Tuesday, October 07, 2014

This post contains too many italics

The most articulate response I can summon to Ted Scheinman's claim below (via) is: This again?

High-scoring students at top colleges who pursue doctorates in the humanities have already capitulated to manifold compromises: instead of earning small fortunes at consultancies, we sign a six-year contract to live on or around the poverty line while our teaching, writing, and research busies us for roughly 12 hours a day.
I got a lot out of grad school personally and intellectually, and all the usual disclaimers. But. If I had imagined, for even a glimmer of a moment, that "small fortunes" or "consultancies" were options for me, I might not have signed up. Yet I think Scheinman's talking about people like me. I guess "high" and "top" are relative, but "honors" and "UChicago" might count, and I vaguely recall that I'm someone who does well on standardized tests, but it's been so long, I don't remember the details.

But... while I absolutely had college classmates who went on to that sort of path, it's not as if each individual elite-college student sits there and ponders a choice. My choices - not just my inclinations - had left me with the choices I did have, but these were not choices made senior year of college, for the most part. I was on the track to something-poorly-compensated-involving-writing long before graduation. There was nothing I could offer a consultancy (such things as... knowing what one was, or how to even find out about jobs at one) when I graduated. If I'd been a completely different person, with a different major or substantially different coursework, sure. But, alas. I combed the Idealist listings - successfully, because 2005. Then I rejoiced and headed to grad school (and - how 2005-2006 - took a pay cut!) when I learned I'd be paid to read books.

I suppose it's different at the really elite schools, and do have a Facebook friend who periodically mentions being a humanities major who went the get-paid-a-lot route and seems confused about why others wouldn't do the same, and I want to be like, because we didn't all go to college where you did!, but then I figure maybe I'm wrong, and anyone who did go somewhere super-duper-elite probably knows more about this than I do. (Scheinman also says something about impostor syndrome.) But I doubt if it's that different, certainly post-2008.


Flavia said...

I'm getting to the point where I feel I've now read every single one of the 500 different possible articles about academia in at least 500 different iterations.

But yes, I agree with you about that particular point. I don't know any humanities majors who became consultants (and the consultants I do/did know began at solid-but-not-three-figure salaries). The humanities majors I know who landed relatively cushily went to law school (most definitely pre-2008!), but that's a lot of debt, and the salaries are only good at corporate firms--and most of my acquaintances wanted out of those jobs as fast as possible.

There are a lot of opportunity costs to going to grad school, and when you're 30 or 32 and everything you own can fit into a van, the gap between you and your friends who worked their way up from entry-level jobs 10 years ago (and now own cars and houses and things!) can feel huge. But that's at least as much about one's perception as about reality--and whatever the reality is, it's almost certainly not ten-years-of-six-figure-salaries.

Phoebe said...

That's my impression as well. Law school was the only plausible path to above-average earnings, and even in 2005 or so, it was already looking like a gamble. Conventional wisdom had already become that if you couldn't get one of maybe six schools, you'd end up with (more) debt and prospects comparable to those with just the BA.

And yes re: the "opportunity costs" - it seems like it should be possible to make that point without exaggerating exactly what those costs are. A high school teacher probably *is* doing better than an 8th-year PhD student or a perma-adjunct, but that's the sort of alternative that would be appropriate to consider. People I know who started at the entry level in journalism or publishing have often enough ended up... in PhD programs.

abrahamandsarah said...

At Penn lots of humanities kids get consulting/finance jobs. Probably a quarter of Classics majors go that route.