May 23, 2003

a life for PhD's outside academia

This is so good. It says there is life outside the academy for those with PhD's. It says it so well. In doing so it counters a common view amongst academics who do not

"...seem able to imagine that PhDs who step outside the academic fold might find employment anywhere other than the typing pool. Is it so astonishing to consider that people with the skills and intellectual acuity to complete a doctoral degree might actually thrive outside the academy, in a wide range of jobs?"

The problem lies with the academics, their cultural capital and job snobbery. They---radicals included--- look down on those PhD's who fail to gain employment in academia and engage in intellectual practice outside the academ. This looking down happens even though these academics feel, and are, betrayed by an educational system they once had a vocation for.

'Look down' is too weak. They disdain, and have a deep contempt for, the non-academic world---especially for those engaged in intellectual practice (researchers) in political life. It is cultural snobbery.

And this rings so true:

"My other friends who were leaving, or thinking about leaving, academia and I could often, in my last year or two of graduate school, be found having what I came to call "detox sessions," where we would simply rehearse to one another the psychic assaults academic life can make on one grown dissafected with it, and reassure one another that leaving didn't make one bad, or stupid, or a failure."

That is the attack---you have to leave because you are a failure and stupid, even though there is a general "understanding in [our] bones of how bad the economic "restructuring" of higher education is for us all in the humanities. The charge of being stupid and a failure is a weapon employed by the senior academics over those in grad school doing their PhD's and over the junior faculty. Its an instrument of governance---like guilt in the Catholic religious system. Its a snobby little worldwhere knowledge is used as a weapon.

The academy turns its back on you. Closes the door. Spurns you. Rejects you for choosing an alternative career. Its the violence of that rejection by those living the tenured life which is what is so suprising.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at May 23, 2003 11:35 PM | TrackBack


You have got to be kidding with the Michele Tepper article link. I think it’s awesomely benign that some academics want to work outside the quadrangle – who on earth cares if they do, or don’t?

A much bigger, and more real, issue is that it is a miracle, in Oz in 2003, for a newly-minted PhD to get a job inside or outside academia. They’ve got choice, all right – it’s Work for the Dole with Provider A or Provider B. No doubt things were different in the US during the dotcom boom, when Michele wrote her article, but to incorporate it now, without comment, is just bizarre.


“I'm going to try my luck in new media — you know, Internet stuff … if it doesn't work out, there's always another job list next [autumn]."

Before realising that Michele Tepper’s broader website could well provide me with the postscript to what happened, five years down the track, I was going to make a wager here that (i) her foray into “Internet stuff” did work out, at least in the short term, and that (ii) the “Internet stuff” was now pretty much over for her, BUT she would not be in academia.

And guess what - her full resume is online (itself a sign, of course), confirming her current status as a self-employed “Information Architecture Consultant”. If I wasn’t in much the same boat myself, I’d feel sorry for her. In hindsight, there may well have been another academic “job list” in the autumn of 1999, but I’d bet that if there is even one being drawn up now for autumn 2003, Michele’s got Buckley’s of getting anything. And as for her continuing to hang on with the status quo, designing web pages part-time, I’m afraid that the outlook here is even gloomier – for all its cutbacks, academia has so far proved immune to third world outsourcing, unlike so much else.

Academic “job snobs”? – gimme a break.

Posted by: Paul Watson on May 24, 2003 05:32 PM

It was not a good post. I had the flu yesterday real bad is my excuse. Hence the lack of comment.

I entirely agree with your central point. The current outlook in the acAdemic job market is very very gloomy. Many of my friends who have been knocking on the door have no hope. It's a lost cause.Many are too highly qualified for the shit academic jobs on offer---contract teaching.

Mine was a historical piece. A looking back at the senior academics who scorned those with PhD's trying to find alternative career paths even though they dam well knew that there was no future for them in academia. Yet they kept on enrolling students in PhD programs. When the students completed and applied for a low grade 3 year contract lectureship with a 150 others they implied that the Ph'Ds who didn't get the job were stupid--they couldn't cut it in acdemia.


And there are alternative career paths for PhD's which involve reskilling--the activist path mention by Tepper which I interpret as working for ngo's. But these pathways were dismissed with arrogance by the senior academics. The only place for thinking was acdemia they said. It is snobbery because many of the senior academics were and are deeply opposed to the social democratic university. They think a university is for the elite. The rest are only fit for vocational training.

From a boader perspective I reckon that a generation of highly trained student has been lost to academia. Its a national tragedy.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson on May 24, 2003 08:12 PM

I'm always happy to come across people commenting on my article, though less so to see people speculating on my life without, you know, ascertaining the facts.

For the record, I'm quite happily self-employed, and earning more money doing so than any of my friends who stayed in academia earn, including those working tenure-track jobs (only 25% of those who entered my program with me who have completed their degrees, last I heard). I chose not to apply for academic jobs in '99, and in all honesty don't think I would take an EngLit job were it offered to me today -- I like my life as it is far too much.

And the idea that academia is immune to outsourcing is almost too ridiculous to comment upon. What does Mr Watson think the average adjunct is other than an academic sweatshop worker?

Posted by: Michele Tepper on July 12, 2003 05:25 AM

What's cookin' in here guys?

Posted by: "Mr. Philosophy" on May 17, 2004 04:37 PM

I would like to invite some prominent PhD's to consider the highest scientific degree in the world: the Grand Doctor of Philosophy. For information, please email me at Thanks.

Posted by: Shirley Jacobsen on July 16, 2004 10:28 AM

I'm one of the few philosophy PhDs I know who's been lucky enough to land a decent non-academic job. I've been at it for several years and have a pretty decent feel for how the non-academic world works now. I promise you: It is very hard for academics to transition to non-academic work, not because of any academic snobbery but because the non-academic world simply doesn't know how to interpret an academic work history. Apply for a non-academic job and you're competing against other people who've been following a career 'trajectory' leading them straight to the position in question. There's no problem, in their case, about rationalizing the decision to hire them; and hiring them won't raise the eyebrows of those who oversee the work of the hiring manager. Hiring someone other than the academic is simply the 'safe' thing to do. This is an enormous obstacle that academics have to overcome when they seek non-academic employment.

Posted by: Steve on October 25, 2004 11:51 PM
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