Thursday, 19 May 2011

Post-Submission, Not What You Want to Read…

Since submitting my PhD thesis to the university, I’ve been catching up on the reading I’ve missed while finishing and making the final edits and so on. Via an article by Dan Drezner, I came across a mass-review in The Nation of twelve recently-published books about higher education, written by William Deresiewicz, a former professor at Yale (the review also appeared in the print-version of The Nation May 23rd 2011, pp.27-34).

On the very first page of the review, I came across the following:

“At Yale, we were overjoyed if half our graduating [PhD] students found positions. That’s right—half. Imagine running a medical school on that basis… that’s the kind of unemployment rate you’d expect to find among inner-city high school dropouts. And this was before the financial collapse.” (p.27)

Wonderful. To say this ruined my day is to make an understatement. Deresiewicz goes on to discuss “the Somme-like conditions they’re sending out their newly minted PhDs to face”. Bear in mind that this is a statistic from Yale, one of the great universities of the United States if not, indeed, the world. I did not go to Yale.

I bring this up because I’m currently looking for jobs while also preparing for my viva (thesis defence), which I at least now have a date for. Looking at the job market, it’s slim pickin’s. Partly, this is because of my chosen subject – US Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy & China – which is not as sexy as Middle Eastern Studies, which we see daily in the news (not to mention being the preferred, now-tired meme for Hollywood and thriller authors).

Most of the postdoctoral positions I’ve found prefer specialisations in the Middle East, gender issues (sometimes both), and there’s also plenty of Native American programs on offer. These are all well and good, and certainly worthy of study (at one point, I not-entirely-seriously considered taking a feminist approach to US-China relations), but I find it rather surprising how little opportunity there is to study US-China relations. In everyday conversations with other postgraduates and non-postgrads, people are shocked by the lack of US-China studies opportunities – in fairness, there are many ‘open’ postdoctoral positions that do not specify what subject has to be researched.

Maybe the lack of positions has to do with ‘accepted wisdom’ about the US-China relationship – by which I mean that people accept what they read in the newspapers and see on the news, and therefore do not believe any more needs said or done. I do, however, find this a less-than-compelling argument. More likely, in my humble opinion, is that finding funding Middle Eastern Studies is just easier – be it because the US is currently engaged in 2.5 wars in the Middle East, and not at war with China (despite being inextricably linked to the Middle Kingdom in almost every way, certainly financially).

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