David Graeber: bullshit jobs.
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A colleague forwarded the following:
Prof. Eleanor Dickey of Reading is compiling information about ways to help people with PhDs but without permanent academic jobs find satisfying employment. Here are the ideas her research has come up with so far – she would now like feedback regarding various ideas and how helpful they might be.
Thank you very much to all the people who answered my questions on what could be done to help the people with doctorates but no permanent job. I received nearly a hundred responses, most containing heart-rending tales of woe as well as exciting ideas for tackling the issue. Clearly the problem is a major one, and the people suffering from it are deserving of help from the academic community: one respondent said that we don’t owe them jobs, and that may be true, but having in most cases led them to believe that if they were good enough things would work out, we owe them something better than the circumstances to which these excellent scholars are currently subjected. And we can do something about this!
I have compiled a list of the ideas for action that people have submitted; it is below. What I now need to know is how good these ideas are from a variety of perspectives, so I would be very grateful if you (that’s you, no matter what your current job status) would rate them for me according to the scale given below and send the result to E.Dickey@reading.ac.uk. This may take 20 or even 25 minutes; I understand that your time is valuable and do not ask this favour lightly, but rather in the hope that you will make a charitable donation of that precious time to what I hope you will agree is a good cause.
I would also be grateful if you could pass this document on to other lists you may be a member of and to individuals who may not subscribe to lists: everyone’s thoughts are needed to solve the problem. Thank you!
I shall keep everyone’s responses confidential and will not publish results in a way that could identify individuals.
If a clear consensus emerges on what would be useful to have someone do, I undertake to do it if at all possible.
Eleanor Dickey (E.Dickey@reading.ac.uk)
Professor of Classics
University of Reading
1. Below is a list of suggestions people have produced for helping PhDs who do not have secure (or any) academic jobs. Suppose there were an organization dedicated to helping people with PhDs and no permanent academic job: which of the following should it try to do? Please rate the suggestions on a scale from 0 (= this is definitely not the right solution) through 1 (= this would be mildly useful) to 2 (= this would be excellent)
a. Lobby universities, funding bodies, and governments for a mandatory and drastic reduction in the number of PhD students accepted (in rating this, consider how you would have felt if denied the opportunity to do a PhD, as well as the fact that this solution would result in the closure of many graduate programmes, with unpleasant knock-on effects on the conditions of academic life in the departments that lost their programmes; ultimately it will reduce the number of real academic jobs still further)
b. Publicize the fact that, since there are permanent academic jobs for only 20% of Humanities PhDs and most jobs advertised are fairly restricted as to subject (making it impossible simply to select the best 20%), success in the academic job market is now largely due to luck. Persuade high-profile senior academics to admit that they owe their positions to luck as well as merit, to end the stigmatization of those without jobs as deserving of their fate.
c. Try to change the widespread view that people who leave academia after the PhD are ‘failures’, so that their careers are perceived as a different kind of success story (ideally, bringing credit to their supervisors and their institutions equivalent to that carried by PhDs who become successful academics — only thus will supervisors and institutions not have a vested interest in stigmatizing those who leave academia)
d. Try to ensure that universities make clear to students that PhDs usually do not lead to academic jobs BEFORE students commit themselves to doing a PhD (in rating this, consider that it will lead to a reduction in the number of graduate students and a consequent closure of programmes and reduction of academic jobs)
e. Try to ensure that universities present the PhD, from the time students enroll in it, as not primarily preparation for an academic career but a more general type of education, so that they would provide graduate students with tailored careers advice leading to non-academic fields that value the PhD (e.g. law) (in rating this, consider that it may lead to a reduction in the percentage of students who complete the PhD, since most careers that like PhDs also like people with graduate work short of a PhD, and that the resultant fall in completion rates will adversely affect departments that are judged on such rates)
f. Lobby to improve the conditions of non-permanent academic staff (particularly part-time and hourly-paid teachers) and lobby their colleagues to treat such people more humanely
g. Lobby departments not to segregate staff into categories on web pages, photo boards, etc. but to put everyone together so that no-one feels marginalised
h. Lobby for a reduction in both workloads and pay of the permanent academic staff, so that significantly more permanent academic jobs could exist in the same economic framework (in rating this, please consider that there are currently FIVE TIMES as many Humanities PhDs as jobs produced each year, so this solution would still leave more than half the new PhDs without jobs and no-one with a good salary)
i. Lobby grant-giving bodies to lift their current restrictions so that people without an academic affiliation could apply for research grants
j. Lobby universities not to cut off the affiliation of their graduate students upon receipt of the PhD; persuade them to allow such students to retain their e-mail accounts and library access as long as these are needed
k. Lobby universities to make their lectures and libraries open to everyone, regardless of affiliation or background
l. Lobby journals to make blind refereeing blinder: make sure that the author’s affiliation or lack thereof plays no role whatsoever in article acceptance or rejection
m. Lobby conference organizers not to ask for affiliation when abstracts are submitted and judged
n. Lobby organizers of conferences to offer reduced fees and if possible payment of travel expenses to those without jobs (funding could be provided by charging those with jobs higher fees)
o. Lobby conference organizers not to put affiliations on name tags, to avoid humiliating independent scholars
p. Lobby for conferences and publishing ventures not to be used as income-generators but rather to be low-cost, regional, and accessible
q. Lobby libraries that do not admit scholars without an academic affiliation (there are several of these, according to respondents) to change their policy
r. Lobby publishers not to charge enormous fees to unaffiliated scholars for open-access publication
s. Try to raise the profile of teaching and in particular of excellence in teaching in the profession, so that staff who don’t have time to do research are respected
t. Try to make academic culture more supportive and compassionate, and less competitive
u. Lobby universities to introduce simpler and more uniform applications, to reduce the amount of time it takes to apply for every academic job that is advertised every year
v. Lobby universities to make the job-search process less painful, for example by providing prompt and courteous notification of all rejections and waitlistings
w. Challenge the romanticism of academia so that people no longer have that dream that is so hard to give up; try to prevent people from seeing it as a vocation rather than just another job (in rating this one, please consider what it would do to the experience of students if they were taught by people for whom teaching was a job rather than their vocation)
x. Help part-time/adjunct/sessional staff unionize and negotiate for better working conditions
y. Provide a mentoring system for early-career scholars who are struggling to keep their research going in a focussed way
z. Provide small travel or research grants to those without permanent academic jobs
aa. Pay open-access publication fees for unaffiliated scholars whose articles are accepted by top journals
bb. Provide an organization through which people could apply for real research grants, access to libraries, etc.
cc. Provide a service that would give jobseekers a realistic evaluation of their chances at ever finding a job (ideally anonymously)
dd. Provide an organization through which people could be tapped to review books, referee articles and grant proposals, and otherwise utilize their expertise and have it appreciated, ideally with a small subsidy for the time spent in such tasks
ee. Provide people with an academic e-mail address
ff. Provide library (or at least e-resources) access for people without an academic affiliation
gg. Provide a support network of people who will at least be kind to each other if no-one else will be kind to them
hh. Provide support for the transition to non-academic life, for example careers advice, training, or help in starting a business
ii. Provide support for people wanting to move into school teaching, and try to remove the stigma associated with such a move and replace it with the respect that teachers’ hard work and impressive skills really deserve
jj. Help with the creation of a new school or schools staffed entirely by PhDs (with appropriate training etc.)
kk. Other (please specify):
2. Below are some disadvantages felt by people who do not have permanent (tenured or tenure-track) academic jobs. If you are in that position, please rate each on a scale from 0 (this is not a problem for me at the present time), via 1 (this is unpleasant but bearable), to 2 (this aspect is absolutely dreadful for me). If you do hold a permanent academic position or have retired from one, please skip this question unless you have been in this position recently enough to remember what it felt like:
a. The sense of failure resulting from not getting an academic position
b. Having to give up my dream
c. Being under constant pressure to give up and stop pursuing my dream of an academic career
d. Giving up the professional and personal intellectual identity on which I had invested so much
e. The feeling that I have wasted all the time and effort I put into my PhD
f. The constant fear that everything I’ve put in on my career will turn out to have been wasted
g. The anguish of not knowing whether I should give up (and waste what I’ve invested so far) or keep trying (and perhaps waste even more of my life)
h. Regret that I did not get a proper job as my friends did but instead went for a PhD that has turned out to be useless
i. Having to do a boring menial job that does not reflect my qualifications and that I do not like
j. Fear of being too old to switch to another career
k. The constant pressure
l. Having to work incredibly long hours to keep up my research while doing another full-time job
m. Not having any time to do research
n. The constant uncertainty about the future
o. Never knowing what country I’ll be in next year
p. Spending my entire life applying for things
q. Total demoralization associated with the endless applications
r. Seeing endless very specific job ads, so that it sometimes looks as though half the jobs are rigged but none of them rigged for me
s. Constantly having to move from one place to another
t. The way in which universities treat me as someone exploitable and expendable
u. Colleagues treating me as a second-class citizen who deserves the exploitation I get
v. Being tormented by employers who hold out hope that my temporary position may become permanent
w. Fear of total unemployment
x. Not having nearly enough money
y. Being cut off from the intellectual stimulation of an academic community and missing academic interaction
z. Lack of library resources owing to not having an academic affiliation
aa. Lack of opportunity to attend conferences and do research owing to not having an academic affiliation
bb. Not being able to start a family
cc. Not being able to live with my partner
dd. The contradiction I see between the values professed by academia and how people are really treated
ee. Other (please specify):
3. There is a protocol for the employment of short-term academic staff that has been agreed by UK Classics departments via the CUCD (available at http://www.rhul.ac.uk/classics/cucd/tempstaff.html). Did you know that this existed?
4. Do you have any views on this protocol or its effectiveness?
I would be extremely grateful if you could also answer these demographic questions, which will help me evaluate whether particular groups share particular views. This information will not be used in any way that could identify individuals. If you do not answer at least the first question, I shall not be able to make much use of your ratings provided above.
5. What is your current academic employment situation?
Primary employment outside academia
Part-time academic job
Multiple part-time academic jobs
A temporary but full-time academic job
A permanent (i.e. tenured or tenure-track) academic job, or retired from such a post [If you fall into this category, there is no need to answer the questions that follow, so please just send me your answers now. Thank you!]
6. Do you want a permanent academic job?
Yes, of course: any job, anywhere!
Yes, but only at a good university
Yes, but only within certain geographic restrictions
In theory, but I’ve given up trying
7. While you were doing your doctorate, did you expect to get a permanent academic job eventually?
8. Please enter the subject, awarding university, and year of your doctorate
9. What country/countries are you a citizen of?
10. What country do you now live in?
11. What type of academic employment have you held since gaining your doctorate?
I have held full-time academic positions ever since gaining the doctorate
I had a full-time job until I left academia, but since then I do something else
I have always had something, but it was not always full-time
I have had some academic jobs, but some years without them
I have never held any academic post
Other (please specify)
12. Do you now have a source of income other than an academic job?
Yes, so I don’t need an academic job
Yes, but it’s not what I want to do, so I’m still trying to get an academic job
Yes, but it’s not enough money to live on, so I’m still trying to get an academic job
Other (please specify)
13. How many academic jobs (including temporary and part-time posts) have you applied for in the last 12 months, and what success have you had?
14. What is your gender?
15. What is your age?
Thank you so much for answering these questions; I appreciate it very much and will do my best to make sure your time is not wasted by putting your recommendations into action if at all possible.
Please send answers to: E.Dickey@reading.ac.uk