Some parts of the economic crisis might still have to do with overproduction

The academic gloom-and-doom stories are moving north. Fresh off a New York Times story about new PhDs having trouble finding jobs in a year when so many searches are being cancelled, the Globe and Mail reports (a few years too late) that maybe minting all those extra PhDs wasn’t such a great idea after all. As I have said before, I think it’s a patently bad idea to wantonly expand PhD programs in any country without regard to what the students are being trained to do or where they will wind up, but it’s an especially bad idea in a small country like Canada.

There’s much more to say about this, but the only thing I’ll add for now is that given the speed of academic job markets, we are looking at “snapshot reporting” here and the real question is how the market will look over the next few years. Right now, administrators are simply running scared in many places, which inevitably strikes fear into faculty and students.

2 replies on “Some parts of the economic crisis might still have to do with overproduction”

  1. Working at a university with a hiring freeze for the foreseeable future, in what was formerly the economic engine of Confederation, probably makes things look dimmer here than elsewhere, but I think a reckoning is coming. We are shifting away from hiring research faculty to a new emphasis on instructors (no research duties, no funding possibilities, much higher teaching load) and, of course, sessionals. I’m not sure what will happen to change that model here, and I wonder if it will become more normalized across the country.

    Several of us have been pushing CCA to look at this issue since the rapid expansion of Phd programs several years back, but there has never been much will to do so. Indeed, the student contingent at CCA have often been the ones most loathe to engage in the discussion. Perhaps most feel that they will be the lucky one and don’t want to jinx a good thing?

    I think I’m bleaker on this issue than you are. Do you see signs of hope?

  2. Hi Bart,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I think you are a little bleaker than I am (maybe it has to do with how much I’ve read the CHE and forums lately) but it’s not just positional. Sure, McGill has no hiring freeze but that’s irrelevant to our students since we aren’t about to hire 75 of our own PhDs. No, I’m in wait-and-see mode. I think there will be a wide range of responses over the next 2-3 years and that’s what I’m interested in. Right now, universities are essentially in Total Freakout Mode and you can’t tell much from that since long term they will have to make more serious decisions.

    I think we owe our students a certain level of caution in our predictions. That said, Leslie Shade and I met last summer to try and initiate a study on this but it kind of fell apart because I didn’t get the results I needed from my RA and then school started. But I think it’s something we need to deal with in a serious and sustained way through CCA or another forum. Economic crisis or not, Canada now produces FAR more Communication Studies PhDs than it can employ, and as far as I can tell, issues of mentorship and professionalization are pretty far down on the list for many of our programs.

    I don’t know if I’ll be in Ottawa this year (I’ve got 2 trips in May already) but I would be tempted to come down for a day if a few of us could get together and talk about doing some real research on this and maybe writing a “best practices” report that CCA could endorse (at the very least). Or if there’s a way to stir things up more radically, I would be fine with that, too.

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