We’re All In the Same Boat

The European tour is going splendidly!  So far I’ve spoken at University of Aberdeen (2 events by me:  Hacking the US Academic Job Market, Academic Leadership for Women; 1 event by Kellee Weinhold: The US Academic Interview), at University of St. Andrews (Keynote for the Making Your Ph.D. Work for You conference), and University of Edinburgh (Hacking the US Academic Job Market).  Here are some pics!

At Aberdeen

At Aberdeen, in the 7th floor room, a blizzard whirling outside!

With the wonderful organizer at St. Aberdeen, Prof. Amy Bryzgel

With the wonderful organizer at St. Aberdeen, Prof. Amy Bryzgel

At St. Andrews

At St. Andrews

With the organizer at Edinburgh, Carol MacDonald

With the organizer at Edinburgh, Carol MacDonald

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Talking to grad students after the event at Edinburgh

The rooms have been packed at each event – with almost 150 people coming at Edinburgh. One surprise—the large number of American students and faculty here in Scotland!  At the undergraduate level as well, apparently.

Here’s what I can say:  the Ph.D. students here have mostly the same anxieties and concerns that they do in the States.  How can I get a job? Where are the jobs? Do I really have to publish? What about postdocs? How important is teaching?

What Ph.D. students here don’t seem to have is huge debt (thankfully).  What they are most worried about is a lack of teaching experience—in their 3-year Ph.D. system, there is no standard practice of TA-ing or teaching.  And they are anxious that while the 3-year program is quick and relatively affordable, it leaves them without time for significant publishing.

The other big question is this:  how is a Scottish Ph.D. read on the American job market?  I have tried to be honest:  like any non-US-elite Ph.D., a Ph.D. from an institution like Aberdeen, St. Andrews, and even to some degree Edinburgh, is going to be harder to interpret for US search committees.  They probably won’t have much familiarity, and may find it more difficult to relate to than a standard “default” like Berkeley, Michigan, Cornell, and the like…

I tell them what I tell all audiences: you can compete to the degree that you render yourself legible to search committees through your record and your materials.  An excellent publication and grant record will make a huge difference. Try and have one US-based recommender if you can.  In an over-stressed job market, with distracted and exhausted search committees in downsized departments, make sure that your record makes sense according to American hiring standards, and makes your case quickly and with evidence rather than rhetoric.

The UK seems not to be as deep into adjunctification as we are in the States, but is far deeper in a quantitative productivity rubric (the REF).  I was interviewed about this in a piece published in The Guardian.

At the same time, Andrew McRae of the University of Exeter argues on his blog that the REF, as well as the National Student Survey, in mandating productivity rubrics, is working against a logic of casualization of labor.  Interesting.  I will be asking my hosts their thoughts about this as I move forward, next to Kings College London and London School of Economics.

In a global contraction of higher ed, we are fighting for our livelihoods and the space to pursue intellectual pursuits free of a profit motive.  What I can say is: we are all in this together.

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We’re All In the Same Boat — 3 Comments

  1. I am an American social/cultural anthropologist, but one of the regional subfields I work in is dominated by colleagues in the UK. Rather than an adjunct crisis per se, I am seeing the emergence of a structure very much like the postdoc crisis in STEM. The ERC/ESRC funding models are an important part of the puzzle, as these are mandating team projects. As far as I know, “research assistants” aren’t currently teaching widely, but when I myself was interviewed for a “research assistant” position on an ERC grant at a Russell Group university, I was surprised that the interview was by a panel comprised of faculty from across the anthropology department and I was asked about my willingness and ability to teach. Many of the RAs, like the PhD students, are also not UK or EU citizens, and this is also integral to crises of casualization and two-tiering.

    Meanwhile, my UK colleagues who have just finished/are about to finish the PhD are looking to me to help them opportunities in the US, where they seem to think the grass is greener.

    • I just spent a day doing workshops in Denmark and heard ALL about just this issue with the ERC! It is indeed a mess, as far as I can see. Danish academia seems to be reeling.

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