Flooding the Market

Just got back from some chores, looking through the mail. My wife (Ph.D. Environmental Psychology, CUNY Graduate Center, 1982) got an alumni solicitation letter from the psychology program’s new-ish “Acting Executive Officer,” crowing about the status of the program and asking for dough. Along with the bragging points about $25M in recent funding from the federal alphabet science agencies (NIH, NSF, NICHD), they had this glowing bit of news:

Over the past 5 years (2012-2016), we produced 337 Ph.D.’s, many of whom are receiving this letter now as alumni! Congratulations, and I hope that your careers have been successfully launched.

Well, first off, “hope” is not a strategy, as the saying goes. Does the psych graduate program actually DO anything to make sure that its doctoral alumni have successfully launched careers? Probably not so much. But second is just the raw numbers. This acceptably good program, ranked 44th out of the nation’s 185 doctoral psych programs by the National Research Council, has produced an average of nearly 70 new PhDs a year? Into a job market that accepts only a few hundred new tenure track hires? And you’re PROUD of that? It’s like training gladiators to be fed to the lions. As Marc Bousquet says, the PhD is now correctly understood as the END of one’s academic career.

The National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates shows 3,765 new PhDs in psychology in 2014. These people entered a hiring pool that the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s JobTracker research project estimated at 326 tenure-track positions at four year schools for the 2013-14 academic year. That’s one faculty job for every eleven and a half new scholars!

But grad students make cheap teachers, cheap lab assistants, and keep a 44th-ranked doctoral program afloat so that its director can send out fundraising letters and its faculty can rake in research funds. Really, it’s not much different than a payday lending operation; a way for those already wealthy to scrape a few more dollars out of the pockets of the desperate, leaving them on the streets when they’ve run dry.

And they wandered in
From the city of St. John
Without a dime
Wearing coats that shined
Both red and green
Colors from their sunny island
From their boats of iron
They looked upon the promised land
Where surely life was sweet
On the rising tide
To New York City
Did they ride into the street

See the glory
Of the royal scam

Steely Dan, 1976