A Tale of Two Conferences

I am just back from a back-to-back conference trip, first to the American Anthropological Association conference in San Jose, and then on to Denver for the American Academy of Religion. At each conference I spoke on the postacademic transition. I encountered quite a contrast.

My event at AAA was one of just a tiny number of professionalization events. Searching “career” in the conference app, in fact, led to only four open events. The AAR, by contrast, had 16 that I could quickly identify in the program – and there seemed to be more.

At the AAA, the crowd for my event, which was meant to be a discussion-based workshop with one other postacademic speaker and me, was very small, even though the wonderful and dedicated organizer worked hard to promote it.

[Addendum: neither my co-presenter nor I were listed on the conference program. Why? Because we had not registered. Why had we not registered? Because why would two postac scholars pay the $3xx it costs to register for the AAA?  And when our dedicated organizer approached the AAA to ask if they’d cover our registration fees, the AAA refused!

Meanwhile, I WAS listed on the AAR program. Why? Because the AAR voluntarily offered me registration as part of the invitation. And that, my friends, should have cued me into the two diverging experiences from the start.]

The tenured white man who introduced the panel appeared not to have the remotest idea who my co-presenter or I were, and laughingly wondered aloud if The Professor Is In were some kind of “pressure group or something.”

When we two presenters finished our talks—both very pragmatic and filled with examples of specific avenues for Ph.D. job seekers outside the tenure track job market — the first audience member to speak up was an apparently tenured senior white male.  In great consternation he fairly shouted at us: “all this talk of autonomy and empowerment… Foucault would be turning over in his grave!” He went on, almost sputtering, “surely we need to stay IN the structure and SAVE it! Surely THAT should be the priority?”

I of course did not come all the way to smoky San Jose to spend my time talking to tenured white men about how to save the academy.  I responded, “I am not interested in the structure and feel no obligation to save it, and neither should its victims, because it’s the STRUCTURE that is producing the victims: it is what leads thousands upon thousands of Ph.D.s to be launched into a catastrophic job market, and end up with six figure debt, the dead-end life of adjuncting, and qualifying for welfare and food stamps. I have no interest in the “structure,” and it’s not what I wish to spend my time here today discussing.”

He looked startled.

As the meme (quoted by my friend Adeline Koh recently on Facebook) puts it: “if you hire people into a broken culture, you don’t fix the culture, you break the people.”

The conversation went on from there, with a good part of the audience visibly unhappy at the concept my co-presenter and I were putting forward that an anthropology Ph.D. could or would choose to exert agency over their own fate. “All this talk of ‘improvisation’ and ‘entrepreneurship’,” said one young woman unhappily, “it’s upsetting and scary! How can you expect us to embrace that?” To which I responded, “Yes. It is scary. It is fucking scary. And the cause of it is the macroeconomic neoliberal shifts that have entirely defunded higher ed and the entire concept of a public good OR a secure job, in any field. My goal here is to try and point out options for individuals to survive and even thrive in these defunded, impoverished conditions, by telling you the truth about them, trying to pierce through the denial and mythologizing of your departments and advisors about them, and present some options for you to consider.”

“Ok, you’ve ALMOST convinced me,” announced the first tenured white male commenter as discussion drew to a close (I was not attempting to convince him). The introducer in turn gestured to me and exclaimed—“Surely universities would want to hire YOU in a position on their payroll to help their students with this! Is that not possible??” Not bothering to mention that I did not leave the academy and start a highly successful business that takes me all over the world and employs a whole team of people to entertain the idea of working for a paycheck in some university careers office, I responded, “Well, I’m not going to do that, but sure, somebody should.”

He looked startled.

Why would I not want to be on a university payroll, his look seemed to ask. He was, after all, the man who referred to himself several times during the event as “being one of the lucky few,” ie, those with tenured positions.

As a postacademic colleague remarked later, upon hearing my story, these are the people who are continually reminding everyone who will listen that it is they who  have The. Best. Job. (“T.B.J.” in her disgusted parlance).

It was this introducer, indeed, who spoke glowingly of the large Executive Session that had been held that very morning on “Precarity” in the academic job market.  “This double session, anointed by the highest AAA admin, surely reveals just how SERIOUSLY the AAA is taking these issues!” he enthused. Having not been aware of this session, I searched it right away on my phone, while listening to the discussion sputter along.  Ah. There it was. A big fancy Executive Session on Precarity. That was made up of 14 presenters of whom – and no, I’m not making this up — eight were TENURED OR TENURE-TRACK PROFESSORS. Indeed, some of the same professors who caused this mishigas that I blogged about a few months ago “Epistemological Crisis?”  read one title (love the question mark);  “Provincializing Precarity,” read another.

These securely employed academics are literally still adding CV-lines on the backs of adjuncts.

I don’t even have words.

All I could say, as I left the workshop, was a text to an anthropologist friend: “I’m done. I’m never coming back to the AAA again. They are lost.”

Discouraged, I packed my bags and journeyed on to the AAR in Denver.  This was my first time at the AAR, and I didn’t know what to expect. I did know that my invitation was to an event that clearly had the official imprimatur of the association as a whole and that the AAR admin appeared quite invested in this and a host of other postacademic and professionalization events that filled the schedule. Indeed the first event I was able to attend at the meetings was a lunch for contingent faculty with the incoming President of AAR, whose purpose was to provide a venue for them to freely express to her the things they most want her to know and to do on their behalf.  I was stunned by the care with which she listened, and the total absence of what I have come to call “tenured bullshit.”

This impression was intensified when I wandered through registration and the book exhibit and saw that there was a whole official initiative called “#AARSolidarity” meant to foreground the position of contingent faculty in Religious Studies departments.

There were pins, and postcards, and badge tags to wear to demonstrate awareness of the issue. And more than that, there were placards set conspicuously in the main hallways, making the issue truly unavoidable to all participants.

Then I attended my events. I did two of them. One was a panel discussion with four other postacademic Ph.Ds: Dr. Amy Defibaugh, Assistant Director of Academic Affairs at Temple University, Dr. Sarah Peterson representing the ImaginePhD initiative from the Graduate Careers Consortium,  Dr. Jenny Whitcher, founder of the Juniper Formation non-profit, and Dr. Emily Swafford, who is the Director of Academic and Professional Affairs at the AHA.  The conversation on this panel was absolutely fantastic – every member of the panel was deeply and imaginatively invested in the true scale of both challenges and opportunities that the postacademic job seeker encounters. Every speaker brought the intellectual sophistication of their Ph.D. training to very specific suggestions for job seekers. There was not a moment of empty rhetoric or mournful performativity (or performative mournfulness). The speakers were smart, focused, funny, empathetic… and the Q&A session could not have been more dynamic and engaged.

I was delighted with the audience of approximately 40; imagine my surprise when the organizers rued the “small numbers.”  The AHA speaker was particularly incisive, explaining the many initiatives spearheaded by that association to assist History Ph.D.s in the postacademic transition. One of the most valuable of these to me is their investment in the idea that just because you work outside the academy, you have not lost your identity as a scholar or a Historian. One of their motivating queries is: “how am I a historian in this job?” – helping Ph.D.s to reclaim the scholarly identity that may have been brutalized by the unsuccessful struggle to find a tenure track position.

It is true, as one postac historian colleague pointed out to me, that this move is potentially quite problematic: it can be interpreted as a discipline and association attempting to disappear the pain, loss, and crisis of Ph.D. career reinvention and under-report the true level of historian un- or under-employment. However, I do think based on my own life trajectory that it can be valuable to discover that one brings ones disciplinary training into other career realms. It took me about five years of running The Professor Is In to realize (and only because a client said it) that I was indeed an anthropologist of the academic career. At the panel, discussing the tension between jettisoning an over-rigid investment in a singular academic identity, and re-embracing a flexible sense of scholarly identity later, I blurted out, “It’s like a Hegelian dialectic!” to which a co-panelist said, amidst general amusement, “See, and you still get to talk this way!”

Fresh from the AAA, seeing the AHA determination to actually consider Ph.D. unemployment a crisis was heartening. As was the willingness of an AAR event to share initiatives from another discipline.

Similarly, my own individual event that followed right after (a one hour Hacking the Post-Academic Career talk followed by Q and A) drew a crowd of approximately 60 responsive, attentive audience members, who stayed engaged even when I mortifyingly lost track of time and spoke almost 20 minutes too long (breaking my single most sacrosanct professional rule!) and staying for energetic conversation that pushed us well past ending time.

The previous day, shortly after I arrived at the conference, a TPII reader who came up to introduce herself smiled mischievously and said, “I know you have sometimes called yourself an ethnographer of academic conferences! I’m dying to hear what you think of the AAR!”  At that moment I had not yet had time to make any observations, but writing this on the flight home, I can say this: I am struck yet again by the contrast in disciplinary associations’ and tenured faculty members’ willingness to engage in the scandal and crisis of contingency in any meaningful way. The AAA is truly an embarrassment, and it saddens me, since it is my home discipline. But other associations are doing better.  To be sure, I don’t want to idealize, and I know that insiders can see things that I can’t.  My postac historian friend is entirely disgusted with what she sees as the AHA insistence on co-opting History Ph.D.s’ struggle to survive in order to rationalize the continued existence of History Ph.D. programs. And there was conflict at the AAR around the issue of #MeTooPhD, and graduate student members issued a statement about their feelings of exclusion and silencing.

But, as a few folks I spoke with at the AAR panel remarked, the foundational “ethical” orientation of many of the scholars who belong to AAR may be playing a role in sensitizing the association to its obligations to its least powerful constituencies and to the devastations of adjunctification in the academy. Some of its administrators, at least, are not turning a blind eye, and are not coating the issue in self-serving academic jargon and elite and elitist events. Anthropology, by contrast, apparently seems determined to continue to package “precarity” as the latest academic buzz-word, and leave the actually precarious out in the cold.

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A Tale of Two Conferences — 29 Comments

  1. Dr. Karen,

    Thank you for coming to AAR! I wasn’t able to attend your panels, but I was pleased to see you were there. I had some other interactions with people involved in the Applied Religious Studies track (who I think invited you) and was *really* pleased at this new focus on helping us grad students envision good and intellectually fulfilling lives outside the TT. As best I can remember, it simply didn’t exist at the last AAR I attended (2015). There are many, many more people in religious studies who would benefit from hearing you (including tenured folks who can’t understand why their advisees would seek out other opportunities), and I hope you come back.

    • Hi JC,
      Just to let you know, it’s my understanding that 2015 was the year the AAR decided to take more active measures to see what they could do with regard to contingency, and first formed a contingency working group to examine these issues and promote sessions at the annual meeting. I am glad to see that it seems to be making a difference in conversations with NTT and TT faculty alike at the AAR.

      And Karen – thanks for coming!

  2. As an archaeologist I stopped going to the AAA meetings years ago, although I know they are the flagship venue for anthropology. It is shameful that you were treated so poorly and that the field doesn’t better utilize important professional resource people. It is no surprise that academic PhD anthropologists face an impossible competition…the old guard owes it to the profession and the graduate students they produce to WAKE up and SMELL the coffee

    • Fellow archeologist here… My anecdata says that a lot of folks are abandoning the SAAs too although for different reasons. And archaeology has long had a different relationship with CRM and govt non-ac archaeology. And PhDs are still over-produced. Tough times for the old 4-field religion.

  3. Karen, I am Laurie Patton, the incoming president of the AAR to whom you kindly referred. There is so much more to be done around the changing shape of the profession, and what we need to do as an academy to support contingent faculty and, as you say in your essay, acknowledge the pain that our current system creates. I’d love a chance to talk about that with you. Thank you for your essay.

  4. Thank you for coming to the AAR! I was so impressed at how practical your workshop was and was disappointed more people didn’t show up for the workshop. AAR, for sure, has its fault but I think the current team is really dedicated to supporting more contingent faculty and changing based on needs of the job market. I also attended the MeToo panel which was also poorly attended. I think they are aiming to make some changes there as well and I am hopeful.

  5. So interesting to read this accounting of contrasting cultures. Might it be possible that anthro has now become so strong a institutionalized “discipline” that its practitioners refuse to countenance anyone rejecting its academic spaces? I can think the AAR people are not as sure?

    • Sorry for the delay in responding to this; I think it’s a very interesting theory. I must say as an anthropologist, who always really loved what I saw as the countercultural spark of the field, I am profoundly disappointed and disillusioned by this current stance.

      • If we look at the history of the discipline, we see both a “countercultural spark” (great term, Karen), especially in the Boasian tradition, but also a very entrenched colonialist project that privileges European patriarchal elitism. I suggest it’s this latter element that has given rise to the situation that Karen describes in her essay, as well as to the comments and resistance that she received during her workshop. That element is, unfortunately, alive and well in our discipline. It continues to undermine the integrity of the discipline and of individual departments, as well as the mental, physical, and financial health of its graduate students and early-career practitioners.

  6. I am an scholar of African Religions, Ph.D. Virginia 2007, who has always been an adjunct (with many tales of injustice to tell), and who is about to give up and go teach secondary school in some form. I didn’t have enough money to fly to Denver for this AAR, but I did present a paper last year in Boston. Is there some way, Dr. Kelsky, for me to access your and others’ presentations about work outside of academia? Thanks for helping!

    • Kara, the AAR recorded many of this year’s Applied Religious Studies sessions, including the panel session featuring career services professionals discussing non-academic paths (the first session Dr. Kelsky describes participating in at AAR). Those will be available in the coming weeks/months as podcasts via iTunes and the AAR’s Soundcloud channel (https://soundcloud.com/rsn-aar). You can also check out many of our sessions from the 2016 and 2017 annual meetings, including last year’s session with career services professionals.

      • Thank you! I didn’t get an email notice that you responded, Cristine. And now I’m actually applying for secondary school positions, so I came back to this article. I will look a the podcasts. Kara

  7. I’d contest the notion that some “ethical” orientation accounts for the difference. Whatever is going on in the AAA, in the leadership of the AAR today we see the results of a relatively small number of active contingent/former contingent faculty, who, over the past several years, have consistently pressed the org to take some action. And that action took time to develop. To be frank, though, this strikes me as not being a professional org issue—while they can assist individuals it seems to me that Chairs, Grad Director’s, and faculty can have structural effect and So I look forward to the day when programs across the country start to rethink the various futures for which they’re training their grad students.

  8. Thank you Karen.
    I wish I had known you were at the AAAs. I would have done my best to go to your session. I have been to 2 other AAAs (4 & 7 years ago), and this one had a different feeling about it – I think less people were there, and in particular less adjuncts and postacs, and a very eery smokey sky. I am curious if you attend SfAAs and how you are accepted there.
    (I am a Canadian adjunct/sessional instructor. Please come to Vancouver next year!!! While some Canadian profs do not understand precarious labour and why people exit [official] academia, I find that many actually do. Most of my PhD cohort are postacs, by choice not exhaustion.)

  9. I completely agree with Dr. Kelsky’s view that the future of our discipline depends on revamping our training programs. It is absolutely central to my personal mission as AAA Executive Director to make the association a more welcoming organizational home to anthropologists employed (or aspiring to employment) in the business, government, and non-profit sectors. That is my own decades-long career background; I am convinced it is where the future of the discipline is headed, and I am pretty sure it is why the Executive Board hired me in the first place.

    So when I read Dr. Kelsky’s account of her experiences earlier this month at the Annual Meetings of the AAA and the American Academy of Religions / Society for Biblical Literature, I wondered whether she and I attended the same AAA Annual Meeting.

    By my count, there were 33 events on the program that had an explicit focus on careers in business, government, and non-profit sectors (see full list at the end of this comment). These events ranged from workshops in specific sectors to mentoring events to a field trip to the Googleplex to paper presentations in career domains as varied as museums, cultural resource management, user experience research, and health care. One of these events, the Careers Expo, featured more than 60 employer organizations in the business/government/NGO sector, and attracted more than 700 visitors over the course of the afternoon-long event.

    Is it an upstream swim against a strong current to re-orient training programs so they valorize a diverse range of career paths and actually prepare students to be anthropologists, and not just anthropology professors? Yes, unfortunately, but there are promising signals that the tide is shifting. A summer institute of department leaders hosted by AAA in 2018 focused a considerable amount of discussion on promising practices in training program innovations, and we will continue these institutes. An Association board strategy session committed further resources to professional development across the whole post-graduate career trajectory, and we are contemplating a major fund-raising campaign that will focus on pipeline issues, professional development, and public outreach to increase awareness of the important contributions that anthropologists make to the world from a variety of different organizational platforms.

    Here is my message to Dr. Kelsky and other anthropologists working in business, government, and non-profit settings: please join us to help the Association live up to its full potential as a scholarly and professional association that helps advance our understanding of the human condition and applies that understanding to tackling the world’s most pressing problems.

    2018 Annual Meeting Events open to all registered attendees:
    1. Anthropologists in Tech: Making the Transition from Academia to UX Research
    2. Anthropology Outside Academia, Part I: Personal Reflections from Anthropologists working in User Experience Research and Design
    3. Anthropology Outside Academia, Part II: Personal Reflections from Anthropologists Working in Business, Marketing, and Consulting
    4. How I Built my (Van) Life
    5. Profiting from Wind Shifts: Wall Street Traders, Sailors, and the Digital Transformation of Investment Banking
    6. User/Design Researcher by Trade, Anthropologist at Heart: Discovering Anthropology Outside Academia through the Encounter with Cultural Others
    7. We All Work in Tech Now: Some Reflections on Shifts in Career Paths in Stock Trading
    8. 2018 AQA Diversity Speed-Mentoring Session
    9. Anthropology between Academia and Practice
    10. Black Girl Participation in Technology: Past, Present, and Future
    11. Consulting in Organizational Culture and Change
    12. Craft: Contestation, Adaptation and Resistance
    13. Design Anthropology: three stories about cultural critique outside the academy and teaching anthropologists
    14. Doing Consumer Research and Collaborating with Clients
    15. Evaluation Anthropology Mentoring Session
    16. Linguistic Lives as Working Lives: Legal Interpreters and Labor Organizers as Language Workers
    17. Participatory Research and Ethics in Mesoamerican Fieldwork
    18. Training Anthropologists Rather Than Professors
    19. 13th Annual NAPA / AAA Careers Expo: Exploring Professional
    20. Anthropological Pioneers in Silicon Valley
    21. Anthropology in the Digital Age: A Personal Chronicle, 1962-2018
    22. I Am the Very Model of a Modern Anthropologist
    23. Navigating Careers in Archaeology: A Mentoring Session Sponsored by the Archaeology Division for Student Members
    24. Teaching Museum Anthropology and Cultural Equity by Design
    25. Technological Innovations in Anthropology at the Dawn of the Digital Era
    26. ABA/AFA/ALLA/AQA/SAW Mentoring Event: Career Strategies for Contingent Faculty
    27. Addressing Academic Precarity: How to Transition from Academia to Industry
    28. Change in the Anthropological Vocation: Resisting and Adapting Ethnography in Silicon Valley
    29. Middle East Section (MES) Mentoring Meetings
    30. NAPA Networking Event
    31. Standing up for Anthropology: Learning to communicate effectively across disciplines and showcasing the value of anthropological knowledge
    32. Square Pegs in Round Holes

    • I’m glad to hear it, Ed. Is there any way to search the schedule/app so that all of these show up under a single heading, so that the job seeker can target their conference time? in other words, are these collected together under a “Careers” (or some other term) heading? Because, if not, they will not be locatable to the vast majority, and will remain known only to silo-ed sets of members (ie, the middle east section, or the ABA, etc. etc.). What I found effective in the AAR conference was the way that all careers-related content was highly promoted, and also searchable using a single term in their scheudule and app.

      And Ed, I’m glad you’re doing all this, but I don’t get the impression it’s visible to most vulnerable, precariously-employed members, because the AAA does NOT enjoy a good reputation among them. So step two needs to be: make it visible, make it accessible, make it affordable.

      • I have attended AAA meetings fairly regularly since 1988 (the first decade was as a student long before I had a job). A lot of things have improved since I was a student attendee, but my recollections as a Canadian was that despite the overwhelming size of the meetings I met many people who would engage with my work and interests and who were willing to engage with me – from luminaires to other students.

        I wasn’t at this particular meeting (being instead at an International Indigenous Research Conference elsewhere) so perhaps this meeting was differnt. I don’t know, but Ed’s comments do point out some of the things that are being done and as a member of the organizing committee for the joint CASCA/AAA meeting in Vancouver in 2019 I now that many things to make this large giant meeting accessible are being planned.

        It is always an unhappy feeling to arrive at a meeting and feel unwelcome and dismissed and in such circumstances to feel that that is an accurate reflection of all the other individuals organizing and attending.

        One of the ways that many of us navigate the AAA meetings is through membership in and involvement in one of the many sections of the AAA. For many years I participated with the Society for the Anthropology of Work – this is a group that keeps membership fees low, provides travel awards for graduate students, post doc and contingent faculty, and a warm and inviting and concerned environment that has often focussed on alternative to academic job tracks and support for contingent faculty.

        • Charles, I appreciate your comment, but a) you weren’t at the meeting; b) you are a Full Professor. I don’t think you are in a position to speak for what is “warm and inviting” to contingent faculty.

    • Just in case the AAA 2018 website is taken down, I would like to quote from the description of two of these panels, chosen semi-randomly.

      4. How I Built my (Van) Life

      “Under the rubric #vanlife, young YouTubers show how they built and live in customized vehicles. This paper looks at #vanlife videos as involving a demonstration and description of a particular promise of freedom. In the videos, self-narrated tours offer DIY tips to viewers through explanations of storage hacks, vintage-finds, and visually-appealing customisations. Outdoorsy-apparel, organic-granola, bucolic/forested/oceanic landscapes, interruptions by friendly-dogs, and mystical-surf-folk music combine with clean audio to create an appealing drop-out vibe. Van-lifers explain that they have chosen this lifestyle to spend time in nature, pursue athletic endeavours, save money, and travel but they often claim a broader significance to their pursuit: #vanlife is explicitly touted as a ‘hack’ allowing one to break free of conventional careers and other middle-class obligations marking ‘success.’ Surviving by gig work and even dumpster-diving (‘freeganism’) van-lifers literally create the context in which they can realize a more meaningful life. Part of a broader analysis of the ‘tiny house movement,’ this paper situates ‘How I Built my Van’ videos (and their popularity) within a conception of American life that sees it as persistently characterized by anti-modernist movements (T.J. Jackson Lears) that pursue an authentic engagement with nature and profound emotional experiences. #Vanlife videos articulate these longstanding themes with the contemporary popularity of environmental morality, the pressures associated with a shrinking middle-class, and the urban real estate crisis. I focus on the relationship between these videos, the emerging eco-design pre-fab industry.”

      32. Square Pegs in Round Holes

      “Without a field site can we still say we are doing ethnography? When our scholarly interests suggest no obvious ways of ‘siting’ research, how do we proceed? These questions have been recurrent throughout my career studying digital technology and technology cultures. The challenge of siting fieldwork has been, for me, a continual search for spaces where these technologies are the focus of devoted consideration or concentrated engagement. In the mid 2000s my answer to this dilemma was to study a set of Internet cafes in Accra, Ghana which I inhabited to gain insights not only into technology use, but also youth culture in a postcolonial context. Since then, Internet use has shifted into homes and to the mobile devices urban Ghanaians carry everywhere. Accra’s Internet cafes are in sharp decline. It may be the case that studies of the digital become compatible with ethnography only fleetingly. In this panel session I hope to examine yet another challenge to scholarship on the digital; the investigation of algorithmic systems. To study these systems is to take an interest in mechanized routines and background processes, much of it taking place beneath the attention or intervention of humans. By this description, algorithmic systems seem uniquely ill-suited for ethnography. I will explore how other ethnographers have faced this challenge and proceeded to study these systems anyway. Altogether I will consider some of the ways that subject matter, timing, or logistics make research difficult if not impossible to study ethnographically.”

      I did not look up the descriptions of any other panels.

      • Oh my. Thank you for taking the time to inquire. To share these as “career” events is very dishonest (or delusional) indeed. The bad faith of AAA responses to the crisis of contingency seems to have not yet reached bottom.

        • I was part of one of those 33 sessions that are listed (but not one for which Avery helpfully provided an abstract). We briefly touched on alt-ac, but it was certainly not the focus (intended or actual) of our panel. I find it a bit disingenuous to include it on a list of panels about alt-ac options.

          • Thanks. I appreciate the fact-checking and truth-telling happening on this thread about the AAA.

  10. I don’t belong to AAA for the reasons you outline; however, I do belong to the Society for Ethnomusicology. While the society has its issues, we have foregrounded the ready possibility of becoming a public scholar at our conferences, with money and time dedicated to amplifying the voices of those who work outside the academy. It is important that academia rejects the conservatory model of creating mini-me players (producing thousands of violinists each year in a nation that has only 12 full-time symphony orchestras, for example), and recognize the powerful gifts that educated people can bring to EVERY workplace.

  11. Dr. Kelskey you hit it right on the nail… the AAAs are far from accessible or affordable for your target audience, and for those of us more in the margins of academia, bordering on postac, or are postac, the AAAs seemed like little more than a social gathering of job-secure academics and their self-congratulatory antics. As graduate students, when we could afford to go, career workshops provided no real insight and were mostly hackneyed reiterations on the dismal state of the job market. Advisors really didn’t prepare us for this reality. I ended up doing a resume consultation with your group, and although I was pleased with the product, I also realized I wasn’t in a position to land the industry jobs I was applying for. I joined the adjunct pool but I was lucky that it lead to something more permanent eventually.

    • You said it, Mary.

      Unfortunately, Karen, you discovered the hard way that the AAAs are – and have always been – an insider’s club for TT academics and them alone. I’m so sorry you had that experience.

      I hope the SAA (Society for American Archaeology) invites you. Although another poster above said that people have been sloughing off of that in recent years – which from my personal data point of 2 seems likely, as my household hasn’t been since 2008 due to adjuncts and alt-acs having zero professional development funds – that would, I suspect, be a big draw and much more welcoming.

  12. Thank you for your essay. I have a short question: does this conversation change at all if the PhD student isn’t going into debt/doesn’t have debt? The stipend is meager yes, but the financial stakes seems lower if a student isn’t taking out loans. Would you urge a student to get out of academia even if they are not taking on debt? Thanks again.

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