Good day! I was greeted this gray morning by the familiar dulcet tones of the Chronicle of Higher Education publishing another nonsense story about Why Can’t Those Darn PhDs Get Jobs These Days, GRRRR! This is a question that everyone is sincerely pondering right now, since it’s job market season and such.
Now, in this essay the author, Leonard Cassuto, tries to explain why a shit ton of PhDs will not find full-time work in the academy, like, ever. More precisely, he is trying to illustrate who some people get jobs and others don’t. Because this can surely be explained by the powers of logic!
At first, Cassuto is very kind not to totally blame the graduates themselves. Because that would be silly. Instead, he suggests that the problem is hiring committees can haz too many choices nowadays!
“For more than a generation now, job candidates have been hitting the market with amazing qualifications. Hiring committees routinely choose among applicants who have accomplished much, much more than their interviewers had at comparable stages of our own careers.”
I am sure you are just shocked, absolutely shocked by this news! Hiring committees are interviewing people who are more qualified than they were back when they got the jobs that now provide them with a perch upon which to sit in judgment of the newbies trying to cling to the academic life boat in a swirling specter-of-unemployment storm.
Cassuto does not have a clue why all of this happened in the first place. Or maybe he does! But it doesn’t matter. The point is that this is just the way it is now.
However, Cassuto does know why some candidates get jobs and others don’t. It has to do with something called “time to degree.” You know, that’s the number that indicates how many years it took you to go from bright-eyed, passionate apprentice scholar to exhausted, emotionally drained shell-of-a-person eyeing with envy the food stamp card being used by the woman in front of you in the supermarket checkout line.
Why does some elusive thing called “time to degree” that depends on any number of factors that no one can control or predict matter, according to Cassuto?
See, some job candidates have CVs that show evidence of what he calls “concrete achievement,” and others have some other thing called “raw potential.” People who spent more time in grad school are more likely to have done some real shit, while people who got out of grad school quickly haven’t done as much real shit, like administrative work. That is some concrete experience, you know?
Here’s how Cassuto explains it:
“What does it mean for an institution to advertise an entry-level position and then place new Ph.D.’s on the same playing field with applicants who have years’ more experience? To begin with, it amounts to a preference for concrete achievement over raw potential. It also creates inexorable selective pressure in that direction. After a couple of years on the market, Candidate A gradually metamorphoses into Candidate B.”
Hiring committees, Cassuto explains, are more likely to hire people who have “concrete achievement” because, well, they can. He admits this is not fair because it privileges graduates who have been in the academic “holding tank” (they’ve lingered in grad school or had a VAP or a post-doc) longer. But, that’s just the way it is! Now you know! The implication is, if you just hold out for a couple more years doing real things, you too will eventually be “Candidate B” with “concrete achievement.”
Except you won’t. Which, to his credit, Cassuto actually admits! “Given that most graduate students won’t get full-time academic jobs,” he writes, “it’s more than cruel to force them to wait many years to find out whether they’ll be part of the chosen few who do.”
Okay so let me get this straight. If you are Candidate A (the one with “raw potential” but no “concrete achievement”) then you must labor under the promise that eventually, after a couple more years of servitude, you will become Candidate B and get hired. Except, since most people won’t get jobs anyway, you won’t actually EVER become Candidate B.
So, wait, why does “time to degree” matter again? I’m confused.
Again, the problem cannot possibly be that academia, like every other business in the world, has spent the last three decades decimating the ranks of the full-time professoriate by hiring adjuncts with no benefits or job security to teach the majority of all courses in all disciplines nationwide. And it can’t possibly be that the privileges (relative as they may be) of full-time faculty are underwritten by this horrid system, implicating everyone in the brutal and ruinous charade that is “academic hiring season.” That can’t be it! No, Cassuto says it’s a “time to degree” thing. That is the real issue we need to be focusing on.
What does this mean for you post-academics out there? If you are a PhD without an academic job, then you should be trying to figure out which category you are in. Do you have “raw potential” but no “concrete achievement”? Then that is why no one wants you! Savvy?
What if you actually have BOTH concrete achievement and raw potential? Well, that is simply impossible based on the schema that Cassuto has helpfully drawn up for us. No one with both achievement and potential is jobless. I mean, that just wouldn’t be fair.