On Finding Academic Employment, My PhD Program Decision, & the Status Quaestionis of Biblio-Academia, Pt 1
My colleagues are all too aware of the problem. Biblio-academia is not fashioned for the purposes of helping new PhDs build their career and find gainful employment. Every year that I attend SBL/AAR I encounter very astute scholars, who have already earned their PhDs, but yet can’t find a faculty job—not even as an adjunct. Unfortunately, the future is still looking quite dismal for PhD Students who are currently engaged in the study of our discipline.
One significant reason is that our field seems to be waning (at least to some degree), as many 4-year “Christian” liberal arts institutions have now lessened or have completely axed the religion component from their degree requirements. That is, a religious studies component has traditionally been compulsory for most liberal arts programs, but this is no longer always the case.
Another potential shortcoming is that a newly minted PhD’s greatest aspiration—i.e. tenure—seems to now be threatened. For example, in Wisconsin—if the university’s Board of Regents so chooses—it will now become easier to terminate tenured faculty. This is the result of a bill that was adopted to help with budget cuts, thereby ultimately reducing higher education funding. The problem is intensified by the fact that many universities will now and are already growing more dependent upon the toil of overworked adjunct faculty, whose whole educational enterprise has thus far resulted in disappointment and poverty.
Yet another significant hurdle with which a new PhD must contend, is with the fact that diversity of opinion is now rarely allowed. Do I need to recall to our collective memory the following foregoing ludicrous fiascos: Pete Enns, Bruce Waltke, Chris Rollston, Michael Pahl, Anthony Le Donne, and (now) Daniel Kirk? If an established professor’s writing—even their peer-reviewed work—is incessantly suspect and under “doctrinal” scrutiny, then so is a new PhD for whom publishing is obligatory. Indeed, a PhD’s future in biblio-academia is threatened at every turn!
Even more discouraging is the fact that a PhD student has to worry about pedigree. Is someone with a degree from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Emory, or Duke more likely to get hired than someone with a degree from a less-affluential school? The answer is, in most cases, yes. I am sorry to tell you, but biblio-academia is NOT an equal opportunity enterprise! Of course, just because a school is affluential, it is no guarantee that it has a quality program. I have written on this here. Nevertheless, I recently revealed this particular point to a friend with a MBA—he was astounded saying, “I cannot imagine working on a degree and working in a profession where pedigree matters that much!” Likewise, I received a similar response from my own MD, whose profession also requires over 10 years of education.
So then, let me get this straight! The consequence of diminished degree requirements and cuts in higher education funding has left less room on the job market for new PhDs. Regardless, biblio-academia cannot absorb all the PhDs that are now entering the market. Correspondingly, I will undoubtedly never see tenure and if I do manage to find any work, it will likely be as an overworked and underpaid adjunct at a local community college. Through all of this, it will be necessary to incessantly look over my shoulder, because I never know when I might be terminated for something that is “peer-review” published, simply because it shows an infinitesimal amount of diversity with an institution’s doctrinal statement. And let me not forget! Unless my degree is from an very affluential school, there will always be those who think it is less adequate than theirs; and therefore, I might perennially be perceived as less qualified or an intellectual lightweight.
With all of this in mind, what then is a PhD student to do? Moreover, given that the forecast is so glum, nitpicking, and even at times, humiliating—why would anyone with a lucid and sane mind waste an additional 4–7 years in a US based PhD program? To be blunt, to spend 10–14 years of one’s life (i.e., total time to earn Bachelors, Masters, and PhD) for the slightest opportunity to catch a crumb from the academic table is both irrational and unwise. My advice to anyone planning to travel down this well-worn road is to straightforwardly choose otherwise. Seriously!
That is, unless you can do no other. For example, if I were not in academia, I would still spend the majority of my time in research, study, and teaching (though be it in the private sector). The truth is, for my colleagues and me; it has more to do with how we are wired. This profession is indeed a calling of sorts. That is, it is more than merely a vocational enterprise. For those seeking to enter, if it is not, then you probably won’t make it.
In any event, it is too late for me. Thus far, I have dedicated 8 years of my life toward this goal. Moreover, I was nearly finished with my master’s degree before I awoke to the comedic nature of the current academic rat race. And, that is precisely when I started to re-think my own strategy and make some potentially career-altering decisions. But…for more on those, you will have to wait for part 2 of this post. At that time, I will reveal all. There is simply too much to share in one post!