Academia Deserves Its Crisis

I was recently invited to be part of a student panel to welcome all new Ph.D. students to the large research university I am currently attending and to share with them my words of “wisdom,” so they can learn more about the upcoming challenges of graduate student life. The student panel was the last on the hierarchy of speakers, so we had to wait for and listen to people with big titles—titles like “provost”, “associate” with this, “assistant” for that, “co-director” of this center, and “under-secretary” for such and such affairs. It was clear from these presentations that graduate students are being encouraged to think of themselves as at-will employees who are expected to do the job “well,” … [Read more...]

A Dirty Guide to Academic Publishing

In one of my favorite 30 Rock episodes, Tracy Jordan refers to his son as “this little d-bag.” Tracy Jr. says, “I know what that means.” His father’s response is, “And yet you won’t tell me!” Academic publishing reminds me a bit of this bit. Everybody sort of knows what it is but we often aren’t exactly sure how it works. (Like sex, or the Internet.) And like most things in academia, from graduate admissions to comps to the job market, it seems opaque, mysterious, governed by unspoken rules and norms that it takes an Indiana-Jones-style quest to find out about.  As Oxford University Press editor Susan Ferber once put it: Perhaps the most critical step in the professional lives of … [Read more...]

Duke Contingent Faculty Speak Out for Fair Wages in Open Letter

We have been asked by organizers from Duke University's union for contingent faculty to publish this open letter, which speaks to Provost Sally Kornbluth about their frustration with ongoing negotiations with the university administration. Many of us at Tropics of Meta have experience with the labor movement, including the efforts to gain union representation for graduate student employees and adjunct instructors at a number of universities.  We believe strongly that the crisis of both academic employment and quality higher education can only be solved by workers themselves having a strong voice.  Otherwise, college and university administrators will continue to take advantage of academic … [Read more...]

The Sham of “Knowledge Philanthropy”: WikiHow and the Rise of the New Precariat

WikiHow claims to be a community of “knowledge philanthropists.” It’s a for-profit enterprise founded by Jack Herrick in 2005 that is designed for a social end: teach people how to do almost anything. To this end, Herrick and the staff at wikiHow wanted to create the best content possible, so they hired and are hiring Ph.D.s and Ph.D. candidates on a contractual basis for around $15 an hour to edit their website, to develop content, and to root out utter nonsense planted by internet trolls. They hired me on for a period of time, but don’t be mistaken—I was no philanthropist. I was a laborer in the internet mines. WikiHow’s pitch to potential editors is well-crafted, persuasive, and … [Read more...]

How One Tenure-Track Prof Left Academia: A Beginner’s Guide

I’m a former tenure-track professor of world and postcolonial literature now pursuing a career as a nonprofit communicator and fundraising professional. After 13 years spent in academia, not including my undergraduate degree, I made my career shift in 2013. I made the switch for a number of reasons, among them a desire for greater geographical autonomy and a longing to find a career in which I could be part of a team working towards a common cause, rather than a “lone wolf” researcher and professor. The most common refrain I hear from people in academia when I talk about my transition is along the lines of “that sounds great, but I’m just not qualified to do anything else but analyze … [Read more...]

Working for the Man?! Turning Your PhD into a Meaningful Job with the Federal Government

When I entered graduate school at the University of California San Diego in the fall of 2008, I knew I was taking a chance. Previous to my enrollment, I had taught for nearly 10 years in the New York City public high schools. Had I continued doing so that Autumn, I would have received a healthy pay bump for a decade of service and been one more tantalizing step closer to being a vested member of the union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). Instead, I moved to Southern California and walked into a PhD program in U.S. history with my fingers crossed. Then again, I also knew the nation's public schools, especially in urban areas, nearly always need teachers. As a recent story in the … [Read more...]

Making Your Way as a History PhD in the Think Tank World

“It’s great to see you’re doing so well and working on such important issues,” my friend Alex—co-editor of this blog—recently emailed me about the nonacademic work I’ve pursued since finishing my Ph.D. Would I write for this website about pursuing an Alt-Ac career? “Where did you look for jobs?” he asked. “How did you approach resumes/ applying/ interviewing differently than the usual academic meat market? Where did you look for advice, and what was it? And pretty much anything else you think would be useful.” I feel somewhat oddly placed to answer these questions. I never applied for an academic job. I landed the first nonacademic position I applied for. I never put together a practice job … [Read more...]

I Have a PhD in History. How Can I Survive in the Private Sector?

Depending on your background and experience, the transition from academia to the private business world can be frustrating. However, with the proper navigation tools, the academic-turned-aspiring business professional can net a fulfilling career in the private sector. In May 2014, I traded a career of lectures, grading, and archival research for one replete with finance acronyms, investor meetings, and business models. Yes, I made the drastic transition from history professor to partner in a start-up real estate company that utilizes technology to interconnect people, business, and natural resources. Although admittedly still a neophyte in business, I sincerely hope to provide insightful … [Read more...]

Donkey Kong, the IRB, and the Perils of Doing “Recent” History

The past, it seems, keeps getting farther away—or, rather, what passes for a legitimate past does.  In the early 1940s, Richard Hofstadter wrote a celebrated dissertation that became Social Darwinism in American Thought, 1860-1915. His study ended little more than twenty years before the Columbia graduate student began casting about for a thesis topic, but few carped at the time that Hofstadter’s probing assessment of American political and intellectual culture was “too recent.” Yet I faced a different set of expectations when I started to work on the history of music piracy for my dissertation: isn't this a contemporary issue?  Wasn't Napster just a few years back?  Even if piracy … [Read more...]

Not All Humans Are Haters: A Response to Slate’s Rebecca Schuman

Editor's Note: The author recently received his PhD in Comparative Literature.  Our bad for not updating his bio last time around. Last Wednesday I published a piece on this website about the disdain with which many left-leaning mainstream journalists increasingly treat academic work. Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman immediately responded to the piece in anger, first excoriating me for spelling her name wrong (the error was quickly corrected), and then claiming that I don't have the credentials to write about such topics because I am still only a graduate student. On Friday, she put up a post on her blog "inspired" by the exchange, "Grad Students: I'M TRYING TO HELP YOU, YOU IDIOTS," in … [Read more...]