Friday, August 30, 2013

The Tragedy of the Tenured Less-Published PhD

If you want to get a PhD to have one, read no further.

But if you want to get a PhD, so that you can participate in the community of research and teaching, it's tragic when people have comparatively little published work to show for themselves after say ten years. Lots of dissertation work is never published. This would not be a problem, at all, if the scholar purused a career that led to many publications in a different direction. But if little ensues, there is a sense that people have failed. Now, you could use your talents for consulting firms, you could become a teacher at a non-research institution, you could be the Whore of Mensa (from a Woody Allen story, where you charge for conversations about esoteric subjects, and surely your dissertation work is esoteric). You could start a business that makes use of your doctoral training, whether it be writing formulaic romances or a consumer product or ...

I don't know the percentage of tenurings at research-oriented  institutions that then lead to a career that is not research-productive, but surely it is more than 10% at most institutions.

You don't want to be a second-rate person at a research university, unless you have a designated teaching appointment and focus on your teaching, and you are comfortable with being looked down upon (more likely, imagine you are being looked down up) by your research-productive colleagues.

And for most scholars, to have stopped publishing in your 40s or 50s does not feel good, although there are some scholars who make such a success early in their careers, it's unlikely they will even come close later--or they may feel that they have to take another such monumental research problem and it does not work out again and again.

You could become an administrator and be very effective at that, and be admired for that. But don't forget that you won't be admired as a scholar unless you laid a golden egg early in your career, and even then, "What have they done lately?" will haunt you.

None of this applies at most institutions.  But if you are at an institution that has high expectations, or aspires to such, and they put lots of emphasis on research, grants, publication, and external visibility and measures such a citations, h-indexes, etc etc.--you don't want to be there if you are not doing what they want. I am not sure fraction of all such institutions are of this sort (and some of them are four-year colleges of great reknown)--but it is perhaps something like 5-10% of all 4 year or more higher education institutions.

This is not meant to be comfortable. What it means is that you need to find another pond in which your strengths are valued. Tenure, if you take it to be a barrier to changing your work, is a sure road to death.