[Humanist] 26.135 should I quit

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 9 22:26:17 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 135.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Daniel O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell at uleth.ca>              (111)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?

  [2]   From:    James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>                      (22)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?

  [3]   From:    Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>               (32)
        Subject: Should I Quit?

        Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2012 15:23:46 -0600
        From: Daniel O'Donnell <daniel.odonnell at uleth.ca>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?
        In-Reply-To: <20120706201230.9C88B284EE6 at woodward.joyent.us>

I'm not sure anybody can speak to somebody else's experience in this 
regard. I believe, for example, that I found my PhD experience to be 
intrinsically "worth it," though it is possible that my recollection is 
being clouded by the fact that I got a job in academia (on the interview 
that I had decided in advance was going to be my last application for a 
university job--I'd been offered a position in advertising earlier the 
same week that I interviewed here).

Moreover, not all academic jobs are equally "worth it," even if you get 
one. I've taught in some borderline places and I certainly know people 
who left institutions (in a few cases without any other job waiting for 
them) because working in the institution they were in was worse for them 
than not working in academia at all. And there are also a lot of unhappy 
people in academia (see the comments to Katie Beswick's blog in the 
in addition to many happy ones (see the blog itself).

I was recently reading _Educating Scholars_, which is an analysis of a 
Mellon-funded project in the 1990s that looked at various aspects of 
"success" in elite PhD programmes in the U.S. But a lot of their 
analysis is more generally useful. I've written some short pieces as a 
kind of commentary in my blog (see the ones collected here, for example: 

 From that reading, and from my own experience as a researcher and 
administrator in a university, then, I can give a couple of 
observations, without necessarily being able to judge their implications 
for anybody.

The first is that you are probably right that not publishing in Graduate 
School is a hindrance on the academic employment market. You do seem to 
get a strong boost from publishing as a graduate student (see 

The second is that experience suggests that it is very hard for the 
reasons you mention to maintain or develop a publication programme from 
outside an academic job--the demands of the "outside" work make it very 
difficult to do such demanding work on the side for what must always be 
an uncertain economic conclusion.

A third is that the statistics seem to suggest that grad students 
generally tend to do alright--and be happy--both within and without 
academia, with the "leavers" (those who leave academia) looking like 
they might if anything be doing better than those who stay in. 

I do remember this being very much the case when I was on the job 
market: I knew a lot of miserable graduate students and immediate 
post-docs but almost everybody I knew who'd decided to "leave" academia 
was happy. That happiness difference is probably an artifact of the 
slower career path in Academia and the longer time-to-career-position 
and I suspect it narrows over time (most of the comments on Beswick's 
piece seem to be coming from students, post-docs, and early career 
academics, when things are most stressful). But it is worth keeping in mind.

As I say, you can't really speak for somebody else's experience, but I 
think I might turn the question around the other way by concentrating on 
whether or not the work involved in researching and publishing around 
your other commitments is personally fulfilling, independently of 
whether it will help with academic employment prospects. If it is 
fulfilling and possible in its own right, then I would say continue to 
research: it couldn't /hurt/ your chances if the right job in academia 
came along. But if the cost of doing this work is too high, or if it has 
for whatever reason become unfulfilling under the conditions available 
to you, then I would say you should go easier on yourself: the job 
market is so tough (and has been for many years, even if it seems to be 
worse now) that no amount of publication is going to be enough to 
/guarantee/ you a successful academic job search even if you weren't 
trying to fit it in around your other commitments at considerable cost.

It is easy for me to say because I have an academic job, but I think 
myself that academia itself is only "worth it" if the work involved is 
intrinsically fulfilling and possible to do. Jobs are so scarce in this 
business that I never recommend to graduate students and post docs that 
they do anything for reasons other than personal fulfilment: there is 
always a good chance that the only reward you will receive will be that 

That's my two cents anyway. I really do wish you good luck in a very 
hard situation!

On 12-07-06 02:12 PM, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 133.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>          Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2012 14:45:31 +0100
>          From: Alexander Hay <alexander.hay at gmail.com>
>          Subject: Should I quit?
> A bit of a personal post, I know, but still.
> I received my doctorate in 2009 and have been trying to get a job ever
> since. One problem I had was the lack of a publication record, as I wasn't
> told how important this was until towards the end of my PhD. The other
> problem is that I've had to work ever since, so finding the time and
> resources to research anything is very difficult too. I now only have two
> publication credits to my name, and I am honestly considering giving up.
> Was it all a waste of time? Tell me what you think.
> - Alexander

Daniel Paul O'Donnell
Professor of English
University of Lethbridge
Lethbridge AB T1K 3M4

+1 403 393-2539

        Date: Fri, 6 Jul 2012 20:00:57 -0400
        From: James Rovira <jamesrovira at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.133 Should I quit?
        In-Reply-To: <20120706201230.9C88B284EE6 at woodward.joyent.us>

No one can really answer your question for you.  Stats I've read are that
50% of English Ph.D.s never get tenure track jobs, and those who do take
about seven years to get there.  I'm unsure what field you are in, but you
need to ask first how important it is to you to get a teaching position,
how long you're willing to try until you do give up, and what kind of
teaching positions you are willing to take until you get the position that
you want.

Jim R

        Date: Sun, 8 Jul 2012 16:54:26 +0100
        From: Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Should I Quit?
        In-Reply-To: <20120706201230.9C88B284EE6 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

That was a very heart-rending post from Alexander, and I sure will 
elicit a supportive response, urging him to carry on in a variety of 
ways. But I would feel badly if I wasn't adding to the advice. I suppose 
the essential points are:-
- This is an issue in all discjplines, but it doesn't make it any easier.
- It isn't too late to build up a publication record. You can quickly 
build up a very powerful record if you are as focussed as you were in 
completing the Ph D.
- The main thing to bear in mind is that the monograph still trumps 
article publications, and quality can be more important than quantity, 
so a good monograph publication based on the Ph D can do the trick.
- The rules of this game remain absurd and arcane, and get a senior 
friend in the field to explain to you.
- Avoid siren calls suggesting that on-line publication can quickly 
resolve the problem. The rules of the game require some solid 
peer-reviewed publications, although if they are peer-reviewed and 
prestigious, it doesn't mater if they are on-line or not.
- Above all,it behoves those of us who are supervisors to try and teach 
our doctoral students at an early stage the rules of this game.

Professor Andrew Prescott FRHistS
Head of Department
Department of Digital Humanities
King's College London
26-29 Drury Lane
London WC2B 5RL
+44 (0)20 7848 2651

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