grad student dilemma?

This article discusses the current dilemma for grad students in history but acknowledges the situation is very much the same for grad students and new PhDs in all of the humanities.

“It is time, they argue, to admit that the academic job market is not coming back anytime soon, that many new Ph.D.s who find jobs outside academe find rewarding work (both financially and intellectually), and that the doctoral experience needs to change in some ways so that new Ph.D.s have more options.”

Something I’ve appreciated in my field is the broad acknowledgement of applied anthropology. As adjunct faculty, I’ve found it satisfying when I am able to work in both realms. Anthropology is inherently flexible that way; it may be a good thing that other fields in the social sciences are looking at becoming more flexible. On the other hand, there is sometimes disdain directed at field archaeologists from tenured professors. Not always, my first archaeology jobs were offered to me by a tenured faculty member who also operated a small cultural resource management business. Back in the day, I saw that combination of academic and applied archaeology as the best of all worlds. My life has changed in some ways that may not allow me to pursue that particular double path for my livelihood. Even so, it is a good path in my opinion. Had I pursued any of the other subfields of anthropology more heavily, I think it would not have been terribly difficult to merge my learning into applied work. Archaeology tends to be the subfield that lends itself to both academic and applied research/work. I know people in the other subfields who do consulting work and teach.

Maybe there’s more shaming of applied historians than those of us in anthropology receive. The most disparaging remarks I have had to tolerate had to do with my choice to be an interdisciplinary PhD. One colleague did not understand why I would not pursue a PhD in anthropology. This person thought that it would be four or five years of wasted work if it wasn’t work in anthropology. All I could, or can, say about that is “if anthropologists who spend their lives studying people and how people live, diachronically and synchronically, shouldn’t become expert in sustainability studies — who should?” I’ve repeated that over and over for the last half a dozen years. Some hear it, others don’t. The thing about studying sustainability and sustainable practices is * if not for humans, there really would be no need to study sustainability at all.* We snatched our nest here on the planet, we fouled it, and now we have to deal with cleaning it up.

I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture of applied anthropology. One thing that an archaeologist who is hoping to work with an academic approach to CRM or who is hoping to combine academic work with applied work needs to know is that your reports, no matter how detailed and rigorously constructed will be viewed as “gray literature.” A huge volume of CRM reports (the so-called “gray literature”) is produced every week that academic researchers involved in theoretical interpretive debate do not see. A wealth of information in the minds of many CRM consultants never makes it to the table. As a result, free flow of information about the past is stifled.

Most anthropological archaeologists acknowledge that separating excavation form critical thinking and scientific methodology leads to bad archaeology. Anthropological archaeologists need to improve the way the flow of information is dealt with. Locally, concerned archaeologists cannot afford to segregate themselves into “academic” and CRM practitioners. If we are going to obtain information still contained in local sites before heavy machinery and construction destroy it, tensions between archaeologists in academia and museums and CRM professionals ,those in the private sector and government CRM, must be resolved. A part of the resolution would be finding ways to fit relevant and well-researched gray literature into the mainstream. I can see ways for this to happen, but it isn’t actually happening quickly enough. In regions like the southern Mojave Desert, CRM is probably the future of archaeological research. I’m waiting for the archaeologists who have not been engaged with the CRM community to see this and be ready to sit down at the table over it. I have a colleague who feels the same way, but he doubts it will happen. His thinking runs along the lines of “we need to write books and publish more.” He may be right. Either way, there is a certain fraction of the CRM community who feel comfortable doing both applied and academic work.

CRM in the desert.

CRM in the desert.

“Further, they say that people cannot simply wait for the economy to improve. ‘As many observers have noted, this is not a transient ‘crisis,’ ‘ write Grafton and Grossman. ‘It’s the situation we have lived with for two generations. And it’s not likely to change for the better, unless someone figures out how to work magic on the university budgets that lead[s] administrators to opt for flexible, contingent positions rather than tenure-track jobs.'”

I’m not so sure about the “two generations.” Maybe. Considering some things that tenured professors just a little older than I am have told me, this may be true, two generations.

One thing this article doesn’t discuss in any detail is the corporatizing of higher education which results in marginalizing of professors and continuing expansion of managerial positions. The dirty little secret they only hint at is right here: “…flexible, contingent positions rather than tenure-track jobs.” That means adjuncts. Hired semester by semester, paid as minimally as possible, not given any health insurance, sometimes excluded or marginally included in pension plans, and generally looked down upon by the tenured faculty.

If this suggestion is to be viable, we need to stop categorizing adjunct faculty as “contingent” and as “units of flex.”

Another aspect to consider: community colleges. University academia needs to get over their snobbery toward community colleges. A huge number of university students get their start in community colleges these days. Community college faculty have challenging and worthwhile teaching to do. Community college faculty can be and are involved in research and writing. Anyone who knows me knows I prefer teaching at a community college. I keep saying it. These are often the students with the zen mind, beginner’s mind. From my point of view, what’s not to like about teaching at a community college? We all know the pay and prestige are not as great as landing tenure at a university, but for those who get the picture, let’s just do it.
Maybe it’s because I grew up a working class kid. Maybe it’s because I’m older. Maybe it’s because I planned some different things for my life than what showed up at the door. Yes, I want more institutional recognition as an asset, not a throw-away unit of flex. Of course I do. I don’t care about prestige. I do care about the work I do, my research, and my students. That’s why I want to keep doing what I’m doing.



About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
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