There is a great piece  floating around about efforts being made to help current graduate students find “alt-ac” work. A relatively new site  is focusing on interviewing PhDs who have found work outside of academia. There is also advice here at IHE now for those looking for career paths off the tenure track (The Alt-Ac Track). Something has been bothering me about these lately, and I have finally been able to put my finger on it.
All of these resources seem to focus on graduate students. It’s all about preparing for your career once you’ve finished your PhD with no intention (or little hope) of being successful on the academic job market. When we talk about reforming graduate education to focus more on a broad set of career option, we are (once again) forgetting about the adjuncts who already have PhDs and are stuck in a cycle of precarious employment.
Their former institutions don’t care about them. Their current institutions don’t care about them. And, all of the action seems to be geared towards helping those students who are staring down the barren academic job market. And it’s easy to see why: graduate students are in the perfect position to get organized and demand change. Between classes, seminars, student groups, and student associations (not to mention the formation of new postdocs or fellowship opportunities), current graduate students are on the receiving end of most of the attention geared towards alt-ac opportunities and careers. Not to mention that schools looking to recruit graduate students had better start having something in place to attract the new, and hopefully savvier, graduate student.
“Perfect” of course is relative; graduate students still risk retaliation from their supervisors or their department (and trust me, I am all too aware of what can happen when a department retaliates). However, graduate students are at least in a more perfect situation for this kind of organizing than adjuncts. Adjuncts are, largely and still remain, invisible on most campuses. And while as a group we are gaining more and more exposure, I’m not sure if this has had any impact at the ground level. And while all of these services for graduate students may be implicitly available for adjuncts to use, it certainly isn’t always the case .
And why should adjuncts even NEED these services, to help them re-orient their careers to something outside of the classroom, and perhaps even outside of academia? We’re smart (supposedly) and how hard it is to create a resume, write a cover letter, or conduct an informational interview? And if we’re so smart, how did we/can we not see the writing on the wall and just quit?
To me, telling an adjunct to “just quit” is as useless as telling aspiring graduate students “just don’t go.” There are such powerful socialization influences working on adjuncts, not to mention the lack of time and resources to just quit and move on to something else. What drives me absolutely crazy is that we tend to see the value in trying to help the laid-off factory worker, and we don’t tell the Wal-Mart employee to just quit, instead working to try and improve their conditions and situations. But when an adjunct seeks that same consideration…
Adjuncts deserve better working conditions, but they also deserve to have access to the same resources as current graduate students. At the very least, they are not undeserving because of when they happened to complete their PhD. There needs to be a way of providing these resources in a systematic and affordable way to adjuncts, either through the universities themselves or through our professional organizations (MLA and AHA, among others), or perhaps through various unions, as well.
As the statistics keep telling us, we ARE the majority. So let’s start advocating for what we want and what we need.