A conflict of interests.

18 12 2010

There isn’t a lot of news to any academic observer with their eyes open in this essay from the Economist. Nevertheless, I think this observation is useful to remember:

The interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned. The more bright students stay at universities, the better it is for academics. Postgraduate students bring in grants and beef up their supervisors’ publication records. Academics pick bright undergraduate students and groom them as potential graduate students. It isn’t in their interests to turn the smart kids away, at least at the beginning. One female student spoke of being told of glowing opportunities at the outset, but after seven years of hard slog she was fobbed off with a joke about finding a rich husband.

Personally, I pride myself on being the guy who’ll give the “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” speech to students considering graduate school in the humanities. I think I can be nice with it so they are adequately informed without having all their hopes crushed. As we have an MA program, this does not necessarily make me popular with my colleagues but I think I have a moral obligation to help students evaluate what is in essence a very expensive investment.

All this said, a couple of weeks ago a former undergraduate student of mine just got a tenure track job at our local community college. It would be rude to talk about the pay, but I will say he’s teaching a 5-5 with up to 60 students in each class and, of course, no TAs. I’m proud and happy for him, but this still goes to show that even when you make it, you’re not necessarily in the greatest of places. That fact alone should be enough to cut the supply of graduate students out there in the world, but I’m afraid that fact isn’t really getting around.


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