30
May

Inkling Eventually Brings Its Interactive Textbooks to the Web

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Blog site:
Hack (Increased) Education

The interactive e-book publisher Inkling has eventually released an HTML5 version of its app, meaning that its 150 titles are now obtainable on both the iPad and the Net.

Possibly it&rsquos unfair to say &ldquofinally.&rdquo It has only been 2.5 years considering that the iPad was very first unveiled and because Inkling, founded by the former Apple education exec Matt McInnis, came out of stealth with a textbook app that actually highlighted the potential for re-engineering — not just digitizing — educational sources for these new tablet devices.

Then once again, it&rsquos been two.five years. I&rsquod argue that Inkling&rsquos app and vision remain at the forefront for reimagining textbooks and constructing the technology to support that. But technological innovation moves quite speedily. In people intervening years, the iPad has witnessed rapid adoption, but digital textbooks — specifically ones that aren&rsquot obtainable across gadgets or across platforms (as has been the case with Inkling up &rsquotil now) — genuinely haven&rsquot. McInnis told me in an interview last week that he couldn&rsquot have pitched Sequoia Capital (one particular of its investors) back in 2010 &ldquoto put educational content material on the Net behind a paywall.&rdquo Digital textbooks needed the iPad then to pique men and women&rsquos interest. They needed the Apple App Shop. But now, they require the Net in order to escape the control of that extremely Apple ecosystem. They require the Web to acquire far more widespread adoption.

Inkling also essential some of the advancements that Web technologies, namely HTML5, have created in excess of the past number of years. The Web standard has reached a point of electrical power and stability, and the new Inkling HTML5 Web app can have all the attributes of the really slick iPad app, but with no Flash and no Java and no plug-ins — just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. McInnis says proudly it could be the &ldquomost sophisticated HTML5 app ever written.&rdquo (It&rsquos worth pointing out here that that sophistication relies on employing an up-to-date webkit-enabled browser — in other words Chrome or Safari.)

By making a feature-rich interactive textbook app that operates across platforms &ndash on the iPad and on the Internet — it might properly be that Inkling has tackled right here 1 of the significant complaints that students have had about digital textbooks: students want to have access to their books across numerous devices. (Other obstacles to student adoption continue to be, like price, of course.)


Inkling has taken care to feel about what the reading knowledge is like based on various gadgets also. What appears in a mobile Net version isn&rsquot just resized, but it&rsquos redesigned from what you see studying that book on your laptop. Certainly, how do we read differently when we&rsquore reading on a mobile device (particularly when we also are &ldquomobile&rdquo) versus at our desks? Do we still prefer to highlight and consider notes into an e-book on a laptop than it is on an iPad? Do we favor to re-study people notes — evaluation, study, cram — on a mobile device? Do we choose to have access to the Web and to other apps (multi-tasking nevertheless sucks on the iPad, right after all)? I&rsquom not confident &ndash it probable depends on the student, I suppose.

Possibly a far better example here is the way in which Inkling&rsquos Frommer&rsquos Guides can perform — after all, how you strategy a trip with a manual when you&rsquore sitting at house is very distinct from how you use a guide when you&rsquore on the road.

Inkling&rsquos not too long ago released Habitat signifies that publishers will be ready to &ldquobuild when&rdquo and layout their content material for all these platforms. That may nicely be a huge draw for publishers.

But once more, we will see if this is a big draw for textbook customers.

Inside Larger Ed | Weblog U

19
May

Why the Facebook IPO Matters to Ed Tech and Increased Ed

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Website:&nbsp
Technologies and Understanding

Why really should larger ed and ed tech individuals care about the valuation of Facebook? Does it genuinely matter if a bunch of young technologists and investment bankers get fabulously wealthy, and if a group of wealthy, visionary or gullible traders make or drop tons of income?

I believe that the Facebook valuation matters to anyone interested in the educational engineering and publishing sector. I&#39m not specifically certain why I think this, and I&#39m hoping that possibly together we can far better understand the meaning of the Facebook IPO.

Some inquiries about Facebook that I&#39ve been asking myself include:

  • If in two many years Facebook ends up getting really worth significantly less than what individuals are paying for shares these days will we see a chilling impact on investments in the educational technological innovation sector?&nbsp &nbsp
  • Would a a decline in Facebook&#39s valuation contact into question the organization models of other world wide web and mobile primarily based platforms that rely on marketing?
  • Will investors be unwilling to make lengthy phrase bets in education and technology associated organizations given the Facebook IPO and connected bargains (such as Facebook&#39s $ one billion obtain of Instagram?)
  • What will it indicate for smaller sized education and ed tech startups to attract traders and capital?

I see an enormous set possibilities at the intersection between education and technological innovation, possibilities that have practically absolutely nothing to do with the Facebook story.&nbsp The willingness of the investment community to worth Facebook at $ a hundred billion tends to make me critically query how these valuations are derived.&nbsp &nbsp

The lack of vital, in-depth, and questioning analysis of Facebook&#39s company fundamentals is a worrying sign about the capacity of the business and technological innovation press to adequately report on, and analyze, the likely of ed tech startups and much more established for-revenue education organizations.&nbsp

Some excellent factors may come out of the Facebook IPO. I hope that at least some of those young newly minted Facebook millionaires decided to invest in or begin their personal ed tech startups. Better nevertheless, I could think about a situation in which Facebook gets severe about education, and decides to make substantial investments in social mastering.&nbsp

But despite these hopes, I can&#39t shake the feeling that the Facebook valuation is much less about enterprise fundamentals and far more about hype, hope and magical pondering.

Can you help make clear why the Facebook IPO matters, or does not matter, to ed tech and larger ed?

Within Larger Ed | Website U

30
Apr

Class Dismissed

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Blog: 
Confessions of a Community College Dean

Half of new bachelor’s degree grads are either unemployed or underemployed, according to the Associated Press.  

The market isn’t ready to absorb them. Specifically,

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren't easily replaced by computers.

I had to smile at “college professors” making the list. When I entered graduate school during the first Bush administration, we were told that a great wave of faculty retirements was on the horizon, and that we’d be in high demand be the time we got out. We all know how that played out. It’s entirely possible that college professor positions will open in great numbers, but only if you fail to differentiate between adjunct and full-time positions. And having adjunct positions available hardly gets around the “underemployment” issue.

At the associate’s level, similar dynamics are playing out. For students who don’t intend to transfer for the four year degree, the market isn’t what it used to be.  (The one partial exception is allied health, such as nursing. And even that isn’t a sure thing.)  Many of the skilled trades took a beating when the construction market collapsed in 2008, and they’re yet to recover.  (We’re pretty sure that’s why so many of the “green jobs” have yet to materialize: they’re based on construction.) Generic “business” degrees don’t do much, and generic liberal arts degrees don’t, either, unless you transfer.

In my darker moments, I sometimes wonder if the root of the problem with public higher education in America is that it was designed to create and support a massive middle class. And we’ve tacitly decided as a society that a massive middle class is not a priority.  We’re trying to fulfill a mission that the country has largely abandoned. When the goal of a prosperous middle class was tacitly dismissed, dominos started to fall.  

The meme making the rounds last week was the announcement that outstanding student loan debt in America reached a trillion dollars.  That’s not a function of community college tuition, obviously, but it indicates that what we’re preparing students for, and what the economy wants them for, don’t align.

Although that’s presented as a failing of colleges, it mostly isn’t. (One could argue about the wisdom of getting a terminal bachelor’s degree in English at Nothing Special Private College, but that’s ultimately marginal.)  It’s mostly a failing of the larger economy, of our politics, and of our priorities. The “starve the beast” strategy has been so effective that it’s easy to forget that as recently as 2000, we were actually paying down the national debt.  Austerity is a choice.

None of which is terribly helpful if you’re twenty-two and graduating with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and no immediate prospects for a job that will make enough to pay both rent and loan payments.  

The new economy is sometimes presented as an issue of intergenerational justice, with the outsize poverty of the young subsidizing the outsize wealth of the old.  That’s true as far as it goes, but it ignores a larger issue. As the boomers retire and X’ers and Y’s fill the workforce, they’ll either have the skills to grow the economy, or not. They won’t develop those skills sitting on the sidelines.  In the absence of growth, prospects for boomers’ retirements are grim, let alone the folks who come after them. According to the most recent report on social security, the system will go broke the year I turn 65.  Thanks, guys.  If we want to get things moving, we need to integrate the young into the productive workforce ASAP.

College still passes the “I’d send my kid” test. I fully intend to send mine. As insurance policies go, it’s weaker than it once was, but it still beats most of the alternatives. I just hope that as a society, we don’t make the mistake of blaming colleges for preparing students for jobs that aren’t there, when we made the choice to let those jobs dry up.

Inside Higher Ed | Blog U

26
Apr

Seven Concerns for Laura Schreibman, PhD

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Finding ready for the ice bar
should i get a phd

Image by Katy Lindemann
Virgin radio made the decision that instead of just taking us to lunch, we really should go for food and vodka in minus six degrees at the Absolut Ice Bar. Therefore the moon suits. I need to also point out that we had been possessing a heat wave so I was sporting a minor skirt, and then looked like a flasher with my bare legs poking out from beneath the huge silver cape.

Seven Queries for Laura Schreibman, PhD
Do I think we will ever get there? I like to feel so. But I and other people feel that ASD is not a single disorder and thus it is unlikely there is a single trigger. We are seeking at numerous precise disorders and these probable have distinct causes, …
Study a lot more on Newswise (press release)

 

Five Smart Techniques For Creating Technological innovation Perform On Your Side
Need to have to get some perform accomplished, but obtaining it tough to resist the lure of Facebook? So-called &quotproductivity tools&quot can halt you from surfing when you can’t cease your self. LeechBlock, a free add-on for Firefox, lets you block internet sites of your choosing throughout …
Read far more on Huffington Publish

 

21
Apr

MOOCs, Machines, and Music

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

School Prepared Writing
by UrbanDigger.com under CC BY-ND

.

 

School Prepared Writing

Remember how I said that we really should take “clapping for credit” classes a lot more seriously (and a lot more usually)? Coursera (which Audrey Watters alluded to here on IHE but examines far more fully here) is supplying a MOOC in Listening to World Music. And Science Fiction and Fantasy! There is a complete list of intriguing classes getting provided. I’m drawn to the humanities offerings (I admittedly require to brush up on my Greek mythology, and I am a sucker for SF), but if I am trying to enhance the digital side of my DH academic identity, the computer system science courses may well be the way to go.

Since, as Audrey says, I have so considerably cost-free time on my hands.

——–

Machine grading. There has been very a lot of discussion about this lately. I’ve been following the discussion on the WPA listserv, and added to the conversation by sending out Mark Bousquet’s piece outlining how robot grading is a logical conclusion to the drive to automate education. It’s a longer piece, but it’s really instructive and an important wake-up contact. I was astounded by the response I received, if only due to the fact a lot more and much more on the web/digital “services” for college students are fundamentally quote mining to make the investigation and writing process much more efficient.

As one response put it, we are the Ctrl (or Apple) +F generation. I wonder, though, how a lot (once yet again) the way larger education is set up truly can make us as complicit in this shift. In a publish or perish surroundings wherever quantity typically outweighs quality, how considerably do we really read, believe deeply, and genuinely realize all of these secondary sources we are necessary in numerous instances to include in any of our perform. I bear in mind for my qualifying examination in Globe Literature, we all received the comment, “superficial” on our solutions from one particular of the professors (who, notably, didn’t educate any classes in the program since of various program releases for investigation). My response was, what did you anticipate when you attempt to teach us ALL of world literature in two semesters, then ask us to research for 4 more months, then give us two hrs to hand-compose our solutions to two questions?

It’s remarkable to me that the two (politically) opposite Mark’s more than at the Brainstorm blog site (Bousquet and Bauerline) look to be coming down on the very same side of an issue. Bauerline talks about speed and how we publish also much, which fits in with the ideas Bousquet puts forward concerning the industrialization of education (and analysis). We are a Ctrl+F generation of academics simply because that’s what we have been told to become. Is it any wonder that we teach our students the exact same habits.

———-

This week’s chat talked about ecocomposition and sustainable composition. I wonder if college students don’t see deep thinking and analysis/near reading through as sustainable offered their chaotic lives and the speed at which the globe moves these days. Productivity is key. And I know that they are more interested in breadth, not depth. I’m not saying they’re appropriate. I’m just saying that it’s an uphill battle, not only simply because of our students’ attitudes, but also due to the fact of the messages that we ourselves and the institutions are sending the students. For numerous of my college students, between working to assist shell out for school, taking care of family members, and having a daily life, there isn’t significantly time for deep pondering and shut, slow reading through.

———–

Oh, by the way, the folks above at Coursera apparently are making an attempt to move AWAY from robot graders. Go figure. There’s more to creating and understanding than an algorythm? Radical notion.

———–

This is late since I took the children to see the Imagination Movers in concert in Cincinnati. There have been tons and lots of families with each mothers and fathers there at a four PM show, and I doubt really much they have been all academic couples taking benefit of the flexibility academia offers. Looks like folks get to consider afternoons off in the “real planet” as nicely.

I’m not positive who was a lot more excited about the display, me or the young children. We also got to go to an smaller sized immediately after-celebration with the band. I hugely advise checking these guys out if you have kids under about the age of eight. Their music is great (and not just tolerable) they use rock, ska, New Wave, and punk influences in their music, and the lyrics variety from goofy to downright poignant. I also value the truth that they never talk down to kids, nor do they try out to dumb-down their music. They are genuinely wonderful guys from New Orleans who started producing music for their youngsters and grew to become (fairly) renowned. They asked us to spread the word about them.

Contemplate it spread.

Inside Increased Ed | Weblog U

12
Apr

Funds Is not Every thing, Proper?

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Blog site:&nbsp
University Ready Creating

At least, that&rsquos what I&rsquom attempting to keep telling myself.

Cash and salaries in academia are hot topics appropriate now, as the AAUP just released its annual salary report. My institution has a couple of issues they can be proud of: a higher percentage of each complete-time and tenure-track faculty (more than 75% total-time, rather than the other way close to) and over 90% salary parity amongst male and female salaries. But, as the chart exhibits, we are &ldquofar under median&rdquo when it comes to salaries at all ranges.

But I was mainly struck by how higher the instructor salaries look to be. Did that include rewards? If not, how was it that the regular salary was so substantial, or rather, so much increased than my salary? I was under the impression that there weren&rsquot raises for instructors for merit or promotion, nor have salaries risen over at least the most current past. Does that imply that the base or commencing salary stayed stagnant when raises have been awarded? Or that there is, in reality, a tiered technique, even at the instructor degree?

I know that salaries are a hot topic on our campus, even just before the AAUP numbers had been released. Faculty and the administration are making an attempt to figure out how to pay faculty at a degree that is on par with comparable institutions, regardless of the cuts in the money we are receiving from the state. But I wonder the place instructors fit into the discussion. How are we rewarded for the perform that we do?

Because I perform for a public institution, all salaries are public, but that doesn&rsquot suggest that they are straightforward to find. Fortunately (or probably not), a single of my husband&rsquos colleagues showed us the place we could simply search a database of salaries at our institution (as well as other state universities). Turns out, I&rsquom the third-lowest paid faculty member at the university. I say this due to the fact I know that the support staff make even much less. Look for yourselves.

On the 1 hand, I can recognize as I am 1 of the most up-to-date hires but on the other, I was led to feel that we didn&rsquot get raises based mostly on seniority. My issues aren&rsquot with my colleagues or even my institution it&rsquos the lack of transparency on problems of salary, above-all, in higher education for these of us who are off the tenure-track. The Adjunct Project exhibits that there is a need for this type of fundamental information, but there also wants to be data on how raises are awarded, base salaries are made a decision, and whether or not there is any space for negotiation. Has encounter been taken into consideration? Degrees earned?

Instructors are in a odd place: on the one particular hand, we&rsquore supposed to be grateful that we&rsquore not adjuncts, thankful for rewards, and so on, etc, etc. But we also remain silent on how much we make, practically as however we feel that any incremental boost we get might be found and taken away. Numerous people worry that talking about salaries will breed resentment, but that&rsquos used to preserve us in the dark about what&rsquos going on, salary-wise, at our institutions. &nbsp

Right now, I&rsquom genuinely coming to terms with the truth that I work too. Damn. Hard.

Inside Larger Ed | Blog site U

09
Apr

New deans lobbying chops could come in useful at Brooklyn Law

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

New dean&#39s lobbying chops could come in handy at Brooklyn Law
Allard mentioned in an interview that he was attracted to the job in part since of the school&#39s curriculum, which emphasizes experiential studying and hand-on coaching. The college has struck the suitable balance among legal scholarship and professional …
Study more on The Nationwide Law Journal

In Individual: Profession GPS
At one point, I seriously regarded as leaving academia and even went so far as to apply and interview for a non-academic task. The group forced me to question why I was thinking about leaving academia in the very first position. In the finish, I gave academia a single …
Read far more on ScienceCareers.org

Employers view a degree as granted when recruiting but appear for considerably much more
Employers now spot private attributes over the relevance of a degree among potential work candidates, a study of 2000 recruiters has shown. Aldi, which plans to recruit one hundred graduates throughout this year, carried out the study and found company …
Go through a lot more on HRmagazine.co.united kingdom

02
Apr

#dayofhighered Adjunct Hero – Keverlee Burchett

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

Weblog:&nbsp
The Education of Oronte Churm

In honor of #dayofhighered, I present our second Adjunct Hero, Keverlee Burchett. Ms. Burchett was straightforward to locate simply because she and I share an workplace, which has permitted me to witness her dedication and heroism first hand.

In addition to getting a tireless instructor of writing, Keverlee is a published poet, most just lately in the prestigious Southeast Assessment.

All Adjunct Hero nominations are welcome at [email protected]

– John Warner

&nbsp

Title/Age/Academic degrees
&nbsp

Keverlee Burchett / 28 / B.A. School of Charleston, M.F.A. Purdue University

Inform us exactly where you teach, what you educate, and how prolonged you&rsquove been teaching.

University of Charleston, 2008-Present, Introductory Composition

The Art Institute of Charleston, 2011-Present, University Skills (remedial writing), English 101 and 102, and quickly, apparently, Public Speaking

Burke Substantial School, 2008-Present, Poetry Writing, by means of a non-profit organization

Purdue University, 2005-2008, Introductory Composition and Intro Imaginative Writing (I count this, even even though I was in graduate school at the time, and so far better paid than I am now.)

Inform us the story how you wound up as an adjunct.

I completed graduate college in the spring of &rsquo08 and utilized to a bunch of jobs in the non-profit industry.&nbsp I am the worst type of idealist, the kind that imagines herself weighing infants in an open-air clinic or chaining herself to some object. I care about a lot of troubles, so I&rsquod applied for jobs all more than the board, but largely in the realm of sustainable agriculture, and specifically in non-profit, educational endeavors. I desired to perform with poor children. I wanted to feed poor youngsters. But I didn&rsquot get a single bite, and then graduate school was above, so I WWOOFed for a summer (this is a plan that puts &ldquowilling employees&rdquo to perform on organic farms in exchange for space (in my case, a repurposed chicken shack) and board. Then, when the summer time was more than and I was in a panic, I returned to my hometown and scored some sections at my alma mater, and filled in the gaps with nannying for a former professor and teaching poetry at an internal-city high college.

What role do adjuncts play at your specific institution?

I&rsquom not confident how to answer this question. When I initial returned to the College of Charleston, there were of a great deal of adjuncts in my division. Then, right after a semester or two, all the English adjuncts had been let go in one fell swoop. But the following semester I (and a handful of others) were back in the classroom&mdashI guess we couldn&rsquot entirely get rid of adjunct labor.

As an institution, I think we are making an attempt to depend less and significantly less on adjuncts, or to treat them better. At least, I consider this is the situation. There are committees and surveys about what we adjuncts would most like to boost about our lot.&nbsp I am not on these committees. I feel a minor guilty about not participating far more in the method of reforming the method that&rsquos trying to keep me down (and as a substitute, noting that some of my favored professors from undergrad are fighting the fight for me), but my constant (and possibly lame) excuse is that I teach 3 jobs and try out to run a Poets-in-the-Colleges plan, and time is finite.

At the Art Institute, a for-profit institution focusing on marketable arts, like vogue design and style and culinary arts, it would seem like adjuncts (who following a number of quarters are then categorized as &ldquopart time&rdquo workers, with no discernable benefits) are the preferred sort of labor, for evident causes.&nbsp The climate is very various at this institution. On the a single hand, we are manufactured to share cubicles rather than have our own, as the complete time workers do. But on the other, we&rsquore encouraged to participate a lot more in faculty goings-on, and we&rsquore necessary to attend faculty meetings (which I generally skip at the University, since I don&rsquot feel fairly as integrated that division) and produce ourselves as teachers, since, as I was told at a recent division meeting, &ldquoadjunct faculty are much less seasoned and a lot more in need of coaching.&rdquo This at an institution the place numerous of the instructors are effectively-educated in their art type, but with small or no education in education or pedagogy.

Give us a common day, or week, if you choose?
&nbsp

Now that I&rsquom employed in only teaching, as opposed to teaching-and-nannying, or teaching-and-farming, scheduling is a great deal easier. A yr ago I would train in the mornings, then change out of grown-up garments, slather on sunscreen, go do manual labor for the rest of the day, and then return home, sun burnt, and attempt to reply student emails and grade papers.

Since I&rsquom now teaching at two institutions, 1 on the semester program and 1 on the quarter program, I consider to preserve my schedule as easy as possible, teaching at 1 school on MWF and the other on TR. I tuck the large school into the gaps. My chair at University of Charleston has been exceptionally generous in scheduling me in extremely workable techniques, even enabling me to select my own schedule last semester, with the expertise that I have two departments to work with. At the Art Institute, I tend to train evening courses, so that means Tuesdays and Thursdays are big catch-up days for grading and then I&rsquoll go in to teach from six-eight, or 5-9.

What&rsquos the most rewarding part about teaching? Or, considering of it an additional way, what keeps you coming back?

There are a few factors I adore the most about teaching, but what keeps me coming back is that it feels like I&rsquom performing one thing valuable for the planet. Not all of the time. Significantly of the time it feels like I&rsquom working on a treadmill. But the little moments, like when college students say &ldquoI can&rsquot go see X any far more with out thinking of Y, given that I took your class,&rdquo go a lengthy way.

Also, I like the reality that teaching permits me to preserve studying. I&rsquom consistently understanding from my students, colleagues, from experiences I have in the university neighborhood. I&rsquom possibly one of these perpetual college students at heart. I feel like I could go to school forever. Since I can&rsquot, teaching is the up coming very best thing.

What are your biggest frustrations in your job?

Besides the amount of grading that I do, which is significantly exacerbated by the time and thought I put into grading each paper (a dilemma I&rsquom attempting to function on), I&rsquod say my biggest aggravation is that I don&rsquot get to stick to my college students by means of their education. Since I only train 1st-year writing at the School, I in no way have students again, so I don&rsquot get to see how they progress more than the course of their school careers, or how my class impacted them (or didn&rsquot) beyond their freshman yr.

At the Art Institute, I do have students for several courses, but the progress is much less noticeable there, mainly because a) we educate for 10 week quarters, and I question how a lot of the writing method can genuinely be taught in, say, 10 4-hour courses, and b) however a minority of intro writing college students at any college actually want to increase their writing, the impetus to understand at this institution in this class is far lower than anywhere else I&rsquove noticed. I am a hoop to be crawled through so that college students can get into the kitchen or studio.

Inform us your dream task (inside of cause, of program), quantity of sections, what you&rsquore teaching, and how considerably you&rsquore paid.

I seriously can not reply this question. This is possibly a contributing element to why I&rsquom an adjunct. Every single year I apply to items, and, as I mentioned prior to, they fluctuate wildly. I have lots of dreams. I embrace them all completely.&nbsp The only thing they all have in common is that they supply me wellbeing positive aspects.

What&rsquos the strategy to get to that destination? (Or elsewhere?)

Having been through a latest deluge of rejections, I am in the brainstorming phase of the new plan. Till then, I consider factors one particular semester at a time, because that is the length of my contract.

John Warner doesn&rsquot tweet all that usually, but when he does, it&rsquos from @biblioracle.

Inside Larger Ed | Website U

19
Mar

An antidote to the “Ph.D. useless” sentiment

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Academic News

I’ve been blogging, on and off, about the process of leaving academia for three years now. At my old blog, I always found it both illuminating and sad when I would go through my site stats and discover that a lot of people discovered Leaving Academia by Googling “Ph.D. useless.” It’s self-evident why it’s sad, but it was also illuminating because there were literally hundreds of people typing this into their search engines.  The following composition, from the December 2010 issue of ‘The Economist’ eloquently covers the subject matter.

The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time

ON THE evening before All Saints’ Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. In those days a thesis was simply a position one wanted to argue. Luther, an Augustinian friar, asserted that Christians could not buy their way to heaven. Today a doctoral thesis is both an idea and an account of a period of original research. Writing one is the aim of the hundreds of thousands of students who embark on a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) every year.

In most countries a PhD is a basic requirement for a career in academia. It is an introduction to the world of independent research—a kind of intellectual masterpiece, created by an apprentice in close collaboration with a supervisor. The requirements to complete one vary enormously between countries, universities and even subjects. Some students will first have to spend two years working on a master’s degree or diploma. Some will receive a stipend; others will pay their own way. Some PhDs involve only research, some require classes and examinations and some require the student to teach undergraduates. A thesis can be dozens of pages in mathematics, or many hundreds in history. As a result, newly minted PhDs can be as young as their early 20s or world-weary forty-somethings.

One thing many PhD students have in common is dissatisfaction. Some describe their work as “slave labour”. Seven-day weeks, ten-hour days, low pay and uncertain prospects are widespread. You know you are a graduate student, goes one quip, when your office is better decorated than your home and you have a favourite flavour of instant noodle. “It isn’t graduate school itself that is discouraging,” says one student, who confesses to rather enjoying the hunt for free pizza. “What’s discouraging is realising the end point has been yanked out of reach.”

Whining PhD students are nothing new, but there seem to be genuine problems with the system that produces research doctorates (the practical “professional doctorates” in fields such as law, business and medicine have a more obvious value). There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

Rich pickings

For most of history even a first degree at a university was the privilege of a rich few, and many academic staff did not hold doctorates. But as higher education expanded after the second world war, so did the expectation that lecturers would hold advanced degrees. American universities geared up first: by 1970 America was producing just under a third of the world’s university students and half of its science and technology PhDs (at that time it had only 6% of the global population). Since then America’s annual output of PhDs has doubled, to 64,000.

Other countries are catching up. Between 1998 and 2006 the number of doctorates handed out in all OECD countries grew by 40%, compared with 22% for America. PhD production sped up most dramatically in Mexico, Portugal, Italy and Slovakia. Even Japan, where the number of young people is shrinking, churned out about 46% more PhDs. Part of that growth reflects the expansion of university education outside America. Richard Freeman, a labour economist at Harvard University, says that by 2006 America was enrolling just 12% of the world’s students.

But universities have discovered that PhD students are cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour. With more PhD students they can do more research, and in some countries more teaching, with less money. A graduate assistant at Yale might earn $20,000 a year for nine months of teaching. The average pay of full professors in America was $109,000 in 2009—higher than the average for judges and magistrates.

Indeed, the production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.

A short course in supply and demand

In research the story is similar. PhD students and contract staff known as “postdocs”, described by one student as “the ugly underbelly of academia”, do much of the research these days. There is a glut of postdocs too. Dr Freeman concluded from pre-2000 data that if American faculty jobs in the life sciences were increasing at 5% a year, just 20% of students would land one. In Canada 80% of postdocs earn $38,600 or less per year before tax—the average salary of a construction worker. The rise of the postdoc has created another obstacle on the way to an academic post. In some areas five years as a postdoc is now a prerequisite for landing a secure full-time job.

These armies of low-paid PhD researchers and postdocs boost universities’, and therefore countries’, research capacity. Yet that is not always a good thing. Brilliant, well-trained minds can go to waste when fashions change. The post-Sputnik era drove the rapid growth in PhD physicists that came to an abrupt halt as the Vietnam war drained the science budget. Brian Schwartz, a professor of physics at the City University of New York, says that in the 1970s as many as 5,000 physicists had to find jobs in other areas.

In America the rise of PhD teachers’ unions reflects the breakdown of an implicit contract between universities and PhD students: crummy pay now for a good academic job later. Student teachers in public universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison formed unions as early as the 1960s, but the pace of unionisation has increased recently. Unions are now spreading to private universities; though Yale and Cornell, where university administrators and some faculty argue that PhD students who teach are not workers but apprentices, have resisted union drives. In 2002 New York University was the first private university to recognise a PhD teachers’ union, but stopped negotiating with it three years later.

In some countries, such as Britain and America, poor pay and job prospects are reflected in the number of foreign-born PhD students. Dr Freeman estimates that in 1966 only 23% of science and engineering PhDs in America were awarded to students born outside the country. By 2006 that proportion had increased to 48%. Foreign students tend to tolerate poorer working conditions, and the supply of cheap, brilliant, foreign labour also keeps wages down.

Proponents of the PhD argue that it is worthwhile even if it does not lead to permanent academic employment. Not every student embarks on a PhD wanting a university career and many move successfully into private-sector jobs in, for instance, industrial research. That is true; but drop-out rates suggest that many students become dispirited. In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrolment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off. And these students started out as the academic cream of the nation. Research at one American university found that those who finish are no cleverer than those who do not. Poor supervision, bad job prospects or lack of money cause them to run out of steam.

Even graduates who find work outside universities may not fare all that well. PhD courses are so specialised that university careers offices struggle to assist graduates looking for jobs, and supervisors tend to have little interest in students who are leaving academia. One OECD study shows that five years after receiving their degrees, more than 60% of PhDs in Slovakia and more than 45% in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany and Spain were still on temporary contracts. Many were postdocs. About one-third of Austria’s PhD graduates take jobs unrelated to their degrees. In Germany 13% of all PhD graduates end up in lowly occupations. In the Netherlands the proportion is 21%.

A very slim premium

PhD graduates do at least earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree. A study in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management by Bernard Casey shows that British men with a bachelor’s degree earn 14% more than those who could have gone to university but chose not to. The earnings premium for a PhD is 26%. But the premium for a master’s degree, which can be accomplished in as little as one year, is almost as high, at 23%. In some subjects the premium for a PhD vanishes entirely. PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree.

Dr Schwartz, the New York physicist, says the skills learned in the course of a PhD can be readily acquired through much shorter courses. Thirty years ago, he says, Wall Street firms realised that some physicists could work out differential equations and recruited them to become “quants”, analysts and traders. Today several short courses offer the advanced maths useful for finance. “A PhD physicist with one course on differential equations is not competitive,” says Dr Schwartz.

Many students say they are pursuing their subject out of love, and that education is an end in itself. Some give little thought to where the qualification might lead. In one study of British PhD graduates, about a third admitted that they were doing their doctorate partly to go on being a student, or put off job hunting. Nearly half of engineering students admitted to this. Scientists can easily get stipends, and therefore drift into doing a PhD. But there are penalties, as well as benefits, to staying at university. Workers with “surplus schooling”—more education than a job requires—are likely to be less satisfied, less productive and more likely to say they are going to leave their jobs.

Academics tend to regard asking whether a PhD is worthwhile as analogous to wondering whether there is too much art or culture in the world. They believe that knowledge spills from universities into society, making it more productive and healthier. That may well be true; but doing a PhD may still be a bad choice for an individual.

The interests of academics and universities on the one hand and PhD students on the other are not well aligned. The more bright students stay at universities, the better it is for academics. Postgraduate students bring in grants and beef up their supervisors’ publication records. Academics pick bright undergraduate students and groom them as potential graduate students. It isn’t in their interests to turn the smart kids away, at least at the beginning. One female student spoke of being told of glowing opportunities at the outset, but after seven years of hard slog she was fobbed off with a joke about finding a rich husband.

Monica Harris, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, is a rare exception. She believes that too many PhDs are being produced, and has stopped admitting them. But such unilateral academic birth control is rare. One Ivy-League president, asked recently about PhD oversupply, said that if the top universities cut back others will step in to offer them instead.

Noble pursuits

Many of the drawbacks of doing a PhD are well known. Your correspondent was aware of them over a decade ago while she slogged through a largely pointless PhD in theoretical ecology. As Europeans try to harmonise higher education, some institutions are pushing the more structured learning that comes with an American PhD.

The organisations that pay for research have realised that many PhDs find it tough to transfer their skills into the job market. Writing lab reports, giving academic presentations and conducting six-month literature reviews can be surprisingly unhelpful in a world where technical knowledge has to be assimilated quickly and presented simply to a wide audience. Some universities are now offering their PhD students training in soft skills such as communication and teamwork that may be useful in the labour market. In Britain a four-year NewRoutePhD claims to develop just such skills in graduates.

Measurements and incentives might be changed, too. Some university departments and academics regard numbers of PhD graduates as an indicator of success and compete to produce more. For the students, a measure of how quickly those students get a permanent job, and what they earn, would be more useful. Where penalties are levied on academics who allow PhDs to overrun, the number of students who complete rises abruptly, suggesting that students were previously allowed to fester.

Many of those who embark on a PhD are the smartest in their class and will have been the best at everything they have done. They will have amassed awards and prizes. As this year’s new crop of graduate students bounce into their research, few will be willing to accept that the system they are entering could be designed for the benefit of others, that even hard work and brilliance may well not be enough to succeed, and that they would be better off doing something else. They might use their research skills to look harder at the lot of the disposable academic. Someone should write a thesis about that.

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