Monday, June 7, 2010

Dismal Job Prospects for PhDs.

I think I have already extended a warm welcome to PhDs to join in our pity party, but one tipster alerted me to this mainstream media article about their job prospects that I thought I should share.
PhDs are usually in it for one thing, to attain the ideal position as a professor in higher education.  As many of our readers at BIDER know, the PhD program is the biggest Ponzi Scheme out there.  Many lemmings feel that higher education will pay off, by allowing them to join the ranks of the very people that educate them. Much like Madoff's investors, these professors to be are shit out of luck:

The number of jobs university math departments were trying to fill in 2009 declined 40% from 2008, according to the American Mathematical Society. There were about 1,000 positions advertised from  October 2009 to February 2010 in the Modern Language Assn.'s Job Information List, a 27.5% decline from the year before. (The association's conference this year will hold the foreboding title The Academy in Hard Times.)
I could have told them that this was going to happen.  Not to toot lawyer's horns, but at least we go to law school under the false impression that we will be learning a skill.  The last people that any university wants to hire are those who have invested time and money in their education.  Instead, they hire graduate students (for free or little pay) or adjunct professors for as little at $20K a year (who are probably working professionals as well).   See my previous post on The Lost Generation of Scholars Who Did Everything Right.
What are we going to do to knock it into students' heads??? Education does not always pay off and often it prohibits you from obtaining work that does.
When I think of PhDs, I have this vision of Aristotle and his students speaking about philosophy for the sake of discussion. I think they were all men of leisure who liked to think and hypothesize.  He abhorred paid work, by the way. I found this quote, where Aristotle said: All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind. Clearly, he did not think of education as a means to become wealthy.  Education was a luxury to be enjoyed by the wealthy for the sake of enjoyment alone.  This dreamer had this to say about his shitty investment:

At least one academic isn't worried. Patrick Horn is paying $25,000 a year to get a doctorate in mythological studies in the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria. His working class family balked at the tuition and time commitment, but the 30-year L.A. resident says he's not concerned.
"It's a great investment, and I'm not worried about the debt," he said. "I love being a thinker, I love being a writer, and I feel privileged for the opportunity." 
Patrick, privileged is the last thing you're ever going to feel after taking mythological studies so damn seriously for so long.  Wait until Sallie Mae comes knocking on your door, you will have more in common with the tranny hookers on my street corner than you will with Zeus.  Just saying.
Hardknocks and I differ in our philosophies about education.  I'll let her tell you what she thinks of it, but I think it's unnecessary. In my ideal world, we would all learn practical skills and take a year trip around the world to gain enlightenment and knowledge.  But the real world has robbed our parents of the means to subsidize this sort of worldly education, and has left us vulnerable to the vultures at local universities and colleges to teach us that... how to live, how to think, how to be understanding.

Ms. Jobless Juris Doctor wrote a post on the potential explosion of the education bubble, much like the sub-prime mortgage bubble. Steve Eisman, a economist who predicted the mortgage implosion, is addressing student loan defaults in his latest prediction:

If present trends continue, over the next 10 years almost $500 billion of Title IV loans will have been funneled to this industry. We estimate total defaults of $275 billion, and because of fees associated with defaults, for-profit students will owe $330 billion on defaulted loans over the next 10 years.
This will affect our children and our children's children.  I don't think I will have a kid that will come home with a Doctorate degree.  But he comes home a cop with a badge, or a plumber with a snake--I will be happy as a clam.


  1. Hear, hear. At least one of my kids is, even at a relatively young age (10), clearly somebody who probably would be happier learning a trade of some kind than doing a four-year degree program. I am impoverishing myself further piling up a huge college fund for this same kid, because unfortunately his father (who is from an upper-upper middle class family) is of the "EVERYBODY has to go to college!" school of thought. Although he won't save any of his own money to make sure that happens. I want to save every post on this blog for when this kid gets to be high school age, just to get him to THINK about the fact that there are a lot of options in life.

    The other 3 are going to be fine either way -- they're French citizens so they will either rock their baccalaureat exams(*) and go to university there for free, or they *will* be taking another path.

    (*)This is entirely possible for at least one of those kids, who has exactly the kind of precocious-yet-people-pleasing-personality that got me sucked into the educational-industrial-debt complex....

  2. Great post, Angel. I always wondered what the adjunct professors make at crazy expensive schools like NYU and Columbia. Does anyone know? I feel like everyone I know who got their PhD is unemployed or working as an "adjunct professor", and I'm thinking, yeah all of this sounds prestigious, but are you secretly living on welfare and food stamps? Because I know adjuncts, even at the most elite schools, probably don't make a great salary unless they are famous politicians or writers.

  3. Just a quick google search came up with this letter to the editor from a NYU adjunct in 2004:

    I also found this comment from a blog called "Take Back NYU":

    And this:

  4. Sigh...I was a victim of the grad school scam, too, darn it! You'd have thunk that after blowing a shitload of cash on a M.A. at NYU, that I would have learned not to go back for another degree, but alas....

    Here's the thing...MAs are even worse that PhDs. There are no scholarships for Masters degrees. You might get some money if you can help teach undergrads, but TA gigs are hard to come by.

    So, you get suckered in, assuming that you will go on to the PhD program, only to discover that it's all about department politics. You will only be admitted to the PhD program if your particular area of specialization jibes with something the faculty advisers are already working on so that you can, in essence, do their research and work for you.

    At NYU, when I was doing my cinema studies MA, it was all about queer theory and Brazilian film...had I been a Portugese-speaking gay, all would have been well. Even then, it's super hard to get an actual job as a professor and not merely an adjunct. When I was at NYU, the TAs were striking, trying to become unionized...yeah, that didn't really go anywhere.

    So, it's rough all over, and I can feel for the "Elmers" as I call them (PhuDs) least the one in the article has a po-po-po-poker face, po-po-poker face (ma ma ma ma).

  5. Patrick loves being a pretentious ass clown not a thinker. There's absolutely no god damn reason why he couldn't do something like wait tables or fix cars AND also be a lover of learning (especially mythology which is basically reading fairy tales). Our culture needs to get over itself.

    As someone who has been both a server and an adjunct college "professor" let me tell you I made better money serving but got more "prestige" as an adjunct (mostly because the layperson doesn't really get the whole idea of adjunct vs. contractual vs. tenure line; they think professor they think ass clown in tweed blazers covered in chalk boring people to death). The debate over manners and how to treat your fellow human beings, I try to live according to what Buber called the I-Thou relationship, is a whole different topic (about 70 percent of the people I waited on as a server think & treat waiters like slaves/shit...see the movie Waiting with Ryan Reynolds it's remarkably accurate...especially how we get back at you for being bitchy pains in the dick).

    One of the reasons why I think we don't hear or see a lot of people entrenched in the higher ed system commenting on the education bubble is that they know it's a scam but they're not going to bite the hand that feeds (same thing goes for you law school profs you gutless whores). If you have tenure, you've got a job for life, lest you do something like rape a dean's child in the library and post it on youtube. The original purpose of tenure wasn't employment for life but to allow professors to be bold and courageous in their lessons and conclusions (or in Skip Gates' case become a walking example of irony).

    All the non-tenure "professors" scrape the bottom of the education barrel because the market is flooded with "thinkers" whose "destinies" are meant for "teaching." I find it hilarious/horrifying/sad that some of my law school classmates now teach law or justice classes at community colleges, which depending on the area can pay just as well as the US News top tier schools. Not that I'm knocking them for what they do, as in today's world take whatever the hell you can get, but I only question their qualifications given their work in law school and their total lack of practice experience (although that's not their fault as there aren't really any legal jobs out there to be had). I also wonder whether they're just adding fuel to the fire by being another cog in the indoctrination, as I don't really find it to be educational, system...we don't need no education, we don't need no thought control.

  6. I graduated high school in 2005, most of my friends graduated college in 2009. Come to think of it, I don't know a single one who isn't in, applying to, or desperately yearning to apply to law, grad, or med school.

    These stories are all interconnected...uselessness of a four year degree, belief that ever more education is the gateway to prosperity, the utter lack of real, sustainable, living-wage employment available for our generation.

    So many people my age got out into the word and couldn't find decent jobs. Woe be unto they who borrow to go for more school, graduate, and find themselves facing the same dearth of jobs.

  7. One thing you're forgetting is that generally Ph.D. programs (particularly in the sciences) are fully paid for and the student receives a stipend (not much but enough to live on). So at least when you graduate, you have zero (or minimal) debt unlike a JD.

  8. @9:32
    you're right that in sciences, a lot of people have stipends to help them through programs. but the amount of money available is paltry compared to the actual number of students, and in disciplines like Patrick's mythological studies, I'd be shocked if there is any money at all. Programs where employers used to pay for higher degrees are definitely on the downswing, and government budget cuts to research programs are slowing the availability of funding for PhD programs in engineering and bio, at least (I know this only anecdotally).

    That said, you might owe nothing from the pursuit of the degree, but 1) that doesn't get rid of the debt you might have accrued to go to undergrad and 2) right now, it's not causing employers to pay bonuses like they used to. The premium for those programs, much like law, is for people with experience, rather than extra education. [I have no idea what liberal arts students are doing, but I can't imagine that they're fairing any better than tech PhDs]

  9. I'm a law grad, practicing that would have been happier in a trade -- higher education is not for everyone and it isn't that they can't.
    Oh BTW -- plumbers make more than lawyers.

  10. I got my PhD 10 years ago. Since then, I have published 7 books, and 12 articles. Some of my books have been translated into Korean. But I still can't even get an adjunct job!

    1. Are you doing anything else other than your writing and research? I hope that you are able to survive. I was working in a contract academic faculty position for around 3 years, and then, after it ended, I went to Australia but could not find a job there. I took out my PhD from my resume constantly for fear that it would scare off employers.

  11. I recall one Math Ph.d from UCSB who got hired by the National Security Agency. If you're smart enough to get a Ph.d in Math, might try the Intel services. The NSA, the CIA, the NRO. Otherwise, I don't know, but many years ago, there was always a need for more Actuaries.



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