Re: grad students and future employment

Fri, 10 Jun 1994 12:26:41 GMT+1200

Another personal note on employment, FWIW: When I began Ph.D.
coursework at UW-Madison in 1979 my adviser, John R.W. Smail,
repeatedly warned me against expecting an academic position when I
finished my degree. Of course I believed the statistics that he
quoted, including the placement rate for Indonesianists graduated
over the previous 5 years -- no satisfactory jobs among them. But I
was naively confident that those figures might apply to large
numbers of anonymous others, but couldn't really have anything to do
with the particularity of my own case. Besides, I wasn't in it for a
career or to make money, but rather to pursue a love that had a
death grip on my intellectual and emotional life.

Years later when I began applying for the single position available
in any given year in North America -- driven by the need to support
four children and entertaining an increasingly keen yearning for
stability, a car, a house, a life with a comfortable material
component (quia peccavi nimis cogitatione) -- I felt far less
idealistic than in '79, and each failed application, each wasted
interview, fed a welling bitterness about a system that would allow
me, even pay me, to spend 15 years in college without any real hope
of a job at the end. Now that I have landed a permanent position I
make a point of warning my students from day one about the limited
prospects for academic employment. Their reactions are often
familiar: they are confident that their special skills will except
them from the statistically bleak employment model that I
describe, and anyway, they're in it for love. How'd I get stuck
with such nitwits for students?

Tim Behrend
Department of Asian Languages
University of Auckland.