Regular readers of this blog know that I use this space for focused advice for young academics on overcoming specific pitfalls and challenges in the academic career—how to write an abstract, apply for a grant, deal with a difficult advisor, etc.
I don’t use this space to vent about the injustices of the academy or the cluelessness of its members.
However. There is a first time for everything.
Yesterday I published a column in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The column, titled “To: Professors; Re: Your Advisees” was fashioned as a “memo” to professors about their graduate students who come to me for help here at The Professor Is In, and an indictment of those same professors for their failure to properly advise their Ph.D.s on the full range of skills required to find tenure-track work in this day and age. Those skills include: writing a proper CV, crafting a brilliant job letter, calculating letter writers, publishing in top-tier journals, effectively working a conference, doing the elevator talk, and so on.
When I was a tenured faculty member on searches I always suspected, and now that I am an academic careers coach I know, that the vast majority of faculty have not only utterly abdicated their responsibility to train their Ph.D.s for actual careers, but heap contempt upon those who speak directly about the need for such skills. “You’re gaming the system,” they cry. “The Ph.D. is not a professional degree.” they intone. “It’s not my job” is the message.
This has enraged me for years—since my own graduate schools days, actually, as you can read here, and I am absolutely thrilled to have written and published that column and gotten my rage at this professorial lack of accountability off my chest at long last.
Being a regular reader of the Chronicle, I expected that the comment stream would be ugly and filled with trolls.
The most startling thing to me about the comment stream that did follow the column is how negative it ISN’T. I mean, yes, it has the usual column:troll ratio of anything published in the Chronicle. But the fury level seems muted, and the insults, frankly, pretty weak.
I’m mystified. Why am I not being villified in hundreds of flaming ad hominem attacks at the same level as Bill Pannapacker, in his pathbreaking columns?
There’s still time, of course. It may come.
But in any case, there are certainly idiotic comments, and it’s those I wish to talk about it today’s post. I expected fury; I didn’t expect idiocy.
And the pouting….I didn’t expect the pouting.
Like all online writers, I of course was tempted to dive into the fray right there on the comment stream itself, but I was dissuaded by friends and supporters who said, in the words of one delightful Facebook fan, “do not give fools more crumbs than they already scavenged.”
So, here are a few of the critical comments from the column, and what I’d like to say in response:
How could I do all the other aspects of my own job (including but not limited to advising) if I spent my entire day only advising? Students should get an advisor from their academic institution, but they won’t get a personal career manager, stylist, and coach–not because we don’t value the futures of our students, but because we don’t have the time (and often the expertise) to provide all these individualized services.
You know someone has lost the argument when the best they can come up with is, “I don’t have time.” That’s the answer that you just raise an eyebrow at when it applies to exercising, cooking, or spending time with your children. Call it what it is: evidence you don’t care enough to make it a priority.
How many Ph.D.s do most advisors have? 3? 5? Maybe 10? Not an impossible number when in fact, all you need to do is call one advisee meeting per semester to keep them on track and light fires under their butts about publishing, grants, conferences, and networking.
Laziness. Pure laziness.
Unless they are passionate about their subject (and would almost want to do the research on their own time even if they weren’t paid to do so) they may not have the independent attitude to succeed in their field. So, I think that the lack of “support” is part of a natural weeding out process. I think that most of the skills that the article states that advising is supposed to teach can be learned independently and their masterly (sic) will not slow down the best students.
A natural weeding out process? Really? This is not med school, people.
I do get frustrated with graduate students who don’t take responsibility for their own career prospects, and ask, constantly, “What’s coming at the end of this? What do I need to do to prepare? What is the capital that has value on this market? How do I accrue it?”
But to justify a refusal by advisors to promote their Ph.D.s’ best interests by every means possible, the Ph.D.s who have taught their classes and invested in their department for 5-10 years, as a natural weeding out process? Are you kidding me? It goes without saying that this is just another iteration of the truly evil “love” cop-out: that you do it because you “love” it and true love can’t be measured by money. That is the biggest lie of them all.
Take 5% of the time that you devote to your tiresome blah blah about the juxtaposition of structure and agency in the last third of chapter four of the dissertation…and spend it going over your student’s CV! And having them deliver the elevator talk—it IS only 2 minutes long, remember—that’s why it’s called an ELEVATOR TALK. Tell your students that they won’t get effing shortlisted unless they have at least one refereed journal article, and then tell them how to convert that chapter four into one of those.
All that? That takes about 15 minutes. Yeah. Not gonna kill ya.
What do most faculty members know about the job market? What do most faculty members know about writing cover letters or following up on interviews? Most of them have been on the job market once or twice, and they have only their own experience – often decades old – to go on. They are almost never given any training by their institutions in career advising. They don’t have a treasure trove of helpful connections or proven strategies. All they can really draw on is their experience on search committees, which really only helps in finding a job at their own institutions.
You don’t know how? You don’t know how? Are you effing kidding me? NOBODY TAUGHT ME HOW TO DO THIS. My advisor and my department were utterly, completely, shamelessly indifferent to the job prospects of their Ph.D.s. I failed embarassingly on the job market my first year, and put myself through an intensive bootcamp, using every research skill I had gained as a cultural anthropologist, to uncover the real requirements of the academic job market, and learn to master them myself.
How many searches do faculty members serve on, anyway? Once I was on the other side of the table, I had an unending stream of learning materials at my fingertips, every year, on how to get, and how to not get, a tenure track job. From the cover letter to the conference interview to the campus visit and the job talk…. every year I had a new set of evidence on what works and what doesn’t. All of that, instantly, was turned around into knowledge that I shared with my own Ph.D. Advisees. We would deconstruct every job talk afterward, often by email. “Good God, what was that???” Followed by, “Did you see what he did? Did you? Did you see how he flubbed that question? Now how would you have answered it?”
Again, not hard, not onerous, and not time-consuming. In fact, it was actually fun. Imagine that.
Given her demonizing of faculty, I wonder if Dr. Kelsky has always shown such diligence in advising students throughout her career? If so, I would love to hear more about how she managed her duties and provided this level of career counseling for students as a faculty member.
I was a tenured professor with a joint appointment in two departments and a department head (with two children to boot and a life disintegrating in a horrific multi-year custody case), and I managed to make sure all my advisees published before finishing, attended national conferences yearly, organized high profile panels, applied for and won the most prestigious grants in their fields, learned how to wear a suit, could shake hands firmly, and could talk intelligently, engagingly, and briefly, about their research. This is not rocket science.
Remember, too, faculty do not get compensated to do career counseling–if they do the stuff you do, they would be doing if “for free.” Why should they? It’s not a matter of arrogance or elitism (necessarily), but good old-fashioned rationality.
Professors do a whole bunch of shit for free. They publish articles for free. They write books for free. They serve on committees for free. They attend departmental potlucks for free. And…they already advise students. So why is this one thing—this “tacking on” of a little bit of additional advising to an already existing advising relationship—too onerous to be done for free? Why indeed.
We have a lot of unemployed PhDs right now, especially in the humanities, but I think it’s important to consider that a lot of schools that really have no business offering the PhD are giving it. How many unemployed PhDs went to mediocre graduate programs? If you’re thinking of going to graduate school and you’re not applying to, say, the BEST English departments in the United States, yes, you will be unemployed.
LOL. This one unleashed such hounds as there were on the comment stream. It’s so over-the-top clueless that it was mostly just funny. And many commenters rebutted its exuberant elitism just fine.
But for the sake of thoroughness I want to state clearly: it’s the Ivy Leagues that far and away do the worst job of career training of Ph.D.s.
I saw it as a grad student, I saw it as a faculty member on search committees, and I see it now as Dr. Karen. The Ivy Leagues are simply appalling in their utter abdication of responsibility for the career prospects of their Ph.D.s. And the high second tier schools, large state R1s and R2s—they’re not much better, but they are better. Why? Because there’s no monumental sense of entitlement getting in the way. In the old days, undoubtedly the Ivy League pedigree was a total advantage on the job market, and its holders probably did not have to scramble and professionalize. But right now, the abysmal job market has had an interesting democratizing effect: Ivy Leaguers are as screwed as everybody else. And it’s the candidates who publish, and network, and self-promote, and organize, and scramble, and so on and so on, who get the jobs. And by and large, those candidates are not from the Ivy Leagues.
Their [Professors’] job is to toe the company line and that line is very often far afield of contemporary realities or even the student’s best interests. Everyone that gets all of the help they need from their faculty should continue to do so. For all of those who are being ignored, fed lies, or subjected to academic malpractice – there are folks out here happy to take some money for what the university can’t seem to, or won’t, provide.
This one said it best. It’s academic malpractice. Nobody would accept these excuses from their doctors, and doctors would be sued for such negligence.
I’m sorry that there is such a devastating need for my services. I’m happy to have created a successful business providing them. I like seeing people succeed. It gratifies me. And I’m glad that the column prompted so many commenters to show their true stripes, and admit to the truth: they are too lazy, too entitled, and too selfish to lift a finger from their tiny, myopic intellectual fiefdom to be bothered learning the skills to help their Ph.D.s find real work.