Tuesday, January 10, 2012

News from the MLA

News flash: Faculty jobs are scarce in the humanities. If there's one thing a humanities PhD can't do, it's be picky about institutional type, location, etc. So, as in many fields, the bar is creeping up. Community colleges want you to have teaching experience. Universities want strong publications. But what the article doesn't explicitly point out is that, since you'll have to desperately grab any job you can, a doctoral student really needs to do both of these things to have a shot at a job.

Also discussed at the MLA was shortening the time to graduation, which in the humanities is currently nine years. While it's the kind of thing almost everyone claims to be in favor of, how, exactly, is that compatible with the job market requiring more from candidates?

The kind of PhD students I knew who got out in four-ish years with stellar research were smart, worked very hard, and were the kind of people who didn't mind slotting themselves exactly in to their advisors' ideas. Does that model even work in the humanities, where people work much more independently, and do we want to encourage creating clones? On the other hand, the kind of PhD students I knew who got out in four-ish years with extensive teaching experience … don't exist.

Something is going to have to change in the system of producing and hiring faculty, but what, exactly? Right now, it's not much different than the production of pro football players. There's a larger supply than demand. While we excoriate young people who gamble on an NFL future and laud doctoral candidates, frankly, I don't see much difference between the 18-year-old with no football career or other skills and the 30-year-old with no full-time academic career and $100,000 of debt. They're both stuck, one unlikely to find a job that will put food on the table, and the other to find a job that will enable her to pay off the debt before her own kids are college-age.

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