of what’s out there about alt-ac careers is still generally outdated advice.

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