Caveat emptor

Anna Filippova anna.serg.filippova at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 17 21:41:05 UTC 2013

>Apologies for the length<

Dear Dan, dear all,

as one of those who are pressured from all around to "get the damned PhD
done at last", let me thank you for raising this issue. Please forgive me
for addressing it from a somewhat different point of view.

Five years ago I graduated from one of the - let's say three - best
universities in Russia where you can study linguistics and have stayed to
work there. Ever since I was in my fourth year every professor has expected
me to obtain a PhD very soon, and some of them were sure that I would make
a swift and successful career as a scientist - whatever they meant by that.
But I always felt that a good PhD dissertation cannot be written two or
three years after graduation, unless you are exceptionally brilliant. I
thought I had not read enough, had not have experience enough to be able to
present the scientific community with something worth noticing. Besides, I
was feeling an increasing interest in teaching - teaching linguistics, of
course. So I took up the job of teaching students the basics of the grammar
and history of German with 18 to 26 hours per week as my workload. The idea
was to try working on my PhD thesis parallel to that - a utopian thought,

But this is what I do best - teaching, explaining, showing, interacting
with students. This job, unthankful and grossly underpaid as it is,
fulfills me, it suits me well and allows me to grow prefessionally -
"linguistically", too, if I may say so. But I have no wish to do fieldwork
or original research myself. I don't see the *necessity *of my doing it.
There are many talented scholars who do it already, my contribution in the
shape of a PhD thesis would be insignificant. But what I *can* do "for the
good of the service" is to teach the great numbers of (new-to-Russia)
bachelor students the basics of our beloved science. I don't have
any official paper that says I am a good teacher, but let me just say that
it is not just my opinion. I am saying all this only to point out that
unfortunately I might not be able to continue like this in the long run.

The modern standards, by which someone's suitability for a university job
is judged, are such that I will be the first among those who will fly out
if it should come e.g. to job cuts. My application will not be considered
seriously if I should decide to move to another university - I will not
have my reputation to speak for me there. And even at my own university, as
time goes by, a "promising young colleague" will soon be looked on as a
failure, a lazy loser, as someone who had buried his talent (!).

My quesion is: why?
Is the task of teaching the crowds of bachelor students the basic notions
of a science so unimportant in itself? If everbody is going to do research,
who will do the "dirty" work? I remember sitting in on a seminar for
BA-students in as a deserving institution as the University of Mainz,
with over 70 people present, all buzzing and many not listening at all,
with an overpowered colleague who tried to get the simplest things out of
them. Considering the increasing number of students everywhere and their
decreasing competence - who will deal with them?

Why am I pressured to have a PhD, even if I know that, if I get it, I will
not continue to do research? I don't want fame, I don't want grants, I
don't care for prestige. The only benefit I can possibly get from having it
will be that my professors and my family will finally let me alone.
Besides, Dan has already touched the question of financing useless PhDs,
and I agree completely. Even though in Russia this financing is not worth
the name - technically, the problem is still there. And anyway, it is a
waste of many people's time.

What I am really afraid of is that the global devaluation of PhDs will
lead, among other things, to establishing it as an obligatory "third step"
of education - especially if you want to teach at a university. It seems
strange and inconsequent to me though, that, requiring you to prove your
scientific competence in this way, they never ask you to prove your
teaching abilities. As if the latter would always follow the first.

Anna Filippova
Moscow State Linguistic University
Faculty of the German Language

On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 10:17 PM, Everett, Daniel <DEVERETT at>wrote:

>  These are great anecdotes. But for everyone of these there are many
> times  this who don't have such rewarding jobs. Or where the jobs come much
> later.
>  PhDs involve significant enculturation. It is hard for those who finish
> them to be objective about them at first.
>  Dan
> Sent from my iPhone
> On Sep 17, 2013, at 14:13, "KOUWENBERG,Silvia" <
> silvia.kouwenberg at UWIMONA.EDU.JM> wrote:
>   Who says Linguistics does not prepare you for a professional career?
> One of my graduates holds one of the top positions in the Jamaica Defense
> Force – and credits his Ph.D Linguistics with his meteoric rise in that
> institution. One of my Ph.D candidates rejected the opportunity to complete
> at the M.Phil level, because her long-term goal is to hold a very senior
> position in the Jamaican civil service, for which a Ph.D is required. Et
> cetera.****
> ** **
> Silvia****
> ** **
> ** **
> *From:* Discussion List for ALT [mailto:LINGTYP at<LINGTYP at>]
> *On Behalf Of *Donald Stilo
> *Sent:* Tuesday, September 17, 2013 09:15 AM
> *To:* LINGTYP at
> *Subject:* Re: Caveat emptor****
> ** **
> 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,****
> Don****
> ** **
> ** **
> ** **
> ** **
> ** **
> ** **
> ** **
> ** **
> On Sep 17, 2013, at 1:03 PM, Everett, Daniel wrote:****
> ****
> Sebastian,
> 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>
> 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****
>  Sebastian****
> ****
> ** **
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