Not Quite Two Years Later


A few weeks ago one of my students, a philosophy major wrestling with the ever popular “To graduate school or not to graduate school” question asked me, if I had it to do over again, would I be a MAPH student. My short answer was “no,” but to leave it there would have been both a disservice to him and to you, my reader—if there are any of you left.

In ten days I will have had my MA sheepskin for two years. That is, for two years I have been professing at the adjunct level while my salary miraculously decreased at an inverse proportion to my years of experience. Yet, I was fortunate. Professors that I knew and loved pulled all manner of strings on my behalf to get me into that two-year adjunct position teaching the courses I love. My students have, on the whole, been very appreciative of the work that I have done—awarding me some of the highest evaluation scores enjoyed by any professor currently working at that college. The last two years have been some of the most stressful, frustrating, and wonderful of any I can remember in my previous thirty-five.

However, despite the acclaim of my students, the overwhelming support of my former professors—now peers—and even my willingness to work for nearly free, my time as an academic is very likely over. Either the job market in the humanities is not what it used to be or it never really was very good, but it makes no difference because finding an academic job in the humanities with only a Masters degree is slightly less likely than jumping from a burning building and landing in a conveniently located swimming pool filled with feather pillows. Which is to say, it is not likely and should hardly be expected by any sane person as part of their five-year plan. Anecdotal stories from recent PhD grads and data gleaned from the scant “philosophy prof” listings that appear at suggest that the prospects are not substantially rosier for those with stoles and slightly less ridiculous hats. A friend of mine for UChicago’s divinity school continues to pretend that his doctoral thesis is not yet ready for defense despite the fact that its been written and ready to go for two years because, despite his myriad attempts, he has yet to even get a bite from the academy, anywhere. So, better to earn a TA’s stipend and enjoy discounted housing than find himself with as a freshly minted PhD unable to get even an interview. All of this is to say, if your son or daughter expresses interest in history, philosophy, literature, or any other humanities discipline, buy them a tool belt and send them to the nearest electricians trade school, nursing program, or teacher’s college. If I’d dedicated the last six years of my life to becoming a journeyman electrician, registered nurse, or sixth grade teacher, I could easily find a job in nearly any city in the country. Like every contestant on every reality show ever, my fifteen minutes of fame (or academic employment) are up.

But wait, it’s worse than that! My Hyde Park diploma beautifully framed and gleaming actually seems to be putting me at a disadvantage as I attempt to find a living-wage job. Before I returned to school to earn my degrees—when I was merely a high school graduate—I never struggled to find employment. With good references and a solid set of skills I easily scored positions in sales, middle-management, and even worked my way into positions more commonly held by those with MBAs. As I write this, I have applied for twenty-nine positions—from an entry level security guard to an admissions staffer at a community college—and I have yet to receive a single interview. Why? Well, doing a bit of research into the anomaly, my best guess is that graduate degree bearers with a bit of experience in their field suddenly applying for an entry-level position smell a bit hinky to human resource folks—bringing to mind images of mental break downs and sex scandals. As one hiring official put it, people with upper-tier degrees applying for lower level work are either burn-outs to be avoided or damaged goods to be handled with care. There seems to be the lingering, but laughable, perception by the general public that college grads with specialized training ought to be able to find work in their specialty. Therefore, failure to locate a Master’s level position with the requisite degree is perceived as a sign of some deeper, darker personnel issue—such as an inability to take constructive criticism or a taste for human flesh.

So, young sir or madame, do you believe that the MAPH will help you to secure a career? Perhaps, but not in the academy unless merely a stepping stone toward a PhD—but even then, don’t hold your breath. Most of the positions I see in my field are targeted at luring established professors with many years of experience from this school to that, and not, therefore, really open to a newly minted doctor of philosophy. I value my time at UChicago for its formative contributions to who I am as a person, but it is only hindering my ability to secure a decent paying job, a bedroom for a second child, and anything like professional satisfaction.

As always, your mileage may vary—and I sincerely hope that it does.



One comment on “Not Quite Two Years Later

  1. Jessica (Johnson) Douglass says:

    Hi MAPHman, old friend from the program here. Since I left MAPH after only 1 quarter, I think you would guess how I’d respond to the “would you do it again” question. My answer is also more complicated. For me, the $20k 3 month MAPH journey was most definitely a financial mistake, and one that I will be paying for after my kids are in college. It was an important learning experience for me, though. I learned that a) there are other fields that I might enjoy (*gasp) even more than I thought I’d like academia, b) I _can_ do the work required of academia, even if I don’t want to, and c) there is no shame in choosing another path. The price was a little too high for basically a lesson in getting over myself, but it was important nonetheless. I can look forward now without any questions about whether or not I could handle academia or if I made the wrong choice somewhere. I know you didn’t have the same experience, exactly, and I’m frustrated on your behalf that the job market is what it is in academia. I have now a different master’s degree, not much cheaper, that offers access into a market with no job shortages. The social work field does mean that I’m making less than I did straight out of undergraduate school, though, so I feel you on that one. How frustrating!

    I will add also that some of the best advice I got regarding job applications was from a philosophy professor from my undergraduate institution: only put things on your resume that will help. If you’re applying for a job that does not require a graduate degree (or even a BA), just leave that off your resume. It’s a hard pride thing not to include it, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do… or something like that!

    Anyway, hope you are well!

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