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

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

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  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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 [], 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.

  • 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.

  • Re:In other news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <> on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:30PM (#43369321) Journal


    I know 2 people with doctorates in science-related disciplines (one in physics, the other mathematics) who've both had very serious battles with long periods of unemployment (in excess of 3 years).

    It's not how much you know... it's who you know. And if you don't happen to be connected to the right people at the right time, well then, it's mostly a matter of luck.

    But then, so is being connected to the right people at the right time.

  • 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 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.

  • 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.)

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @12:40PM (#43369445)

    Getting a PH.D. in any science related field will most likely guarantee you a job.

    No degree in any field will "guarantee you a job". Science is no exception. Conversely no degree in any field will make you unemployable nor will the lack of a degree. Some degrees make the odds of landing a job in your field better than others is the most you can say. Lacking a degree or having the "wrong" degree makes certain jobs unobtainable (you won't be a physician without a degree) but that doesn't mean you can't find some sort of employment.

  • 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 @12:54PM (#43369601)

    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.

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:04PM (#43369727) Homepage

    They are getting rid of tenure, just by replacing tenured faculty positions with non-tenure-track adjunct positions. Adjuncts are of course a fraction of the cost of a full tenured professor, which is part of the motivation, and the other part seems to be the business types who make up administrations sticking it to the academics because they can.

    Of course, how they expect to have any university-affiliated distinguished scientists is a different question.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:07PM (#43369777) Journal

    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 tangible" is not a sad grey world, it's a realistic world! And nowhere did I imply that we should "just" worry about that stuff, I merely questioned what the ratio of employment is. Right now there are too many people gunning for the job of tenured post doctoral thesis literature professor -- as evidenced by her post. There are a limited number of those!

    I say this as a developer: a healthy society supports the arts.

    As a developer, I'm able to actually earn enough money that I have disposable income to support the arts. Had I pursued my career as a bass player, I might be writing a column right now about how Flea and Paul McCartney are ruining my profession and keep me out of a job. Conversely I'm more than gainfully employed and extremely thankful for that fact!

    The ratio of artists to patrons of the arts is important. If one side of the equation grows too large you have problems. We're discussing that inequality here, not talking about exterminating one or the other. The column in this article is indicative of too many people entirely basing their income models off of being artists. In such a crowded market with technology that allows me to select whichever artist I choose, this is not smart!

  • by MNNorske ( 2651341 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:11PM (#43369839)
    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 theatres we have here we cannot support the numbers of people who graduate every year looking to make theatre their career.

    I would argue that most of these individuals would've been better off having obtained a major in some other field and done theatre as a minor or second major. Personally I majored in computer science. I have a stable profitable career, and I'm still able to partake in the arts and contribute to the arts.

    The same can also be said for elementary education majors here in MN. We probably have per capita one of the highest rates of people with elementary education degrees. To the point where most of them are not working in education. Probably only half of the people I know who went to college for elementary education are actually working in that field. Did they learn something valuable? Sure. Could they have potentially learned something else and had an easier time getting a career in another field? Definitely.

    I think the original commenter was simply trying to point out this fact. We do a very poor job of guiding teenagers moving from high school to either the real world or college. And, there are some fields which are simply over-saturated and it'll be hard to get a job in.
  • by moeinvt ( 851793 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:13PM (#43369859)

    I can understand that.

    One of my best friends in college dated this English lit major (not sure how that happened) so I was reluctantly in her presence from time to time. Her haughty condemnation and utter disdain for the types of fiction I enjoyed reading was enough to ruin any prospects of friendship. She wouldn't even consider the idea that the concepts of "good" or "bad" as applied to art and literature were subjective. No, her advanced knowledge made her uniquely qualified to provide such assessments. Snotty bitch. Thank $deity they split up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:13PM (#43369863)

    Yup. It's true in the sciences too. I have first-hand experience of it. A big part of the problem is tenure; get rid of it.

    You have to love this attitude! Because I don't have something, take it away from someone else. The real race to the bottom.

    Grow up. Not everyone gets to work in their field of choice. Even if you were a baby-boomer, you couldn't get a job in civil engineering because in 196x someone said get a degree in civil engineering and you'll make money. When someone said, "go to law school, you'll make money," guess what, there was a flood of law students. That's the way the job market works and that's why you don't believe companies when they complain that there's not enough X workers to fill their needs. As always, the real problem is finding someone cheaper to do the work.

    The minute companies announce that there's a shortage of worker type A, there's no shortage and heaven help you if your a college junior because you just spent two years learning something that will have a glut of competition when you graduate.

  • 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 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.
  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:23PM (#43369999)

    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 populations that live basically at the tax payer's expense and have tons of time to explore their "curiosity and creativity"; there doesn't seem to be a great deal of creating and inventing coming out of those populations. People become creative in response to need and pressure, not leisure.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 gtall ( 79522 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:41PM (#43370223)

    Yeah, I mean what has art and literature ever contributed to the quality of life? Close all the art museums, who needs those worthless buildings full of pictures and sculptures. Literature? Hah, let them all read math and science books because no ideas from literature ever filter into math and science. Let's all be dull geeks who have nothing outside of our techno-babble to talk about 'cause, you know, that isn't being productive or innovative.

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Friday April 05, 2013 @01:49PM (#43370309) 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.

    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. Infighting and contacts often trump a true meritocracy more so than they would in a normal job. The payout is confusing and pretty much a gamble with much of it being that you contributed to your field. A job, on the other hand centers on providing measured amounts of goods and services for a guaranteed paycheck. It is stable, it is steady, it often comes without fame or press releases.

    All I said was that the two are not the same thing and I love having a job. Why are people replying to me like I scoff at these "lazy doctoral thesis" researchers? I do not recall doing any such thing, in fact I had at one time aspired to be one!

    I did not attack you or your choices, I did not "smugly and stupidly" say that doctoral thesis folks do not know what the "real world" is -- please stop projecting that onto me. Why are there multiple posts [] telling me I'm wrong when I clearly stated that "a doctoral thesis is a lot of work?!"

    The two things have entirely different means and entirely different goals with entirely different lifespans.

  • by HaZardman27 ( 1521119 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:08PM (#43370603)
    I think some of this problem could be alleviated if more universities made a clear distinction between computer science and software engineering. Most degree-holding programmers I know have at least a bachelor's in CS. The only folks I know with software engineering degrees get them at a master's level. From those I know who went into the workforce with a BS in CS, it seems like it took them at least a year or two to really become comfortable with being a software engineer. People complain about CS programs pandering to employers, but honestly that's the direction most of those students are going to go after graduation. Those pursuing academic or research careers belong in a "true" CS program, and those who plan on being software engineers should be treated in a different manner and given the education that produces engineers, not scientists.

    I opted to take a more unusual route for my career; after 1 year at university I enlisted as a programmer for the US Air Force, and worked at my bachelor's degree while getting real-world software development experience. Even though I didn't complete it by the time my enlistment was up, having over 3 years of real experience while still being in my early 20's gave me a leg up over many of my peers when it came to finding a private-sector job. Software engineering is much more than knowing computing theory (although the topic is still interesting and I enjoy studying it). By forgoing a traditional CS education for real-world experience, I was exposed to the principals of software engineering, and the social and team-oriented challenges of the profession much earlier.

    TL;DR: Universities need to make distinctions between the science and engineering of computing.
  • by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Friday April 05, 2013 @02:09PM (#43370611)

    "The productive people IN society who do the innovation and perform the real work"

    Most productive things are done by machines, gas and electricity. The idea that you are some cowboy superhero is a nice part of american mythology.

  • 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 []. 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.

  • 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.

In 1869 the waffle iron was invented for people who had wrinkled waffles.