Monday, 20 April 2009

Graduate School, Don’t Go??!!

On January 30, 2009, the Chronicles of Higher Education posted the following melancholy article by William Pannapacker entitled, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”. Pannapacker, Associate Professor of English at Hope College, argues that there are only five reasons that a person should attend graduate school in the humanities:

1) “You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else”

2) “You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere”

3) “You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household”

4) “You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it”

Pannapacker states that his intention is to warn graduate students that their chances of securing a tenure-track position as a professor is comparable to winning the lottery. Too many students, he says, are ignorant of the reality that “there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary… They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don't make any fallback plans until it is too late.”

I found Pannapacker’s article sarcastic, unsympathetic, and disturbing – but accurate. I think that graduate students should be aware of the difficulties of landing the elusive full-time teaching position.

Jon Yeager


Andy Tooley said...

Good post Jon.

It appears,however, that Pannapacker assumes, rather narrowly in fact, that those who pursue graduate studies in the humanities only due so in order to obtain jobs as educators. What of psychologists, ministers, journalists and even performing arts individuals?! Surely these folk fall outside the purview of his criteria, and possess legitimate reasons for pursuing graduate studies in the humanities.

Exploring the Study of Religious History said...


I think you are right. Perhaps Dr P., when referring to the humanities, did not factor in such disciplines as religion.


Anonymous said...

For someone in the earlier stages of of the PhD, this is depressing.


Exploring the Study of Religious History said...


You should talk to Andy - he's always optimistic.