It'll never happen to ME!

mike salovesh (T20MXS1@NIU.BITNET)
Thu, 9 Jun 1994 00:03:00 CDT

Dwight Read writes, in part:

. . . But there is also the suggestion made in several of the
posts that a fair number of graduates begin their studies with little
realistic information about the prospects of employment and might have chosen
a different path if they had had more information. Is this an accurate

D. Read


How about considering individuals in three dangerous situations for
a different kind of answer:

Once upon a very long time ago, I had the "privilege" of
seeing the Korean war close up. As a medic, I saw lots
of dead, near-dead, wannabe dead, and wounded soldiers.
Although there were times when I was extemely--shall we say
worried to the point of doing nasty things in my underwear?--
I always was convinced that if somebody was going to get
hit by the next incoming piece of killer hardware, it was
gonna be the next guy, not me. I "knew" war was about
killing and being killed, of course, but really, anything
bad was going to happen to somebody else, not to me.

Somewhat more recently, I taught some courses in the Illinois
"correctional system", including our maximum security state
prison, Stateville. Class discussion sometimes turned to an
examination of what the students, and I, were doing in State-
ville, anyhow. My students were pretty well agreed that the
possibility of arrest, conviction, and punishment didn't even
enter into their equations about whether to continue breaking
the law. They cited the statistics on cases solved by arrest,
rates of conviction, and so on as an independent line of evi-
dence supporting their operational conclusion that if somebody
was going to get arrested, it wasn't going to be them.

Students entering graduate programs don't really need to be
told by their professors that when they finally get out the
other end there aren't going to be many jobs to be had. They
already know the horror stories about Ph.D.'s being prerequisite
to getting a job waiting on tables. They probably have friends
who got their doctorates and immediately went back to doing
whatever it was they used to do on weekends to supplement the
laughable incomes they got from TAships. But all that is
about somebody else, not about them. They know that they are
deserving and really, really want to succeed, and therefore
they will end up with one of the extremely rare jobs that
certainly are out there.

Get shot? No, somebody else will catch that bullet. Go to
Stateville for the next 25 years? No, most crimes go un-
solved, and it's somebody else who goes to jail. End up
someplace outside academia once the PhD is granted? No,
it's somebody else who will be the future unemployed.

Don't sell entering grad students short: they already know what
they're getting into. So long as the whole culture tells them
that merit and hard work will be rewarded, they will continue to
believe that they're going to make it to the academic jobs they
want despite all the odds.

What's worse, sometimes merit and hard work actually are rewarded.
Often enough to meet the qualifications of a Skinnerian non-scheduled
reinforcement, meaning that it's damned near impossible to extinguish
the behavior that seeks to maximize merit through hard work. But if
the rat in a Skinnerbox knew statistics, it would soon figure out
that the normal condition is NON-reinforcement.

Of course, anthropologists don't count. If we knew how to count we
would be economists. If we knew anything about economics, we never
would have become anthropologists in the first place. I hope that
when I die, at the last minute I'll retain enough spark to say that.

But then you have to know what my father's last words were: "They
want WHAT? Piss on 'em!" That's right up there with "More light!"

mike salovesh <t20mxs1@niu.bitnet> OR <>