The Chronicle ran an advice column this week on the etiquette of academe – or rather the lack thereof. Academics, it seems, are not immune to social gaffs, inconsiderateness and sometime unadulterated rudeness.
No doubt, we all have stories of major faux pas in the academic workplace. But make no mistake, what is tolerated as eccentric or annoying in a tenured professor will be much less tolerated by faculty who are further down the food chain. It is perhaps unnecessary to say job seekers should be on their best behaviour at all stages of the job search. It is wise to remember that if you only start minding your manners with your first interview, you may have already burned your bridges to programs and departments where your reputation as a boor or cad is well established. In an incestuous sector like higher-ed, such a reputation can be difficult, if not impossible to shake, once established.
This call to civility is no less imperative for tenure track and adjunct faculty. With competition for any academic position at an all-time high, you simply cannot forgo basic etiquette with students, staff or fellow academics. A word of warning – never underestimate the influence of a disgruntled student or departmental secretary on your T&P file!
Reading over the list provided by ‘Female Science Professor’, the anonymous author of the Chronicle column, you will notice a broad range of scenarios and issues, from the absent-mindedly forgetful, to the downright unethical. Some of these may sound like they happened in your own program. There may even be one or two you are guilty of yourself.
The point to take away from this is not to memorize a chapter of Miss Manners, but to simply follow the golden rule, ‘Do unto others …’ and clean up your messes if you do slip up. Saying a heartfelt ‘sorry’ once you realize someone may have taken offence at something you said or did still counts in today’s world.
Interesting. Last week I asked if you thought the use of contract faculty in universities ultimately enriched or eroded university education. So far, nobody has selected ‘enriched’. Granted, this is hardly surprising given the options presented and the context in which the question was asked. Nonetheless, it does reveal a dilemma that has faced virtually every PhD that has graduated in the last generation.
Apparently many, if not most of you feel the (increasing) use of contract faculty is negatively changing what it means to be educated in a university. But do you feel strongly enough about this to draw the line in the sand and say ‘no’ I will not participate in destroying the quality of university education by actively, even enthusiastically pursuing whatever contract positions I can land?’ Will you take a stand against your administrators, as did the adjunct faculty at York earlier this year, and risk being passed over for a CLA (contractually limited appointed) or miss a shot at a coveted tenure-track position?
Probably not. Most revolutions are halted before they gain momentum by the sheer necessity of earning a living, preferably through meaningful work. And face it, in the scheme of things, except in particularly abhorrent cases, working in a university does has its rewards, and is satisfying at some level, which is what keeps so many adjuncts returning year after year, rather than leaving academe altogether. Besides, after spending years working towards a particular goal, it’s no small thing to walk away because of principles or ideologies.
The days of academic Camelot are over and show no sign of being resurrected in the foreseeable future. This sad reality is the new reality in the ivory tower. The global political economy, the evolution of capitalism and the rise computer technologies are forging tectonic changes around the planet on institutions and traditions that have endured relatively unchanged for millennia until now. What make us think universities alone should be impervious to these forces?
Where does that leave you? This is a time of revolution in the universities, and your role in that revolution is for you to decide. At least do not forge ahead blindly. If you don’t know what the labour issues are in your university, get the facts, talk to your more experienced colleagues – adjunct, tenured, and tenure-track. And pay attention to what you see happening around you.
When change happens, it is often the case that what is lost is initially more obvious than what is gained. I think academe is currently in that space. Each of you must decide where you will put your professional energies – protesting the losses, or creating the gains. Or maybe there is a way to do both …
The Chronicle of Higher Education has been taking another look at the life of adjuncts. In one of the most balanced approaches to the subject I’ve ever seen, they have released a series of first person videos of adjunct faculty describing their experiences as adjuncts. If you have ever though about following this path, or fear you may not have any choice in the matter, you owe it to yourself to take a look at these. They are unabashedly frank stories. They are also beautifully filmed and edited – kudos to the production team! Here’s a summary clip – individual segments are on the site (text continues below).
Some of the speakers seem to be pretty happy with their positions. These folks generally have other sources of income which ‘adjuncting’ supplements, or several positions at different colleges. The rest would prefer tenure track positions, but for one reason or another aren’t able to land one – not surprising these days – so are trying to keep the doors to academe open. These folks form two sub-groups: the resigned and the bitter, and I do mean bitter.
All the speakers seem share several important characteristics. They all love to teach and put a great deal of (unpaid) time and effort in to ensuring their students’ learning experiences are positive. They all express a deep passion for their fields of research and they have all felt marginalized or ostracized by tenured or tenure track faculty for not being ‘real’ academics.
In Canada, some universities have experimented with multi-year contracts for full-time teaching associates, a trend covered in University Affairs last year. This strategy was intended to help university administrators meet the teaching demands of burgeoning enrollments without sacrificing the quality of their institutions’ research. Since one academic simply can’t keep up with both demands, they divided the expectations between two – one whose sole function was to teach, the other who taught but had increased time to research.
Not surprisingly, faculty associations, and indeed most people concerned about the universities growing reliance on cheap, undervalued contract faculty were considerably less enthusiastic. Undeniably, it provided a welcome respite from the annual uncertainty of most contract faculty, but I suspect wholesale adoption of such practices would bring the labour disputes felt so strongly in Ontario this past year across the country.
Where do I stand on this? Well, for the most part, I am in the camp of academics who are appalled by the working conditions of most contract faculty in Canada and believe that the percentage of faculty forced to work their entire careers in such circumstances is eroding the quality of university education in Canada.
Having said that, I do recognize there are probably hundreds of contract faculty, especially those truly working part-time in one institution by choice rather than trying to stitch a living together across multiple institutions, who are absolutely satisfied with their positions. In fact, I may end up joining those ranks myself. I believe strongly that there is an important role for contract faculty in academe, especially where they can bring the perspectives and experiences of non-academic contexts into the classroom. But contract faculty should never be used to replace tenure track faculty or as a an administrative solution to a budget crisis.
For those of you on the tenure track, or intending to go that route, please listen to the videos on the link above, and remember, should you actually realize your dreams, that contract faculty are your peers, your colleagues – perhaps even more skilled than you in some areas. Treat them with the respect that any highly trained professional deserves, that you hope to be treated with if that’s where your path ultimately leads you.
In the meantime, where do you stand on this?
If you haven’t yet, take a few minutes and browse through the new batch of videotapes from Congress this year on Academic Blogging. Although this may seem like shameless self promotion since yours truly is one of the panelists, I do think that blogging presents an interesting variation of social networking for academics. It’s not unusual now for faculty to have a website outlining their research, publications and CVs, but apart from occasional updates, these are rather static affairs.
Academics blogs however offer a much more dynamic way to disseminate your thoughts and encourage dialogue and input, akin to the days of yore when academics had time to regularly discuss their research with colleagues, often over a brew in the local pub. Alas, those days rarely, if ever exist for today’s faculty. Blogging can be an alternative that may not be as satisfying socially, but nonetheless has the potential to fill an important gap left when academics can’t manage to meet face to face due to conflicting schedules, time zones or distance.
The most prolific academic blogger in my field, Henry Jenkins is a senior-level faculty whose blog is a cornerstone in the area of participatory culture, which he founded. However, blogging can also be a useful vehicle for emerging scholars. A well-designed blog with thoughtful posts can establish the value of your research in your area of expertise. And, it can also provide a ‘way in’ to your field for undergrads seeped in the culture of social networking for whom traditional academic journals may initially be too much to digest. By providing a link to your blog on your homepage and doing a little shameless self-promotion amongst your family, friends, colleagues and students, you will be able to establish a respectable following over time.
It’s not necessary to post daily, but to keep your blog interesting, try to post regularly. Providing an RSS feed will make it easier for people to follow your blog, as they will be notified whenever you post new content. If running your own blog seems like a huge commitment, consider starting a blog focused on a hot topic in your field with a couple of your colleagues. You can take turns composing posts, and the diversity of voices will add variety to the blog and prevent it from getting stale.
The blogging tool I am most familiar with is WordPress. It is both accessible for the neophyte and freely downloadable from http://wordpress.org/. You can post text, graphics, audio and video content, as well as links to other sites. WordPress also provides a neat app for adding polls and quizzes into your blog that can boost the interactivity of your readership. By inserting a range of media and resources, you will keep your blog stimulating and enjoyable to read – and hopefully one that others want to link to, as well.
While blogging will never be a substitute for scholarly publication, it can be a useful addition to your academic profile. It may come in handy during a job search or T&P process. If there is an academic blog that you think is well done, please post a link to it on Career Sense so we can take a look. It would be great to have a range of samples from various disciplines.
Please note From Aug 4 to 25th I will not be on vacation. Actually, I will be writing my comprehensive exams. Wish me luck and I’ll be back in three weeks!
There is a debate that has been humming in the background of many PhD-granting university campuses for some years now. The topic concerns the career development of PhDs and the issue revolves around deciding whose job it is to provide such support.
One school of thought thinks this should be the responsibility of dissertation supervisor. The 2008 CAGS publication “Guiding Principles for Graduate Student Supervision” expressly supports this position:
“supervisors should be responsible for mentoring students in areas such as, but not limited to, the development of appropriate professional skills; applications for funding; networking opportunities with colleagues in academia and beyond; assistance with publications; and career development.”[p. 4]
The problem of course is that the knowledge most supervisors have of the job market outside academe is scant, to say the least. With so many PhDs setting their sights outside the ivory tower this is no small gap. But even those PhDs focusing on academic positions will be hard put to get much more than targeted reference letters from their time-strapped supervisors, let alone substantive advice and support.
This is why another group think that university career centres would be a good alternative. After all, this is where relationships with employers are fostered and the most up-to-date information about work opportunities and job search techniques can be found. In many career centre in Canada’s largest universities, you will find services and support aimed specifically at PhDs. Smaller universities simply don’t have the resources to do this. However, recruitment-related events and programs are almost exclusively aimed at undergraduate students, particularly at those in professional programs, so there is little a career counselor can do in that regard beyond providing you with lists of employers in various fields, which is a good starting point, but after that you’re on your own. Then there’s the issue of legitimacy, especially regarding the ability of non-academics to provide accurate advice regarding the academic job market.
In the States, some universities have opted for a third option: to house the professional development of PhDs under the umbrella of the Faculty of Graduate Studies. This centralized resource has the advantage of reducing replication of services across programs while maintaining a sense of integrity concerning quality control. However, a pan-university resource may not provide very specific information about idiosyncratic application and hiring practices in specific fields. It also makes it difficult for students to anonymously inquire about ‘alternative careers’ before you’ve decided which direction you are heading in. In fact, at some universities with this arrangement, career fairs for grad students need to be housed in off-campus locations so that grad students don’t need to worry about whether someone on their committee will see them entertaining non-academic options for fear of being labeled ‘non-serious’ about their commitment to scholarship.
The inability to reconcile ‘who’ is ultimately responsible for the career success of PhDs is one of the biggest impediments to providing accessible quality career education to Canadian PhDs. This at a time when there is intense pressure to radically increase the number of grad students in Canada.
Ultimately though, making sure you have the information and support you need to create a career path that works for you is your responsibility. Yes, your program, supervisor and career centre are valuable resources, and you should use all of them as often as you can. But it is rarely the case that any one of these resources will be able to give you all the support you need when you need it.
The challenge for universities is to ensure these resources are as up-to-date and accessible as they can be. The challenge for grad students is to take the intiative to use these resources creatively and intelligently to transition successfully in to the workplace.
It’s time to stop finger-pointing and start focusing on how best to successfully integrate the skilled and able graduates our country produces — like you — into positions that reflect your abilites and aspirations.
It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a country to help a PhD reach their potential. We can’t afford to wait for the economy to strengthen to do that.
Perhaps academics spend so much time analyzing the past because the future is too slippery to grasp. Predictions about the future of the academic job market have swung wildly across the pendulum from extreme pessimism to extreme optimism for 50 years now. Throughout this time, prospective and graduating PhD students have sorely tried to make sound career decisions. But with no reliable data, these have been almost impossible to make.
It is with this in mind that I read a recent article in the Chronicle that asked seven scholars across a range of areas and ages how they think the academic workplace — particularly the job satisfaction and expectations of a faculty career — will change over the next 20 years. Not surprisingly, the responses reflect shades of the opinion spectrum that continues to plague academe. But in spite of this, I still recommend giving it a quick read. Not for its predictive qualities, but because collectively they seem to capture much of what I believe lies ahead in the academic workforce.
Granted, workforces in every sector are facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty, except perhaps the Armed Forces. But this is academe, and the ivory tower has always felt ‘apart’ from the proletariat when it came to such mundane matters as finding jobs. It has never really acknowledged that the 1960s hiring boom was an extraordinary, never-to-be-repeated phenomenon, clinging instead to a pre-fluvial fantasy that such days of abundance will one day return.
Nonetheless, the unthinkable has happened. The academic community finally seems to have turned its critical eye on itself and discovered that far from a gleaming ivory, its towers are a muddy grey, not to mention more than a little decrepit. And centuries of ivy have grown weed infested and are now in need of a good pruning. The university is undergoing perhaps one of its greatest transformations in living memory and what it is transforming into is anybody’s guess as the Chronicle article illustrates. The question is: do you still want to be a part of it? Either way, how does one plan for a future when the future seems so unknowable?
Slippery though predicting the future may be, it is clear that no matter where on the pendulum you congregate, you cannot bank on a tenured position, on being able to land decent and sustainable research funding, or on having classes of students who genuinely want to learn what you have to teach them. If the only certainty is uncertainty, then the only possible response is to be flexible and open to new possibilities no matter the sector in which they emerge. Judging by the perspectives of some of the Chronicle’s clairvoyants, you may well be awfully grateful not to be in academe when all is said in done.
A current article in University Affairs asks the question, “Is freedom of speech disappearing on campus?” While the article focuses on the issue as it pertains to students, the question is no less relevant to non-tenured faculty or anyone wishing to be tenured faculty in the future.
During the long hours I spent on the picket line during the York strike this winter, the conversation occasionally drifted towards wondering why some of our peers were not picketing. Some, it seemed, simply didn’t agree with issues on the table and did not wish to participate. Yet others, while sympathetic, were up for tenure, or hoping to land a contract position, and didn’t want to risk doing anything that might be frowned upon by the administration.
I was shocked. After all, there were many faculty members, including my program dean, who joined us on the picket lines – but then these were the one with tenure. Maybe my timid peers weren’t so paranoid after all. In a highly competitive field where many people vying for the same tenure track positions have outstanding qualifications and references, how difficult would it be for an administrator to pass over the file of someone seen to “lack loyalty” to the university?
It opens up a can of worms, doesn’t it? On the one hand, the university is supposed to be one of the last institutions in our society where freedom of thought and speech is not just tolerated, but fostered. On the other hand, for contingent workers in the university, expressing these freedoms may well have unpleasant side effects.
Last week I sat in on a day-long meeting of contract faculty members representing five universities. A common issue on all five campuses was the difficulty filling union steward positions. Apparently no person hoping to one day land a tenure track job wants to be stigmatized that way. Even filing a grievance can be seen as showing a lack of loyalty to the home institution, which has led to the development of union or policy grievance processes which leave the person launching the grievance anonymous.
Reps from several universities noted that in the flurry of program closures necessitated by cutbacks, a disproportionate number of programs largely taught by active and vocal union members were axed, effectively ridding administrations of many faculty that would be likely to organize against unfair contracts.
In a context where freedom of speech, social justice and the ability to have a voice are held up as intrinsic values, why are so many people, afraid to be heard? It’s not exactly an incentive to stand up against unfair employment practices is it?
I’ve been watching with interest the poll from last week that asks if readers would still pursue a PhD if they didn’t think it was leading to a tenure track job. As I write this, 74% of respondents have answered “no”. This represents a potential crisis for universities. What would happen if 74% of doctoral students decided to opt out of graduate education? Would it be possible for undergraduate courses to continue without a steady supply of cheap labour? Yet, if grad students were told the truth about their academic job prospects, the survey results of this admittedly small sample suggest that that supply would quickly dry up. I can’t help but wonder what a huge disincentive this scenario poses for universities to actually come clean with doctoral recruits about their career outcomes.
Now before I am accused of being a naysayer, let me emphasize that I do not mean to suggest that a PhD has no value other than leading to a professorship – nothing could be further from the truth. Quite the opposite I would claim. Based on my interactions with doctoral candidates over the past 10 years, I firmly believe that a PhD is a bit like a “get out of jail free” card in the knowledge economy. That is, there is not much you can’t build on with a doctoral education as your base — good news in a rapidly fluctuating economy. The skills and knowledge acquired after 10+ years in the academic context, along with the sheer level of ability the average PhD possesses, are immensely transferable to many other contexts.
That is perhaps one of the least acknowledged aspects of a doctoral education — and one of the least understood. Provincial governments sort of get it, but for the wrong reasons. They have been pushing to expand enrollment in graduate programs for the past few years, which I would provisionally applaud. But they have, erroneously I believe, justified this in terms of market demand in specific fields. Given the timelines involved in obtaining a doctoral degree in particular, basing policy decisions on current trends is always a gamble. The current paucity of family doctors is a good example of such policies run amok. This misguided thinking is further exacerbated, as I argued recently, by the failure to also fund the professional development support these students will need to enter the workforce at levels higher than undergraduates.
It would have been better, revolutionary, in fact, if politicians acknowledged that in an economy built on innovation, rapidly shifting knowledge and unpredictability, the need for people not only to able to function in this environment, but to lead the way, is imperative. That will be the primary contribution of graduate level education in the 21st century – to produce the visionaries and policy makers who will help rebuild a strained society on some other basis than avarice.
Inevitably, some of these graduates will become teachers and researchers with universities, but most will permeate other sectors of society where they will develop and implement radically new approaches to a sustainable economy, social reform, knowledge management and technological advances. While some will bring expertise in particular fields, many more will morph into areas far removed from their disciplines, but closely aligned with their unique and highly developed abilities.
We can no longer afford to keep our brightest minds tucked away in disciplinary cloisters of the ivory tower while our society crumbles. Nor is it fruitful to force those who do forge a “non-traditional” path to do so surreptitously (in most departments, a graduate student who openly discusses an interest in a non-academic career all but closes the door on their own academic career prospects because they aren’t considered “committed”).
Our governmental agencies and industry recruiters would do well to develop mutual connections between themselves and graduate programs. Graduate students, with the support of their programs, can jump start this process by demanding that they have access to the same level of career resources and support afforded to undergraduates. Employers, in concert with graduate faculties and university career centres, can provide multiple venues to develop realtionships with graduate students before they graduate. Governments can increase the number of internships and other experiential learning opportunities for graduate students early on in their degrees. Most importantly, graduate faculty can stop talking about an academic career as if it is the only viable option for serious students. It’s time to put that hoary legend to bed.
In my last post, I mentioned the article published in the Globe & Mail this past Monday on the dismal academic job market. Not surprisingly, the economic downfall is hitting universities hard. In higher ed one of the most common strategies to weather this storm seems to be to implement hiring freezes. A gloomy prospect for PhDs waiting to land their first position.
The article is quick to assure readers that this can’t last forever, and such “setbacks” can be excellent opportunities to strengthen CVs through postdocs and publishing. All relatively true. Although I can’t help wonder at this rate how soon it will be until having books in print will be the industry standard for new faculty.
Historically, this is just the latest of a seemingly endless stream of events that have derailed the long-held prediction that a critical need for massive numbers of faculty is just around the corner. By now, this is beginning to take on the aura of apocrypha,which has been used to divert two generations of our brightest students towards academic careers that never materialized.
The fact is, the majority of PhDs who have graduated in the past 20 years have not landed up in tenured positions. Most have not ended up in academe at all. The Globe article is hardly “news.” It merely reiterates that things are not going to improve anytime soon.
Yes there was that happy blip in Ontario when the double cohort of two graduating high school classes went through the system, amidst much political hoopla and well-publicized funding increases. In fact, the echo of that surge in enrollment is partly motivating the sudden interest in the opening of new spots in graduate programs.
In all fairness, many of today’s realities – the economic downturn, the reluctance of increasing numbers of senior faculty to retire, the systemic shift to replacing retiring faculty with contract workers – were not anticipated in the the late seventies and early eighties when the legend of an impending academic renaissance began to emerge. But since then, universities have retold the tale to each new graduating class, in spite of no evidence that the situation was really about to change.
It’s important that universities are up front with students they recruit into doctoral programs. A life in academe is not the likely outcome of this level of education. For many, that’s not a problem, they have their sights set elsewhere anyways, and, I want to emphasize, tend to do very well in the private sector when they have time and motivation to prepare in advance of graduation. But many would at least think twice about pursuing a PhD if they didn’t believe that there was a good chance they would land a tenure track position.
Only when the realities of the academic market are acknowledged, can its potential be truly realized. Only then will universities, governments and employers recognize that there is a growing pool of highly trained, extremely competent graduates who represent one of Canada’s largest untapped resources.
Right now the onus is almost entirely on individual grad students to figure out how their abilities might fit into the workforce. It doesn’t have to be this hard. Canadian universities provide a huge array of services, support, information and events to help our undergraduates transition successfully into society. It’s time now, especially now, to do the same for our graduate students.
The Career Centre at the University of Chicago has come up with an interesting turn-of-phrase to describe the career path of a PhD who decides against a traditional academic career. They call it a “Post-Graduate” career.
Hmm – definitely sounds better than “alternative” or worse, “non-academic” which are the phrases usually used. Career Centres struggle with these words because they imply that the norm is an academic career which, of course, is not the case for the majority of PhDs. So why pretend otherwise or make someone feel aberrant for exploring other options to an academic career?
So what do you think? Try it on – roll it around your tongue. How does it feel? What would it sound like to tell Mom and Dad that after 10 years of university you are ready for a post-academic career?
I’d love to know your take on this because it would really help those Career Centres that actually provide services for grad students to know what you would like careers outside academe to be called. Take a moment to fill in the poll below. Encourage your friends to do the same. I’ll lay odds that whatever you choose here will start popping up in the terminology used by your Career Centres come September.