I rarely read articles that make me feel angry enough to blog but Young Academics: The Great Betrayal did just that. As I have recently finished my history PhD I am precisely the type of person that this article was talking about, but it does not reflect my experiences.
I do not have an academic job, I do not have one lined up, though I have applied for a few. When I initially began the PhD I planned on pursuing an academic career, however now I’m not too sure. Part of the reasons for this are the issues that Matthew Lyons talked about in his article: short contracts, frequent need to move, immensely competitive field, but I do not feel that academia betrayed me.
When I entered my PhD I was told how competitive it was, I was told that just because I have a PhD doesn’t mean I will get a university job and that even if I published, presented and worked on numerous job skills I still wouldn’t be guaranteed an academic job. At no point was I told that my PhD would lead to job security, in fact it was the opposite. I feel that I was prepared fairly accurately for the post-PhD world, sure I might not have taken all of the opportunities or completed all of the optional ‘how to market your PhD to future employees’ courses, but that was my choice – the options were there should I have wanted to take advantage of them. I felt supported by my supervisors and other staff when looking for jobs both in and out of academia in a way that I wasn’t expecting.
I don’t know enough about the history of securing academic jobs to know whether the situation was drastically different 10/20 etc years ago, but I do know that times change. It is unrealistic to expect job markets and employment to remain unchanged in a world which is constantly evolving – even over the decade that I have spent in Universities I have seen changes which have impacted on the job market – both academic and administrative – especially the use of computers, plus the numerous changes that have occurred that I am not fully aware of. And it’s not just within academia that the job market has changed, to look at this solely as a problem within universities is misleading. If the statistic Lyons discusses about the expenditures within humanities and administration are correct then perhaps this needs looking at within the wider university context, however, as senior salary figures appear to be misleading I am unsure whether or not to believe these.
Instead of being bitter about my lack of academic job security, I am grateful for the opportunities that doing a PhD gave me, for the friends I have made, the skills I have developed and the opportunity to spend several years doing something I love. I may not have an academic job, but I am still able to work on history without one, thanks to the continued support of my University. To feel betrayed by that would be a foolish thing, and perhaps indicative that one pursued a PhD purely for a job, rather than for the love of my subject.