Tag Archives: adjunct teaching

Slave Labor: Do you REALLY want that PhD?

IMG_3006Lo, what should I find at Amazon this morning but a nice review of Slave Labor! And then, while seeking something else, a confirmation of Slave Labor’s thesis in Yuval Bar-Or‘s Is a Ph.D. for Me?, verbosely but accurately subtitled  Life in the Ivory Tower: A Cautionary Guide for Aspiring Doctoral Students. 

Too many young men and women who go into PhD and MFA programs have no idea what awaits them. Every would-be graduate student should read these two books.

Bar-OrIf you understand what to expect and if you have an independent source of income, by all means get a PhD in whatever subject warms your heart. But bear in mind that a PhD is a professional degree, not a program whose purpose is to turn out a man (or woman) for all seasons.

A “professional” degree should get you into a profession, but more and more PhD programs fail to do that. As a steadily increasing proportion of American faculty is relegated to the sweat-shop, your chance of landing a full-time job that will support you and a family is remote, at best.

Do you REALLY want that Phd? Too many young men and women who go into Ph.D. and MFA programs have no idea what awaits them. Food for thought about college programs.Do I regret having pursued a doctorate? Not much. But my circumstances were exceptional:

  • I was  married to a man who was among the top 3 percent of earners in this country.
  • He was a public-intellectual sort of guy who ran in some very brainy circles, and so adding a PhD to my name made me a variety of trophy wife.
  • My real job was to support him in the community, take care of his home, raise his child, and manage his social life. So, as a practical matter I had gainful employment outside of academia.
  • And I stumbled into journalism, pretty much by serendipity. While the doctorate didn’t directly affect my performance there, behind the scenes it did help me to land the best job of my working lifetime, an editorial position at a large regional magazine.
  • Twenty years of journalism experience plus the disused doctorate got me in the door, after a divorce, to a full-time (but nontenurable!) position at a large state university. As Bar-Or suggests, academia is not the happiest place to put food on your table. But in the unlikely event that you obtain full-time work, it suffices.

Often, though, I reflect that had I started in magazine journalism after I finished the master’s degree, I would have had one hell of a lot more fun and, by using the time to gain job experience, would have gone much further up the executive stairwell.

Some doctoral degrees will give you entrée to corporate and high-level government jobs. Economics is one of them. A master’s in journalism is another (I would not pursue a PhD in that trade). The PhD in psychology has some potential, but in terms of earning a living, a master’s in nursing can help you to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, which more reliably will return a six-figure income.

Think it through. Don’t get a doctorate in a subject just because you “love” it. Get a doctorate, if you must, solely as a career move. And be damn sure that career will be open to you when you complete the degree.

What are some guidelines that might help you think this decision through? Start with these:

  1. Never assume you’ll be able to get a job in university or community-college teaching. To the contrary: assume that at best you’ll spend several years as a grossly underpaid part-time adjunct, that you’ll be outlandishly lucky to nail a full-time position, and if you do, it probably will be in Podunk, South Dakota.
  2. Research employment avenues in government and business. Get on the phone (talk to somebody!) and request informational interviews with people who are in the kinds of jobs you think your degree might lead to. Ask how difficult it is to obtain work in that person’s field, and whether the doctorate would be an asset, a hindrance, or a neutral embellishment.
  3. Select your school with care. In academe, the quality of your degree-granting institution matters. Every advertisement for a full-time opening draws hundreds of qualified applicants: competition is beyond fierce. Especially for academic jobs, it’s crucial to take your degree at an R-1 university. If you don’t know what that is, think about some other line of work.
  4. Do not imagine that even though everyone else has a tough time getting an academic job, it won’t be that way for you. No matter how good you are, you are not special!
  5. Do not imagine that you’ll get your foot in the door as an adjunct or research associate and then in a year or two the department will be thrilled to take you on full-time.
  6. Get an exquisitely clear view of how much the program will cost. Remember to include the cost of housing, food, and commuting, as well as books, tuition, and the school’s miscellaneous rips.
  7. If you have to finance graduate school with a loan, calculate realistically how long it will take to pay it off and how much it will cost you over that period. And don’t forget to add an extra year in school, beyond what you imagine it will take to complete the degree. Most people spend a year or more after their coursework to write the dissertation.
  8. Consider pursuing the degree in another country, such as Canada, where tuition may be lower than US schools charge these days.

PhD image: Shutterstock. © 2016 Lemon Tree Images

Becalmed and Belayed!

Arrrrggghhh! Got back from the Mayo Clinic yesterday, after enjoying the hospitality there for five interminable days.

Actually, the Mayo’s hospitality is very fine: they go way, way beyond the call to provide kind and effective service. And their docs can’t be beat, at least not in these parts. But that doesn’t change the facts of an excruciatingly painful intestinal blockage (scars from an old appendectomy) and major surgery to fix it.

Now I’m back at the house, but very tired all the way around and feeling like I’ve swallowed a bowling ball every time I ingest a few bites of food.

Naturally, this happens right in the middle of Arizona’s so-called “monsoon” season, when temps hover at or above 110, dirt and debris blow through every afternoon, and thunderstorms frighten the locals and blow over trees.

When I got home the pool was a vast mess, a puddle of trash and mud. My son (who has his own place to take care of, to say nothing of a full-time job) got most of it out last night. But then another storm blew through during the night. Up at dawn to shovel it out again.

Fortunately, this morning’s mess wasn’t as bad as I expected. Don’t think I hurt myself hauling just one bag of debris off the bottom, dumping in some chlorine, and reconnecting the cleaner. In fact, the activity was probably good. By this evening the pool will need to be backwashed again, which I can’t do because it involves manhandling a difficult valve. But Dear Son can deal with that.

All of which is to say…what? It doesn’t look like I’m going to get much writing done in the next few days. I’m exhausted, and the bowling-ball sensation does nothing to make me feel like sitting at a desk and working.

So all of the writing projects have heaved to a dead stop.

Meanwhile, hallelujah, brothers & sisters!


Yes. This latest little crisis — I now have had six surgeries in the span of a year, one of the for a life-threatening condition — finally elicited the obvious epiphany: Quit doing things you hate doing!

I am so sick of teaching composition. Just can. not. put. up. with another rude little pighead who thinks I should dole out passing grades to people who don’t even bother to read the syllabus or the comments on the papers.

Switching to all online courses helped — at least when you don’t have to face them down in the classroom, you don’t have to cope with mental problems, disrespect, and open rudeness, nor are you at any great physical risk. But it doesn’t change the fact that disrespect, arrogance, and disinclination to do the most minimal level of coursework characterize lower-division studentry. This classic says it all…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVvKnq5XT-g]

Hafta tellya…that doesn’t even strike me as an attempt at humor. It’s a reality show.

(LOL! If the sound doesn’t play, click the X next to the little speaker icon to turn off “mute.”)

One of  my friends earns more selling used junk on e-Bay than I do when I’m teaching the maximum course load the District allows me to carry! And believe me, my friend will not be retiring to the Riviera on the proceeds from her e-Bay empire anytime soon.

So. I figure writing full-time will generate at least that much, on average. And if it’s true that erotica practically sells itself and that over six months to a year will pull in a living wage if you pour enough of the stuff out there…well. Any day I’d rather write smυt than put up with what I’ve been subjected to teaching adjunct since I was laid off my job…six long years ago!