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Monday, June 9, 2014

The problem with alt-ac

Ok, the problem is having a mistaken notion of how things work. Suppose you want to be an X. What I tell people who want to be an X is, find an X, or a group of them, and then see how they got to be that. So you first have to decide what you want to be when you grow up, and then figure out how to get there. That's the reverse engineering approach.

Now the other way of thinking is the following. You take a particular kind of education or training, and then see what people with that training go on to do. So that is the idea of "what do you do with a degree in Y?"

If you want to be an English professor, say, then you would take the first approach, and figure out that such professors got PhDs in English. That works. But not in reverse because that's necessary, but not sufficient.

But if you really have your mind set to be an X (not English PhD), then a PhD in English is not the best route (unless you find some other field dominated by PhDs in English).

Suppose there is some other job market there for PhDs in English where it is easier for a PhD in English to get a job. What sector of the job market is that, exactly, that would employ more PhDs than academia does? I suspect the market for alt-ac jobs would be just as competitive, if we are talking about any good job. It's great to help people find jobs, of whatever type, but the alt-ac movement feels to me like a siphoning off of excess production, while watering down the PhD itself. So it's like saying we will give you a watered down PhD (with even less chance of an academic job, since your PhD has watered down) that may or may not make you suitable to a competitive and nebulous job market doing other, unspecified things with your PhD, things that don't require that degree. I think an MA is great: it only takes a few years, and gives some of those graduate level skills. It can be in a directly career-oriented program, or in a humanities program that doesn't lead to any direct job title. If you study for an MA in humanities, then you should still know what you want to be when you grow up and reverse-engineer your education, rather than asking "what can I do with that".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes but what they say around town is that the MAs do not actually have the skills they are said to have. Thence the need for alt-ac PhDs. It is not the fault of the organisms that would hire the MAs and do hire the PhDs, it is said, but our fault for having watered down the MA.