Monthly Archives: December 2012


I have spent several hours now reading about the jobs situation for Humanities PhDs – yes, partly to keep from reading the book on Long and the Great Depression that I cracked open yesterday, but also because I’ve been suspecting lately that something fishy is going on with my post-grad-school employment opportunities.  And if there are really no jobs, then surely there’s a better use of my time than preparing for jobs that don’t exist.

Plenty of other people have written eloquently on the actual numbers, so I’m not going to wander much into quantitative analysis, and anyway, my stats are kinda rusty.  But let me say that even my (extremely) cursory research has me relieved: it looks like somewhere between a quarter and a third of history PhDs are still finding tenure-track jobs, and yes, there are many, many people adjuncting, but there are also people in government, the military, non-profits, the tech sector – lots of things that put research, writing, and teaching skills to good use.  (This article from The Chronicle is probably the most hopeful thing I’ve read in a while, and it has charts!)  In other words, considering that my background is in retail and trucking, grad school really is pretty likely to help me change careers.

Since I would rather like to buy a house in the next ten years, I’ve also been poking around in salary and cost of living information.  The Chronicle has a lovely interactive piece on faculty salaries for more than 1200 universities, the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists wage data by county for a ton of occupations, and provides approximate housing cost data for everywhere I’ve ever searched (so, er, major cities in the US, anyway.)  As a rule of thumb, I like to keep fixed costs (rent, bills, phone) to one two-week paycheck… and so after a little crunching for some of the occupations in the Chronicle article, I think that (in Austin, anyway) most of these professions would put me in house-buying territory within the decade.

So far, so good.  As long as I play my cards right, getting a PhD in the humanities is not a bad idea at all – it’s actually a pretty good way to get an interesting job and haul my ass up into the middle class.

Playing my cards right, though, is the part that’s still a bit baffling, because I don’t quite understand what’s going on here.  As I read through a few “post-ac” blogs and gloom-and-doom employment predictions, a few patterns stand out: people who are staking their whole identity on getting a tenure-track job, people who are afraid to talk about non-academic career paths lest they be shunned or kicked out of their programs, people who feel cheated by the system when they don’t get their dream job at a prestigious university, people who need support groups to help them down from the ivory tower.  Maybe I’ll feel this way in a few years, but right now, these people read like the lost souls in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch, stuck in some kind of unemployment purgatory.  Or, perhaps more aptly, like disgraced and brainwashed members of a secret cult.  And for the record, I’ve been the latter, and good lord I don’t want to go back.

I hope there is room in this system for people who just want normal things like job security, an interesting career, and enough money to make a comfortable living.  And I hope these disgruntled folks are the exception rather than the rule, because I, for one, would like to think this whole shindig is about opening options up, not closing them off.

vacation/procrastination (so would that be… procrastication?)

School has been out for almost two weeks, and I haven’t read a thing.  I mean – I have a book open in front of me, and I intend to read all about Huey Long and the Great Depression tonight, but I have more pressing things to do first, as I have for the past couple of weeks.  Right after I turned in my last grades and responded to the last student email, I did many of the little nagging things I haven’t been able to do all semester: I cleaned my house, shuffled around the furniture, took a load to Buffalo Exchange.  That done, I baked some cookies and watched a little TV; during the next few days I went for runs, and I dared to sleep in and lounge around until noon.  I went dancing multiple days in one week and saw people enough to remember their names and ask them about things we had talked about just a few days earlier.  I went to work often enough that the same thing happened – and for a moment I remembered the thing I really loved about retail and my world before school: the closeness and amiability, and the repetition and teamwork and fascination with the everyday that fostered it.

Sometime that week I had a drink – ok, three – reasoning that even if I did wake up with a hangover, I didn’t have to do much thinking the next day.  The boy and I went out to our old late-night haunt and had greasy food and joked around with the late-night servers.  We slept in.

And then, finally, the luxury of having time to do laundry and take three hours to pack for a week back home in the motherland, where getting to know my niece and nephew and cooking my sister- and brother-in-law a couple of home-cooked meals trumps reading about long-ago events, hands down.  Tonight, we had roast chicken and cheesy polenta; tomorrow I’m simmering chicken soup from scratch, since everyone has the flu or is recovering from it.  And when they’re asleep (they crash out early), I get to tinker with Photoshop and watch movies and read a novel and finally – finally! – decompress enough to start thinking about what I want to do when I grow up and whether the path I’m on will get me to where I want to be. 

I wrote a little while ago about how in school, we need to protect our free time for the unpaid work that will get us out of here; after two weeks of break, I’m remembering just how protective I was of my free time before I came back to school.  I read novels; I learned about baking breads and cookies and cakes; I studied knitting techniques and designed and knitted sweaters with increasingly elaborate lacework.  I watched a lot of film noir, and spent whole afternoons wandering in and out of junk shops and bookstores.  I went on ridiculously long bike rides.  I had time and energy to really be with my friends when I was with them – and I had a lot of time to be with them.  I think if I had that much time again I would spend more time writing and more time volunteering, but otherwise these are things I miss – connecting with people and learning how to do things and just generally absorbing the world we live in.

My concern now is that academia, if I stay in it, won’t afford me the work-life balance that allows me to be a real person, with varied interests and a strong attachment to the real world.  It hasn’t yet, and after almost four years, I’m beginning to worry that it won’t.  Hence the procrastination.