Brief Excursus on Graduate Studies and Jobs

It seems that, ever since the real possibility of attending graduate school presented itself, I have met with many counter-voices seeking to pop the bubble as it were.  A good example is Rob Jenkins’ article: ‘On Hiring’ published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Particularly concerned with the myth that ‘I can always teach at community college’, Jenkins counterposits that in his experience, hiring committees often won’t hire those without significant teaching experience.  I ‘ve highlighted this, as Jenkins has underlined by treating the subject in more depth, because this may be a neglected part of the graduate experience.

Whether I return to this topic in particular, it is easily demonstrable that the job market for higher education requires more than completion of the core curriculum.  Members of a hiring committee must either like your teaching experience, your publications and references, or other relevant skills/experiences.  And that ‘s the minimum.  No, not the minimum to teach at a university, it is likely required for you to teach at a community college.

I insert here the caveat that exceptions occur – but the core claim that a completed degree in which the applicant achieved proficiency is of itself inadequate to secure a job in this market will hold for most cases.

 

The results I wish to draw from this are twofold: one, academic advising should mean a lot more than providing students with the information necessary to graduate, and two, graduate programs should offer students with more opportunities to adapt their studies to meet their future employment goals.

My experience of academic advising at the community, private, and graduate school levels was largely unhelpful.  The advisers, to be fair, had to be knowledgeable of that which was required to meet retroactive standards according to the offered schedule of classes.  This alone was a difficult process, but one I was able to navigate largely without their help.  I say largely because I still had to have their signatures to alter my major at the private college and drop my concentration at the graduate school.  However, in neither case was an adviser able to meaningfully assist me in gaining a picture of that which would be necessary to attain a job in my chosen field.  Their job priority was to help me graduate by making sure I was n’t taking too many courses outside of the bounds required for my degree, in both cases.

But the fact that publishing, teaching, or other relevant experience would be required after graduation to secure a job, not a good job, but a job, was not communicated.  I agree with Jenkins here:

“In fact, I would argue that they [graduate programs] need to do more than just present students with their options. They need to make sure they understand what each option might require of them and then provide opportunities for students to meet those requirements.”

This is my experience in a nutshell: competent advisers know how to almost painlessly plug your previous coursework into your amended program [‘so you don’t want to be an engineer? ok, well if you want computer programming drop this course, add statistics…etc’].  I.e., they know how to shift from one core curriculum to another (at least that should be the minimal skill required); to change your coursework to match your new goal within their offered degree programs.

I realized some of this in my final years of undergrad and began taking courses in hopes of broadening my interests.  It took an unbelievable amount of effort to explain why I wanted to study abroad as I already had the credit hours accounted for that I needed.  My pursuits included but were also outside the bounds of the degree.  I was n’t so interested in checking the boxes off the list (and I found I could do this with less hassle myself) and was pleased with the resulting effects on my learning.  While some things prepared me for the study abroad, nothing had as great or as focused of an effect on me; nothing incited me to learn at a higher level like that study.  While an adviser should dissuade some from taking such measures, in my case it was thoroughly needed.  In short, my adviser knew my degree but not my purpose or what was required to get there.  If they had, they could have offered more helpful steps to achieving that goal.  Instead I was left largely to my own devices (and thankfully to the counsel of caring professors who were willing to share their concerns and advise courses of pursuit).

 

Jenkins supplies a means by which graduate schools might offer assistance: adaptations.  He suggests offering a ‘research’ track in which little teaching transpires and a ‘teaching’ track in which research is minimized.  In either case, the core goal of the student is met.  A core curriculum is still met, but the skill set practiced is ultimately what is of value not only in securing a job but executing it.  This reminds me of a struggles I had with the head of my department where I asked for some flexibility in the interest of teaching or researching instead of satisfying a system ill suited to sharpening my core skills.

In graduate school I was met with a system which promised to be more flexible, but which offered few opportunities.  Where we as students would have been better served with a division wherein courses could be taken either with a research focus aimed at academic discourse or a teaching section of the course and finally a mixed option.  And I mean for these to be offered at the masters level, for my courses were far too crowded with students never having encountered a given subject before, whether in personal or formal study.  So a course in Ethics would have the following offerings: Ethics- Research Focus, Ethics- Teaching Focus, Ethics in Practice, and Introduction to Ethics.  The same could be constructed for Philosophy, Religious Studies, Literature, and Language offerings.

Further adaptations could be offered; the result would be students better practiced in the core skills required for their profession.  And, for those who are by nature interdisciplinary, the possibilities still exist for them to be stretched through challenging coursework.

 

A fuller picture requires input not only from students content with receiving their degree; those who already think outside of the bounds of the degree need to be afforded opportunities to practice those skills which will allow them to offer something to their respective fields.  Otherwise, they are forced to the periphery if they are unable to find the proper networking outside of the institution whereas the institution should be not only aware of such difficulties but adapted to fit the real needs of the paying underlings (whether directly or indirectly) who comprise the student body.

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