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Why Competing For Tenure Is Like Trying To Become a Drug Lord 168

Posted by samzenpus
from the bad-teacher-coming-through dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Scott Jaschik writes in Inside Higher Education that the academic job market is structured in many respects like a drug gang, with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders and with income distribution within gangs extremely skewed in favor of those at the top, while the rank-and-file street sellers earned even less than employees in legitimate low-skilled activities. According to Alexandre Afonso, academic systems rely at least to some extent on the existence of a supply of 'outsiders' ready to forgo wages and employment security in exchange for the prospect of prestige, freedom and reasonably high salaries that tenured positions entail. 'What you have is an increasing number of brilliant PhD graduates arriving every year into the market hoping to secure a permanent position as a professor and enjoying freedom and high salaries, a bit like the rank-and-file drug dealer hoping to become a drug lord,' says Afonso. 'To achieve that, they are ready to forgo the income and security that they could have in other areas of employment by accepting insecure working conditions in the hope of securing jobs that are not expanding at the same rate.' The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported on adjunct lecturers who rely on food stamps to make ends meet. Afonso adds that he is not trying to discourage everyone from pursuing Ph.D.s but that prospective graduate students need to go in with a full awareness of the job market."
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Why Competing For Tenure Is Like Trying To Become a Drug Lord

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:35AM (#45567591)

    If you're staff, you're not even a potential member of the club. It doesn't matter how much of an expert you in are in your field, if you're not faculty, your opinion doesn't matter.

    • by mjwalshe (1680392) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:20AM (#45567803)
      and they also get poor wages I worked at a word leading RnD organization as a research assistant and I was at the time paid abotu 1/3 of what a nurse was (the roles had the same educational entrance requirements :-( and this was when nursing was consider a badly underpaid profession.
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        But twice as much as a post doc.

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          Actually not I was paid the massive sum of £1620 PA that was back in 79 though the guys doing their PHd's where paid a bit more than us
          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Where I work (now, not in '79), the research associates make more than the post docs. Maybe not twice as much, but a significant amount. PhDs make less, unless they have a scholarship (I made twice as much as a PhD than as a postdoc, factoring in the tax advantages). Research assistants are undergrads or equivalent (so I assumed you meant an equivalent of research associate), and they usually get paid about as much as grad students. Nurses are somewhere off in the stratosphere, making more than professo

    • by rmstar (114746) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:21AM (#45567805)

      If you're staff, you're not even a potential member of the club. It doesn't matter how much of an expert you in are in your field, if you're not faculty, your opinion doesn't matter.

      Of course it doesn't. Think about it: it really can't. While everybody talks science, they are really in the rat race. Whatever you, as non-rat-racer, tell them, is irrelevant because it misses the point by definition.

      Let me try to explain with a car analogy. Suppose you are in a kart competition [wikipedia.org]. A long winded, gruesome affair spanning uncountable races over many continents. And suddenly, in the midst of it, one of the tire salesmen appears with a formula one car. It obviously makes no sense. Get it?

      In sum, be thankful for not being in the rat race.

      Disclosure: been there, done that.

    • by khallow (566160)
      They'd be "hoes". Opinion doesn't matter and you're there to be used by the faculty.
  • by Hardhead_7 (987030) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:48AM (#45567639)
    There are many career paths, such as professional sports or marketers. But let's use a really inflammatory example to belittle higher education yet again.
    • by superwiz (655733) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:58AM (#45567691) Journal
      Sports model is equally inflammatory. The idea of academic freedom being available only to those who have already made their most significant contribution (and therefore get tenure which is supposed to provide academic freedom) is an idea that needs to be discussed. It is a problem.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Tenure is the worst idea ever. It is essentially saying that it doesn't matter you are unproductive and a waste of space, you did something really good in the past so you are now in the Club now.

        • by ganjadude (952775) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:21AM (#45567809) Homepage
          so its like congress!
        • by rmstar (114746) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:26AM (#45567845)

          Tenure is the worst idea ever. It is essentially saying that it doesn't matter you are unproductive and a waste of space, you did something really good in the past so you are now in the Club now.

          This is only partially true. At the very least, most people who make it to professor are crazy by then, and just continue in there never-ending fight like ever before.

          Additionally, tenured professors will be bullied by the administration if they underperform. That can get very nasty.

          • by timholman (71886) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @01:37PM (#45568611)

            Additionally, tenured professors will be bullied by the administration if they underperform. That can get very nasty.

            On the other hand, I can tell you (based on first-hand observation) that you'd be astonished how much bullying underperforming tenured professors can tolerate.

            These types are not going to give up guaranteed employment. They simply grow a thicker skin. Furthermore, they learn how to strike back. For example, if the department chair tries to increase the teaching load of a non-performer, the inevitable result is horrible teaching reviews and angry students changing majors. The administration very quickly learns to just leave the non-performers alone and wait for them to retire.

            The better alternative, of course, is to hire non-tenured faculty. Much easier to get rid of (if necessary), and in general more productive researchers and better teachers.

        • by ColaMan (37550)

          Tenure is there so that you can go 'against the grain' of university higher-ups without fear of reprisals. It's to allow dissenting views to be held and debated.

          It's similar to parliamentary privilege, where they can say whatever they want basically whilst talking in parliament.

      • by JeffOwl (2858633) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:48AM (#45567941)

        I don't think I understand your point. How is anybody being denied "academic freedom?" Who is stopping these PhDs from studying whatever they want? Or by academic freedom do you mean "the freedom to make somebody else pay them for their studies?"

        This isn't a dig, I really feel like I'm missing a piece of the puzzle because I just don't get the outrage, particularly with this statement: "The idea of academic freedom being available only to those who have already made their most significant contribution (and therefore get tenure which is supposed to provide academic freedom) is an idea that needs to be discussed. It is a problem." If I only have a small pool of money to pay tenured professors, why wouldn't I want to select the ones that have proven themselves?

        • by Hardhead_7 (987030) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @01:33PM (#45568581)

          I don't think I understand your point. How is anybody being denied "academic freedom?" Who is stopping these PhDs from studying whatever they want? Or by academic freedom do you mean "the freedom to make somebody else pay them for their studies?"

          This isn't a dig, I really feel like I'm missing a piece of the puzzle because I just don't get the outrage, particularly with this statement: "The idea of academic freedom being available only to those who have already made their most significant contribution (and therefore get tenure which is supposed to provide academic freedom) is an idea that needs to be discussed. It is a problem." If I only have a small pool of money to pay tenured professors, why wouldn't I want to select the ones that have proven themselves?

          This is generally done by the same people who use the term "elites" derisively. There's a culture - often promulgated by Libertarians - that people who aren't directly enhancing some corporation's bottom line somewhere don't deserve recognition or respect. The fact is, someone who has made significant contributions to their field deserves some job security.

          It's not that these naysayers have a better system for who deserves tenure (or, if they want to eliminate tenure altogether, a tenure-like protection from Administrative whims). They don't want anyone to have such protections, because then scientists who tell inconvenient truths about politics or science ("Hey, did you know Climate Change might be a problem?) can be easily silenced by politically or corporate-backed powers.

          Is the tenure system perfect? God, no, but what system involving human pecking order is? But it's pretty good, actually, for the most part! They're a reason the western-style educational system has been rocking it hardcore for hundreds of years now. And the fact is, the attack on professors, tenure, and the scientific elites in general is mostly coming from the corners that are trying to tear down science as an edifice in general.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 01, 2013 @01:47PM (#45568683)

          Because administrators by and large are politically conservative, and depending on department, adjuncts and people on tenure tracks may be engaged in research that goes against the ideological grain of whoever is carrying the purse strings for the campus.

          Look, this is really more a problem in disciplines other than computer and natural sciences. I'm a grad student in cultural anthropology, and arguably the entire basis of my field is in questioning those things in everyday life that everyone takes for granted. When studying issues that have political/economic implications -- like, say, researching healthcare access among migrant workers on the southern US border -- it's really easy to fall afoul of campus leadership if your work addresses failings of capitalism, engaged in the long-term effects of poverty on a community. You make too much of a fuss over poor brown people who have been systematically screwed over by "the system," and you risk offending key administrators where you're slaving away hoping that a tenured position opens up. These days, the people in charge of campuses and entire state university systems have little background as actual educators, and are increasingly originating in businesses and bureaucracies. Questioning how society works is not in their best interests. Make too big a deal over things like social inequality, and expect the boot.

          Now, when it comes to teaching in classrooms, then more departments open themselves up to criticism than the social sciences and the humanities. If I'm teaching about human evolution in a conservative part of the country (which I have), I can take for granted that a significant percentage of my students are going to object to the course material. As an adjunct, I have no job security whatsoever. Any student can go to the administration and complain that my course offends their delicate sensibilities, and if they happen to find a sympathetic ear with the higher-ups, well, I won't have to worry about having my contract renewed the following semester. After all, there are plenty of other desperate M.A.s and Ph.D.s ready to take over at the podium.

          If I have tenure, I have much less to worry about as far as what research I can do, and what I can teach in my classrooms. Just stepping on someone's toes because their ideology is too constrained to accept reality (which, as Mr. Colbert famously pointed out, has a liberal bias) is no longer a significant concern. I can instead be judged solely by my peers, who -- while not perfect -- are more qualified to evaluate me than some nervous bean-counter.

          These are a couple of broad examples, but I hope they give you some idea of why academic freedom allotted by tenured positions is crucial to the function of higher education. Part of the reason this has become such a major issue in academia is that university systems are so opaque to most of American society. No one outside the so-called "ivory tower" has a good grasp of how it's structured and ranked, or even how the tenure process works (other than vague references to "publish or perish"). If more people outside of academia were aware of how business interests have been affecting higher education since the '80s, I would hope there would be more public outcry, and more support for faculty and staff.

        • by dcollins (135727)

          Academic freedom [wikipedia.org], as in, freedom of speech, "free to express their opinions without fear from institutional censorship or discipline".

        • If I only have a small pool of money to pay tenured professors, why wouldn't I want to select the ones that have proven themselves?

          How will you know when they've proved themselves?

          • by JeffOwl (2858633)
            For lack of a better option, I guess it would be how they are selected for tenure today. If I understood correctly, the parent to my original post was asserting that people who have never done anything particularly noteworthy should be hired by universities and subjected to little oversight. This model has the potential to find some really outstanding young academics (which I think was the point of the earlier post), but most of what you will have are just average. Do I want to commit to keeping a bunch
        • by Goldsmith (561202)

          You're asking why it's a problem that the government excludes the majority of scientists from applying for funding. Wouldn't you just want the best teams and proposals?

          I feel like the academic freedom comments are put out there mainly to try to get non-scientists at universities interested in this issue. To me, this is simply about spending tax dollars effectively. It does outrage me when I see a professor getting a big government R&D contract to research something I've already done, or could do at a

        • If I only have a small pool of money to pay tenured professors, why wouldn't I want to select the ones that have proven themselves?

          That's a reasonable stance, and one the funding agencies and journals more or less follow, but it it's somewhat blinkered. Some researchers produce good work early in their career but then become stagnant or a little nuts in the second half of their career. However, if they have built up a sufficiently big name they are able to attract more funding and get papers into better journals than their contemporary output really deserves. The money would have been better spent on budding new minds.

          Anecdote: Th

      • by khallow (566160)
        Academic freedom != tenure. Obviously, if the university can fire you for saying controversial or inconvenient, but scientifically valid things, then that's not academic freedom. Indefinite tenure is meant to address that, but it's not the only way to do so.
        • by HiThere (15173)

          Good. What are some better ways? Has anyone debugged them?

          • by khallow (566160)

            What are some better ways?

            Post a bond, say which is invested in the NASDAQ index, for example, that pays off when the university lets the professor go for any reason other than something that would get a tenured professor fired.

            • How is this more efficient than tenure? Why bring yet another external party into the mix? Seems like a jury-rigged solution, actually. Try harder next time, Mr. Goldberg.

              • by khallow (566160)

                How is this more efficient than tenure?

                It allows universities to fire faculty for any reason at a price.

                Seems like a jury-rigged solution

                Compared to tenure itself? Why would you say that? Businesses do this sort of thing all the time for CEOs and other high level executives. There's probably a bunch of university officials who get this sort of deal too.

    • by Guppy06 (410832)

      Professional sports isn't exactly known for myriad career opportunities either.

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Sad that you'd look at, say, people working to advance human knowledge and cure diseases being treated like crap, say it's just like professional sports, and think that's okay.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by rjejr (921275)
      What he said. Emphasis on sports and inflammatory. Basically big fish eat little fish. L.I.F.E.
    • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:11AM (#45567779) Journal

      But let's use a really inflammatory example to belittle higher education yet again.

      Not really - he is just a little ignorant of the correct academic terminology. For future reference they generally prefer to be called the "Faculty of Pharmacology" rather than the "Drug Lords".

    • TFA is right...it's not "belittling higher education" you moron...bullies "belittle" their victim...TFA is a valid criticism...**ACADEMIA** is the one who bullies!

      Academia suffers from

      1) Bad Management from people who are not accountable by rule (tenure professors)

      2) Artificial Scarcity motivated by politics

      Academia is **all about the money**....just like being a gangster!!! C.R.E.A.M.=Cash Rules Everything Around Me [youtube.com]

      "gotta get the NSF grant, gotta get tenure, gotta get the project approved..."

      Academia is co

  • Just academia? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gallondr00nk (868673) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:48AM (#45567643)

    with an expanding mass of outsiders and a shrinking core of insiders and with income distribution within gangs extremely skewed in favor of those at the top, while the rank-and-file street sellers earned even less than employees in legitimate low-skilled activities.

    So academia is just like the rest of the world, then.

    • by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:54AM (#45567667) Homepage Journal

      "So academia is just like the rest of the world, then."

      Not exactly. The reports in academia are much more long-winded.

    • Yeah, I'm not sure why the analogy to a drug gang was used as this applies to pretty much ANY organization. Even one of TFAs states as much:

      As it turned out, the gang worked a lot like most American businesses, though perhaps none more so than McDonald's. If you were to hold a McDonald's organizational chart and the crack gang's organizational chart side by side, you could hardly tell the difference.

    • by dcollins (135727)

      Or you might say it's the last bastion where a strong union keeps a voice for the actual workers and experts at the table. And therefore is top on the chopping block for the capitalist enterprise.

  • Not a great analogy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by siwelwerd (869956) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:51AM (#45567651)

    I'm not really sure this is an apt analogy. Yes, you forgo higher wages while in graduate school, but if you don't make drug lord^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H a tenure track position, you can head to industry and make a good wage. I don't think street dealers have this option. Yes, most of us want to go into academia, but having a fallback option with 50-100% higher salary doesn't seem so bad (speaking as a mathematician here--maybe humanities Ph.D.'s really are like drug dealers).

    Another thing they downplay in the reward side of academia is the time flexibility. There are absolutely zero vacation days, but for the most part, outside of hours physically spent in the classroom (usually less than 10 a week, less than 40 weeks a year), you get to arrange your schedule. I've known professors who worked from home in the morning and the office in the afternoon, and one who showed up at 4:00 PM and stayed until 12 or 1 (I was always amused when he joined us for a beer "after" work on occasion). To a lot of us, this is a huge perk

    • by rmstar (114746)

      Another thing they downplay in the reward side of academia is the time flexibility.

      For many people, time flexibility de facto means working essentially around the clock. Also, in many places this time flexibility is just an illusion. When there is a problem then it turns out that by constantly arriving late you weren't fulfilling your duties, no matter that you stayed until 2:00 AM.

      • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @01:29PM (#45568555)

        For many people, time flexibility de facto means working essentially around the clock.

        It doesn't usually mean that in academia. You need to be present to teach your classes, hold office hours, and attend various meetings. For many people (particularly senior professors), this may add up to less than 10 hours/week where your schedule is actually set. If you have a research lab in the sciences or something, you need to negotiate times to deal with your grad students and lab assistants that are reasonable for everybody, but most senior faculty have a lot of power in choosing their own schedules.

        Tenure-track faculty may feel like they need to "work around the clock" to ensure that they will receive tenure. After tenure, however, the expectations are more flexible.

        Also, in many places this time flexibility is just an illusion. When there is a problem then it turns out that by constantly arriving late you weren't fulfilling your duties, no matter that you stayed until 2:00 AM.

        Again, this isn't really relevant to academia. There is really no "arriving late," except arriving late for a class or meeting or something, which is obviously bad. But if you teach your classes at 4pm and arrive by that time, no one is usually going to care how you structure the rest of your day.

        The main "duty" of most non-tenured professors is to produce research. If you do that best by working regular 9am-5pm hours or by only coming in in the middle of the night, nobody's going to care much. Aside from that, you need to attend occasional meetings and turn your grades in at the end of the semester. Once you have tenure, the obligation to produce continuous research is lessened a bit, and most of the schedule on which you "fulfill your duties" is really up to you.

        It's not exactly an "easy" life, because you still have significant responsibilities to fulfill outside of the few meeting times each week that are set. But the schedule you choose to fulfill those other responsibilities is truly rather free.

    • by Chalnoth (1334923)

      My understanding is that people with humanities Ph.D.'s also make pretty good money in the private sector. Certainly people with Ph.D.'s have much lower employment and much higher wages on average than those without.

      I have a Ph.D. myself, and left academia because of the poor aspects for a permanent position. My total compensation is now six times what it was as a postdoc.

      That said, I do feel that much of the job insecurity in the lower rungs of academia is due to a severe lack of investment in education

  • Generally speaking, not so many people end up dead in battles for tenure.
    • by superwiz (655733)
      I'd say that being on food stamps after earning a PhD is a fall pretty far down... As far as death? Just about.
      • That's a real shame. What sort of "Art Studies" were you in? As a PhD in a hard science, I've found employment outside academia to be fairly plentiful.

        The real problem that you bring up is that many higher education institutions don't provide guidance in probability of feeding yourself verses major chosen. This is a real shortcoming in a place that you are investing a HUGE amount of time and money into

        Sheldon

    • by dangle (1381879)

      Exactly. For a while I was "going for it" to see how far I could rise in academics. I used to joke that I had risen from street thug to one of the guys that gets to sit at the bar in the local don's place. But I always added the caveat "at least I don't have to kill anyone or worry about being killed."

    • by esme (17526) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:05AM (#45567751) Homepage

      Though this is because the only people who get tenure-track jobs in the first place are those who've already gotten a PhD., and so by definition have the self-control to resist the urge to kill the back-stabbing bastards who deserve it.

      Reminds me of the shooting at SDSU in 1996 -- I knew several grad students who were stunned that a master's student had gunned down his committee. Not that he's shot them (which they could sympathize with), but that he'd done it over a master's degree.

      -Esme

  • subject agnostic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 01, 2013 @10:53AM (#45567665)

    I notice that the article is completely devoid of any subject detail. PhD in what? If you are a STEM graduate (or PhD) and are adept at computers and mathematics, this would be a crisis. The reality is, that academic jobs depend on writing grants to fund the university. Depending on your discipline the university "deserves" more or less, but you will find those promoted pay the "administrators". By more or less I mean, an English professor needs a library, a chemistry professor needs a lab.

    Universities are a business, their product is teaching students, and carrying out research, which pays for staff.

    Endowments (i.e. donations which are a tax write off for the donor...) pay for endowed chairs.

    Faculty is the equivalent "company man"...... The customer may get to complain, but anyone else...

    • by superwiz (655733)

      Universities are a business, their product is teaching students, and carrying out research, which pays for staff.

      And building statues. "Donated in loving memory of..." pays for a lot of higher education in the US.

  • by trackedvehicle (1972844) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:00AM (#45567715)

    I am facing the dilemma of whether to go (back) to the industry, where I was working before starting my PhD, or continue in academia as a researcher. On one had you have the job security and better salary offered in industry. On the other hand you have the thrill of scientific work and fewer (albeit not 0) corporate psychopaths.

    I decided on Friday that I'll go for academia. My health is failing, I think I have 10 to 15 years if I'm lucky, and life is too precious to waste it on doing something I don't like all that much, just because of money.

  • If you do work your way up, and become a tenured man within the organization, can you send your grad students and postdocs out to do hits on faculty aligned with rival cartels?
    • by mikael (484)

      Yes, you can block the publication of rivals research papers by getting on a committee. If you are particularly powerful, you can even instruct a supervisor to drag out a PhD for four or more years and railroad that person out of their field of interest.

  • Avoid the PhD... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moof123 (1292134) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:13AM (#45567781)

    I can tell you as someone who has interviewed a lot of engineering candidates, PhD's tend to get a very skeptical eye. Occasionally you find a great one, but usually they are a nightmare of disfunction, and almost never anything in the middle. It is too bad we can't accept more of a skills based compensation model, instead of one that automatically pays a large premium for an extra slip of paper, no matter how much of walking horror show it makes you skill wise.

    • Re:Avoid the PhD... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Sunday December 01, 2013 @11:36AM (#45567887)

      Statistically that isn't true; engineering PhDs have virtually zero unemployment rates and high salaries in industries.

      Granted, not high enough salaries to justify the time spent: you don't get a good monetary ROI on the PhD. But you can easily land a job at all sorts of places, ranging from Google to quant shops to Lockheed.

      • > Granted, not high enough salaries to justify the time spent: you don't get a good monetary ROI on the PhD.

        You get paid to get a degree (PhD). A rather sweet deal, no?
        If I had to choose (software engineering) between a fresh out of school PhD or a M.Sc. with 4 years of work experience and having a couple of projects under his belt though...
        • by Trepidity (597)

          If you like research, I agree it's a good deal. It's not a good ROI on a purely monetary basis (your lifelong earnings will probably be higher if you skip the PhD), but you do indeed get paid to go to school and take a deep dive into a research area.

    • by tapspace (2368622) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @12:10PM (#45568091)

      As someone who has worked in industry (where we occasionally considered PhDs) and is now in graduate school looking to get back into the job market soon, this is complete and total BS. You are seeing what you wanted to see. My first time in industry, I bought the "overqualified" line hook line and sinker. In retrospect, it was some sort of organizational bias that lead us to believe that people who could do the job happily for the money we offered could be overqualified. Now, I am leaving with an MS after several years functioning as a PhD student, and I see the same skeptisism applied to me (which undergraduates don't get, despite us competing in the same pay scale).

      The fact that you think a PhD is just "an extra slip of paper" shows how out of touch you really are. A PhD can be very grueling, both personally and intellectually. Those who succeed are often elite within their discipline, and despite the laser beam focus, PhDs are often great generalizers in broad realms. I think you are not capable of recognizing talent. You have some other, perverse metric you're using (most likely an organizational bias), and ability to do the job is not it.

      In fairness, your organization's disfunction is par for the course. Only exceptional companies really ask root striking questions in job interviews (and many otherwise exceptional companies aren't very good at that either). Most just ask where we want to be in five years, then walk out wondering why they can't find the right person for the job.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        My experience as a math PhD student is that about 2/3 of my colleagues are really narrow specialists who view anything outside their narrow specialty as a waste of their time. They probably aren't great fits for industry, especially because the natural result of their attitude is that they have acquired no applicable skills. On the other hand, those who make it through the meat grinder will be great researchers.

        The other 1/3 get bored working on narrow, specialized problems; they want to learn lots of stuff

    • Re:Avoid the PhD... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gtall (79522) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @01:13PM (#45568463)

      I work in a combination engineering (without PhDs) and science (with PhDs) environment. I'll admit the PhDs are bit high on the Oddness Scale. The engineers, however, have this enormous chip on their shoulder about the qualities of the PhDs. They widely deride the PhDs has not doing anything real or even capable of doing anything real. Some PhDs are like this. In general, though, the PhDs are working on higher level problems, so it isn't any mystery that the engineers find them difficult to relate to. I get the general impression that for engineers, good mathematics is born of a virgin and immediately applicable to their interests. That "other" mathematics is the stuff that's difficult to understand and probably invented by PhDs somewhere in a ivory tower dedicated to the ineffable. Getting engineers to back off their immediate problem and tell us any general lessons about their widgets is nearly impossible, and they take pride in snowing us with trivial detail that makes no difference in the general picture. When we do attempt to generalized, we are immediately hit with "it doesn't solve my immediate problem with all the details filled in." Yeah, well, that's because your problem was generalized into a class of problems and the math we gave you will work for the entire class; now quit bitching and particularize it to your widget.

  • I do have to say, that was an interesting use of the word "disciplinary" in Jaschik's first sentence.

    Grammatically accurate, yes, but I had totally the wrong picture in my mind when he said "disciplinary meetings."

    --or, from the rest of the articles, maybe not so inaccurate as all that--

  • by timholman (71886) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @12:09PM (#45568081)

    Most people don't realize that the tenure-track faculty position is rapidly disappearing at U.S. universities. Tenure is instead becoming a tool to accomplish two goals: (1) recruit superstars, hopefully with the goal of increasing your school's numbers in the USN&WR college rankings, and (2) reshape the demographics of the faculty, e.g. increased female and minority hires.

    Otherwise, tenure has outlived its usefulness, at least to university administrators. Go to any major university, and you'll find tenured professors who "retired in place" years ago, and who are worse than useless as researchers or teachers. To them, academic "freedom" translates to "leave me alone, you can't tell me what to do". University administrators have had their fill of those types. It's the old "10% making the other 90% look bad" syndrome, and consequently the other 90% must bear the brunt.

    The future of academia is one-year to five-year contracts with non-tenured faculty. If you can bring in research contract money, your academic salary will still be reasonably competitive, at least in engineering and the hard sciences. If your research contracts dry up, your contract won't be renewed, and you'll need to move on. Otherwise, you'll be working as an adjunct instructor, teaching 3-hour semester courses at $5K to $15K a pop. You'll find plenty of those at every school nowadays.

    As to the original article, the drug lord vs. drug seller analogy is largely a side effect of the economics of Ph.D.s in liberal arts and soft sciences. There are only so many university positions available in sociology, history, english literature, etc., and almost zero positions outside of academia to absorb the surplus. So if you truly love Medieval European History, and cannot conceive of doing anything else with your degree, you're going to fight tooth and nail doing academic scut work for slave wages in the hopes of making yourself more competitive for a rare tenure-track opening.

    The analogy falls apart with engineering and computer science, because a good Ph.D. can usually find a relevant job in industry, and quite often at better wages than in academia. Ph.D.s in liberal arts don't have that luxury. For them, it's either academic grunt work, unemployment, or getting a job completely unrelated to your degree.

    • One solution to the issue of the faculty who have "retired in place" is to implement a system where faculty older than 65 are subject to 5-year performance reviews and effectively lose tenure, but not necessarily their jobs. This gives the benefit of academic freedom to younger faculty with no strings attached without the pointlessly harsh mandatory retirements that are common in Europe and Asia, but implements a system to get rid of unproductive old timers who are taking up jobs that newer people could hav
    • by dcollins (135727)

      "Otherwise, tenure has outlived its usefulness, at least to university administrators. Go to any major university, and you'll find tenured professors who "retired in place" years ago, and who are worse than useless as researchers or teachers. To them, academic "freedom" translates to "leave me alone, you can't tell me what to do". University administrators have had their fill of those types. It's the old "10% making the other 90% look bad" syndrome, and consequently the other 90% must bear the brunt."

      I thin

    • by hibiki_r (649814)

      Sure, you can get a job in industry after a PhD, but it's probably not paying enough over what you'd get with a 4 year degree to compensate for the years required to get the PhD. This is specially true if you actually paid for your education, instead of riding full scholarships.

      My current employer is choke full of Science PhDs that left academia when they saw the hell that is a postdoc. You won't find many that didn't regret at least 6 years worth of their education.


    • The future of academia is one-year to five-year contracts with non-tenured faculty. If you can bring in research contract money, your academic salary will still be reasonably competitive, at least in engineering and the hard sciences. If your research contracts dry up, your contract won't be renewed, and you'll need to move on.

      I think this provides even more incentive to fabricate research results. If not getting funding means losing your job and the ability to provide for family, I wouldn't consider
    • Nearly every undergrad degree remains largely static over time; having old timers repeating the same thing is just fine as long as they don't get too bad at it. Bringing in adjunct is often covered by some false premise that they are up to date and out in the "real world" but that is not all that useful for most material-- some courses and probably more at higher levels like the graduate level. The real reason is they don't want to pay for a full timer. A big cost for full time employment is health benefi

    • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Sunday December 01, 2013 @05:21PM (#45570047)

      Otherwise, you'll be working as an adjunct instructor, teaching 3-hour semester courses at $5K to $15K a pop. You'll find plenty of those at every school nowadays.

      In what dream world do adjuncts earn $15k per 3-hour course??

      Aside from some sort of special appointed lectureship, the highest adjunct pay I've ever heard of was in the $12k range, and that's only at one top-tier university that is a known outlier.

      Most top-tier research universities pay $4-8k per course, with actual salary surveys [chronicle.com] showing an average of $4,750 per course.

      And that's top research universities, usually in desirable disciplines like engineering and science.

      Smaller schools, rural schools, satellite campuses for state universities, etc.? You're looking at more like $2-5k per course. Community colleges? Often less than $2k. A lot of adjuncts have to cobble together a teaching load of 5-10 courses PER SEMESTER at multiple colleges just to get a salary of $30k or so to live on each year (generally without benefits).

      While you have a lot of insightful elements in your post, the magnitude of pay disparity between tenured professors and adjuncts is woefully underestimated. It's not at all unusual for tenured or tenure-track professors to earn over 5 times the salary for teaching the exact same course as an adjunct.

      If they actually had adjunct jobs that paid $15k per course, I know loads of people who would immediately jump into such jobs. They could teach 3 courses per semester and earn $90k per year, with absolutely no research expectations? With that sort of pay, I bet you'd see a huge number of regular faculty volunteering to take adjunct jobs.

      • by timholman (71886)

        In what dream world do adjuncts earn $15k per 3-hour course??

        I should have been clearer about that. That $15K included maintenance and supervision of two different teaching laboratories, on top of teaching a 3-hour class. So essentially it was a $30K / academic year salary for what was practically a full-time job. Not surprisingly, they still found a Ph.D. willing to do it.

        You're right, typical adjunct per-course fees (without additional responsibilities) do run about $5K for STEM classes at a decently l

  • Most PhDs, like my daughter, teach because they LOVE academic life. Also it's probably the only life they know. And like drug dealers, if enough die off you can move up.
  • .... Dr. Walter White, Dean of the College of Chemistry.

  • A large number of very competent and qualified scientists get pushed out of the system long before they ever get to compete for tenure. The system is arranged such that there is not much room for full faculty, hence the odds of reaching one of those positions is remote for any grad student. That is part of why many grad students end up going to industry after completing their PhD.
  • Wait, wasn't there a thread just yesterday that we had a STEM shortage?

    But today it's an over-abundance?

  • ...what you're saying is that the tenure (I get a great salary, can never be fired unless I practically murder a kid, and have a giant professional union handling all my negotiations) bullshit is like winning the lottery, and you're unhappy that buying a bigger, more expensive ticket isn't an "automatic" win?

    Wow, I think I'm tearing up here.

Ma Bell is a mean mother!

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