PFP: The Humanities and the Job Market

I’ll confess. I’m here for my Master’s in English, and I have, at the moment, no intention of applying to PhD programs after my two years here is over. I’ve been given the opportunity to teach freshman English courses while I’m here, and I have found within this semester that I quite enjoy my time in the classroom interacting with the students rather than holed up in my room researching. I’d rather teach than research—a bold confession considering that I’m attending a research institution.

For the past five or so years, I’ve been hearing that the community college jobs are moving more toward part-time, that I’m more liable to be an adjunct forever than get a full time job. This may or not be true, depending on where one chooses to live. I’ve been looking around and have found plenty of full-time, even tenure-track, jobs at the community college level. But my question is this: how many of us recently graduated English grad students will be applying for these kinds of jobs? Will there be hundreds of applications for one position? Is it less than that?

While looking around on The Chronicle of Higher Education,  I came across the very recent article “The Great Shame of Our Profession” by adjunct Harvard English teacher, Kevin Birmingham. Birmingham writes:

So why do we invite young scholars to spend an average of nearly 10 years grading papers, teaching classes, writing dissertations, and                            training for jobs that don’t actually exist? English departments do this because graduate students are the most important element of the                        academy’s polarized labor market. They confer departmental prestige. They justify the continuation of tenure lines, and they guarantee a                      labor surplus that provides the cheap, flexible labor that universities want.

As a member of this “cheap, flexible labor” employed by the University, I understand his argument. Elsewhere in the article, Birmingham states that the academic system is taking advantage of our love of literature in order to allow the tenured faculty to research and have more freedom. They allow more students into the academy  than there are jobs available for them after they graduate, so these graduates end up being adjuncts who don’t make enough to live on (Birmingham). An article that was supposed to be on literary criticism ended up being a criticism of the “establishment,” if you will.

Not finding a job that allows me to live. This is my fear; I’m sure its everyone’s fear. How do students, especially in the humanities, reconcile what we’re doing with the possibly bleak reality of our potential future? It’s disconcerting. And Birmingham doesn’t offer an answer.I’m not here to be part of the echo chamber of bleak sentiments regarding the jobs of graduate students once they graduate. But this whole system of economics—supply exceeding demand— is something we’re constantly thinking about and rightly so. It’s a topic in the Chronicle! But like I said, I’m hopeful. Because despite what I have heard and what I’m reading, the jobs at the community college level are there to be had. It’s just a matter of landing one.

Work Cited:

Birmingham, Kevin. “The Great Shame of Our Profession.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, vol. 63, no. 24, 2017, link, Accessed 22 February 2017


Filed under PFPS17

2 Responses to PFP: The Humanities and the Job Market

  1. Kyriakos Tsoukalas

    Do you have any alternative plans for the case that when you “land one” it is not a “job that allows you to live?” It sounds like it can be the case, no?

  2. Dalya Ismael

    I guess most of us fear the job-market, and if we will find the job we’re looking for. Then later we fear if we’re going to be happy in that job or not, and then start searching for other options around us. I believe every year more jobs enter the market, and more educational institutions are developed. A piece of advice that my supervisor usually gives me is to get involved in more community activities and try to do more work throughout the years of university that will make my CV shine compared to the others. Good luck!

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