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Friday, March 23, 2018

They called my university a PhD factory – now I understand why | The Guardian

Academics Anonymous is the blog series where academics tell it like it is.

Check out this post in Higher Education Network, Academics Anonymous, "Senior academics warned that my university cared more about cheap labour than launching academic careers. It turns out they were right."

‘PhDs drop off the end of a conveyer belt, but no one cares what happens to graduates after that.’  ’ 
Photo: Alamy

As I reluctantly consider quitting academia after a year-long research fellowship, I find myself recalling a drug dealer’s line in the film Withnail and I: “If you’re hanging on to a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision – let go before it’s too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?” His words describe my dilemma: do I hold on to my dream of a permanent university lectureship or abandon it as illusory and hazardous to my mental health?
I’m not, of course, the first postdoc to feel this way. As I neared the end of my doctorate in 2013, I read an essay by Rebecca Schuman, which argued that getting a literature PhD will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor. Her article added to an expanding genre known as quit lit, which reflects the growing disillusionment of many academics with university culture.

Perusing job ads, it strikes me that lectureship vacancies are rare, in contrast to the plethora of positions for university bureaucrats. When permanent jobs come up, the ensuing feeding frenzy sees hundreds of applications from superbly qualified candidates. I’ve got peer-reviewed publications and a book contract – and so has everyone else.

When I was considering whether to study for a doctorate, I heard my chosen university disparaged as a PhD factory. At the time, I took this to be a sign of efficiency. Now I understand. PhDs are manufactured; they drop off the end of a conveyer belt, but no one cares what happens to graduates after that. All universities care about are the fees paid by students and the cheap labour they provide. This is the opposite of efficiency: no factory would mindlessly churn out goods that no one wants...

 ...the overwhelming majority of PhD students I’ve encountered desperately want a career in academia. They didn’t saddle themselves with debt because they wanted intellectual stimulation.
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Source: The Guardian

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