Grad Students and Jobs, among other things

Sun, 5 Jun 1994 22:17:36 -0500

wondering what I am going to do. I'm a grad student, studying
English because my first attempt at getting into anthro programs
didn't work, and on one level I feel as Jim Allison put it, that he
"...didn't go into anthropology because [he] thought the job
opportunities were great..." but because he found he "...was an
anthropologist, and could no longer choose to not be one...." On
the other hand, the longer I pretend to be an English grad student,
garnering the sympathy of my undergraduate anthropology friends and
teaching the finer points of MLA-style documentation, the less I
feel as if I can go back. I feel separated from my native soil,
and I still have another year to mark time. Documentation style
was a badge for me; as long as I was still having to look up MLA
procedures, I thought I was retaining my *true* identity. Sometime
last January, I discovered myself pouring over an old paper, trying
to remember Chicago style, and I realized the horrible, inevitable,
had happened -- I had BECOME an English student, and I was no
longer an anthropologist to the core. It was a very black day.

I thought I'd study English because they would take me, I had
done it once before, briefly, as an undergrad, and I figured it
would help me keep my writing edge, and being separated from
academia for a year or two sounded like death. Now I'm wondering
if I should stay in academia at all. I have seen the stupid, nasty
politics of this world; I've seen brilliant, wonderful professors
denied tenure for no good reasons whatever; I've felt the sharp
edge of sexism, fallen on the wrong side of departmental
favoritism, and been reminded that coming out of a class with the
best grade doesn't mean that one will be considered the best
student. All this, in the space of a single year! Yes, I've had
all my undergrad delusions taken care of, and I'm not sure I want
this any more...

And yet...

In his post of June 3, Dwight Read commented:
Despite the dismal job market, the number of persons
applying for admission to our graduate department only
increases and seems to bear no relationship to the job
situation, so the number of PhDs produced bears little
relationship to actual job opportunities.
There are a number of reasons why we're still going to graduate
school. First, I think is that we're not being properly prepared
for the situation that awaits us on the other end.
Until I joined this list, I'd never knowingly "met" an
anthropologist who wasn't in academia. It had never occurred to me
that there might be more than a handful of jobs "out there"
(i.e., not in the academic womb) for anthropologists;
oh, sure, I heard the whispers about jobs in government, or
jobs with commercial industries, but these were looked down upon
*even by the students* as not "serious" study, or as somehow dirtied.
After all, I knew enough after 2 years not to sell out a study
population; you don't learn about their culture so you can more
effectively sell cigarettes to them, right?
In the aformentioned post, Dwight Read wrote:
The sense I get is that graduate students begin with the
assumption/expectation that they will get an academic job
and then begin to consider non-academic possibilities when
the hard fact that there are more PhD's produced in
anthropology than positions available raises its ugly
I don't think this is only a problem with anthro students, as it
seems to be the case with my English compadres, as well. Perhaps
those of you who teach undergraduates should make sure they know
all this before they decide to go to graduate school. It may not
change their minds, as it probably would not have changed mine, but
at least they aren't going come back years later, armed with an
advanced degree but no job (or no DECENT job) and whine, as Danny
Yee complained that they do.

We're also staying in school *because* we're worried about
the lack of jobs. It's on the news every day; we're told that our
"generation" is running out of luck, out of steam, out room, and
that all we can look forward to is a job in the service industry.
Even if this is just propaganda, cooked up to keep us from
rebelling as the boomers did (conspiracy theory number 356), it is
a terribly effective strategy. We BELIEVE that we're hopeless, as
we certainly FEEL hopeless! I consider my friends (not an accurate
or random sample, but the only one I can lay hands on at the
moment; they're bright, were educated in a nurturing liberal arts
program, and are generally motivated by things outside of
television and shopping) and it seems to me that my annoyingly
whiny generation has a LOT to be whining about. School, when we
can get in, is one thing we're good at, and we're not going to quit
just because we're not promised jobs. We're not promised jobs

We have also discovered that having a BA means little these
days; gone, GONE are the days when a high school diploma would get
you work. Now, I'm told, community colleges are increasingly only
hiring PhDs. Any day now, I'm expecting McDonald's to require a
MA; they already have their Burger College, don't they?

There's a contradiction in all this, by the way. Some of
your students, upon learning that going to graduate school isn't
going to insure that they get a job, aren't going to bother to
apply. (It is expensive to apply, you know. Most schools have
application fees of around $50, to dissuade the less serious, I'm
told. It costs around US$1000 to apply to ten schools, taking into
account the costs for GRE scores, photocopying of writing samples,
and postage.) They would rather get into the market as soon as
possible, and try to work their way up, as it is going to take a
lot of time. Other students are going to want to stay in school.
They either don't (or don't want to) believe you, and/or are simply
going to try to beat the odds, and/or would rather put off the
inevitable for as long as possible.

I don't know what I hope to gain by writing this long post; I
guess my main point is to let you all know what some of us are
doing, as you all discuss what we are (or aren't) going to be able
to do in the future. I wonder how many people on this list are in
situations similar to mine: NOT anthropologists, or professors, or
even anthropology grad students, but truly lost and confused and
frightened by the problems you have discussed, with little hope of
finding our way through the dark.

As a post-script: On June 3rd, someone (whom I won't
identify) commented that John O'Brien was exhibiting
"...disgruntled grad student syndrome..." by grumbling about
" he has gotten such a raw deal..." I'm sure this was
written in an off-handed way, not intending insult. This list has
been wonderfully receptive to grad students, and I am thankful for
that. Comments like that one, however, don't do much for the
promotion of equality. I may be being sensitive, as I was thinking
about writing this letter when I came across that particular post.
I'm sorry this was so long, but I'll probably be really quiet for
a long time now, and I really wanted to say it all.

Madelyn Boudreaux
Natchitoches, Louisiana