Yet more labor pains.

8 01 2010

So I finally got the Advil out and started reading the rest of the conversation that Marc Bousquet started. His third post is here. I’ve written a response to it in the comments which I’m sure will show up as soon as Marc gets a chance to moderate it.

What I want to do in what I hope (for sake of my head) is my last post on this subject is answer a question put by Ellen Schrecker in the comments to Marc’s Brainstorm cross-post:

A more serious problem — which accounts for our 175+ applicants — is the imbalance in fields. There is a serious oversupply in some areas, like American history, and a more balanced situation in others. So, what to do?

What to do is for graduate students’ academic advisors to follow the job market in their disciplines and sub-disciplines closely. With this knowledge, start steering their proteges into studying and researching subfields that will make getting employment easier.

It’s been five years since I served on a job search committee (so I hope the situation is better now), but unless you are a scholar who everybody in the profession knows by name you are not serving your graduate students well in today’s job market by turning out narrowly-focused clones of yourself who can’t teach outside their area of specialty.

My department has six people in it. Therefore, we have to cover a LOT of ground (indeed, I have free rein over just about anything in American history from 1877-present). When we do get to hire again, we’ll be looking for people who can cover a lot of ground too because we probably won’t be able to grow again for a REALLY long time. I loved my professors at Wisconsin, but if somebody had told me more about the job market for schools like mine I would have studied an even broader range of topics than I did so that I could have made my case even better and perhaps avoided the anxieties that I wrote about yesterday.

John Theibault (in the comments at Marc’s home blog) has done exactly what everyone at a self-classified “third tier Ph.D. program” ought to do: he has kept track of his students:

I taught at a third tier Ph.D. program where I was an advisor on three Ph.D. defenses. All three ended up in tenure track positions. I don’t think any of those positions were advertised in the AHA. And none are now in the AHA directory of departments, though all are still employed.

It’s not just that this is the polite thing to do, this kind of information should help the department advise its existing students better.

Who could possibly be against that?


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3 responses

8 01 2010
pmbousquet

Hey man. Thanks again for this dialogue. It really helped me to think some of this through (and do some digging): what’s emerged in the conversation so far I think is a broad agreement (between you, me John T, Alan, Ellen, historiann, etc etc), that the AHA data are flawed, hugely, by tracking only a fraction of the overall labor market (which includes a contingent majority, plus a bunch of tenurable positions not in the AHA dir.) Seems pretty clear at this point that these gaps yield big flaws in the analysis. Just so I’m clear: I absolutely don’t think there’s a reason not to pay some attention to the supply-side line of ideas–they’re fine as far as they go, and often they have merit independent of any putative labor-market impact. What I object to is the huge, magical-thinking reliance on them to solve what are clearly demand side issues. Sorry about your comment–it really isn’t in the moderation queue! Solidarity, M

8 01 2010
Jonathan Rees

Urrrgh. That happens to me with comments sometimes and I don’t know why. Luckily, I wrote the core sentence of that comment down before I wrote out that comment (and, not surprisingly, echo it above):

Graduate advisers have a responsibility to follow their students after they complete their Ph.D.s.

If they open their eyes to what happens to people they’ve known for seven or eight years then perhaps they’ll treat other people’s underemployed Ph.D.s a little better.

10 01 2010
Just when I though I was out… « More or Less Bunk

[…] I certainly agree with this sentiment: Very little attention is paid by academic historians, the people who are responsible for training […]

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