The Ivory Tower is Falling Down, Falling Down, Falling Down

Jennifer Polk isn’t complaining about the academic job market. She’s growing her own.

In her article on Chronicle Vitae, Polk responds to the question that graduate students have been asking themselves for quite some time: how will I use my humanities degree? Her own answer has been to start a business, and with her new career, she might advise you to do the same, or at least to let her help you figure out your next step.

Whatever your own answer may be, you can be sure that private sector jobs are growing, while public sector jobs are on the downhill slope. And while this new growth may be a bad sign for the academic job market, it is good news for the recovering economy.

But Polk et al.’s new careers raise new questions: as the academic job market shrinks every day; professors publish on applying for alternative and post- academic jobs; and career coaches dedicate their lives’ work to helping graduate students land jobs, who wants to be there when the Ivory Tower as we know it comes falling down, and where can I sign up for all the new jobs?

The answers are we don’t yet know the academic timeline to decline nor where the job sign up list is. However, we do know that there is a documentary about the decline of academia due to its current business model. We also know that there are plenty of new jobs being listed on career networking websites such as idealist.org and LinkedIn, most of which are offered by nonprofit organizations, for-profit corporations, and small businesses. So while we can’t sign up for them in the way we might sign up to bring chips for the neighborhood potluck, we might as well start making our own list.

Polk says “PhDs are well-suited to being their own bosses.” Indeed, grad students in general are well-suited to creating their own jobs: “[we] plan, research, write, present, teach, apply, report, submit, budget, edit, navigate bureaucracy, and manage [our] own time and [our] supervisor’s expectations.” To use the academic argot, we’re great candidates for an entrepreneurship.

So what’s stopping us from being the next Steve Jobs (okay maybe the next Jennifer Polk)? It may be the personal qualities we spend so much time cultivating to land academic jobs: our adherence to convention, discipline, security, and ideology. We’re afraid to take risks in the world outside of our imagination stations. Why not use some of the experience we’ve developed solving problems in the classroom to solve problems in the economy? Why not create more than ideas? Why not create jobs, not just for ourselves, but for others?

It’s like my Alt-Ac professor said: “The jobs that are going to be the most popular 20 years from now haven’t even been invented.” So strap on your invention caps. Let’s make that list.

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