NSF recently awarded the latest round of the NSF GRFP, aka the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. These awards are given to graduating anthropology undergrads or first year graduate students. To make a long story short, they are very prestigious, pay for most (or all) of graduate school, and prove to grad schools and future funders that you are For Real. These awards set you up for success. So who got them and who didn’t says a lot about our discipline and where it’s going. So: what do they tell us?
[This is an invited post by Tony Waters. Waters is a Professor of Sociology at California State University, Chico, and occasionally blogs at ethnography.com. His application for a PhD program in Anthropology was rejected in 1988 because he was unable to put together the appropriate charms needed by the admissions committee at an unnamed western United States university. In an attempt to please the gods of the tribe he has since offered up his first-born at the altar of an unnamed Anthropology PhD program in the eastern United States.]
I made a somewhat off-hand comment one of Ryan’s posts about graduate education. I think I warned graduate students about “fetishizing” various types of grant sources like NSF, NIMH, Fulbright, and the various others sources of grad student funding which students compete to get. This initially got me a deserved sharp rebuke from Ryan. After all, who was I as a fully tenured, overpaid, and underworked full professor to complain about graduate stipend which (obviously) are few and far between? Well that question is fair enough—but Ryan has also graciously offered me a chance to elaborate.
First my backstory. One of the reasons I am not an anthropologist is that in 1988 after eight years working in Thailand and Tanzania mostly with refugees (which is what I wanted to study), I would need at least eight years to become an anthropologist. In large part, it was explained to me that this was because (obviously) fieldwork is required for a doctorate in anthropology, you might need to try two or three times before success. But never mind while waiting for the grant to come through you would need to work 2-3 years as a t.a. waiting to strike gold. It was sonorously explained to me that to do field work, you would need pre-research visits, protocol visits, and finally what was in the early 1990s a $20,000 grant from Fulbright or NSF to buy your plane tickets, fly back to places you have already been, collect the data to do the field work. The field work would then take another year or two to do the write-up, and so forth.
So I ended up in Sociology, and completed a PhD in 5-6 years, without fieldwork and wrote a dissertation based mainly in the library. I also heard that I would never get a job unless I:
- Could get a grant, preferably one via NSF or one of the other federal agents which pay “overhead.”
- Curried favor with letter writers (i.e. they themselves) who controlled the job market via social networks.
- Delivered multiple papers at conferences, preferably those organized by their networks.
- Made a theoretical break-through in your dissertation, which they would sign off on. Continue reading
One of the questions we asked in our surveys of adjuncts and post-adjuncts was about the nature of post-graduation support from one’s mentor and alma mater. I wondered whether any advisers cut former advisees off at some point; i.e. would anyone cut a student off from letters of recommendation after a few unsuccessful years on the job market? And, along opposite lines, I wondered if any institutions gave alumni more than letters of recommendation.
The long and short of it is that no, no one in our pool of respondents had encountered committee members who cut them off from letters of recommendation. But for most alumni, that’s about all they can count on. A few respondents reported being able to adjunct to greater or lesser degrees in their home departments; one respondent claimed that his or her dissertation advisers bought him or her a new car (free cars would really increase the value of a Ph.D.!). And there also seems to be a lot of commiserating and emotional support for the jobless. But that doesn’t seem to get anyone very far.
One of the questions we asked in our survey of post-adjuncting anthropologists who are now gainfully employed was ‘what steps did you take to make yourself a desirable job candidate?’ Overwhelmingly, respondents identified publishing as the key thing they did in order to land a tenure track job. Among other common responses were networking (especially in the form of attending more than one conference each year), and being willing to move to an ‘undesirable’ location (which is pretty subjective). For those who ended up being employed in a non-academic job, acquiring new skills was the most important thing respondents identified. And this was the case for some who landed in academic jobs as well – which isn’t something that we often talk about, but, it seems, many people do.
One of the responses I found most interesting was this one (which I’m excerpting a bit):
I’m currently TT in a Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminology–but I was hired via the Criminology portion. My ethnographic research was on police, and I was hired as part of a search for someone whose research focused on policing. I don’t know what steps I can say I took to make myself desirable–I feel pretty lucky. I didn’t have any real background in Crim, but my application caught the eye of the search committee just enough for them to imagine the creative possibilities of hiring an anthropologist to teach their policing classes.
Back in December, I started a conversation with the staff at Savage Minds about professionalization, particularly in relation to recent Ph.D. recipients who might be on the job market and who might also be adjuncting. While we often collectively bemoan the state of affairs around non-tenure track employment in academia, it seemed to me that very little had actually been written about navigating the waters between graduating, adjuncting and finding a tenure track job. We began with a couple of surveys — one for people who are currently adjuncting and seeking more permanent employment, and another for people who had adjuncted and successfully made the move to a tenure track job or moved into a different form of work. About 50 people responded to each of the surveys (although if you’re so moved, you can fill them out now). Over the next month, I’ll be presenting some of the findings we collected from these surveys and thinking about the kinds of challenges that people face and how they might be overcome. In addition, I’ll be writing some posts about professionalization in anthropology in our current climate — an extension of some of my work on my professionalization blog based on the series I run in the anthropology department at UC Santa Cruz.
My interest in professionalization is based on my own experience, which has been characterized by a persistent need to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I’m now halfway through my fifth year on the tenure track at UCSC, and was previously employed at Wayne State; I was fortunate to enter the job market in 2007, at the height of jobs being offered. I graduated from Oakland University, a little-known liberal arts school is suburban Detroit, with a BA in Literature; taught elementary school for a year in Columbus, OH; went to the University of Liverpool for an MA in Science Fiction Studies; returned to the US for an MA in American Cultural Studies at Bowling Green; and then went on to work on my Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. By no means do I have an elite background, and I attribute my professional success entirely to robust efforts to professionalize early in my career, a quirky project on sleep in American society, and supportive mentors.
[The post below was contributed by guest blogger Nathan Fisk, and is part of a series on the relationship between academic precarity and the production of ethnography, introduced here.]
Over the past year, I’ve had to carefully consider the meaning of “selling out”.
Of my blogger colleagues, I’m probably the farthest removed from academia – or, at least I’m moving in that general direction. This certainly does not mean I’m abandoning research, quite the opposite in fact. It does, however, mean that I’ve all but given up on the idea of staying in academia and searching out a tenure-track position. For the time being, anyway. Instead, I’m looking to transition into the corporate world, but ideally in a way which would allow me to still do interesting ethnographic research. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me explain a little bit about my background and current position.
In 2011, I wrapped up my doctoral degree in STS – the first to graduate from my program under the soft four-year deadline slowly hardening under increasing institutional pressures. For years, I had labored, perhaps delusionally, under the hopes that if I was working on a “hot” and highly visible topic a job would simply materialize by the time I reached the end of the doctoral plank. For me, that topic was youth Internet safety. I developed my dissertation research with jobs beyond academia in mind, and deliberately built into the project opportunities to meet with school administrators across New York, in the hopes of expanding my contact network for eventual consulting work. I envisioned possibilites in state government, doing technology policy work. I thought I could even keep writing, given the two freelance books already under my belt.
The imagined job never really materialized. Between the economic downturn and my failure to anticipate what I’ve come to describe and recognize in others as post-dissertation slump, things simply stalled out. My dissertation research panned out in a way that made consulting difficult – schools want someone to come in and talk to kids about cyberbullying, not so much someone to tell them that the idea of cyberbullying is fundamentally problematic. State positions dried up during budget cutbacks, and I never really figured out how to get into a position that would allow me to write policy briefings. In terms of more writing, merely considering the idea of returning to Internet safety issues after almost a decade of research on the topic made me nauseous.
What might one find on the sidelines of academia? If you’re the managing editor of an academic journal, such as Cultural Anthropology (CA), the sidelines are rich with activity – trouble-shooting Open Journal Systems and managing content on http://culanth.org; staying up on open access conversations; running CA’s editorial intern program; coordinating various projects and figuring out how best to archive them; overseeing the production of the journal, in print and online; and managing the redesign of CA’s website. You’ll spend untold hours with your email client, and talk about how much time you spend there (this is part of your “busy” talk).
I didn’t see my work with CA as academic, or ethnographic, until recently. “Sidelines” is a fitting concept for the work I do at CA – managing editor by day, and ethnographer – of asthma, yoga, and alternative healthcare systems – by night, and weekend. I told myself I would stay on the sideline just until my partner finished grad school, then we could go on the job market together. But this isn’t honest – CA is much more than a day job for me (especially when you consider how I really spend my nights and weekends). I am compelled by our professional gold standard, the tenure-track position. That’s the endgame for many of us, I think. On the other hand, I love the work I do at CA. It’s an incredible space of production, if not in terms of conventional social science research.
As for my precarious position – I work on a 12-month contract and I ignore this fact. For now. Continue reading
Dear anthro grad students,
Remember when you first decided to study anthropology? Remember those anthro 101 classes and those profs and ethnographies and all of that good stuff that made you decide, “Hey, I’m gonna do this anthropology thing”?
Well, now that you’re in grad school, how’s it working out?
A few more questions: Continue reading
A guest post by Levi Jacobs.
black marker, brown cardboard, red flags, blue jeans
sage, cigarettes, sweat mix with city smog and fried food:
in a circle we stand, breaths fogging, arms raised,
lie fragile under layers of tarp, blanket and winter night,
layers of poverty, police, and political scrutiny–
the sun sets fire to polluted streams, raises
factory stacks like charred fingers clutching sky:
powerlessness and power war in the returned Gaze of the cops,
antipathy, anger, appreciation in the honks of passing cars,
(never) doubting a small group of people can change the world.
Occupy is on our minds. With the May issue of American Ethnologist featuring articles on Occupy, and the New York Times noting recent social science interest in the movement, Occupy seems back on the anthropological radar—just as it is dropping off many screens outside academia. While this may just be a symptom of the speed with which our research and publishing tends to move, I’d argue there’s a better reason why anthropologists are researching and writing on Occupy. Early on, we maybe all felt we knew what it was about: economic inequality, the bailout of the rich, the newly-homeless foreclosed-on middle class and a permanent protest of all this, starting with Zucotti Park. As Occupy encampments sprung up nationally, then internationally, then started to get closed down, many of us became less and less certain of what Occupy is really about—homeless issues? Direct democracy? The banking system, or capitalism in general? Reform or revolution? It’s difficult to get a read on Occupy, not only because the interests of ‘the ninety-nine percent’ seem so broad, but also because there are multiple ninety-nine percents, with each Occupy locality made up of local people working autonomously on local issues, as well as translocal ones they might share with the larger Occupy movement. Is it even a movement? Towards what? Even locally, the diversity of concerns, goals and people involved in Occupy make this a hard question to answer. Continue reading
It seems universities everywhere are looking to cut down the amount of time it takes to earn a graduate degree. A story in Inside Higher Ed reports on the latest effort:
[Russell Berman] and five other professors at the university have produced a paper that calls for a major rethinking at Stanford — a reduction in the time taken to graduate by Ph.D. candidates in the humanities, and preparing them for careers within and beyond the academy. The professors at Stanford aren’t just talking about shaving a year or so off doctoral education, but cutting it down to four or five years — roughly half the current time for many humanities students.
This includes getting an MA (they suggest a two year review to decide “which students will advance to candidacy, and which will receive a terminal M.A.”). Now I can’t remember where I read it, but I believe that the average time to Ph.D. in anthropology is roughly what they say it is in the humanities: about nine years. How feasible is it that this time could be cut in half?