I was talking to a colleague last night and somehow we ended up talking about a class he took for his Ph.D. I’ll tell you right now that if I had to learn about the history of rhetoric in the early middle ages, I’d probably chew my own arm off.
I’ve never wanted to get a Ph.D. Too much work, too much time, too much obsession. I got my MFA, which I mostly loved, and never looked back. But I think about my own choices when talking to my colleague. Or one of my buddies at the residency who was asking me what I thought about Ph.D.s.
“It’s not good for the writing,” I said.
“But I love the idea of spending all that time studying a topic,” said one of the other residents.
“But what do you want to do?” I asked the first resident.
“Teach. And write.” she said.
The odds of getting a full-time teaching job with a Ph.D. in English are brutal. You think teaching is a cush job, and it used to be. Lord knows Paternal Clause lived a pretty good life as a professor (although, I’ll be frank, it would have been a lot closer to the wire if my mother didn’t come from money, but that’s another story for another time). But universities are going to a corporate model. They are slashing jobs with benefits and are instead hiring adjuncts without benefits to teach one or two classes.
The adjuncts in turn have to work at a bunch of institutions to survive. They have no job security, no respect, no sabbaticals to work on their own projects, no health insurance. They go on welfare, they are evicted from their homes, they are barely holding on, or not holding on at all.
I have a few friends who have tenure or tenure-track jobs. I am immensely proud of them. I have all too many friends who teach at a bunch of places. DP has health insurance through his college, but only because he is grandfathered in. And they recently upped the number of credits for his classes without giving him an increase in pay. My grad school still pays the same amount for teaching one class that they did when I graduated in 2003. In case you are bad at math, as I am, that was ten years ago. Ten years.
This system is a mess. The students I work with didn’t even know what adjuncts were when I started raving about it last night. It’s the parents who pay for educations who have the upper hand. So my goal is to babble about it a lot to my student colleagues and get them all up in arms, or at least aware. We’ll see.
What did you do with that English major?