Following up on the article From Graduate School to Welfare in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I am featuring stories of Ph.D. poverty here on the blog, contributed by readers. I will post them on Thursdays over the next month or so. I believe that one of the most important tasks before us is to publicize the poverty associated with graduate school and adjuncting for so many, to break through the denial of Ph.D. programs, and to expose the conditions of labor in the academy to the public at large and in particular to tuition-paying parents.
Here is my story: I finished my PhD in theology in 2004. I did not look for a job right away because my children were still in high school and we really wanted them to finish where we currently live. Three years ago, after looking for more than a year, I received an offer for a tenure-track job. That offer lasted exactly 24 hours before it was rescinded– they told me they did not have funding for the position. (I believe them, as they have not yet filled that position. But really–check before you offer!) I was then able to get a one-year appointment at the University of [Small Ohio Town], making $35,000 for 140 students in four sections a semester, 3-4 new preps. Yes, I know.
That one-year was renewed twice, which means that I’ve had the one-year for three years. The department would like to keep me, but again, they are apparently out of money. (They’ve brought in a new chair from outside, which was much more expensive than they anticipated–or so I was told.) During these three years I have applied for many jobs, and have received a few interviews and even one campus interview, but no job offers.
[Small Ohio Town] has been lovely, but I really need a job with some security for my family. About 18 months ago my husband was diagnosed with a major illness. This illness killed both his brother and sister, and another brother has also been diagnosed, so it’s not a real surprise to us, and we are living along in the same way we always have. However, it limits my prospects in some ways, because he needs to be near a major teaching medical center (think Cleveland Clinic), so we need a major metropolitan area. In other words, places like Helena, Montana, are out.
I can’t figure out why I haven’t been able to get a TT job yet, and neither can many of the other people I’ve spoken to. One person has said that my degree is “stale” and hiring committees are more apt to go for people just out of school as they have more potential. Others say that I am qualified for an associate professor’s position. I have no idea what to think about any of this. I can’t make heads or tails of the contradictory advice I’ve been given. I’ve been reading your website and have identified a few things in my documents, so I’m hoping that we can work together to make these stronger. I’m fairly sure that I’m burying my strengths, but I don’t know how to bring them out in the best way. Also, I’m pretty sure I still sound like a graduate student. I have many questions about this whole process.