Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dissertation, Job Market, and More

I have turned my doctoral dissertation draft over to my adviser. In a couple of weeks, I'll have a list of suggested changes in hand and I'll make those accordingly. The process then calls for sending copies to committee members and filing some paperwork. Once the committee reads and approves, yet more paperwork and the scheduling of the final defense -- which is generally pro forma.

Assuming all proceeds smoothly, and there's little reason to doubt this, I will have my Ph.D in hand by April or May. I am then another over-qualified, over-40, white male on the job market. So far, it hasn't been promising. The job market is weak. Even horrible.

The MLA reports 40% fewer job listings. The Chronicle of Higher Education has found even more dramatic declines, at the same time there are more doctorates on the job market than at any time in the last 30 years. Bad timing? Or is this something else?

Hedging, the reality is that it is a bit of both timing and institutional issues.

It is heresy, I know, but we don't need so many humanities and "soft science" graduates. We need scientists, engineers, technologists, and doctors. We need the people who will invent new energy technologies, new medicines, and new ways to sustain humanity.

Can I defend my field? Sure. I could explain how essential writing is to all fields. I could explain the value of rhetorical skills and decoding within a democratic society. I could also add that I'm "different" because my speciality is technology and literacy, so I'm close to the fields we need. But I am also competing for jobs that are housed in English, communications, and media departments.

It seems likely I'll be heading into industry, which is too often vilified by academics. I'll also continue with my own projects, including creative writing and some non-fiction projects. Maybe I'll do some computer work. What I won't do is apologize for wanting to earn a living. I'm do not believe academia is somehow a "higher calling" or in some way special. No, it's simply different.

So, the market in academia stinks. We are graduating to many academics who are going to need to work for commercial enterprises. We should be thinking about that as we adjust graduate programs to this reality. It is definitely time to stop reviling business and instead focus on ways academics can improve business. After all, that is where many of us are heading.

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