A Graduate Humanities Degree? So Not Worth It, Argues Chronicle Of Higher Education

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Writes CHE columnist William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College, in Holland, Mich:

Most undergraduates don’t realize that there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary (though it is generally much lower than salaries in other fields requiring as many years of training). They don’t know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect…and, as a result, they don’t make any fallback plans until it is too late…The completion of graduate school seems impossibly far away, so their concerns are mostly focused on the present….

Meanwhile, more and more students are flattered to find themselves admitted to graduate programs; many are taking on considerable debt to do so. According to the Humanities Indicators Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, about 23 percent of humanities students end up owing more than $30,000, and more than 14 percent owe more than $50,000.

As things stand, I can only identify a few circumstances under which one might reasonably consider going to graduate school in the humanities:

  • You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.
  • You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.
  • You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.
  • You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.

Those are the only people who can safely undertake doctoral education in the humanities. Everyone else who does so is taking an enormous personal risk, the full consequences of which they cannot assess because they do not understand how the academic-labor system works and will not listen to people who try to tell them.

What do you think? Given this brutal recession, does getting an advanced degree seem attractive?

Are you in, or considering, grad school? Do you think it’s worth it?

Amy Bishop, Harvard Phd, U. Of Alabama Professor — Shooter. Really, So Unlikely?

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If there’s anything to remember about who owns guns in the U.S., it’s often the people who would most surprise you: the beauty queen, the  schoolteacher, the nurse, the little old lady down the street.

As the weirdly twisted tale of Amy Bishop continues to unfold, part of the narrative some clearly find perplexing is her age, gender, professional status and education. Women like her don’t kill, don’t own or carry handguns.

Do they?

Reports today’s New York Times:

On Friday, this city of rocket scientists and brainy inventors was stunned when a neuroscientist with a Harvard Ph.D. was arrested in the shooting deaths of three of her colleagues after she was denied tenure.


But that was only the first surprise in the tale of the neuroscientist, Amy Bishop, who was regarded as fiercely intelligent and had seemed to have a promising career in biotechnology. Every day since has produced a new revelation from Dr. Bishop’s past, each more bizarre than the last.

On Saturday, the police in Braintree, Mass., said that she had fatally shot her brother in 1986 and questioned whether the decision to dismiss the case as an accident had been the right one.

On Sunday, a law enforcement official in Boston said she and her husband, James Anderson, had been questioned in a 1993 case in which a pipe bomb was sent to a colleague of Dr. Bishop’s at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The bomb did not go off, no one was ever charged in the case, and no proof ever emerged connecting the couple to the bomb plot.

You can feel the crimson robes shuddering — a Harvard woman? Another Harvard-educated woman, lawyer Sandra Froman, served as the National Rifle Association’s president — an unpaid position — for two terms, the maximum allowed.

It’s often assumed that anyone with the smarts and skills to crack the Ivy League has no interest in the workings of a rifle, pistol or shotgun. Not true. Guns, often linked only and exclusively with murder and mayhem, are found in 30 percent of American homes. Thousands are fired every day in the U.S. by recreational shooters, hunters, target shooters, even kids and teens in 4-H programs, without incident or malice.

Yet the fantasy persists that only Bubbas want to use or own one. An Ivy-educated woman, a professor, a mother of four, shoots and kills? It’s rare. It’s scary. It’s especially confusing if you still believe that smart, highly educated professional women don’t handle firearms, some of them with skill.

As more details emerge about Bishop and her past, I’ll be curious to hear when, how and where a handgun started to look like her best and only option.

Needing Cash To Finish Her Pathology PhD, She Turned To Prostitution

Dr Brooke MagnantiDr Brooke Magnanti. Photograph: SWNS.COM

She needed money fast — her PhD studies coming to an end. The answer, of course, prostitution. Britain’s a-twitter over the revelation that Belle de Jour, a best-selling author who blogs about sex, is really a science researcher.

One of the best kept literary secrets of the decade was revealed last night when 34-year-old scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti announced she was the writer masquerading as call girl Belle de Jour.

The author behind the bestselling books detailing her secret life as a prostitute decided to come out to one of her fiercest critics, Sunday Times columnist India Knight, after claiming anonymity had become “no fun”. “I couldn’t even go to my own book launch party”, she said.

Until last week, even her agent was unaware of her name. But now Magnanti, a respected specialist in developmental neurotoxicology and cancer epidemiology in a hospital research group in Bristol, has spoken of the time six years ago she worked as a £300 an hour prostitute working through a London escort agency. Magnanti turned to the agency in the final stages of her PhD thesis when she ran out of money. She was already an experienced science blogger and began writing about her experiences in a web diary later adapted into books and a television drama starring Billie Piper.

Magnanti says she has no regrets about the 14 months she spent as a prostitute. “I’ve felt worse about my writing than I ever have about sex for money,” she said.

Magnanti said she was working on a doctoral study for the department of forensic pathology of Sheffield University in 2003 when she began her secret life. “I was getting ready to submit my thesis. I saved up a bit of money. I thought, I’ll just move to London, because that’s where the jobs are, and I’ll see what happens.

“I couldn’t find a professional job in my chosen field because I didn’t have my PhD yet.

It’s an interesting challenge for women (and men) who choose the long, costly and demanding road of prolonged academic study. I was on the phone last night to a friend, 30, who is finishing up her Phd and also needs to make money. She can’t get a job in her field until she’s fully credentialed but can’t get more funding to finish. She, however, is working in a bank.