Caveat emptor

Tue Sep 17 18:57:43 UTC 2013

They don't contribute to science if they are not employed. I am not talking about people who are interested AND pursue a career. I am talking about those who do not plan to pursue a career, as per the message I was responding to.

Of course those who have the degrees should contribute (not always to science though. Probably mainly to the humanities.)


On Sep 17, 2013, at 2:55 PM, Amina Mettouchi wrote:

What a provocative statement!
They would be financed, not because the degree interests them, but because they contribute to science ! And they contribute so well because they are dedicated to their work.

On 17 sept. 2013, at 20:13, Everett, Daniel wrote:

This raises the question of economy. PhDs are very expensive for universities. If students are unable or unwilling to pay, should they still be financed by the university/government  only because the degree interests them?


Sent from my iPhone

On Sep 17, 2013, at 14:10, "Mike Klein" <kdogg36 at GMAIL.COM<mailto:kdogg36 at GMAIL.COM>> wrote:

I'm definitely one of those who are pursuing a linguistics Ph.D. for its own sake. Having worked in a different field for many years, but always taking copies of linguistics journals to the beach as summer reading, I'm glad to have the opportunity to participate in linguistic research. If I end up going back to something like my old job, I will have enjoyed the years I spent getting my Ph.D. and be proud of the achievement.

I know there are folks who are counting on getting great jobs (academic or otherwise) after graduation, but from my own experience I suspect there are quite a few Ph.D. students like me who view the degree as a worthy goal in itself.

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 10:14 AM, Donald Stilo <stilo at<mailto:stilo at>> wrote:
Dear Dan,
It seems to me that the trend in the 21st century education is that students now go for university degrees in those fields leading to “show-me-the-money” careers, even though the individual’s passion may be in the humanities or certain social sciences that produce close-to-nil chances of employment. How many MBA’s, LLD’s, DDS’s are we going to produce before the house of cards collapses the way the banks did five years ago? A certain trend in the 90’s (and maybe now too) was that MBA’s went into the work force in business positions, were soon disillusioned, and went back to get degrees in education to become teachers. I know countless Iranians whose passion may have been for, say, anthropology but whose families forbade that and forced them into engineering or medicine (the only two choices) and produced successful ($) but unfulfilled sons and daughters.  Or take the American friend of mine who went into Information Technology but lamented that he would like to have done English literature instead and now in his 50’s feels it would be too hard to start all over again. If he had studied English lit, he may have ended up in the same job in IT anyway but may have been more fulfilled “on the side”.  (Don’t many linguistics students go into IT?)
I am not trying to say we should play ostrich and stick our heads in the sand. So what if someone studies linguistics out of pure drive and innate love for language(s) but doesn’t find a job in the given field? That doesn’t mean they won’t find other fulfilling ways to exercise that passion and, say, work on documenting some endangered language on their own time and perhaps with some money from their more lucrative profession. We have an obligation to young people in two directions: A) warn them that there are very few real jobs in linguistics (and the like) and B) encourage them to pursue their true interests with the knowledge that they may not be able to make a living in that field and will have to look for a salary elsewhere and stick with your interests as an avocation.  (In rereading this I just saw Sebastian’s e-mail.) I’ve given that advice to various students who then followed their hearts in their studies, worked in other fields less interesting to them, while continuing their passion as an avocation and they came to me years later (even 30 years later!) and thanked me.
Opportunities sometimes come from strange directions, often seemingly out of nowhere.  Paul Frommer (PhD in linguistics from USC with Bernard) was teaching writing and communication skills to business students and eventually created the Na’vi language for the movie Avatar and is now all over the web ('vi_language).
I myself left academia for 12 years out of disillusionment and pursued being a chef, a bartender, a word processor temp in lawyers’ firms and Lehman Brothers on Wall Street, ESL teacher, etc. but never gave up my passion for endangered Iranian languages.  I doggedly stuck with that pursuit (and reading typology books) on the side and after a wild and complex course of twists and turns of fate ended up at EVA in Leipzig for 11 years which allowed me to publish more than I ever had before and do field work in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Israel, Los Angeles and New York (with the last speakers of an Iranian Jewish language), and Germany (often with speakers of languages I had only read about in books and never dreamt I would actually meet, but Cologne's got 'em...).
Yes, we have an obligation to make prospective students aware of the problems in our fields but we are also charged with encouraging the human spirit, not dampening it.
My best to all,

On Sep 17, 2013, at 1:03 PM, Everett, Daniel wrote:


I think that the joy of doing the PhD fades for people when they see what they have received in exchange for it.

On the one hand, there  is this positive article that agrees with you:

But it sidesteps the main issues. And it in effect admits that we have always admitted too many.

A more realistic piece:

And yet another popular-level blog:

The main observation for me, however, is the adjunct professor situation. And that is what happens to too large a number of bright young PhDs in the humanities.

-- Dan

On Sep 17, 2013, at 5:59 AM, Sebastian Nordhoff wrote:

On Mon, 16 Sep 2013 18:59:24 +0200, Everett, Daniel <DEVERETT at<mailto:DEVERETT at>> wrote:

I am posting this because linguistics is one of the disciplines I think needs to consider this seriously. There are too many academics in the liberal arts with no chance of full-time, secure employment in the area in which they have done their PhD.

I might note that there are job possibilities outside of "the area where they have done their PhD". Getting a PhD in Typology does not necessarily mean that the only career opportunities are within the, indeed restricted, field of academic linguistics.
Best wishes

Directeur d'Etudes en Linguistique berbère
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes
IVe section, Sciences historiques et philologiques
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UMR 8135, 7, rue Guy Môquet - BP 8
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