Archive for category Graduate School

HASTAC Workshop on Alt-Ac

I’m excited to be attending the HASTAC Conference for the first time in a few weeks, but I’m most excited for the alt-ac workshop that is being organized by Fiona Barnett and Korey Jackson. Fiona has written a blog post explaining the format for the workshop, which is not only free (!!) but comes with dinner for attendees. In short, however, the workshop will begin with presenters talking about their own experience in alt-ac positions, will move to looking at some sample application materials, and conclude with smaller break-out groups to workshop CVs, cover letters, and more.

I’m expecting to speak quite a bit about the CLIR Postdoctoral Program (applications are due December 19!), but also about my experiences applying to many different alt-ac positions over the last several years, which I wrote about in this year’s alt-academy project.

I think it’s especially valuable to be having this workshop about alt-ac right at the height of the job market for many fields in academia. Kudos to HASTAC (and Fiona, who originated the idea) for taking on the problems of reforming graduate education in a very public way.

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Announcing #alt-ac: Playing on Both Teams, Winning on One

I’m tremendously excited to announce the release of #alt-academy, spearheaded by Bethany Nowviskie and involving 32 initial contributors, including myself. Built in the MediaCommons framework, you are welcome to not only read the essays in the collection, but also respond to the authors’ essays. What’s more, the collection will grow in the future and the call for further contributions has already been posted.

The #alt-academy evolved in response to a series of tweets on 20 November 2009, including one from myself asking Bethany (and other alt-ackers) to provide signposts for getting started on an #alt-ac career. Now that I’m in the beginning of just such a career, I’m pleased to provide my own signposts, idiosyncratic though they may be. To that end, my essay—”Playing on Both Teams, Winning on One“—compares and contrasts my experiences applying to tenure-track and #alt-ac jobs (finding, applying, and interviewing). More importantly—for me, at least—are my reflections on the feelings and appearance of failure that one may (inevitably?) feel on transitioning from traditional academic careers and into a new position.

I’ve not had a chance to read much of the collection yet, but it’s where I’m going to be spending my free time in the coming week. I look forward to seeing others’ thoughts about my own essay as well as the larger conversations that will spiral out from the project as a whole.

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Culinary School vs. Graduate School

I listen to NPR most days as I commute, and I found yesterday’s story about the difficult job prospects and debt facing culinary school graduates very familiar. The similarity between the circumstances of those training to be chefs and those training to be faculty members was so striking that I couldn’t resist writing NPR and commenting on the story. Since I know the chances of Robert Siegel mellifluously reading portions of my comment on the air are about the same as getting a tenure-track job in 20th-century American literature (read, 1 in 500—at least the last year that I was applying for jobs), I’ve decided to just post my thoughts here as well:

I enjoyed the March 15 story about the problems facing graduates of culinary schools. The problem of spending years of training and thousands of dollars on an education only to be faced with a minimum paying job prospects is daunting. And unfortunately it is familiar for many of us who have pursued PhDs. After six years of schooling and $48,000 of debt, I graduated with a PhD in English literature. I applied to every job in North America for three years in a row–all 150 of them. At most of these jobs, I was told that I was one of 300-500 applicants, and naturally all of us had PhDs, publications, and teaching experience. In those three years, I received a total of three first round interviews, none of which led to second rounds. My first year after graduate school, I taught at my graduate institution for $32,500/year, less than half of what a regular faculty member earns. I was only allowed to have that job for one year, and the following year saw me driving 120 miles one way to get to my job where I earned $27,000/year. Again, I earned half of what regular faculty earned and taught twice as many courses per semester. That being said, I’m still one of the lucky ones. “Adjunct faculty” often have to cobble together courses from many different institutions to make ends meet, earning in the neighborhood of $2,000 per course for an entire semester. Teaching full time (4 or 5 courses per semester) nets you an annual income of $20,000.

I’m sympathetic to the culinary graduates, whose debt rivals that of most PhD students. But the time that they invest in their studies falls far short of what a PhD program requires. NPR’s shedding some light on the subject of post-graduate school employment and the casualization of the faculty in higher education will help bring to light labor issues in higher education that differ from but parallel the recent troubles in Wisconsin.

Perhaps the most interesting detail in the story is that culinary school graduates can expect to earn $12-15/hour as a line chef when they finish culinary school. If they work 40 hours/week and 50 weeks per year, that’s an annual income of $24,000…just about the same as what an adjunct might earn. Teaching college and working as a line cook are very different jobs (as my time working in a high-end restaurant taught me), but neither appears to be a very safe investment.


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