Friday, March 1, 2013

Now What?

About a month and a half ago, I was going to post my diatribe about quitting academia, getting a job that paid real wages, and say, “sayonara, suckers!” to all the academic institutions that have wiped their collective feet on me as a doormat.  For some reason, though, I just could not bring myself to post it after venting my spleen on my hapless laptop.  

But then an email arrived that made me reconsider.  I got accepted into a Ph.D. program.  No word yet on funding, but apparently my finances are so bad that a financial aid counselor thinks even if the school itself has nothing to offer me, the government will aid in picking up the tab.  

Do I think this is the answer to all my problems?  No.  I am not that naïve after having spent some years in adjunct hell.  Do I think that I will automatically receive a full-time tenure track job on graduating?  No.  But damn it, part of me wants to indulge myself in high level thinking and know that at least with the paper key, there might be a chance---more so than there is right now.  

So, have I lost my mind?  I know academia, despite all its many shades of misery, is still my favorite place to be.  Should we open the bourbon with Bubba and celebrate, or should I ask Strelnikov to hand me a Molotov cocktail instead and just put me out of my misery now?


  1. Congratulations!

    But be sure to read the fine print.

    Our graduate students teach. A lot. We pay them less than our adjuncts (who teach the same classes).

  2. Yes, you have lost your mind.

    Aid and funding and everything else are nice, but do not spend your own money. You are investing enough finances via lost income. On average, you'll not recoup the salary losses from several years of negligible income.

    But that doesn't mean it's not fun, or that I am not doing it.

    It also doesn't mean you'll increase your job prospects. Finding a job will probably be harder. More time will have passed since you last did something the average person sees as useful, and the fresh skills you have will be incredibly narrow in utility.

    So, yes, you have lost your mind. Welcome to the club.

  3. "I know academia, despite all its many shades of misery, is still my favorite place to be."

    How many other places have you been? Meaningful work exists outside academia, and there are other places where one can "indulge" in "high level thinking."

    1. Perhaps with a master's that may now be true for meaningful work. I had a field I loved, it dried up, and that drove me back to grad school in my 30s so it isn't like I simply worked a few basic jobs......I have been reading about alternative careers and keeping my eyes open for them, but they have been few and far between in my geographical area of the country. It is only recently my partner is willing to relocate.

    2. It could be. There's no magic bullet, but tunnel vision and a sense of sunk costs can contribute to artificially narrowing one's options.

  4. This is where you must apply that critical thinking stuff to your own self and think about what you're really looking for in life. What do YOU want to do?

  5. Congrats on your acceptance to PhD School. If I could do it over again, I'd still get my PhD, but I'd make sure it was paid for by someone else, preferably be paid to get my PhD. I shouldn't have given in to the pressure to get it so urgently because I ended up funding most of it and will be paying off student loans until I retire, most likely (the sad irony). While subsidized loans exist, rarely does "the government" pay for it all.

  6. If you can live with not putting a dime of your own towards your degree (OR towards living expenses while you are getting it) AND you are at peace with the fact that the Ph.D. may not get you a job, I say go for it.

    It's a free education.

    However if you have to finance any of it yourself, or cannot deal with not having a higher income while you are in grad school, or the thought of not getting a job after you get out (and after all that work) even remotely embitters you, move on.

    I would love to be a student again and have someone pay me to get another Ph.D. That's what I might do when I retire. But then I'd have retirement income and a job would not be my goal.

  7. My thoughts are much like Cynic's, and those of several others above -- congratulations, but/and go only if you can come out with no debt. I'm not sure the issue of opportunity cost is as significant as it might be in a better economy (says someone who finished her Ph.D. while watching the dot-com bubble grow and then go pop, and who isn't much of an economist in any case), but it is very important to keep your wits about you, plan to move through the experience fairly quickly (in other words, start thinking about the diss. from day one, and at least exploring possible topics in seminar papers if you're in that kind of field), and continue to explore alternative career options while you're at it.

    And, as Peter K warns, make sure that any "free ride" you're offered isn't really a ridiculously heavy teaching load that will keep you from focusing on your studies. One advantage you have as a current adjunct is an understanding of how much time what kind of load will actually require. Get details, check them with current grad students and/or against published class schedules, and choose accordingly. This is a tricky area. Despite the horrible job market, schools are surprisingly (or perhaps not-so-surprisingly) willing to create, maintain, or even expand Ph.D. programs. Make sure there's something in it for you, that you're not just providing cheap labor and/or an interesting teaching experience for the faculty (while teaching the basic classes they don't want to teach). As an experienced teacher, you have some advantages (the first few years in the classroom are definitely the hardest/most time consuming), but also the possibility of being more exploited. Be careful that they won't be expecting more of you than less-experienced grad-student teachers.

    Which leads to another piece of advice: it isn't clear whether this school is nearby or not, but time and/or money spent visiting, or trying in other ways to make contact with current grad students, recent grads (and, if possible, recent non-grads -- those who "timed out" or left or whatever) would be well spent. As much as possible, try to figure out what you're getting into, and don't rely on info. from faculty alone.

    And, finally, a question: did you apply to only one program, and, if so, why? If the funding you're offered by this one isn't adequate (and/or the teaching load is too high), since you're now in a position to relocate, would it make sense to apply to a number of schools next year, hoping to put yourself in a better bargaining position vis a vis funding?

    1. What Cassandra said, and said very well at that. And not to beat a dead duck, but the bottom line is this: do it debt-free or don't do it at all. I tell the same thing to my students who dream of applying to graduate school.

  8. Ancillary Adjunct, the Molotov cocktail is a messy way to die that spreads poor man's nampalm (flaming gasoline) all over the place. A Tokarev bullet is cleaner, but this isn't the time for it.

    Take the government's money and run.