On Monday morning, I checked my Inside Higher Ed email and was reminded of the website “100 Reasons NOT to go to Grad School.” I’ve been following 100 Reasons for a while now, as I am the type of person who can’t help but click on any and all links promising information about what has been dubbed “The Higher Ed Apocalypse.” As I understand the HEA, it is basically the idea that institutions are vastly overproducing Phds for fewer and fewer tenure-track (and even alternative-academic) jobs. Other hallmarks of the genre include the idea that academia is really not the best place to work anyway (see College Misery). But mostly, I read the ones that tell me my choice to pursue a terminal degree is foolish, the jobs are impossible to get, and, if I am of the lucky few to land one, I will hate it. So here’s the truth: I have no idea how to assess the actual hiring situation for people like me who are coming out of Phd programs. From my vantage point, it doesn’t look so bad. I know some folks who’ve graduated from my institution and, from where I’m standing, they seem to be doing just great. Those who wanted the tenure-track jobs got them, those who didn’t got an alternative-academic job. They seem as happy as anyone to be doing a job that they like. Yet I spend every. single.day. obsessing that I will do all of this work to come out unemployable. It does feel apocalyptic: as if I am holed up in the safe place and my food stores are running out, along with my ammunition, and the zombies are clawing at the windows. Once I go out there, chances are I will be eaten alive. In order to survive, I must navigate a harsh landscape, stockpiling peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters while indiscriminately flinging my CV at any and all representatives of institutions who may want to hire me. The Higher Ed Apocalypse genre feeds an anxiety that began as a niggling worry when I began my graduate program and now has bloomed into a full-fledged unhealthy obsession that I am naming “Higher Ed Apocalypse Reading SyndromE” or HEARSE. (Symptoms may include anxiety, repetitive CV editing, and fantasies about working as a barista.)
Now, I want you to know, Dear Reader, that I have dutifully followed every single suggestion mentioned to me that might make me more likely to be hired. I do not go gently in this good night, I assure you. But I am afraid, very afraid. I am fairly certain I am not alone in this, so I thought we needed a Gradhacker post on how to combat HEARSE.
Talk to Career Services at your Graduate School. At my University, there’s a whole section of a building devoted to helping graduate students navigate the various aspects of the job search. From writing job letters or handling interviews to how to leverage LinkedIn, they are on it. I set up an appointment for a one-on-one consulting session to discuss what I should be doing as a second-year grad student in order to be on track for the job search at the end. Meeting with Career Services and attending the workshops they put on are one way to empower myself as I go forward with my career.
Talk to your Advisor. Now I know that not everyone views this the same way I do, but I think speaking to both my advisor and various faculty (in and out of my program) about what they see as the demands of the job market for people who have my degree is essential for peace of mind, as well as a solid career-strategy. One main issue with this strategy is that in the department I am in, most of the faculty have only known how to prepare for tenure-track positions. Their insights might be too narrow for an alternative-academic job search.
Talk to recent graduates. As a first or second year student, you may not know recent graduates. But your professors do. Ask them if there is someone who they could put you in touch with who has similar research interests. Not only will you have a very fresh perspective on the job market, but you will have networked with someone in the field who is beyond the walls of your institution. I have found some valuable advice and mentoring this way.
While these suggestions don’t entirely cure HEARSE, they can certainly help. I sometimes muse that I should stop reading these types of posts and articles altogether. Nonetheless, I find that total abstinence is difficult to maintain: I feel like I am missing some crucial piece of the career puzzle if I don’t at least look at the Higher Ed Apocalypse posts. What I haven’t listed here are all the suggestions for job searching and making oneself a good candidate. I tend to combine all those lists in order to make some impossible uber-list that I can never accomplish, which I then freak out over. But that’s a post for another day.
What other suggestions do you have to help combat HEARSE? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
One more thing:
Here is a review of “100 Reasons” that rebuts a few and made me hyperventilate less: http://www.teachingcollegeenglish.com/2011/10/09/reasons-not-to-go-to-grad-school/
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