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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When your nightmares come true...

So everyone in my department is not that concerned over getting a job or a post doctoral position.  They keep talking about how wonderful it is that we have President Obama who will pool more money back into the sciences and we won't have to worry about it.  


What money?  Where is this money coming from?  Do you really think that this man is going to "bail out" the funding problems in education and in the sciences?  You've got to be kidding me. 

I mean, I will admit that certainly if we still had a president like "Dubble-Yuh" (okay, that was rude, but I am being comical in poor taste) we would be screwed.  We've watched the money deplete over the last few years and so now having a Democrat in office is going to save things.  I admit that when budgets are concerned democrats put more money into research than republicans but I just don't see in this situation how we will come out on top.  Maybe I'm looking at the glass half-empty and my peers are wandering around with glasses half-full.  But I am practical and live (for the most part) in reality.  (On a side note, this logical and analytical mind that I have has its ups and downs.  I get reminded by the downs quite a bit from people who don't even realize they are hurting my feelings.  I probably just brush it off my shoulder saying they don't really understand what is going on so I am okay.  Seriously, people.  There is a place for imagination and wistfulness but in my life it is scheduled not pervasive.)

So I just read this article that was published in the Austin Statesmen and The New York Times this month.  My comments in red:

Chris Pieper began looking for an academic job in sociology about six months ago, sending off about two dozen application packets. The results so far? Two telephone interviews, and no employment offers. Oh geez, I am just telling myself that this is sociology, not chemistry.  “About half of all the rejection letters I’ve received mentioned the poor economy as contributing to their decision,” said Mr. Pieper, 34, who is getting his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin. “Some simply canceled the search because they found the funding for the position didn’t come through. Others changed their tenure-track jobs to adjunct or instructor positions.” Ahhhhh!  No job security!  Are universities going to consider changing contract positions to tenure-track if the economy swings up?  I highly doubt it, they already have that person by the balls.  I am already gearing myself up for a career of constant struggle to keep a position or find a new one.

“Many of the universities I applied to received more than 300 applications,” he added.

Mr. Pieper is not alone. Fulltime faculty jobs have not been easy to come by in recent decades, but this year the new crop of Ph.D. candidates is finding the prospects worse than ever. Public universities are bracing for severe cuts as state legislatures grapple with yawning deficits. This whole deficit thing is not Bush's fault.  It has been going on for decades where schools just never balance their budget.  Everyone else is in debt, why not us?  Spend spend spend.  If we weren't trying to make college education so affordable with student loans then schools wouldn't be taking advantage and raising the cost of tuition by 5% every year.  At the same time, even the wealthiest private colleges have seen their endowments sink and donations slacken since the financial crisis. So a chill has set in at many higher education institutions, where partial or full-fledge hiring freezes have been imposed.

A survey by the American Historical Association, for example, found that the number of history departments recruiting new professors this year is down 15 percent, while the American Mathematical Society’s largest list of job postings has dropped more than 25 percent from last year.  You don't want to know my opinion about this.

“This is a year of no jobs,” said Catherine Stimpson, the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. Ph.D.s are stacked up, she said, “like planes hovering over La Guardia.” I'm trying not to cry here.

The anticipated wave of retirements by faculty members who are 60-something is likely to slow as retirement savings accounts and pensions wither, administrators and professors say. That means that some students who have finished postdoctoral fellowships and who expected to leave for faculty positions are staying put for another year, which in turn closes off an option for other graduate students coming up the ladder.  I have been bitching about this since I started school.  Why why why do we allow these--face it--old men, to keep an office and have a paid position when they barely know the route as they drive to work each morning?  I have seen plenty of dementia and confusion around the place and it is depressing.  When I say "old" I mean late sixties and seventies.  You shouldn't be working anymore.  I won't back down on this.  Don't even try.  It will infuriate me to high levels if you are on the opposing side of this argument.  My dad retired when he was 52.  Bless him!  It was a fortunate instance but he wasn't trying to work to get more money and be greedy and not open up a position for someone else.  He and my mother live comfortably and are quite happy.  He was a telephone man for Chrissake...

“I was encouraged to aim very high initially, but as I have watched more and more jobs pulled, I am worried about whether I can even get a postdoc,” said Vanessa Svihla, 33, a graduate student in science education at the University of Texas, Austin. She is defending her dissertation next month. “Amidst all the normal stress of finishing a dissertation and trying to get publications out, hiring freezes are a bit overwhelming,” she said.  Should you really be defending without a postdoc lined up, hun?  What are you going to do for the next year while you are applying?

Although some people think that graduate school is a good place to wait out a crash, some undergraduates said they had either canceled or postponed plans to enter graduate school this fall because of the bad economy or their inability to get student loans.  Cool, thank you to those kids.  Admissions still say that applications are up 140%.

Aisha Hadlock, 21, a senior at Oberlin College who majored in Islamic studies, decided to delay graduate school for at least a year. “I don’t have the financial means to support myself through grad school in this economy, and grants and loans are so hard to get right now,” Ms. Hadlock said. The types of programs that offer generous financial aid “will be overrun with applicants,” she added.

Andrew Delbanco, the chairman of the American studies program at Columbia University, said that the system producing graduate students was increasingly out of sync with the system hiring them.  *Tears up*

“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker.”  Does anyone like the word "bleak"?  I for one, don't.

Many in the humanities fear that their fields are going to suffer most. Humanities professors are already among the lowest-paid faculty members, according to the Humanities Indicators Prototype, a new, decade-long effort to establish a database of information led by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Okay, here I am thankful that I am in the sciences.  I feel awful for these people.

What’s more, nearly half of all the positions are part time — with no job security and no benefits — a situation that many educators expect to worsen.

Many students now finishing their doctorates began working on them when the economy was in much better shape. Hell yeah!  I am still trying to figure out what exactly happened.  It often takes about nine years NINE years?  What are you doing this whole time?  No, I don't want to think about it. to complete a dissertation in English, said Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, explaining that students have to devote so many hours to teaching and making money that they don’t have time left over to write.

William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who writes a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the name Thomas Benton, has frequently tried to dissuade undergraduates from pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. He is convinced that the recession will push universities to trim the number of tenure-track jobs further.  Sounds very practical but awful to discourage students from pursuing something they may be good at or want.  

“It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource,” he wrote in a recent column. “If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault.”

Unless you are independently wealthy or really well connected, don’t apply, he advised.
Margaret Peacock, 35, who spent eight years on her dissertation in Soviet history at the University of Texas, is one of the lucky ones. A winner of a federal Fulbright-Hays scholarship and the mother of three children, Ms. Peacock just accepted a tenure-track job at the University of Alabama. At the historian association’s convention in January, she said that a number of people who sat on hiring committees told her that they were pressing to complete faculty searches this year partly because “they are worried that there will be no budget for new hires” in the future.

“I also know that many of the offers being made by departments to their chosen candidates are not as generous as they have been in past years, with higher teaching loads and less room to negotiate salary,” Ms. Peacock added. Americanists seem to be having a much tougher time now than those specializing in other historical areas, she said. “I am becoming increasingly convinced that I got in under the wire.” I'm green with envy.

In the past 30 years, public and private money dedicated to the humanities has also significantly declined. The budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities is roughly a third of what it was at the high point of 1979, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Humanities Indicators data, though stimulus money may raise that figure.

Only 13 percent, or about $16 million, makes its way into scholarly projects. And unlike the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes for Health, the humanities endowment does not give awards to postdoctoral students.  It's not like the NSF is giving away post docs to the majority of students.  It is very competitive and I imagine the difference in size of science students and humanities is vast in number so the amount of scientists receiving a fellowship is around 1-2%.  Thus, the majority of students suffer across the board.

Of course the humanities don’t require labs and expensive equipment, but as Leslie Berlowitz, the chief executive of the arts and sciences academy, notes, the humanities suffer more from across-the-board cuts because those professors are much less able to generate financing outside of the university, unlike the hard and social sciences. Such scholars also find fewer job opportunities outside of academia.  True.  Which is why I am in science, I knew that ahead of time.

Mr. Pieper is still looking but he is discouraged. “The timing of this downturn was exactly wrong for my entering the academic market, and there’s no guarantee it will be better next year,” he said. “It takes a long time for these situations to right themselves.”  The scary thing is no one knows how long.  I pray that it is five years and that I make the right choices between now and then to make sure that I can advance if possible and not get stuck because of some job choice I made now makes me undesirable.  

I have these chaotic rampages going on in my head of "what are you doing to do?" and I don't have an answer.  Not having an answer is what is really the thing that is bothering me.  In actuality I am taking every day at a time.  It is the best thing to do.  Pray about it.  Sleep on it.  Do your best.  Don't be lazy.  Jump on opportunities.  Don't say no without thinking about it first (this goes for yes too).  I have to tell myself that pacing and obsessing about it won't make things better.  For the most part this does the job and I am sure that I am a pretty calm and rational person.  I will survive.  I have good health, loving family, fabulous friends.  Not getting what I want won't kill me so I can do without if necessary and get by.  

When someone asks me what I want out of life I really just want to be happy.  And it doesn't take much to make me happy.  I like the simple things in life.  I want to feel successful not necessarily be recognized as successful by people who I don't know.  So, anyway, my note to myself today:  If God wills it.

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