Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education

Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Make You Into a Horrible Person 489

Posted by Soulskill
from the or-is-it-the-reverse dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An assistant professor at Ohio State University who recently earned her Ph.D. in literature writes a warning in Slate for others following the same path. She says, 'I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I've finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you. ... Don't misunderstand me. There is unquantifiable intellectual reward from the exploration of scholarly problems and the expansion of every discipline—yes, even the literary ones, and even if that means doing bat-s**t analysis like using the rule of "false elimination" to determine that Josef K. is simultaneously guilty and not guilty in The Trial. But there is one sort of reward you will never get: monetary compensation from a stable, non-penurious position at a decent university. ... By the time you finish—if you even do— your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: You will no longer have any friends outside academia.) ... In the place of actual jobs are adjunct positions: benefit-free, office-free academic servitude in which you will earn $18,000 a year for the rest of your life."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Make You Into a Horrible Person

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:24PM (#43369263)

    That's a typo, professor.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:30PM (#43369317)

      No, that's a sad and desperate piece of clickbait FUD posted on a fading tech site that's been losing relevance for years.

      • by dywolf (2673597) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:37PM (#43370159)

        its also whining.

        my high school, the local catholic one, lucky enough to get enough financial aid to go to it, 3 english/literature teachers. each had a phd in lit. they also brought that passion the led them to seek those phds with them to the school. it wasnt about the tenure track professorship (the head actually mocked people who want to get a phd and then go right to professoring, as if there is nothing otuside the walls of a university); it was the learning itself, the subject itself, something they brought with them and were able to share with young high school kids and show them everythng they had been "taught" about writing and reading up to then was wrong and simplistic.

        the school shut down a few years ago. 2 of them went across town to one of the public high schools, the 3rd retired (after teaching in that school for 40+ years).

        sometimes your assumptions, you approach, are just too simplistic. there is more opportunity than just the walls of a prestigious university.
        sure, everyone wants to be a John Keating, just like every artist wants to be a Picasso. but not everyone can be one. but there are hundreds and thousands of jobs for commercial/marketing art, and there are hundreds and thousands of education jobs in high schools or for tutoring or private schools. Teaching in college isnt the only choice, and probably shouldnt be the first choice either.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Grishnakh (216268)

          Have you ever been to an American high school? They're not much different from a prison. Why on earth would anyone want a job teaching the behaviorally-challenged and often violent students there?

          Even in the better high schools, there's a huge difference between being a high school teacher and a college (even community college) professor. As a professor, you can concentrate on the material and teaching it to the students. As a high school teacher, you have to concentrate on being a disciplinarian instea

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @03:24PM (#43371619)

          Holy cow, this comment is ignorant. I have a Ph.D. in literature from a top university. I got a job at a tenure-track, Research I university right out of graduate school -- which was a miracle in and of itself, given what jobs were out there at the time -- and after 5 years of living in a remote area far removed from friends and family, not to mention being underpaid, I decided to move back to the East coast to live closer to my family. I searched for another teaching job -- any teaching job: high school, public, private, tutoring -- for three years. What's available aren't "hundreds and thousands of education jobs in high schools or for tutoring or private schools" (did you just pull that out of your ass?) -- What's available are thousands of education jobs that 1) pay no benefits, 2) pay by course and generally below the poverty level, 3) are on a per-semester contract basis.

          I'm now going into instructional technology, which has vastly greater prospects. The future of teaching -- high school or otherwise -- is in contingent labor, laborers who will be vastly undereducated in comparison to those from previous generations of teachers who were properly compensated and appreciated by students, parents, and their society at large.

          Get a fucking clue, dude. Your private catholic high school experience does not remotely qualify you to claim some knowledge of the job industry for teachers.

    • by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:35PM (#43370133)

      And it's the least of that paragraph's problems.

      There will always be work for those who can write well. Trouble is, someone with a Ph.D. in literature has spent his or her time learning to read well. Employment prospects in that field are a bit less certain.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:52PM (#43370359)

      That's a typo, professor.

      I don't really think that's a judgment we're capable of making. Since the work itself is the only insight we have, we have to assume every word is carefully and deliberately chosen to further the narrative. For example, it may be a deliberate (if subtle) way of demonstrating that even an accredited professor is above simple, mundane mistakes. Or, perhaps the error is meant to convey information about the narrator's state of mind: is she stressed? Hurried? Breaking down? Maybe it's a deliberate violation of our expectations in diction, such as Lovecraft's deliberate use of archaic anglicisms, or Burgess' use of Nadsat slang in A Clockwork Orange, or the way Shelley repeatedly uses the same five adjectives in Frankenstein. Perhaps in her post-network context, "you" and "your" cease to exist as meaningfully distinct words. The ambiguity is ripe for future analysis. At least until the second edition comes out. Then it may be corrected.

  • Not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danbuter (2019760) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:25PM (#43369267)
    All the baby boomer professors will keep working for another 10 to 20 years. Until they retire, they are taking up a huge percentage of the available academic jobs. With regards to literature majors, the death of the publishing industry has killed any non-academic work. While there is still some work available, compared to even 10 years ago, it's peanuts.
    • No. This is what we as young academics have been told for twenty years: the Boomers and pre-Boomers are about to retire, and there will be a lot of jobs soon.

      The reality is that no, there is no large spike of retirements coming down the pipe, and even if there were, it does not imply there are job openings. Universities rely on large classes, heavy teaching loads, and especially adjuncts / sessionals.

      Moreover, it is well-known that in the next decade or so, there will be a slump in the number of students, due to simple demographics. So, fewer, weaker students, and fewer jobs per student.

      The OP is not just bitter: this is the honest truth about academia right now. And it includes the sciences and professional studies, too.

      • As someone who was told this 20 years ago but saw through it, let me say that there is plenty of room for literature majors in private industry -- the trick is to not believe everything you're told by the university literature culture, and keep those social connections outside of the field. There are also a significant number of positions available for decent pay within academia, as long as you don't mind not working in the field that stems directly out of your thesis.

        Part of the problem is that many literature majors get their PhD and feel like they have arrived and deserve the tenure track positions -- when there's really only a limited market compared to the number of people seeking those positions. BUT, with a bit more education in linguistics, design, computing science, or a number of other areas, suddenly you're someone who can land anything from an administrative job designing courses for ESL schools, to a community college languages head (they love to get people with a PhD and diverse training) to work at a marketing or communications firm, to a research job at a tech firm.

        These positions will make anywhere from $48-120K as a starting salary. The trick is to remember to balance literature research with real life. It can be done. I know a number of people from the field who have done it, and thrived.

        • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:23PM (#43370001) Homepage

          BUT, with a bit more education in linguistics, design, computing science, or a number of other areas, suddenly you're someone who can land anything from an administrative job designing courses for ESL schools, to a community college languages head (they love to get people with a PhD and diverse training) to work at a marketing or communications firm, to a research job at a tech firm.

          Then, arguably, skip the PhD and go straight onto that other training which will get you a job.

          What you're describing is finishing up your PhD, and then having to get trained into other fields to have marketable skills.

          None of the jobs you're describing would need you to complete your doctoral work, so it sounds like you're saying "Yeah, it's a waste, but if you re-train afterwards, you can actually find jobs". Designing ESL courses sounds more like you need a degree in education, and not a PhD in literature.

      • ...because that is how far back in time you need to go for a PhD to be a great investment in most fields.

        There were big increases in tenure track jobs when the universities were growing like gangbusters to educate the baby boomers. That door slammed shut in 1970.

        When I was in graduate school for physics, I saw the demographic statistics. The median age of tenured faculty in physics steadily dropped in the post-war era down to the low 30s in 1970, and then that trend reversed to start rapidly rising. The

    • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rakishi (759894) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:46PM (#43369499)

      Universities are not replacing retiring professors, they are removing the positions and instead using cheap labor (postdocs, adjuncts, etc, etc.) instead.

      That is the real issue.

    • by Xcott Craver (615642) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:22PM (#43369991)
      Baby boomers or not, the number of PhD graduates far exceeds the number of professors due to the simple logistics of teaching. Suppose you start a professorship at 30, and retire at 70. How many PhD students do you advise per year? Let's say 1.5 just to be on the low side. And suppose they each take 5 years to graduate. You just cranked out a dozen PhDs, and created one faculty opening by retiring. One should expect an advanced degree to increase one's job prospects, but it's numerically silly to expect, specifically, a faculty position. This is why every university hires people with degrees from an even better university---not because NIU frowns on NIU grads, but because the market for the teacher's job is so competitive that only the best CVs get in.
    • Re:Not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DrVomact (726065) on Saturday April 06, 2013 @01:51AM (#43376545) Journal

      All the baby boomer professors will keep working for another 10 to 20 years. Until they retire, they are taking up a huge percentage of the available academic jobs. With regards to literature majors, the death of the publishing industry has killed any non-academic work. While there is still some work available, compared to even 10 years ago, it's peanuts.

      Huh? I am a baby boomer, and didn't get a tenure track job when I got my doctorate in Philosophy back in '78. I resent your implication that it's all my fault, sirrah!

      To be honest, I was told at the outset that my chances of landing an academic job if I got through the doctoral program were slim to none. Sure, enough, after I spent a couple of years working as an "adjunct" with an insulting salary, no respect, and no support from the college or the Philosophy department, I decided to look around for something better. Well, this was approximately in 1982, and somebody told me at just the right time to look at the then new computer field for jobs.

      First job I landed was as a software tech writer (O.K., the hiring manager was an ex-nun who wanted to talk philosophy over lunch...but I got hired.) Writing skills will always help, and Philosophy or Lit Ph.D.s should be able to know how to both read carefully and write skillfully. I jacked up my salary enormously over the next few years by making judicious job moves, and by learning programming and Unix internals skills. I did very well in nineties...until a couple of years after the dot com bust. The last eight years or so were crap because the "scientific managers" decided they had to subjugate the new class of technology-savvy workers, but all in all, I'm happy with the decisions I made.

      Note that I identified a new field that did not require credentials, because very few credentialed people were available at the time, and I persisted until I got that first job. (My job search only took me 6 months.) After I had something software-related to add to my resume', the Ph.D. actually became an advantage. It's easier to justify a bigger salary for someone by saying "he has a Ph.D." (and, as I pointed out to at least one manger, she could then complain that she had an employee that got paid more than she, and could ask for a raise of her own). The exact nature of your education doesn't really matter as much as you think it does. Even Comp Sci majors have to be taught how to do their jobs after they're hired. (Not that I'd recommend "IT" as a good place to work these days.)

      So if you've gotten a "useless" degree, look for something unusual to do for money, perhaps something new, or something you had never considered. Then work out a song and dance how your background somehow prepared you for your chosen field. If you are offered a job at a ridiculously low wage take it! It is that invaluable first item on your resume. You are now experienced! The nun was not able to pay me very well, but that's OK—I got a 25% raise when I made my first job move after 11 months on that first job. (Some day, I will tell you the story of how I did that.) Getting a good career started is a matter of determination, imagination, and ample chutzpah. You have will never be worth more than you think you are, so value yourself highly. Think strategically; you are in it for the long haul. Get out there and bag that first job.

  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:26PM (#43369281) Journal
    The value of a PhD in the wrong area is nowhere near the value of a master's degree in the right area. Businesses don't give a second glance to PhDs in literature, or sociology, or plant physiology, and the university positions for those are few and far between due to budget cuts. A master's degree in any STEM area will have two or three times the earning potential for a fraction of the cost. That isn't to say that you shouldn't pursue a PhD if you love your subject and love doing research on it. But banking on getting a position within a research university as a result of that degree is dead. (My husband managed to do it, but only by adjuncting at the school for years before he finished his PhD, so that when a full time spot opened up he was the first choice.)
    • by blue trane (110704) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:39PM (#43369425) Homepage Journal

      People should study what they want. Productivity increases mean we can provide for everyone with fewer people needed. That means we can easily afford a basic income, and challenges to stimulate individuals to unleash the native curiosity and creativity most of us are born with. We need to rethink pre-industrial age, feudal economics and understand that money is a tool that should benefit us, instead of a God demanding human sacrifice.

      • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:48PM (#43369517) Homepage

        People should study what they want. Productivity increases mean we can provide for everyone with fewer people needed. That means we can easily afford a basic income, and challenges to stimulate individuals to unleash the native curiosity and creativity most of us are born with.

        What have you seen that suggest that is true?

        That was the kind of thing which happened while people's parents could still afford to send them to school to "find themselves", but over the last few years has mostly gone away.

        We don't live in the Star Trek universe where we have unlimited resources, and you can pursue whatever interests you. And it was only ever a small percentage of all of the people in the world that had this illusion that we can provide for everyone -- the rest of the world has been struggling just as much as ever.

        We need to rethink pre-industrial age, feudal economics and understand that money is a tool that should benefit us

        No, we need to look at it in the context of our current industrial age of feudal corporate economics which is the new god demanding a sacrifice. Everything now is measured by "shareholder value", and an expected year-over-year gain to keep the stock markets going up. A world where corporations want to tell universities what they should be doing.

        Pretty much the entire economy since about 2008 has been moving away from this enlightened society you seem to think is still around.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:59PM (#43369673)

          I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.

          - John Adams

          • by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:40PM (#43370209) Journal
            The lesson derived from that is that you can't make an immediate generational jump from lower class to leisure class. Parents who earn 40K/year in the Army can't really afford to send their kids to SCAD to study underwater basket-weaving. However, grandparents who earned 20K/year in the Army back during WW2 were able to afford to send their kids to college to study engineering at Big State Us, and those engineers making 150K/year can now afford to send their kids to SCAD to learn underwater basket-weaving.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:17PM (#43369909)

          Pretty much the entire economy since about 2008 has been moving away from this enlightened society you seem to think is still around.

          I would argue that this started happening around 1980: Ronald Reagan.

        • by Weezul (52464)

          Bertrand Russell computed that nobody should work more than 4 hours per day when he wrote In Praise of Idleness [zpub.com]. That was over 80 years ago, before computers. Today, there is basically no reason anybody should be working more than a couple hours per week. Except..

          We're consuming a fair bit more with two cars instead of one car, longer distance vacations, etc. All that warrants an extra couple hours per week, but it'd never cost more than that.

          So where does the money go? You claim some things grow more

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stenvar (2789879)

        Productivity increases mean we can provide for everyone with fewer people needed.

        The real world doesn't work that way. You can live a decent 1960's middle-class lifestyle on an income around the poverty line today, but people don't want that, they want all the gadgets, comforts, cars, square feet, and travel that you can get if you work your ass off in the 2010's.

        challenges to stimulate individuals to unleash the native curiosity and creativity most of us are born with

        Both the US and Europe have large popu

        • by retchdog (1319261)

          yes, until you need the services of a professional who belongs to a guild which fixes their prices high so that those professionals can afford all of those gadgets, comforts, cars, square feet, and travel.

          i'm mostly referring to doctors.

      • by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:52PM (#43370373)

        People should study what they want. Productivity increases mean we can provide for everyone with fewer people needed. That means we can easily afford a basic income, and challenges to stimulate individuals to unleash the native curiosity and creativity most of us are born with. We need to rethink pre-industrial age, feudal economics and understand that money is a tool that should benefit us, instead of a God demanding human sacrifice.

        Bullshit. This kind of "we" and "our" think is exactly what's wrong with western society. The idea that I slave away at a job that I don't like so I can make X amount of money... but that money doesn't belong to me, it belongs to "us" and you're going to just move some of that money over and give it to someone that has a job that's interesting to them but doesn't provide for them financially is just plain evil.

        Doing something you love, just for the shear joy of it despite receiving little to no financial incentive to do so has a name. It's called ART.

        People should study what they want. But if what they study doesn't put food on the table, they need to find a way to do that. If they're not willing to sacrifice for their art, that's their problem, not the rest of societies.

    • by jedidiah (1196) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:40PM (#43369435) Homepage

      Actually, some Masters degrees in STEM disciplines aren't much better than this PhD in literature. In a lot of fields you will be doing grunt work for the PhD's and everyone will be asking you why you stopped at your Masters.

      You can't take the "any STEM" thing on faith.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The value of a PhD in the wrong area is nowhere near the value of a master's degree in the right area. Businesses don't give a second glance to PhDs in literature, or sociology, or plant physiology)

      That bit is actually not entirely true. We hire PhDs whenever we can and we are not the only ones. The subject matter of the PhD is not where the majority of the value lies. The value of the PhD is smarts, a demonstrated strong work ethic, a demonstrated ability to persevere through rough obstacles, attention to detail, etc.

    • Maybe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by geek (5680) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:28PM (#43370053) Homepage

      I work in IT and have since 1997 or so. When I started in IT there really wasn't a college course in IT available. You learned on the job. Some jackass employers would require a CS degree at the time for simple IT work but that's because IT was semi new and they just didn't know what they were doing.

      I didn't go to college until 2005. I was just too busy earning money to bother. I eventually went back to college and got an English degree because I already had a boat load of IT experience. I got my present job specifically because I had an English degree (they were sick of IT people that could barely read and write much less produce any type of legible documentation). I'm probably the exception to the rule but thinking on it, I really don't see the value of an IT degree today. There's literally nothing you can't figure out in IT with just some google searches and on the job training. My English degree however opened up a lot of doors for me, allowed me to pursue things I consider to be fun (working on a novel) and made my resume stand out enough that my present employer took notice.

  • funny... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:27PM (#43369297)

    You did a thesis on Kafka. You should have known that the world was a harsh, uncaring place...

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:28PM (#43369299) Journal
    Well before all the Starbucks barrista jokes and RTFM on life comments, I figured I'd kick in some thoughts.

    After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you.

    I got my masters between 2005-2007. Before that I had done two internships (while getting my undergrad) and then worked a year without school. When I went back to school my employer completely paid for my masters of science in computer science and, actually, I worked forty hours a week the whole time I was going to school full time. Doctorates are a completely different animal. I wanted to do one and yet the two professors who were interested in me said I would have to quit working my job. No deal, I've been working at least a 20 hour a week job since I was 13 and I think I would go insane now if I didn't have a full time job. And before you ask, academia is a lot of work but it is not a job.

    A lot of these complaints in this article (though well written and entertaining surprise surprise) are indicative of anyone who takes a career in an entertainment world to the final resting place. What? You think the second trombonist for the Milwaukee Symphony is a bad trombone player? And when he travels to Kansas for an audition and is rejected because some insider got the lead, he's not upset that he's structured his whole life around trombone playing? No, he just picked an entertainment profession which means Pareto Law would be the best possible outcome and you're likely going to be a starving artist. There's just not enough revenue to spread around and when there is it is highly concentrated to a few individuals.

    This is why STEM is pressed so hard and fascist leadership in China actually dictates how many STEM graduates their universities will pump out. I don't want that here in the states, what I want is realistic expectations set and delivered to prospective students about what employment rates look like and where the payout in the endgame lies. Don't confuse me some sort of dream crusher rubbing one out to telling people that their passion is a sideshow in the game of life but rather just a realist with production of goods and services in mind.

    This story actually sounds positive compared to my friends who got lit undergrad degrees and then went out into the world to use them. My close friend from high school first got a job proof reading SEC filings that had already gone public. He would proof them all night long and then they would go out as updates -- that nobody would ever read. Then after feeling like he was doing nothing, he started delivering pizzas and did that for six years before he finally landed a great job. What job would that be? Well, he works as one of the state's tax collectors who calls people up. He's a genuinely nice guy and has a very friendly voice and talks about tax solutions to people who owe the state money. And he never took a math or accounting course and he does very little writing in his job. That is the reality of a lit degree.

    From the sound of this author's research [proquest.com], she could probably get into natural language parsing fairly easily ... she understands orders of logic so may be able to learn some of the more friendly computer languages.

    Reading, writing, making music, painting, playing games are all things that I super love to do. But they're just a side thing to something else that I'm good at that is much more productive and tangible to society.

    • Reading, writing, making music, painting, playing games are all things that I super love to do. But they're just a side thing to something else that I'm good at that is much more productive and tangible to society.

      So I guess you don't see the value of art in society? I think we are enriched by writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, performance, and the endless ocean that is music. I think a world where we just worry about being "productive and tangible" is a sad grey world. I say this as a developer: a heal

      • So I guess you don't see the value of art in society?

        That is a bizarre conclusion and I apologize if you derived that from my post.

        I think we are enriched by writing, painting, drawing, sculpting, performance, and the endless ocean that is music. I think a world where we just worry about being "productive and tangible" is a sad grey world.

        We are enriched -- I would argue that we're more enriched when we take those things up as a hobby. I will also argue that "being the best lute player in Cornwall" doesn't mean anything when YouTube allows one of the other six billion people to reach everyone on Earth. This is a good thing because it disperses all of the great things we're talking about but it also sets the bar mighty high. Worrying about being "productive and t

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MNNorske (2651341)
        We are definitely enriched by the arts. However there is a surplus of people going into these areas and a deficit of jobs. I see this quite frequently since one of my hobbies is working with community theatre groups. I see a lot of folks who got theatre, music, or other arts related majors in college (quite frequently at private colleges...) and then complain that they can't find a job. Note, I live in the Minneapolis area and we have a very large theatre community here, even with all the professional t
    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      my masters of science in computer science

      Ahhh, your elite training has pinpointed the difference between your degree, and that of the author of TFA. Indeed, a masters in a discipline that pretty much keeps the entire developed world running is marketable.

    • by tgd (2822)

      I got my masters between 2005-2007. Before that I had done two internships (while getting my undergrad) and then worked a year without school. When I went back to school my employer completely paid for my masters of science in computer science and, actually, I worked forty hours a week the whole time I was going to school full time. Doctorates are a completely different animal. I wanted to do one and yet the two professors who were interested in me said I would have to quit working my job. No deal, I've been working at least a 20 hour a week job since I was 13 and I think I would go insane now if I didn't have a full time job. And before you ask, academia is a lot of work but it is not a job.

      Getting a masters in Computer Science is effectively like getting a higher grade of certification at a trade school. The point of your masters is not to prepare you for teaching. The point of a PhD (or Masters) in liberal arts is precisely that. Apples and oranges.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:24PM (#43370007) Homepage Journal

      And before you ask, academia is a lot of work but it is not a job.

      If you'd gone on for a PhD, you'd know how absurd that sounds. Dissertation research damn well is a job, probably tougher than any job you've ever had. And I've had plenty of work experience in what people smugly and stupidly call the "real world" (hint: any world where people live and work is just as real as any other) as a basis for comparison.

      • And before you ask, academia is a lot of work but it is not a job.

        If you'd gone on for a PhD, you'd know how absurd that sounds. Dissertation research damn well is a job, probably tougher than any job you've ever had. And I've had plenty of work experience in what people smugly and stupidly call the "real world" (hint: any world where people live and work is just as real as any other) as a basis for comparison.

        So you start out how absurd it is for me to say that academia is a lot of work but it's not a job. Then you go on to lecture me about how much more difficult working on a doctoral thesis is compared to just a regular old job. And how different the two things are. Then you assume that I'm going to give you a lecture about the "real world" which I neither did nor have any intention of doing.

        From what I have experienced, a doctoral thesis is a highly neurotic and unpredictable world with no guarantees.

        • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Friday April 05, 2013 @05:11PM (#43372973) Homepage Journal

          Why are there multiple posts telling me I'm wrong when I clearly stated that "a doctoral thesis is a lot of work?!"

          Because you also said "academia is not a job," and when you said that, you were ... well, wrong.

          Here's what my life as a grad student, about to defend my dissertation, looks like: I get a paycheck. I have a desk. I have a boss. I have schedules, and deadlines, and meetings, and performance standards. "Fame and press releases" have absolutely nothing to do with it. What I do looks a whole lot like what I did as a DBA, actually, except with longer hours for lower pay. It's a job.

          I may have projected some of the anti-academic bias that seems so pervasive on Slashdot (and is amply on display in many of the comments on this story) onto your post, and I'm sorry about that. Just please understand that unless you've done a PhD, or been married to someone who has, you probably don't know nearly as much about what it's like as you think you do.

          BTW, if you think "a highly neurotic and unpredictable world with no guarantees" and "infighting and contacts often trump a true meritocracy" don't describe jobs outside academia just as well, then all I can say is that you've must have been very very lucky in your work history.

  • Don't go there! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:28PM (#43369309) Homepage

    Of course, a PhD in literature (of all things) is not going to be a meal ticket for the vast majority of people. How many tenure track positions SHOULD there be for literature studies? A couple of hundred in the US? It's a tiny, tiny sliver of adult life. If you have a burning desire to expound on the mysteries of "Gravity's Rainbow" and you think you need to devote your life to it, go ahead. The world might be a better place for it. But expecting to get a job doing that? Not so much.

    There are PhD level studies that can reliably lead to gainful employment, but that's not what doctorate level education has been about. I think it would reflect nicely on our society if you COULD expect to devote your like to James Joyce and get compensated for your efforts, but we're a long way away from that particular utopia.

    If you need money, get a job. If you have money, do what makes you happy and fulfilled. Don't necessarily conflate the two.

    • If you are really lucky and enjoy science or engineering, you may end up with a career where you make money and you are happy and fulfilled. Even further, you might end up with an employeer who will let you chase these silly graduate degrees on their dime and even pay you more after you achieve them.
      • Sure, that's exactly my point. IF you're lucky and IF you pick a field that has some economic justification.

        For most people, PhD's in literature fulfill neither criteria.

    • by loufoque (1400831)

      There should be zero. Why would we need researchers in literature?
      We already have writers.

  • There are people in all branches of academia who have finished PhDs and are not finding meaningful employment. While a while back there was a study that declared that those who hold a PhD are seeing a much lower unemployment rate than the rest of the country (something like 2% vs the usual 9.999%) the problem is a lot of people who have that terminal degree are not getting the job they trained for. Many people are completing multiple post-doc positions and then ending up in dead end positions in academia (or industry) with no chance for professional advancement.

    In other words, if the "unemployment" number for those with a PhD included those who are "underemployed" (in comparison to the job they actually aspire to hold), the number would be much, much, higher.
    • There are people in all branches of academia who have finished PhDs and are not finding meaningful employment.

      If 100% of the population of the US had Ph.D.'s, someone would still need to drive cabs, clean toilets, and water lawns. And given that IQ is normally distributed, a lot of those Ph.D.'s would be pretty dumb (and not just in the academic sense).

      Politicians looked at the correlation between degrees and higher salaries, and erroneously concluded that degrees cause higher salaries. They then went on to

  • You wouldn't believe (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kilodelta (843627) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:31PM (#43369323) Homepage
    The number of English Lit and Semiotics types I've encountered in the I.T. field. It's incredible.
  • by RobinH (124750) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:31PM (#43369327) Homepage
    As a psychologist in a lot of jurisdictions you *need* a Ph.D. to get licensed and get a job. Lots of people take undergrad psychology and then say, "now what?" That's not a good plan either. I think it pays to research this stuff ahead of time. BTW, you have a degree in literature? Why not become an author? Or, I dunno, get a job at a factory and read books on your lunch break like the rest of us?
    • I do not think that a PHD in literature necessarily makes you author material. I think in many ways they are completely different things.

      That is the major problem with some of the degrees you can get in academia, some of them are only good for becoming a teacher of the degree in academia and not much else.

      • by PRMan (959735)

        Then be a journalist, blogger, tech writer, document translator (if you know 2 languages)... How about a book or movie reviewer? A talent scout for a publishing company.

        Just because you have a PhD, doesn't mean an instant $100K job. You have to start at the ground floor and show people that you can actually provide useful work that makes someone money somewhere.

      • This is very, very true. A better value for someone getting a Master of Fine Arts in Literature who wants to be a writer would be to just live off that money, take two years to travel the country, and write in hotels whenever the heck they feel like writing. Writing is like coding - your first few programs are going to be terrible, but you get better as you practice. Your first book is usually going to be awful. So is the second. By the third or fourth book or program you've written, you're not sucking
  • by sloth jr (88200) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:32PM (#43369351)
    It's hard to see the connection between anything mentioned in the article and being turned into a horrible person.
    • by rknop (240417) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:50PM (#43369557) Homepage

      It that you will *think* you're a horrible person. If you can't get a job in an academic tenure-track position, you'll think that you're worthless, a failure, that you haven't lived up to your own expectations of yourself and everybody else's expectations of you.

      You won't *be* horrible, but you'll *think* you're horrible.

      I've been there. Right now, I'm one of the EXCEPTIONALLY LUCKY in that I'm a 40-something who's in a Unviersity job. (We don't have tenure where I am, but it's a small teaching-oriented liberal arts college of exactly the sort I always wanted to teach at.) But, I've been in the position of trying to find a job and not being able to, and of being on the tenure track with certainty that I was going to get turned down because I couldn't get money out of highly overtaxed funding agencies. And I felt like a complete, worthless failure, somebody who's life didn't add up to a damn thing, somebody who couldn't do anything. THAT is how a PhD (mine is in Physics) turns you into a horrible person.

  • by DSS11Q13 (1853164) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:33PM (#43369361)

    The issue is that the jobs are taken by the graduates of the elite institutions. I don't know where Ohio State University stands in Literature, but unless it's ranked in the top ten for that field, the chances of getting a job when one opens up is virtually nil.

    It's simple arithmetic. The top schools, Ivies and their equivalents produce an equal or greater number of PhDs than there are positions opening in any given year in the humanities. Why would any school that is hiring, when they have applicants from half a dozen Ivies bother looking at someone from a lower ranked program? Sure, there is more to it than simply the program that mints you: how good your dissertation is, if your adviser is friends with the people hiring etc., but remember that the people graduating from the Ivies will also have very good dissertations and advisers who are friends with (or former professors of!) the people hiring!

    If you want to be a humanities professor, and think you can do it without going to a top school, then yes, your cause is lost from the beginning. But, if you are as great as you think you are, and can get into a top program, then your chances aren't as bad as people make it out to be.

    • by geek (5680) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:36PM (#43370139) Homepage

      I think the error in your thinking is assuming all degrees should lead to a job. It used to be that college was cheap enough, even at the graduate level, that you could pursue it for enjoyment alone. At my Uni there were a large number of professors that didn't even enter graduate school until they were in their mid-40's or 50's and started teaching after that because they enjoyed it.

      I myself have an English degree because I wanted one, not because I was going to get rich from it. I lucked out and qualified for state and federal grants that made my education virtually free. I have no regrets.

      These people dropping 100k+ on a degree thinking they will become instant millionaires is what is driving up costs and setting unrealistic expectations. Just because you have a degree does not mean you are guaranteed a job, much less a high paying one. That goes for all degrees and all fields. Great, you got a degree. All that tells anyone is that you were able to foot the bill for a time, attend classes and do some homework.

      If I'm hiring someone and the job pays a good salary, I'm looking for what they can "do" more than what they "know."

  • by trout007 (975317) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:35PM (#43369377)

    Education can be both a leisure activity and an investment. When picking a major you have to consider both. If you are rich and are going to school purely for leisure then it doesn't matter. It's like an American that can afford to spend a year in Europe. It is fun and it will lead to personal growth.

    But if you don't have the money and are getting yourself in massive debt you better think of it as an investment. Will I get a return on the money I am spending or borrowing? If not pick another subject. You have a lifetime to study for leisure. If you have a well paying job you will have more resources to help you. It's like that trip to Europe. Its fine to go if you can afford it. If you have to put yourself into crippling debt to go it might not be such a good idea.

  • >> An assistant professor....writes: "I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you"

    Um...isn't she employed...by a Big 10 university...after going to grad school?

    >> You will no longer have any friends outside academia.

    I wonder why. Must REALLY get under her skin that the only place she gets published is on SlashDot.

    • by Dster76 (877693)
      Nope. She is a "visiting assistant professor", which is code for exactly the type of jobs listed in the description. Non-tenured track, low pay, no perks/office, higher teaching workload than the the tenure track/tenured.
  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:37PM (#43369401) Journal

    An intelligent person comes to recognize that having a LITERATURE DEGREE isn't a route to financial security.

    Wow. That's some insight.

    (This reminds me of an interview I saw on NPR purporting to illustrate how "hard" times have gotten in Greece, that PhD's were waiting tables in restaurants and barely scraping by. Almost as an aside at the end of the interview, they asked him what his PhD was in - "Russian Literature". I almost crashed my car I was laughing so hard.)

  • Hmmm ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:38PM (#43369413) Homepage

    Not to downplay this persons experience ... but, since this is Slashdot, and a tech-heavy web site ... show of hands for people who are shocked a PhD in literature may not be an awesome career path? Anybody?

    Universities are pinched, and there's an increasing move among governments to say "why are we training people for stuff for which there are no jobs?". I knew someone years ago who was in his 5th year of university, working on a BA in English, had massive debts, and no prospects -- and the question at the time was, "other than personal interest, what will this degree ever do for you?". He had no idea about that.

    Unfortunately, much of the 'humanities' subjects in university are so specialized and highly focused, that it's hard not to see how some of this is relevant to anybody except other people with PhDs in the field.

    I've known a few people who studied post-modernism in literature ... and even they couldn't tell me what you'd use it for other than a purely academic discussion. For that matter, they mostly can't even define what post-modernism is to a layman, or why it has to be so incomprehensible that a computer generated paper gets accepted into journals.

    Sadly, some degrees can only qualify you for academia, and if those positions aren't available, what have you gained by it? The ability to cite Chaucer while asking me if I want fries?

  • It is hard to get a job anywhere in this economy. Real unemployment is around 15% (not the 7.6% touted by the Feds, that number excludes people unemployed so long they can't get unemployment insurance payments). For a university position, this means there is going to be less funding so fewer tenured positions. Plus the terrible economy means more Ph.D.'s are seeking refuge in universities so the candidate pool is bigger. Back in the '90s with the tech boom, I remember seeing universities advertising profes
  • by khallow (566160) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:47PM (#43369509)
    I have tried twice to get a PhD in math, finally getting it in 2009. I figured out fairly early that a PhD in math wasn't going to go far for me into academia career-wise especially with the weaknesses I have as a researcher and teacher. I did it because partly due to stubbornness and partly because I wanted to learn how to think at a really deep level.

    Now, I'm an accountant working from the heart of a supervolcano [usparklodging.com]. It doesn't pay well, but I live in a cool place, have plenty of time off over the year, save a bit of money, and am picking up some useful experience. I do find the occasional use for my mad math skillz, but I accept that I'm not going to be fully challenged at a job like this.
  • by swan5566 (1771176) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:49PM (#43369527)
    ...would you like fries with that? ;p
  • A doctorate in anything is likely to make you over qualified for most jobs. Doctorates tend to be very specialized, which means the number of jobs available drops dramatically. Unless a doctorate is really necessary for the job (medical doctors, lawyers), the perception is that this person is going to want a lot more money than, say, someone with a masters' or bachelors' degree, and is perhaps too specialized for the job. Experience in the field, coupled with a less specialized degree, is likely to be more
  • > You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why.

    That is, nobody except Josef K.

  • Digital humanities (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Creosote (33182) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:36PM (#43370943) Homepage

    I wouldn't have guessed that 240 comments could be posted, on Slashdot no less, in connection with the employment prospects of Ph.D's in literature without the phrase "digital humanities" having cropped up once. For folks with advanced degrees in the humanities plus the appropriate tech cred and skills, there are jobs out there [digitalhumanitiesnow.org]. Most not tenure-track, but generally rewarding, and often in settings where one's colleagues are less ego-driven than in conventional academic departments.

    Of course, earning a Ph.D. in say the poetry of Arthur Hugh Clough without having once touched a computer keyboard isn't the route to one of those.

  • Last of the Mohicans (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:50PM (#43371165) Homepage Journal

    I'm living proof that a PhD in Literature will make you a horrible person.

    I was probably part of the penultimate group of Literature PhDs who got the sweet jobs, and even then, in the early '80s, we could see where the Age of Reagan was going to take the world. We could see that the people who could make a good living, buy a house, raise a family, in a job that didn't require a college degree were in the crosshairs of the economic elite. Those people, like my dad, who came back from the China-Burma Theater of WWII with shrapnel in his hip and a cheap Purple Heart on his chest, and who followed the social contract to the letter just could not be allowed to enter the ownership class. Dad went to work before he got a high school diploma, and then to war after Pearl Harbor, and came back to the possibility (thanks to the GI Bill, veterans' benefits, etc) could improve his life, buy a single family home, a car every 4 or 5 years and put me and my sister through school. Thanks to the union, jobs were stable enough that he stayed with the same, successful company for 40 years and his income was sufficient so Mom could stay home and raise us kids. Thanks to Social Security and Medicare, his parents and my Mom's parents could grow old and die with some dignity, as could Dad and Mom when the time came. There was stability. There was certainty, and that stability - that certainty - created the strongest peacetime economy in the history of the world. Women could enter the workplace and vote and started to gain political power. The civil rights movement saw a time when the Black community became more prosperous and gained political power. And the economic elite saw all of this as a threat that could not be allowed. Enter: Ronald Reagan. Supply-side economics. Peacetime budget deficits. Talk of "entitlement reform". Talk of "welfare reform" to stop what he told people were the greedy black welfare queens who were all eating steak and driving Cadillacs. The beginning of the "Christian Right" and the "Silent Majority". The Reagan Justice Department sought a "constitutional right to own guns" and got Rhenquist to sign off on this new right. And in this way, the seeds of division were sown that would make the increasingly powerful middle class to start eating one another politically. The social contract wasn't worth the toilet paper it had apparently been printed on.

    So even back in those early 80's, when AIDS was barely on peoples' radar, while crack was hollowing out the cities, when the "Savings and Loan Scandal" was too complicated for people to see the complicit hand of the economic elite, even then you could see that the kind of stable growth we were experiencing as a nation - as a society - was in danger from the greed and cupidity of the ones Reagan told us would "trickle" their wealth down on the rest.

    I could see then that the young grad students in my classes were probably not going to have anything like the experience I had, nor would they have anything like the experience my father had. Gordon Gecko was telling them that "Greed is good" after all, and the inevitable bubble that Reagan's tax cuts for the rich would create was still inflating.

    I got out in '04. Twenty years after my first tenure-track position and twenty-five after I got that sweet PhD in a field that would only be worthwhile as long as peoples' souls weren't crushed. By 2004, they were pretty thoroughly crushed.

Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete successfully in business. Cheat. -- Ambrose Bierce

Working...