Currently I’m working a sales job at the BPO and in two weeks I’ll start adjunct teaching at UB. I will also try to pick up another low-hours, low-pay job, probably retail sales.
The question, then, is what I’m going to do next. The summer has been nice for getting my shit slightly together, but I do eventually want a “real job,” a salaried position that’ll pay me at least $35k and have guaranteed health benefits, a stable schedule, etc. In the past two years I’ve learned two important lessons:
- People do not get jobs in Academia. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how slick/professionalized you are, or how nice you are or what your students say about you or what awards you have or who you know or what you wrote your thesis on. (I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked) It sort of matters where you went to school, but even then– you can graduate with a PhD from Harvard and still end up teaching 4-4 adjunct comp. We needn’t discuss this further– we all know about the current job market in Academia.
- It is hard as fuck to get a salaried job in any field in which I am even partially qualified. Well, in my experience it’s actually impossible. What about jobs for which I’m significantly, obviously overqualified? No one seems to want to hire someone who’s overqualified for a position.
- The work world is not a meritocracy.
- There are no jobs– in Academia because jobs are being farmed out more and more to adjuncts, visiting profs, TA/RA/GAs, and other short-term low-pay labor. In the “real world” because the economy sucks right now.
So, what’s the solution? As far as I can tell, there are two potential solutions.
- Get a shitty job and “work up,” “pay one’s dues,” etc. Do it the old-fashioned way. I tried to do this in NYC by applying for low-level editorial positions but the editorial industry is a whole beast in itself in terms of who gets hired and how. You will have to talk to other people, people who’re actually in it, to understand how Kafkaesque it is. Anyway, presumably it is still possible to start at point A and graduate to point B if one can get hired at point A despite being “overqualified” for it, since apparently one cannot just jump in at point C (the point for which one is qualified).
- Go back to school. This has multiple advantages: the low interest rate of student loans makes it more financially viable than depending on credit cards; scholarships and TA/GA/RA-ships are a paltry but nearly sufficient income; one is taken out of the actual workforce until the economy resolves; one could get a degree in something “useful” and maybe have a better chance at getting a job than having a master’s in say, Comparative Literature.
Given 1., the plan then is to continue working at the Philharmonic until a salaried position opens there, for which I would presumably be slightly more favored than other applicants since I’m already somewhat familiar with the organization and could receive recommendations from within. Another option would be to continue working ticket sales until I could “work up” to becoming a manager with some other arts organization (my boss works with a third party marketing firm that places managers in ticket/subscription sales in nonprofits in the US and Canada). Neither of these options seem totally impractical.
Given 2., what would I go back to school for? I’d like to go back and finish my Comp Lit PhD. I feel like I still have a lot to say in that context, and I’d like to have a PhD because getting non-tenure track academic jobs at obscure universities is possible, and indeed it is much easier with a PhD than with an MA (note: I do not have that worthless piece of paper known as an MFA). I might not be able to get a tenure-track position teaching literature at Boston University– because at this point seemingly no freshly minted PhDs can get such positions– but I could potentially get a job at somewhere like, say, Trocaire University (ever heard of it? Nope. But people have those jobs, and those jobs pay money).
It is somewhat useful to know that no one gets jobs in Academia. It means that if one is in a PhD program one is really doing it for the love of the work. It means you can really write your thesis on whatever the hell you want– it’s not going to matter anyway. It means you’d better go to a program where you can write about what you want, since you’re not going to get a job anyway. I learned all this valuable stuff at UVA.
So let’s say they’re nice and let me back in to finish my PhD. This is certainly not a given. Indeed, let’s say they don’t let me back in. Whatever. Either way, I would pursue another degree on top of the PhD. The question is, which one? The options as I see them are:
- MA in Arts Management. This is a new, small degree program at UB that has courses in non-profit management. The first class of graduates just graduated this May, and all but one were immediately placed in salaried, even high-ranked nonprofit arts jobs. The one who was not is completing his law degree. I wouldn’t be able to start this program until next fall.
- MLIS (Library Science)… With this, I’d like to focus on digital archives management. UB isn’t a terribly reliable school for MLIS right now. Their accreditation keeps getting revoked, then reinstated, then revoked. However, everyone I know with an MLIS from UB or elsewhere has a salaried position in a library: that is, has a real job in their field. This isn’t true of many other academic disciplines. Alternatively (to going to UB) I could do a telecommuter MLS at a school like the University of Alabama. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to start this program until the Spring.
- MA in Urban Planning. I probably won’t do this. It just seems really cool.
- MA in Education. New York State pays its teachers awfully well, works them less hard than teachers in other states, and has a great retirement plan. Unlike a program like Teach for America or the New York Teaching Fellows gig I didn’t get, you don’t have to go through an interview process, you just go to school and get taught. You don’t have to start off teaching in low-income neighborhoods unless you want to. I could start this program in the Spring (possibly earlier depending on what sub-discipline I chose– the need for Special Ed teachers is so great, for instance, that I could still enter this semester’s program, despite the fact that it starts in only 2 weeks!). The question then is what kind of Education I’d specialize in. English– that’s obvious. Preferably high school level English. But what about other things– ESL/TEFL, Literacy, Reading, Special Ed?
UB offers prestigious fellowships for its PhD students, but not for MA students. So to get a tuition waiver for the courses necessary to complete an MA/MLS/MEd I’d need to be enrolled in a PhD program. However, with any back-to-school option I’d be able to take out low-interest student loans that would both cover tuition and allow me to pay off my credit card debt (which is accruing interest at a much higher rate). Thus with the back-to-school option I’d be:
- Earning a “marketable degree” (if there is such a thing)
- Paying off debt, or at worst, exchanging high-interest debt for low-interest debt