So! How was your Saturday night?

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 1 March 2009

Mine started off with macaroni cheese and ended up with my small, shivering hands clinging to iron railings outside a hotel in the rain, while my boyfriend and my boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend steadied my arms on either side so that I could hop away from the wailing siren of a fire alarm.

Macaroni cheese, people: just say no.

No, to tell the truth, the story behind that isn't anywhere near as interesting as it should be. I did have to sit down with my foot up for an hour watching other people dance (not right, this), but I was allowed to be the only Arts person at a tableful of scientists with only a couple of jokes about loud alarms going 'AWOOGA!', and the ankle managed to lay off most of the stabbingly stabbing pain until the end of the evening, which was a long, slow walk to a taxi rank in the style of Touching the Void.

Anyway! Work. In a segue that I'm sure would be a lot neater if I took a moment to do this properly, the lengthy agonising hobble to get to a taxi queue where there were fifty people and no goddamn taxis reminded me of the whole advising-students-(not-)to-do-PhDs-in-Arts-subjects thing. I was speaking to an MA student at work the other day who can't wait to start his PhD, can't wait to be called doctor, and really really can't wait to be a lecturer, especially because his girlfriend's doing a PhD too and they've already started looking at which universities they could work in to be close together without having to work 'anywhere crap'. Now, he's very smart and the job market in his field is slightly less awful than in mine, but... it's a PhD in the Arts. You'd think somebody would have said something.

I stayed guardedly positive while sharing a few things about the job market that he probably needed to know, so I feel like I've sort of done my duty by being the first person to say that things are really not great. But, honestly? I've heard a lot of people recommend that the advice to such students should be to tell them absolutely not to go into academia unless they're really, really, absolutely dedicated to the point of not even being able to imagine ever being happy doing anything else with their lives, and... I'm fairly sure that bright, keen students like this one wouldn't be at all put off. This student had already been told that, in fact, and was even more determined to be tough enough anyway, and this is because it's effectively useless advice, given to bright twenty-one-year-olds who are already in love with academia. 'Don't do this unless you're prepared to be the best of the best of the best!' 'Don't do this unless you love academia more than all the other students you know!' Come on. How do you think they're going to respond to that?

Forgive me for my pessimism, here, but I don't think that students who believe that they only deserve to be in academia if they're prepared to jump right into it regardless of what horror stories they hear about the job market are going to make the best-thought-out decisions.

These students don't need to be told to prove they're worthy. They need to be given the facts about the job market, preferably in terms of numbers - numbers of candidates, of jobs, of number of applications typically made before one works out, of months/years they can expect to spend doing casual hours of part-time teaching to keep some kind of department affiliation in the meantime, of average monthly income they can expect to have during that time - and then left to make their own mind up based on that. It's just a job! We're not training them to be Jedi, for Christ's sake.

And with that said, me and my ankle are going to watch TV.


  1. Laz Says:
  2. If it wasn't going on 2am I'd be on the phone to you right now to get the true story about the fire alarm, the ankle and the macaroni cheese... Remind me to call you tomorrow - I've got 600 minutes (and unlimited texts) on my new contract ;-)

  3. Autumn Song Says:
  4. Ooooh, owch! for the ankle.

    And yes, I agree wholeheartedly on telling idealistic MA students about the job market. Evil.