1/ Apologies in advance for a monster thread but I recently had a check-in with my doctoral students and I thought I'd share the gist of that conversation in the hopes that it might be helpful to others.

I entered a doctoral program in history in 2006.
2/ I was expecting the coming recession in 2008, based on my time at the National Bureau of Economic Research where I had worked after graduating from college. My incoming cohort at the University of Chicago was 40 people.
3/ The then head of the department welcomed us by noting with pride that history was still one of those departments (like infamous Economics) that took pride in admitting large numbers fully expecting that many of our cohort would not complete the degree.
4/ I remember sitting in the audience appalled. My cohort was still part of the old funding model, which ranged from students with the then-prestigious Century Fellowship who were fully funded for 5 years, to those admitted with no funding at all.
Seeing a crisis looming and that many peers had taken on financial obligations they were ill-prepared to shoulder in a recession in pursuit of a degree purposefully designed to ensure they would fail quickly dispelled any romanticism I may have had for academia as a profession.
6/ Naturally, setting up graduate study as if it were the hunger games had huge ill-effects for years to come on many of us. The following year our cohort size was cut in half and all admitted students were offered either three or five years of funding.
7/ My cohort was left in limbo and the ill-feeling and toxicity the structural inequality within and between cohorts poisoned potentially fruitful collegial relationships we should have been nurturing at the beginning of our careers.
8/ (Yes, your fellow students are your future colleagues and you will see them for years to come, ask them to write references for you, invite them to conferences and contribute to your edited volumes. Remember that.)
9/ While it provided lots of underpaid graduate labor to the university, which subsidized both the university's teaching costs and the opportunity costs of teaching for its research faculty, it created a labor glut in academia as a whole.
10/ It wasn't uncommon for three or four members of our graduate cohort to find themselves congregating outside the same hotel door at the AHA, waiting to interview for the same position.
12/ History is a field where 50% of tenure-track positions are held by grads of 8 PhD programs. If students of UChicago, one of the 8, were in this ridiculous position then imagine what that means nationally and the structural absurdity of graduate admissions policies.
14/ My seniors in graduate school, all of whose scholarship I deeply admire, were hit hard by the timing of their entry to the job market. Many happily eventually found themselves in jobs they find fulfilling and which compensate them for their extraordinary skills and intellect.
14/ But many were also deeply scarred as they internalized a structural market failure as a personal one, or found that their sense of self-worth had been tied up with a professional identity.
15/ This was not accidental: the constant discourse of individual exceptionalism at our workshops (a feature of the discourse of meritocracy at the heart of American capitalism in general) obscured the structural imbalances and inequities of the system.
16/ It promoted in each of us the idea that if we were just a bit smarter and harder-working than our peers, we would take our rightful place in the pantheon of the professoriate.
17/ We are now faced with a crisis far greater than the one of 2008, one which I suspect may fundamentally change academia (and hopefully, over the longer term, for the better). Much of the dubious funding models that has sustained the bubble in this sector will be challenged.
18/ Case in point: I think the NCAA will not recover from this crisis and the most obvious and egregious form of coerced labor in the US, that of college athletes by universities and sports networks, will end.
19/ Schools in Division 1 which have treated the academic functions of the university as appendages to their sports stadiums will suddenly find themselves having to radically rethink what the university is and how it should be funded.
20/ Next, even if the incredibly stupid and xenophobic proposals currently being floated by senators like Lindsay Graham to ban Chinese students fall through, the international students many universities have come to rely on as cash cows will begin to decline.
21/ This is not only because of the impending crisis in growing economies like China and India which have been sources of such students, but because the unquestioned value of US higher education is now under scrutiny.
22/ This scrutiny will be especially intense from US students themselves. At the undergraduate level, many high-schoolers unwilling to pay top dollar for online classes may postpone their matriculation.
23/ I suspect many of those may then weigh the choice to take on unsustainable student loan debt for college degrees of dubious job market value very differently when the full effects of this slowdown become apparent.
24/ The two segments of academia that will be relatively resilient are state schools and community colleges, that generate much of the social mobility, and top-tier research schools and liberal arts colleges with endowments that are sufficiently liquid.
25/ (NB. Most endowments come with many strings attached so even universities with large endowments may face liquidity crises).
26/ I don't think the private colleges and for-profits, which @tressiemcphd calls Lower Ed and drove the student debt crisis before #COVID_19, continue its rapacious exploitation of the unshakeable faith in education as a path to social mobility after this.
27/ (It is another matter that this model is being peddled abroad, from Latin America to India to Africa, with the enthusiastic support of the World Bank and western "education consultants" touting for-profit higher education to ambitious middle-class students there.
28/ In places like Chile, it has led to crises and if you are approached to work for one of these fly-by-night operations in the developing world, however lucrative it might seem, know that you are practicing a grotesque form of colonial exploitation in the name of "education.")
29/ For graduate students, this means a structural shrinking of the job market that you must consider before deciding to enter a graduate program and how to navigate the program if they are already in one.
30/ In the last crisis, I knew many people who chose to "shelter" in a graduate program as a way to weather the recession. This is all well and good if you are fully funded, especially for lower income students.
31/ At the best of times, I absolutely do not recommend taking on debt for graduate study, especially at the non-terminal masters level, and now doubly so.
32/ Think carefully too about the fact that funding opportunities for doctoral research will shrink so even if your tuition etc is covered, you might end up shouldering unexpected financial outlays in the pursuit of this degree with uncertain returns.
33/ Secondly, think carefully about what kind of academic you hope to be. If you have your heart set on a US R1 institution, be prepared that at least short-term a lot of these schools will use the crisis not to hire TT assistants.
34/ Instead they will recruit established faculty at struggling but high calibre departments, especially at state schools where legislators will use the opportunity to further cut funding (UWMadison was hollowed out like this after Scott Walker's assault on public education).
35/ If that is your only vision of what it means to be an academic, then 1) decouple your sense of self-worth from this professional goal and 2) consider alternative careers.
36/ If however you see teaching as I do, as the most meaningful part of academia, the pathways to an academic career in the US are broader. Invest in learning and thinking about how to teach across a wide range of student bodies, including online.
37/ A lot of schools will value that ability, even as a minimal part of their preparedness plans to sustain their accreditation in the face of such crises. While all the hoopla around MOOCs has ended as schools that were not set up to be University of Phoenix realize just how…
38/ …unsustainable a revenue stream online education is and how robust student desire for in-person instruction really is, that doesn't mean that teaching online won't be a bigger part of our pedagogical careers in the future.
39/ Consider writing syllabi with contingency plans for going online as part of your teaching portfolios. Seek out professors who see TAships for what they ought to be- pedagogical mentoring for graduate students, not a way to palm off their teaching to underpaid labor.
40/ Teaching matters and, if my own training is anything to go by, the top tier of graduate programs put almost no emphasis on training future teachers which is inexcusable.
41/ Thirdly, for your research (and I will focus on history), sketch out several versions of your research project, depending on various levels of funding and/or travel restrictions.
42/ (I had to do this anyway as an international student with access to a far smaller pool of potential fellowships to fund my dissertation research.) Tons of archives and museums are bringing down digital paywalls and making at least their digital collections accessible.
43/ As I told my own students, go fishing and cast a wide net. Download material even if it seems peripherally connected to your research during this short window to build your own archive. Build a bibliography of printed primary sources.
44/ Your dissertation research plan should be such that you can largely write your thesis using such sources if need be, supplemented with short trips. When we make plans to go abroad for archival work, we often focus on national archives to spend the bulk of our time.
45/ But these are the archives most likely to have large collections readily available online. Smaller archives with more specialized and less utilized collections are often where the treasures lie buried- think about using funded archival time to mine those.
46/ Lastly, do not fetishize the dissertation- the best thesis is a finished one. So focus on minimizing your time in graduate school- life is far too long and interesting to be cloistered away in a doctoral program.
47/ One last note on seeking an academic career abroad: I began my career at the American University in Cairo and it was the best possible experience for a young scholar.
48/ I was lucky to have the security of a tenure-track position in a venerable institution with a fascinating history, located in an incredible city and I had the opportunity to work with some of the most dynamic faculty and students I have ever met.
49/ I didn't see it as a second-best option to US academia- it was my top-choice job. If you see working outside the US as a distinct step down or worse (as far too many do) a way to have a cushy expat life, then ethically you shouldn't be seeking jobs abroad.
50/ Foreign students deserve the same commitment you would bring to a US classroom and are no less capable.
51/ Similarly, unless you can see your academic community in the researchers around you and not solely located in the US-based conferences you will attend, you will not only be unable to thrive as a researcher in those universities, you will likely be a shoddy colleague.
52/ The foreign higher education sector needs careful vetting: old local universities like AUC are not the same as satellite campuses of US universities.
53/ There is huge variation in the private sector especially, where for every Ashoka University there are ten get-rich-quick schemes masquerading as universities.
54/ But if you choose to seek work abroad, do an honest inventory of your own attitudes and prejudices, your own capacity for living and thriving in a new context and of your willingness to quite literally expand the horizons of what you consider academia.
55/ A doctoral program can be a genuinely enriching experience, even if it doesn't culminate in a conventional academic career. I love what I do as a researcher and teacher but academia and I have no illusions of the combination of privilege and luck that allowed me to get here.
56/ Academia is steeped in a mystique that often obfuscates the harsh realities and inequities of it as an economic and social system.
My prognostications and observations might well be wrong but in any case, I hope they are helpful in prodding you to think through how to navigate academia as a graduate student or someone considering graduate school right now.
You can follow @achakrava.
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