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(Chronicle of Higher Education)   Don't go to grad school for the humanities, unless you want your future job to involve deconstructing the signifiers in the power structure of french fry hermeneutics   ( chronicle.com) divider line
    More: Obvious, hierarchy, graduate schools, french fries, arts, community colleges, hermeneutics, colleges and universities, doctorates  
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6822 clicks; posted to Main » on 04 Jan 2010 at 2:30 PM (7 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2010-01-04 11:14:17 AM  
A lot of this is literally recycled from his previous column on the subject, especially the ending talking points. As usual from people like Mr. Benton and Stanley Fish, who has also written on this for The Chronicle, is that they've conveniently glossed over the fact that they and other Baby Boomer professors in their cohort are responsible in large part for the current mess because over decades they never clearly articulated a vision for why the Humanities are indispensible to American culture and never banded together to protect themselves and their posterity like workers in other fields did. Now we have politicians that revel in their anti-intellectualism, a basic lack of political history in the body politic, journalists who can't write or speak about basic human experiences like religion, and scientists who can only speak in jargonese to other people like them, unable to create a narrative to the larger public for why their work is relevant. And all while almost a third of high school students in the U.S. don't even graduate and somehow there are too many educated people who can't find work teaching them and adult workers as well? Thanks "Baby Boomers." You won't be missed.

/yeah I know: "cool tl;dr bro"
//that's part of the problem.
 
2010-01-04 11:36:46 AM  
luv2hateu.files.wordpress.com

I guess to be fair, some non-tenured adjunct professors manage to do pretty well. :-)
 
2010-01-04 11:36:51 AM  
"Wut?"
sidesalad.net
 
2010-01-04 11:43:33 AM  

Somacandra: I guess to be fair, some non-tenured adjunct professors manage to do pretty well. :-)


That's great if you have a JD and a thriving successful practice and want to teach a couple of courses at the law school in town to pad your resume, but if you've slogged through years of graduate work in a degree that's a little less marketable outside of academia, like philosophy, for example, it's rough if you can't land a good tenure-track position.
 
2010-01-04 12:15:09 PM  
Postmodern deconstructionism did its work well and we now have a thoroughly deconstructed educational system.

Curse you Derrida!
 
2010-01-04 12:27:07 PM  
Somacandra: /yeah I know: "cool tl;dr bro"
//that's part of the problem.


It would help if it wasn't one long paragraph. Use two or three sentences to convey an idea and then move on.

Like this. See?

The line breaks make it easier to read on a computer screen.
 
2010-01-04 01:35:59 PM  
I dug that article. I start teaching at a small local university next week. Wish me luck!
 
2010-01-04 02:31:51 PM  

Somacandra: I guess to be fair, some non-tenured adjunct professors manage to do pretty well. :-)


Some might disagree...
 
2010-01-04 02:32:36 PM  
Came for pic of huge manatee.

/drums fingers...
 
2010-01-04 02:35:37 PM  
"Oh the humanities...."

The world needs burger flippers, even ones with PhD's.
 
2010-01-04 02:36:45 PM  
There is a simple solution to all this.

If you have a Humanities degree, no practical job skills and absolutely no employment potential, just go overseas and teach English.

Even the most useless, incompetent former arts student can find a job tea.....wait
 
2010-01-04 02:36:46 PM  
Don't go to school for anything, unless it's to learn a foreign language. Then move to another country, because baby, it's all downhill from here for the U.S.
 
2010-01-04 02:36:48 PM  
I don't regret going back to school in "Humanities". I do regret not taking a job for an emerging ISP in 1996-1997. Most of the folks that started there at the same time were purchasing houses (not mortgages) with cash from their stock options a few years later.
 
2010-01-04 02:38:01 PM  
Q: What do you get if you cross a Deconstructionist Literary Critic with a Mafia Boss?

A: Someone who can make you an offer you can't understand.
 
2010-01-04 02:38:20 PM  
Oh, the huge manatees!
content.ytmnd.com
 
2010-01-04 02:40:15 PM  
"No one is impressed by their knowledge of Jane Austen."

That about sums it up.
 
2010-01-04 02:40:40 PM  

AbbeySomeone: Came for pic of huge manatee.

/drums fingers...



i184.photobucket.com
 
2010-01-04 02:44:56 PM  
I thought that if you were in the humanities you went to grad school because it's hard to do anything with just a BA/BS in those disciplines.

Of course if you're paying for grad school yourself you may be making a mistake.
 
2010-01-04 02:45:05 PM  
I'm a recent Humanities PhD, currently in the job-hunt shark tank, trying to become tenure-track. This article is a very familiar bunch of sour grapes from yet another embittered, overbearing academic who's made his bones and now wants to sneer at all the climbers coming his way.

For the record, I have never been asked to deconstruct a hermeneutic in my life. I'm a teacher. I work with undergraduates, teaching them critical thinking skills, how to sift evidence, how to write, how to read history with a critical eye. It's a great job, and worthwhile, and something to be proud of. If I don't make it, well, show me the career path that carries an easy, competition-free guarantee.

The notion that an advanced degree is just an exercise in wankery is all-pervasive these days, spread mostly by people who have no idea what's involved (and sometimes reinforced by academic wankers like the author of this article.) It's an easy way to discredit professors, and scientists, and experts of all stripes. For a culture that seems eager to become ever more authoritarian, discrediting the intellectual class is a crucial step on that path.
 
2010-01-04 02:46:01 PM  
I'm graduating in May with a BA in Professional and Technical Writing. I figured, hey, it's not math or science, but it seems a heck of a lot more useful than history or English. I checked around on job websites and found plenty of openings for technical writers, with decent salaries (40-50k).

Now? Nothing. I'm terrified I'm going to have a useless degree like any other humanities major. At least this article has scared me away from grad school, which I was considering for precisely the reasons the author went.
 
2010-01-04 02:46:29 PM  
I'd like to go back to school to get my M.A. in History ( esp. interested in the early Byzantine period from 395 to 565 AD ), but after FINALLY paying off student loans that I incurred almost a decade ago, for a degree that I don't really use; it was a waste of time and money.

/ considering HVAC or plumbing at my local community college...
 
2010-01-04 02:46:50 PM  
The only people who should be going to graduate school are people in engineering and the sciences.
 
2010-01-04 02:48:39 PM  

Thromdim: I'm a recent Humanities PhD, currently in the job-hunt shark tank, trying to become tenure-track. This article is a very familiar bunch of sour grapes from yet another embittered, overbearing academic who's made his bones and now wants to sneer at all the climbers coming his way.

For the record, I have never been asked to deconstruct a hermeneutic in my life. I'm a teacher. I work with undergraduates, teaching them critical thinking skills, how to sift evidence, how to write, how to read history with a critical eye. It's a great job, and worthwhile, and something to be proud of. If I don't make it, well, show me the career path that carries an easy, competition-free guarantee.

The notion that an advanced degree is just an exercise in wankery is all-pervasive these days, spread mostly by people who have no idea what's involved (and sometimes reinforced by academic wankers like the author of this article.) It's an easy way to discredit professors, and scientists, and experts of all stripes. For a culture that seems eager to become ever more authoritarian, discrediting the intellectual class is a crucial step on that path.


The problem is the Humanities is pretty much self-perpetuating. It teaches students how to work in the Humanities, and that's about it.

So the students go on to be teachers who teach students who go on to be teachers, ect.
 
2010-01-04 02:48:43 PM  

FrilledLizard: The only people who should be going to graduate school are people in engineering and the sciences.


I'd rather my lawyer have a J.D. than a BA or GED.
 
2010-01-04 02:51:04 PM  
www.smbc-comics.com

I know. Physics isn't a humanity... but I'm a physics grad student and I worry about this at night.
 
2010-01-04 02:52:17 PM  

Forbidden Doughnut: I'd like to go back to school to get my M.A. in History ( esp. interested in the early Byzantine period from 395 to 565 AD ), but after FINALLY paying off student loans that I incurred almost a decade ago, for a degree that I don't really use; it was a waste of time and money.

/ considering HVAC or plumbing at my local community college...


Just say to yourself "What would Belisarius do?"

/Also a Byzantine historian
//Komnenid Period FTW!
 
2010-01-04 02:53:35 PM  
I'm about 3/4 of the way to an MA in Professional Communication (English program oriented to comm, info design, factual/technical writing, and some philosophy & theory of comm).

This bridges the gap between the humanities and the Real World by dealing with stuff large orgs actually care about, but pay very poorly for on an hours-vs-salary basis.

A corporate communicator's job is basically to do large chunks of everybody else's jobs, which they're no longer educated to do because the skills required can't be valued quantitatively - at a salary reflecting their lack of quantitative value.
 
2010-01-04 02:54:35 PM  
Just to echo the article, if I was independently wealthy I would love to do a Philosophy or History degree.

But I'm paying the bills by going for an Accounting degree. Hopefully it'll pay the bills.
 
2010-01-04 02:55:41 PM  

Dovienya: I'm graduating in May with a BA in Professional and Technical Writing. I figured, hey, it's not math or science, but it seems a heck of a lot more useful than history or English. I checked around on job websites and found plenty of openings for technical writers, with decent salaries (40-50k).

Now? Nothing. I'm terrified I'm going to have a useless degree like any other humanities major. At least this article has scared me away from grad school, which I was considering for precisely the reasons the author went.


I work in business to business publishing and I can tell you there's not a lot of hiring going on. There are usually lots of tech writer jobs at for-profit and non-profit (association) magazine publishers, but advertising revenue has dried up, so even when jobs come open they're not being filled. I don't envy you your job search, but I do believe that things will start to get better in 2010 -- ad revenue is starting to recover, andpublishers can't keep so many positions unfilled indefinitely without burning out their remaining staffers.

Technical writers will be in demand again. Just a few years ago, we couldn't fill positions becasue of a shortage of qualified writers/editors.
 
2010-01-04 02:57:06 PM  

Forbidden Doughnut: considering HVAC or plumbing at my local community college...


I recently paid a plumber $125 for less than 1 hour's work.

/not getting a kick...etc.
 
2010-01-04 02:57:37 PM  
Of course, this takes into account all of the PhD students who've specialized into ridiculous subjects (I'm looking at you theory) and as such cannot be hired to teach what needs to be taught which, for the most part, is Composition and generic humanities classes.

Unlike in the sciences, Humanities purges its graduates at the back end, not the front. The people who have no business being doctors are taken care of in Biology I while it's easy enough to coast along in the Humanities. This isn't to say that there aren't top of the line thinkers in the discipline--those people get jobs. It's the knuckle-headed underachievers who slide through PhD and Master programs that jack up the unemployment numbers.

/PhD Student in Literature
//Full-disclosure, yada yada
 
2010-01-04 02:58:54 PM  

006andahalf: I'd rather my lawyer have a J.D. than a BA or GED.


The content taught in law school could easily be taught in a rigorous BA program. The J.D. exists to lower the competition for existing lawyers.

/lawyer
 
2010-01-04 02:59:22 PM  

runawaywoodchipper: I know. Physics isn't a humanity... but I'm a physics grad student and I worry about this at night.


meh don't worry about it.
The Finance folks will hire you to help them work out the math in their trading models. Word on the street is that that level of math is too hard for Economics PhDs....
 
2010-01-04 02:59:50 PM  

The_Talented_Mr_Richards: Of course, this takes into account all of the PhD students who've specialized into ridiculous subjects (I'm looking at you theory) and as such cannot be hired to teach what needs to be taught which, for the most part, is Composition and generic humanities classes.

Unlike in the sciences, Humanities purges its graduates at the back end, not the front. The people who have no business being doctors are taken care of in Biology I while it's easy enough to coast along in the Humanities. This isn't to say that there aren't top of the line thinkers in the discipline--those people get jobs. It's the knuckle-headed underachievers who slide through PhD and Master programs that jack up the unemployment numbers.

/PhD Student in Literature
//Full-disclosure, yada yada


PhD's arent usualy teaching composition or basic humantities classes - most of those jobs go to grad students
 
2010-01-04 03:01:07 PM  

Sticky Hands: runawaywoodchipper: I know. Physics isn't a humanity... but I'm a physics grad student and I worry about this at night.

meh don't worry about it.
The Finance folks will hire you to help them work out the math in their trading models. Word on the street is that that level of math is too hard for Economics PhDs....


I know. They offered me $900,000/year + bonuses last year if I left the program right away. I decided to finish my PhD. As you can tell, I'm not the sharpest tack in the box. :(
 
2010-01-04 03:02:03 PM  

Molavian: AbbeySomeone: Came for pic of huge manatee.

/drums fingers...


dang!
 
2010-01-04 03:03:09 PM  
Doviena: I'm graduating in May with a BA in Professional and Technical Writing. I figured, hey, it's not math or science, but it seems a heck of a lot more useful than history or English. I checked around on job websites and found plenty of openings for technical writers, with decent salaries (40-50k).

Now? Nothing. I'm terrified I'm going to have a useless degree like any other humanities major. At least this article has scared me away from grad school, which I was considering for precisely the reasons the author went.


You sound like my sister-in-law, but from a couple of years ago. She got a B.A. in Professional and Technical Writing, and then set out to get a job. Called me up:

SIL: Hey, I need a job now that I have my B.A. I want to start out making at least $40,000, but I'm not finding anything that pays that to start. Is this a problem?
ME: Yes. In our area of the country (midwest), it doesn't work that way. You'll need a bit of experience before you can start making that kind of money. It's ok, though...you can manage.

So, instead of finding a lower-paying job and getting that experience, she decided to go back to school and get her M.A. I recently get another call.

SIL: I can't believe this! Even with my M.A., it looks like when I graduate my starting salary is still going to be pretty low.
ME: You still don't have any job experience. The M.A. will give you a bump, but until you get some jobs under your belt, you'll be competing with everyone else looking for work--and a lot of them have years of experience.
SIL: Maybe I should just get my Ph.D and teach.

Which, I believe is now her plan.

I don't want to extrapolate to the whole 20-something generation today, but quite a lot of them (I do marketing/PR for college admissions) seem to: 1) want a great salary out of the gate, and not want to earn any dues, and 2) not want to fight too hard for that first job. Staying in school is easier.

//Wearing onion on belt, etc.
 
2010-01-04 03:03:35 PM  

zobear: Forbidden Doughnut: considering HVAC or plumbing at my local community college...

I recently paid a plumber $125 for less than 1 hour's work.

/not getting a kick...etc.


Yeah my plumber charges $80 just to show up.
I admit, I was a little upset when he tole me that he earned 96k that year. of course, the fact that he averaged 80-100 hours of work* a week made me feel better.

*I assume that he was counting all the time away from home doing work like stuff in a workday as work, He doesn't bill for drivetime.
 
2010-01-04 03:04:06 PM  
I'm about to defend my Ph.D. thesis in comparative literature, so I'm getting a kick out of these replies.

Oh, and I also kept my options open, so I'm working a decent job as a communications specialist while freelance editing as my own small business on the side. There's a hell of a lot of bad writing and sloppy thinking out there. To the Bat Cave!

I love my Ph.D. subject, the teaching and the research, but that doesn't define who I am. I also find fulfilment in the other hats I wear. If decent contracts and positions come my way, I will apply for them. If I don't get them, I have other viable options because I tried to be smart and realistic about grad school, once I realized how the academic racket really worked.

/that's right, you can call me Doctor. Once. Please?
 
2010-01-04 03:04:58 PM  

Swampthing in Korea: Forbidden Doughnut: I'd like to go back to school to get my M.A. in History ( esp. interested in the early Byzantine period from 395 to 565 AD ), but after FINALLY paying off student loans that I incurred almost a decade ago, for a degree that I don't really use; it was a waste of time and money.

/ considering HVAC or plumbing at my local community college...

Just say to yourself "What would Belisarius do?"

/Also a Byzantine historian
//Komnenid Period FTW!


Considering that Belisarius had got almost nothing from Justinian, yet still remained loyal to his Emperor....gee, I don't know.

/ he was a better man than I am.
 
2010-01-04 03:05:56 PM  

Mighty Whitey: I work in business to business publishing and I can tell you there's not a lot of hiring going on. There are usually lots of tech writer jobs at for-profit and non-profit (association) magazine publishers, but advertising revenue has dried up, so even when jobs come open they're not being filled. I don't envy you your job search, but I do believe that things will start to get better in 2010 -- ad revenue is starting to recover, andpublishers can't keep so many positions unfilled indefinitely without burning out their remaining staffers.

Technical writers will be in demand again. Just a few years ago, we couldn't fill positions becasue of a shortage of qualified writers/editors.


Thanks for the motivation/information. :) I've been working my way through college at a fast food place. I'm not looking forward to trying to pay student loans with fast food paychecks.
 
2010-01-04 03:07:12 PM  

Somacandra: A lot of this is literally recycled from his previous column on the subject, especially the ending talking points. As usual from people like Mr. Benton and Stanley Fish, who has also written on this for The Chronicle, is that they've conveniently glossed over the fact that they and other Baby Boomer professors in their cohort are responsible in large part for the current mess because over decades they never clearly articulated a vision for why the Humanities are indispensible to American culture and never banded together to protect themselves and their posterity like workers in other fields did. Now we have politicians that revel in their anti-intellectualism, a basic lack of political history in the body politic, journalists who can't write or speak about basic human experiences like religion, and scientists who can only speak in jargonese to other people like them, unable to create a narrative to the larger public for why their work is relevant.


This is not limited to the humanities, or liberal-arts academia, or any one subset of academia, or academia at all. I just see it as part of the continuing trend of the fractionalization of mainstream culture into a variety of ever-more-discrete subcultures. This in and of itself is not a bad thing. Taking for a moment your example of "scientists who can only speak in jargonese to other people like them;" it is actually beneficial and natural that this occur as it facilitates and makes for more efficient communication within the in-group which in turn allows the results of their shared knowledge to be more fruitful. In a very basic pro-specialization, division-of-labor-type way this can serve to advance human knowledge much more rapidly than were it not to happen. However, what our current situation lacks are individuals to mediate between differentiated subcultures, sharing the most essential knowledge in ways that are easily understood by the relevant parties. I think the reason that Carl Sagan is so revered is that he accomplished exactly that.

However on a very basic sociological level, these individuals often lack a permanent in-group of their own to lend support to or help promote their efforts. That is not to say at all that they can not exist or ever be successful, but that their existence as mediators and facilitators is not as encouraged as say, someone willing to adjust their own identity to universally conform to the values of any particular subculture. Not to mention the fact that without a cadre of supporters to lend one's efforts legitimacy, their arguments are likely to be ignored and they themselves may not be tolerated, earning enemies more easily than allies. In a very real way mass-culture has come to adopt the social dynamics of high schoolers. Perhaps that means it has reached it's adolescent stage and we can expect from it greater maturity in the future.

/Perhaps not, though.
 
2010-01-04 03:09:25 PM  
Getting a bachelor's degree in anything is better than not going.

Plus, I had a blast for four years. Wouldn't change it for the world.
 
2010-01-04 03:10:44 PM  

It's a Sunshine Day!: I don't want to extrapolate to the whole 20-something generation today, but quite a lot of them (I do marketing/PR for college admissions) seem to: 1) want a great salary out of the gate, and not want to earn any dues, and 2) not want to fight too hard for that first job. Staying in school is easier.


I'd definitely be willing to take a low paying, entry level job. I just can't find any. There seem to be very few available jobs at all and they all require five or so years of experience.

I'm just talking about the general job market, though. My boyfriend and I will be moving out of state for his job within the next year, but there are several states we might have to go to (Connecticut, Nevada, Michigan - pretty big variety). Once I know where we're going, maybe I'll be able to find an internship or something, which should hopefully help me out.
 
2010-01-04 03:11:10 PM  
I never thought I would see the word hermeneutics used outside of the text of my homiletics text book.
 
2010-01-04 03:19:00 PM  
Dovienya: I'd definitely be willing to take a low paying, entry level job. I just can't find any. There seem to be very few available jobs at all and they all require five or so years of experience.

I'm just talking about the general job market, though. My boyfriend and I will be moving out of state for his job within the next year, but there are several states we might have to go to (Connecticut, Nevada, Michigan - pretty big variety). Once I know where we're going, maybe I'll be able to find an internship or something, which should hopefully help me out.


My best suggestion to you would be not to wait until you graduate to get some good writing experience. You can volunteer to write for non-profit publications, start a blog, write for your campus paper, get a non-paying internship with a local newspaper or business, etc....whatever you need so that when you start applying for jobs, your answer to the question, "What experience do you have?" isn't, "None," but "While I was completing my degree at Whatever University, I took the initiative in honing my skills at....."

Even if you don't get paid you can learn a lot, and those smaller experiences (and published samples) will definitely set you apart from other new graduates.

//Actually, this is good advice for college students in general out there. Get some experience--even if you don't get paid.
 
2010-01-04 03:19:03 PM  

Mighty Whitey: PhD's arent usualy teaching composition or basic humantities classes - most of those jobs go to grad students


Only at State universities or schools with grad programs--at smaller schools (which is where many of the teaching jobs are at) Junior professors teach many of the Gen Ed classes because they don't have grad students.

However, it's very teaching intensive, often a 4/4 load instead of say a 3/2 load.
 
2010-01-04 03:20:47 PM  
Having just completed several philosophy PhD applications, I'm not getting a kick. However, it is not terribly easy to get accepted into PhD programs in the first place. The author of the article acts as if it's a simple task to get a university to pay for four years of schooling - it's not. Many of the programs accept less than 10 applicants out of perhaps 150-200. Those are pretty horrible odds from the start.
As for the continental philosophers (e.g., Derridians), it will probably be a good deal harder to get a job in mainstream university which takes math and science as part of its philosophical corpus. Suck it Hegel.

That said, I will now add this article to the things that make the crushing depression of application season much, much worse.
 
2010-01-04 03:23:33 PM  

Dovienya: It's a Sunshine Day!: I don't want to extrapolate to the whole 20-something generation today, but quite a lot of them (I do marketing/PR for college admissions) seem to: 1) want a great salary out of the gate, and not want to earn any dues, and 2) not want to fight too hard for that first job. Staying in school is easier.

I'd definitely be willing to take a low paying, entry level job. I just can't find any. There seem to be very few available jobs at all and they all require five or so years of experience.

I'm just talking about the general job market, though. My boyfriend and I will be moving out of state for his job within the next year, but there are several states we might have to go to (Connecticut, Nevada, Michigan - pretty big variety). Once I know where we're going, maybe I'll be able to find an internship or something, which should hopefully help me out.


If you're open to other locations, the Wash. DC area is probably the one of the best markets in the country for technical writers.
 
2010-01-04 03:26:42 PM  
I started graduate school in a social science field part-time when I was 41. I still work in an mostly unrelated field that pays the bills.
My opinion is that graduate school would have been a complete waste of time in my twenties. I hadn't experienced enough about the world to really understand anything. At my age I can actual relate what I learn to real things I've experienced.

I know, I know. It's different for you, you're 23 and you think because you have a degree, did an internship and got laid a few times you know what life is about. Whatever.
 
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