Resources for Non-Academic Careers and Humanities PhDs

Note: Contact me if you have additions or even ideas for additions.

THE SKY IS FALLING (if you’re a PhD)
Relax, Friend: There Are Non-Academic Opportunities
We Need to Fix the Academy
Cool Programs Aimed at Taking that Initial Step
It’s OKAY to Leave

(if you’re a PhD)

“Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”
by Thomas H. Benton in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 30 Jan. 2009. Note that Thomas H. Benton is the pseudonym of William Pannapacker.

“The Humanities, Unraveled”
by Michael Bérubé in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 18 Feb 2013. From the president of MLA! Argues that humanities education “is a seamless garment of crisis: If you pull on any one thread, the entire thing unravels.”

“Forward: The Institution as False Horizon”
by Mark Bousquet in Workplace 1 (1998). The link is to a PDF. Degree holders as institutional “waste.”

“PhD Numbers Have Doubled But Few Graduates Will Find Teaching Jobs, Ontario Study Finds”
by Simona Chiose in The Globe and Mail. 30 April 2013.

“Academia’s Indentured Servants”
by Sarah Kendzior in Aljazeera. 11 April 2013.

“Professors Making $10,000 a Year? Academia Becoming a Profession Only the Elite Can Afford”
by Sarah Kendzior in Alternet. 22 August 2012.

“The Disposable Academic: Why Doing a PhD is Often a Waste of Time”
in The Economist. 13 Dec 2010.

“From Graduate School to Welfare”
by Stacy Patton in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 6 May 2012. Adjuncts on food stamps. Fun times.

Ph.D. Poverty Guest Post I
at The Professor Is In. 17 May 2012. These three guest posts were posted as a kind of “follow up” to the “From Graduate School to Welfare” article by Patton above.

Ph.D. Poverty Guest Post II
at The Professor Is In. 24 May 2012.

Ph.D. Poverty Guest Post III
at The Professor Is In. 31 May 2012.

“So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities?”
viral YouTube video

“Should You Go to Grad School?”
by Ron Rosenbaum in Slate. 27 Dec 2012.

100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School
A blog that is slowly going through 100 reasons, giving each one an in-depth discussion. It’s almost done.

The Adjunct Project
Crowdsourced project to gather “pay and working conditions data about the nation’s adjuncts.” Mostly US-based.

Relax, Friend:
There Are Non-Academic Opportunities

“So What are You Going To Do With That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia
by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius. 2001. This could easily be filed under the “It’s OKAY to quit” section, as there’s a lot of good advice about whether or not, or how, to leave, either before or after earning finishing the dissertation.

“Few Academic Jobs, But Canada’s Need for PhDs Grows”
by Brent Herbert-Copley in The Globe and Mail. 29 May 2013.

“Crossing the Chasm From Academia to Business”
talk by Geoffrey Moore at Stanford’s Bibliotech Conference. 10 May 2012. Go watch this right now. It’s really good. Moore is an English PhD-turned-venture capitalist.

“Another Career Choice for Ph.D.’s: Management Consulting”
by Gabriela Montell in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 12 Nov 1999.

The Versatile PhD
Resource for those targeting or at least considering non-academic careers. Great discussions on the forums, from those in the midst of crossing the chasm, those still considering it, and those that have already done so. Some subscribing institutions get extra perks.

What Are All the PhDs?
“What Are All The PhDs? provides an outlet for sharing the various career paths of PhDs.”

#Alt-Academy: A Media Commons Project
A study of PhDs with non-academic careers. The full study isn’t completed/released as of writing. You probably want to read the Rebecca Rogers below, for now.

“Why Marketing Could Use Humanities PhDs – And Vice Versa”
by Dr. Jessica Langer, at her blog.

We Need to Fix the Academy

“No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History”
by Anthony T. Grafton and Jim Grossman in Perspectives in History. 2001. Argues that students internalize negative professorial attitudes towards alt-ac careers. Suggests systemic changes to make such careers a viable, primary goal for a larger portion PhD degree seekers.

“Stanford Moves Ahead With Plans to Radically Change Humanities Doctoral Education
by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed. Stanford is moving ahead with an attempt to make it feasible to get a PhD in five years, “down from the current average of seven at the university and much longer elsewhere.”

“Overeducated, Underemployed: How to Fix Humanities Grad School”
by William Pannapacker in Slate. 27 July 2011.

“Rebooting Graduate Education in the Humanities”
by William Pannapacker in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 7 Jan. 2013. NOTE: William Pannapacker also writes as Thomas H. Benton.

Cool Programs Aimed at Taking that Initial Step

Stanford’s Bibliotech Conference
Mentioned above. A cool conference aimed at Connecting Liberal Arts PhDs with Forward-Thinking Companies.” The videos are great. The “Designships” sound like they might be similar to what MITACS does (below).

New Route PhD
A new UK program for PhDs, which “retain[s] the core elements of the traditional UK PhD but are augmented by additional formal training to support the academic and individual development of the student.”

The Praxis Network
A Canadian/American network of universities aimed at “rethinking pedagogy and campus partnerships in relation to the digital,” and which is also focused on alternative academic careers. Each university in the network has a slightly different mission, just because each university exists in its own particular ecosystem.

Illuminate: UBC’s Coop Program Conference Site
UBC is actually creating a co-op program for its PhDs. (Very cool, because our generation’s increasing reliance on unpaid training or internships is rather uncool.)

University of Victoria’s Coop Program
Similarly, the University of Victoria is one of three Canadian universities currently offering co-op placements for PhD students.

University of Toronto’s Graduate Professional Skills (GPS) Program
“GPS focuses on skills beyond those conventionally learned within a disciplinary program, skills that may be critical to success in the wide range of careers that graduates enter, both within and outside academe.”

MITACS provides paid research collaborations with industrial partners as well as career training. There’s a place on the website where you can browse past collaborations by discipline. Based on my discussions with MITACS representatives at various campuses, a nice selling point is that *most* of the projects become something that looks good on an academic CV and a non-academic resume.

It’s OKAY to Leave

at The Professor Is In. The Professor in this case is an alt-ac who specializes in helping academics with the academic job hunt, but also helps people cross the chasm over to the non-academic track, should they so wish.

“Thesis Hatement”
by Rebecca Schuman in Slate. 5 April 2013. Outlines the rather more unpleasant aspects of the PhD process.

  • And… Schuman again! “My Academic Metamorphosis”
    by Rebecca Schuman in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 17 May 2013. Compares academia to a cult, after Thomas H. Benton (see below).

“Is Graduate School a Cult?”
by Thomas H. Benton (aka William Pannapacker) in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 28 June 2004.

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New Žižek book: Less Than Nothing

Žižek has a new book on Hegel: Less Than Nothing. And I ordered it! Finally! I say that kinda like someone who has read everything by Žižek and has been thirsty for more, but that’s not really true. There’s plenty of his stuff that I haven’t read. (Most of his stuff, actually.) But this one is, like, different from his other stuff, man.

No, seriously:

“A lot of what I write is blah, blah, bullshit, a diversion from the 700-page book on Hegel I should be writing.”

“A life in writing: Slavoj Žižek” @ the guardian

And another quote:

And on Saturday, I propose to go into Hegel, the limits of Hegel, again, with a detailed new analysis. Because you know, enemies of the people claim I am just bluffing – “that big book of Hegel, ‘haha,’ I will never write it” – Fuck you. I have it. 800 pages.

“The Idea of Communism and Its Actuality” Masterclass @ Birckbeck Institute for the Humanities

So… there you go. He has it. 800 pages. (Reviews on Amazon indicate it’s more than that, actually.)

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Your first conference presentation

It's sort of like when you go up to the big kids' diving board for the first time because, hey, every kid has to do it eventually, and you know it's not really that bad, but then you look down at the water way, way down below and oh! this was a terrible idea, the worst idea you've ever had. When you asked permission to do it, you didn't think there was any chance they'd actually say yes. Why would they say yes?

Also, there are a bunch of strangers looking at you. What could they be thinking? They're wondering what's up with the weird kid on the diving board. Why's he shuffling his feet like that? God, just look at this kid's bathing suit. What a twerp. Did he really think that was an appropriate bathing suit for the big kids' diving board?

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Confessions of a Sleazy English Professor

  • I’ve had tenure for awhile now, but I’ve only recently found the courage to teach my “Graphic Novels as Literature” course. And by “Graphic Novels as Literature,” I mean a couple old issues of Amazing Spider-Man I found in my basement, where Spider-Man fights the Hulk, and then they team up and beat the #$@% out of Dr. Octopus.
  • One time I told a student that I would give him a letter of reference, but all I sent was a drawing of a stick man with his head on fire.
  • If a student essay has a pun in the title, I’ll give it an A without even reading it.
  • Sometimes when I’m lecturing I pretend to go back to my laptop to check my notes, but it’s really just playing old episodes of Seinfield with the sound off and subtitles turned on.
  • If a student I don’t like tries to use literary theory, no matter what they say, and no matter how insightful it is, I will just tell them something like, “No no, that’s not what ______ meant; go back and re-read _____.” The thing is, most of the time I haven’t read whatever text I’m talking about either, and I’m just bullshitting. But who’s going to question me?
  • At a bar one time this med student was talking about her heavy workload, so I said, wistfully, “Ah, if we had but world enough and time.” And she was like, “Oh, is that Jane Austen?” And I was like, “Uh, yeah, sure, baby. Can I buy you a drink?” (She said no.)
  • One time a student asked me for help understanding “The Death of the Author.” I didn’t feel like getting into it, so I just said, “Oh, he was just talking about Dickens. So Charles Dickens, the author, is dead. That’s all you need to know.” He said, “What? How does that help? I thought this was an important essay.” And I replied, “Well, jeez, kid. Just keep it in mind next time you read Hard Times.”
  • I have mastered the art of asking leading questions whenever I don’t know the material well enough to kill 50 minutes with lecture.
  • The thing about proper MLA style and formatting is that undergrads never get it completely right. So I can dock basically as many points as I want for improper style, depending on how much I like a particular student.
  • I dock participation points if anyone comes to my office hours when I’m in the middle of watching my soaps. I’ve pirated every episode of Days of Our Lives.
  • Speaking of participation marks: I don’t actually keep track. Everybody gets an A, except that I dock points for really random things I decide on before class. It’s like a drinking game, except it’s my students’ futures which are at stake.
  • I routinely go to informal book clubs and offer really messed up but convincing interpretations of whatever book is being discussed.
  • One time I realized that I basically had three quarters of the varsity football team in my Intro to English Lit class. I failed all of them so that they were ineligible to play in the championship game. Obviously, this was after I bet $20,000 on the other team.
  • I switched the focus of my research to the nineteenth-century novel because I’m cheap and pretty much every nineteenth-century novel worth studying is available for free from Project Gutenberg.
  • My favourite book is the novelization of Star Wars: Episode III. It’s like a Shakespearian tragedy and a medieval romance, all in one. Except it’s in space, and the swords are made of lasers. I tried explaining that to Harold Bloom once, but I don’t think he was paying attention.
  • One easy way I like to use to kill class time: I assign a really easy, enjoyable novel, but then I tell the class that what it’s really about is the author’s unconscious obsession with bestiality. Then I open things up for debate.
  • I go to conferences basically so I can get shitfaced in hotel rooms with other scholars whom I’ll only see a few weekends a year. Then the next morning I wander around, hungover, trying to score free books.
  • I always write positive reviews for other scholarly books because I want people to like me.
  • My favourite class of the year is always the discussion seminar where I assign a random John Donne poem and say, “Okay, now let’s find all the sex jokes.”
  • For $95,000 I ghost-wrote Clive Cussler’s last three novels.
  • Old Marty Spellman’s wife told me that she was tired of being married to an English professor. That’s why I told her I was an astronaut before I tried to get her to sleep with me.
  • Yeah, of course I’ve read War and Peace. But I sure as hell don’t remember the character names or what happened. Denisov something something Russia blah blah.
  • None of my colleagues know this, but I’ve written a six-volume analysis of the Battlestar Galactica TV showremake. I haven’t published it because I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy. The sixth volume just contains slow-cooker recipes you could use if the Earth were destroyed and we all lived on space ships.
  • The last book I published was only 104 pages and the only edition ever printed costs $87.00. Initially, it only sold eight copies‚ until I worked out a deal with a friend in California in which we both assign each other’s textbooks. Now my book makes me a pretty nice chunk of change, but all its reviews on Amazon are really negative ones from students who couldn’t afford the book in the first place.
  • I convinced the government to give me $38,000 to spend next summer in England researching Sir Walter Scott’s private letters and manuscripts. All the materials I mentioned in my grant proposal are available for free on the Internet, but the government doesn’t know that.
  • I once wrote an epic social realist novel about Marxism and class struggle, except that on the last page the narrator reveals that all the characters are bees, and when they “talk,” they’re really just doing their bee dance. Get it? Because they’re worker bees? Huh? Huh? Ah, forget it. What do you know?
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