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Fear and Loathing in Academia
PhDs Getting Hammered in Adjunct Jobs

If you haven’t been scared away from getting that PhD by the thousands of grads competing for scarce tenure-track positions or the looming specter of grad school debt, you should take a look at this New York Times profile of a newly minted scholar looking to make it as a professor in New York. Like many of his peers, James Hoff has spent the past year and a half since getting his doctorate piecing together adjunct lecturer gigs at various schools while applying for highly competitive full-time jobs. These gigs are unstable, low-paying, and offer no benefits:

Nearly 18 months after being awarded a Ph.D. in English, Mr. Hoff has yet to find a full-time job. He cobbles together a living, struggling to line up courses to teach at different colleges around the city. If he is lucky, he lands four classes a semester, a full-time workload that pays about $24,000 a year.

This semester, only three classes came through.

“Scared,” Mr. Hoff said, describing his emotions when he learned he would have a $3,000 hole in his budget. He is 42 years old, with a wife, a toddler and mounting credit card debt.

Sadly, this situation is increasingly becoming the norm. The NYT notes that 70 percent of college faculty members lack tenure, and many of them are adjuncts who haven’t been able to land a tenure-track position. These programs will have to make dramatic curriculum changes, or else they will have to shrink. Probably they will have to do both.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Anthony

    While I have a lot of sympathy for the adjunct professor profiled in this article, he should have waited until he had established himself professionally before having a child. This would seem like common sense.

    • Dan

      I have precisely the opposite reaction. Having a family is not something that waits easily until a “convenient” or “stable” time in ones life. On the other hand, choosing a profession that puts food on your family’s table is something over which one has much more control.

      • Anthony

        Well, you make one good point. Subject to the limitations set by iq, people can choose their line of work. That said, if someone wants to go for their dreams, so to speak, in less secure areas of the economy, it is best to remain childless. Similarly, it would be a mistake to have a child while waiting tables in Hollywood while trying to audition for as many parts as possible. No?

        • Dan

          I would agree that if one wishes to pursue an occupation with a low chance of earning a decent living, it is probably best that it be done without unnecessarily consigning others to that same lifestyle.

      • Andrew Allison

        Then why hasn’t he done so?

  • qet

    This guy’s story is fundamentally different from that of the Brooklyn restaurant worker in last week’s Via Meadia. Being willing to pay the debt for a Master’s Degree that is (presumably) unrelated to his day job, but being unwilling to pay a health insurance premium, is not evidence of bad choices. The PhD, on the other hand, gambled. He rolled the dice and lost, in a game where the odds were against him going in. Not every one is privileged to earn his living doing what he loves. He needs to think of his child and not of himself at this point, although it’s not like there are loads of NYC-paying jobs even outside of academia. My own brother–English PhD–was in this same position a few years ago. He now teaches at a private secondary school and really loves it. Sure, he will always have preferred a tenure-track university post, but he faced reality and adapted his dreams to his options. Also, he lives in a much less expensive city than NYC.

  • Tom

    Here’s my question: Why did this man get his Ph.d. when he was forty? He probably got out of college when he was twenty-two or thereabouts, which means that he spent eighteen years getting his graduate degrees. There were probably extenuating circumstances, but this is ridiculous.

  • TommyTwo

    “PhDs Getting Hammered in Adjunct Jobs”

    If I were in such a position, I’d be getting hammered too!

    Thank you, try the veal.

  • Anthony

    While I have no position on Mr. Hoff’s academic track. I will attest to allure of academic post graduate degree for many professional students who have both utilized availability of graduate offerings (these last three decades or so) and sought middle class social/profeddional aura previously attached.

  • William Ockham

    This guys life of pursuing his undergraduate dream only exists in an elaborate fantasy. Getting a tenured position in the humanities is hard go at best. No more than 20% of those young Ph. D’s who start out ever reach it. No one who isn’t in a tenure track position at 42 will ever get tenure at a four year school. It’s a young persons game and he’s ten years too late. And why with this dream did he ever go to CUNY. Probably that’s where he could get in. A sometimes respectable college but far out of the orbit of places that ever send their graduates into the academic world. Here’s a bet, that no one with a doctorate in history who got out of there in the last fifteen years holds tenure anywhere. And if he’s serious about academics what is he doing in New York City? Huffington reported that the average rent in the City broke $3,000 last summer, three times the national average. If he has any chance at all he’s got to follow the jobs and lower costs of living out into the country. But of course this dream life is cost free to him. As an adjunct he can’t even cover his rent. Somebody else, his wife, parents or family pick up everything else. The good people at Medicaid cover that aspect of his life. And since he has neither the means nor intent to pay his student loans the taxpayers suck that one up.

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