Monday, June 19, 2006

Someone in the UK's got a good idea!

Leslie Madsen-Brooks has made her latest contribution to Blogher, under the title Academic Entrepreneurs. She writes:

I think it's time for many of us in the humanities to start accepting that the job market for faculty is really quite awful, and thus we need to nurture in our graduate students (as well as in undergraduates who are considering grad school) the idea that if they decide to work outside the academic, they're not being whores for money.

She's onto something there. As I've struggled with this career path, I've come to value less and less a job with PhD students. I've come to fret that recruiting and training PhDs in my areas would be a cruel act of punishment, encouraging the passion of bright idealists, while knowing all the while that many of them will not succeed.

Leslie continues:

As grad students, we should be given every opportunity and encouragement to follow through on ideas and innovations that might provide us with a comfortable living and enrich society as well.

Yes, we should take care to foster the entrepreneurial spirit, and the open embracing of alternatives to an academic career. Yet we should also work to change the social and political environment that renders the prospects in academia so poor. The fellowship that I've been drooling over lately, is part of a scheme funded in part by the Research Councils UK. It's a program to offer 1000 5-year fellowships (at 200 per year), focusing at first on research, including training and a slow transition to half-time teaching, culminating in faculty contracts (pending satisfactory review). Check it out.

As they write, they seek to create more attractive and stable paths into academia. Wow! That's all I can say: WOW! If only there were more programs like that, stateside. Are there such programs in Canada? Australia? The EU? Just imagine. While we're taking care of our own careers (and that we must do) let's do what we can to forge a shift in priorities, a shift in public thinking toward... thinking!


betty said...

I'm sooo with you Articulate Dad.

And - wow - this exact program you described is exactly an idea I had a long long time ago! I'm in science. I quit grad school after 5 years because it was not looking like I'd get a PhD anytime soon and I wasn't willing to stay in an unhealthy relationship with my advisor for several more years with little hope of getting the degree.

Anyway, I now run an academic program for Bio majors interested in research careers (ironic, eh?). When I talk to faculty about this program it inevitably comes up that I didn't finish. I always tell them about this dream graduate program and they all tell me it will never work (mostly becuase teaching is viewed as a distraction from research which is supposed to be ALL you do in grad school).

There IS reportedly a program in Minnesota that is similar - but because you almost always have to do a post-doc in science to get a faculty job, the program never ends in a teaching job for the graduates. But it's a start!

And there are several teaching post-doc programs for scientists accross the country, and a few researchers hire teaching post-docs on an individual basis. This is a good thing too. But not enough.

If I am ever in a position to do something about this, starting programs like this would be what I would want to do.

betty said...

And...I didn't read the article before I posted that comment. I just assumed from your post you referred to graduate students. My idea was to have teaching be a part of grad school. I clearly should read before I speak since the program you link to is for those who already have their PhDs - also an excellent idea.

I know that Princeton and a few other universities award a few fellowships to recent PhDs in science that gives them their own lab space and a faculty mentor. I have one friend in such a program. We call it an uber-post doc but it's really more like a mini-PI. Very excellent idea.

Propter Doc said...

The RCUK program in the UK is wonderful. The universities apply for fellowships each year and the ability to get your research on its feet before being slammed with teaching is incredibly appealing. I would love to get one of them in a Scottish uni's chemistry department in the next two years.

ArticulateDad said...

Thanks for your comments, Betty. Both are great ideas. But I've come to believe, as I put it before, create the jobs, let the grad students follow.

Propter Doc, well then, here's to toasting up some premium scotch together to celebrate our mutual appointments to RCUK fellowships. Now, just that pesky little bit about applying and getting an offer.