This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that “Faculty members are feeling stressed out and strapped for time to teach” and that at the same time “many of the most economically vulnerable members of the professoriate remain improbably hopeful about their career prospects.” A survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA concludes that “Self-imposed high expectations, lack of personal time, and working with underprepared students were the leading sources of stress for faculty.”
The article raises the interesting question of the responsibility of academic institutions to accept doctoral students when career options for future graduates are known to be slim. I think that many doctoral students pursue their studies with an idealistic notion of what the career of an academic entails, and of their chances of finding permanent employment. When I was pursuing my doctorate, nothing prepared me for the high service and committee component of the job of an academic, how to negotiate the bureaucracies that are so fundamental to universities and, perhaps more importantly, how to be an engaging and effective instructor. I was fortunate in that I had previous experience as a high school teacher before pursuing my PhD, and had a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, so I was much more prepared than most. While more PhD programs are providing students with mentoring and learning opportunities with respect to teaching, I have not observed a similar level of preparation for the service aspect of the profession. While service does not count as highly as teaching and research for tenure and promotion, it does constitute a significant percentage of an academic’s life, which only increases with time. More importantly, perhaps, the article points to a mismatch between doctoral students’ expectations for having permanent employment, and the reality that many will face, which often entails accepting part-time, non-tenured positions on a rotating basis. How well, if at all, do doctoral programs prepare students for the reality of the career prospects they face?