Category Archives: Academia

Get sad. Then leave the ghetto.

Writing for Slate, Patrick Iber suggests giving up his dream of being a history professor. It’s good advise. In other words: can’t be a pimp? then leave the ghetto.


This post may seem familiar because I wrote a similar in in January, because reality is similar: if you’re not doing something you’re great at, that you love doing, that you get paid for doing, you may be doing the wrong thing. You may be living in the ghetto.


There are four types of people in the academic ghetto: pimps who are full professors, disaster tourists from rich families who are just having fun, hos who are exploited by pimps, and escapees who gtfo.
The pimp is a pretty fun place for pimps, sufficiently amusing for disaster tourists.

Patrick Iber’s post was especially moving because it so closely tracks my experience in academia (though he also dragged his children thru it). This part of his piece brought tears to my eyes:

[My mother] was released from the hospital on Jan. 1 to recover at her brother’s house. I flew to Washington, D.C., the next day. When the plane landed, I had multiple messages waiting for me, telling me to call home. My mother, age 64, had died in her sleep. Her youngest grandson was 7 weeks old.

The [academic conference] was a daze. I walked the streets between conference hotels in tears. I told friends. I told strangers. To others, with no logic to it, I said nothing. I might have gone home, but the severe weather in the Northeast scrambled routes and made it nearly impossible to rebook my flight. As a lecturer with no research support, I had spent half a month’s salary to travel there anyhow. My mom had wanted me to give my paper, so I did: to an audience of three. I shook hands at mixers. I had no interviews.

I also lost a parent while in academia. I also gave presentations to audiences of three.

Academia was fun for me. It’s a great place to be a pimp. But if you’re not a tourist and you’re not a pimp, become an escapee.


Don’t Get Angry. Just Leave the Ghetto

Writing for Bloomberg, Megan McArdle suggests can’t get tenure? then get a real job. It’s good advise. In other words: can’t be a pimp? then leave the ghetto.

pimp hat4

McArdle is referring to an emotional debate about job searches in the academic ghetto. Here are some titles of the posts:

The entire controversy boils down to three points:

    • The academic ghetto pays almost everyone in it (except for pimps) really badly
    • The pay is so bad that it is painfully expensive to try to find another job in the ghetto
    • But at least Affirmative Action officers have a job!

As Megan McArdle notes, the solution is to get a real job. Leave the ghetto.

Closing off the Ghetto

The teaching ranks are loboomized. Administrators are bullies. We interpret and give tests in the wrong way. Our test scores are stagnant, and our bad schools trap parents in stressful jobs and expensive neighborhoods.

Our low performing students (low-socio-economic status and under-represented-minorities) do very badly, but others are merely average. Helping low-performing students is a different tasks, but we can help mediocre-performing students by fixing not just K-12 education, but also colleges.

One reason mediocre students get mediocre outcomes is the presence of the humanities ghetto: a nowhereville of few jobs and little income where most political scientists, historians, and sociologists end up. High school students are famously stupid, and see this ghetto as a promised land where they will make more money than they do in high school, have a socially acceptable job, only have to do fun stuff, and (most importantly) can actually reach.


So our goal should be to dissuade students away from the humanities ghetto, and into outcomes with greater return-on-investment that are more socially beneficial (or at least less socially harmful), like marijuana distribution or go-go-dancing.


To do this, we need to make the on-ramp to humanities ghetto a ghost ramp. It’s already a road to nowhere, but if we can severe it we can divert the flow of students to other places.


We need to decrease the visible attraction and increase the visible costs of getting onto the humanities ghetto on-ramp. To decrease attraction, we should make any humanities courses in high schools optional, and allow students to work in those hours instead. To increase costs, we should either end federal student loan all together, or at least for non-STEM majors. (Both of these approaches are imperfect, but they definitely tilt the playing field away from ghetto majors).

Education reform isn’t merely about better teachers and better tests, but changing the context in which education takes place. Demagogues like Diane Ravitch are right when they say teachers can’t do it all. Policy makers need to do their part, too.

No Freedom in the Ghetto

The academic ghetto (composed of the humanities, International Relations, sociology, and so on) is a place of low-employment and low-wages. There are four types of people in the academic ghetto:

  • Pimps who run the game. They are the professors.
  • Escapees who are about to get out. They are (graduates who leave the field but use their skills.
  • Losers, who those sucked into the system until their time, youth, and money desert them. They are non-tenure track instructors.
  • Disaster tourists, who get a thrill out of the place. They are students or others who for whatever reason don’t need the degree for employment.


Pimps are in zero-sum competition with each other. This conflict leads all pimps to give up freedom in exchange for safety.

Pimps act tough, but only because they are in a dangerous environment.  They are prisoners of the lack of jobs and opportunities.  There is no freedom in the ghetto.

A pimp may lord it over losers and strut for disaster tourists, but his life is essentially one of fear. Signs of weakness are pounced on. The only safe approach is to stay within your square block, not venture outside, and avoid conflict (while appearing not to). Original thinkers are weeded out, punished, or otherwise compelled to keep their heads down.

A sad example of this occurred this year at the formerly interesting group blog, Duck of Minerva. As I described it in a post from August

An example of this was at The Duck of Minerva, a blog dedicated to celebrating one alley in the academic ghetto (International Relations). A humorous post on identifying and infiltrating old boys networks by a professor at a research university, Brian Rathburn, entitled “Intellectual Jailbait: Networking at APSA” was taken down, all comments on that post were deleted ,Brian was forced to issue a self-criticism, Brian’s post became a non-entity (substantively replaced by Steve Saideman‘s post “Networking is Hard Work“), and two thinly veiled attacks on Brian were posted, (Daniel Nexon‘s “Sexual Harassment in Political Science and International Studies and Laura Sjoberg’s Let’s talk about sex). .

To go back to the analogy, Brian, Daniel, and Laura were pimps who engaged in a turf war. Steve instead gave in to the system, avoiding conflict with the most generic post possible.

The results?

But Steve — who wrote a generic and grey post, who kept his head down — he’s still there. He even said he likes his job. Brave stuff.

If you are young and thinking of entering the humanities ghetto — don’t. If you’re already there — run.

What should a Political Science PhD student do? Should she blog?

Over at Duck of Minerva, Anita Kellogg also asked recently if she should blog while preparing for a career in academic International Relations. The full text of her question, posted at Duck of Minerva after the defenestration of Brian Rathburn, was:

I am an IR scholar who in the last couple of weeks decided to try blogging in earnest as a counterbalance to the isolation of dissertation writing. When I read Brian’s post yesterday, I definitely started to have second thoughts. I know I will make mistakes. I am still trying to find my voice and focus. I would like to write about politics more broadly, but should I only write about issues where my qualifications are stronger? Even if I stick to IR, do the potential negatives for job searches in the future outweigh the more immediate benefits now? I am really unsure of my answers to these questions at present

The short answer is:

Drop out of International Relations immediately

The long answer is below…

But first, some context…

Actually, Anita’s choice whether or not to blog first depends on why she is in the academic ghetto.


As I’ve said many times, there are four types of people in that land of few jobs and low wags:

1. Pimps who run the racket
2. Losers who are exploited by the pimps
3. Escapees who are preparing to leave
4. Disaster tourists who get a kick out of the whole thing

Average salaries for political science PhDs are not pretty, implying that successfully pimping (teaching at a research-one university) with that degree is as unlikely as ascending to the top of the Black Gangsta Disciples.


Assuming that Anita is not actively trying to leave Political Science, that leaves being a Loser or a Disaster tourists. Disaster tourists come in three shades

1. Those with income from parents such that they do not need to work to support themselves
2. Those with income from spouses such that they do not need to work to support themselves
3. Those with sufficient personal capital (financial, skill-based, etc) that the years in graduate school can be seen as an extended “finding yourself” vacation

Assuming she’s not a disaster tourist, the best advise for Anita is to run.


But let’s assume that Anita’s goal is to be a pimp — to land a job at a research-one university — and she doesn’t mind that she will be exploiting others to do so. (The countless students who will take on student loans, work hard for years, and leave with few jobs and low wages). Then the answer is still obvious

Don’t blog if you need a job in the humanities ghetto

The reason is that there are two sorts of job markets

1. Job markets where few individuals have veto power over hiring
2. Job markets where many individuals have veto power over hiring

In the first kind of job market, an individual needs to impress a superior in some many: ideological bias, pleasant personality, research skill, whatever. While hiring here in such an environment is idiosyncratic and arbitrary, it’s attack surface area is relatively small. Only one individual must be assuaged, meaning at worst you’re dealing with the idiosyncratic and arbitrary prejudices of one person. One might, however, get a job because one’s odd beliefs somehow flatter the hiring manager.

The second kind of job market describes political science, as well as the rest of the humanities ghetto. A hiring committee is more idiosyncratic and arbitrary than a hiring manager, because in a hiring committee the disqualifying attributes are the sum (set union) of the disqualifying attributes as decided by all of the hiring committee members. The hiring committee process, further, is set up to avoid anyone receiving a job because one’s beliefs somehow flatter a specific member.

You can think of the possibility of not getting a job as a result of an idiosyncratic bias as a series of draws. One hiring manager means one draw per thing associated with you. Two means two draws. And so on.

To use Anita as an example, recently on her blog she’s gone out of her way to attack (or discuss) conservatives, a Christian evangelist (on the subject of charity) anti-vaccination activists (who, admittedly, are nutcases — though some have PhDs), a sitting Senator (who I’ve also attacked), public radio (albeit humorously), and St. Thomas Aquinas (albeit indirectly).

The possibility of being interviewed by a conservative, or an anti-vaccine nut, or a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas is relatively small. But the more members of the committee, the greater the chance. The more posts you have written, the greater the chance.

The only students in the humanities ghetto I know of, whose careers were helped by blogging, were escapees leaving the ghetto.

If you want to blog, run.

Who wants to live in the ghetto?

Who wants to live in the ghetto?

Four kinds of people
1. Pimps (they run it)
2. Losers (they don’t know any better)
3. Disaster tourists (it’s kind of fun to frolic amid decaying dreams)
4. Escapees (they are there until they aren’t).

pimp hat4

Those are the same types of people in the ghettos of academia.

Consider this in the context of the defenestration of Brian Rathburn. After writing (and deleting) a since-reconstructed post, Brian issued a self-criticism, and then a second-self-criticism that doubled as a resignation from Daniel Nexon‘s group-blog, Duck of Minerva.

Over at American Power, Donald Douglas reacted thusly:

Academe nowadays (more than ever) is the egg-shells realm of the perpetually aggrieved. Who wants to be around it? I mean seriously. You can’t speak your mind. And you especially can’t speak your mind if you’re a man. There’s nothing you dare say that won’t be spun into something so objectionable by the leftist thought police that you won’t be on your knees begging for absolution, if not your job. It’s just depressing. Or, it’s depressing if you fall for that sh*t.

As a conservative Donald is particular aggravated by the casual attacks on conservative that are typical in the ghettos of academia, but ultimately this view is a provincial as that of a ho in the ghettos of Detroit, who becomes embittered against the casual misogyny of pimps. The casual and insular attacks against the weak is not the central problem, it’s a symptom of the problem.

The real problem is the ghetto.

The ghettos of Detroit, and the ghettos of academia, are places of low-employment and low-wages. Only the formal education, race, and job title change. But a professor at in the academic ghetto is a petty tyrant exploiting losers, servicing tourists, and indifferent to escapes as surely as is a manager of & security contractor for sex workers in the City of Detroit.

If you are young and thinking of entering the humanities ghetto — don’t.

Practice normal science.

Or at least least a useful skill.

And run.

Pimps, Hos, and When to Get Out of the Ghetto

I recently compared Humanities (Cultural Anthropology, English Literature, History, Philosophy) professors at research universities as pimps who rule the ghetto. Razib Khan liked the analogy so much he extended it with question: “do pimps facilitate good healthy sex for society, or do they encourage the spread of unpalatable contagion by perpetuating the ghetto and its conditions?

The answer: In the ghetto, pimps provide wages to hos who, depending on their character, either become accustomed to the poverty (thus joining the self-perpetuating underclass) or use the capital they accumulate to escape the ghetto.

To review: the ghetto is a neighborhood defined by economic deprivation. A very noticeable ghetto in academic life is the humanities ghetto of low wages and low employment:


Remember that the ghetto has four types of people: pimps (who make the best of a bad environment by running the ghetto), escapees (including those who are planning their escape), losers (including hos who work for pimps), and disaster tourists (including johns who provide the wages for the losers). Here’s an example of a loser ho:

“I am not a welfare queen,” says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.

That’s how she feels compelled to start a conversation about how she, a white woman with a Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor, came to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Ms. Bruninga-Matteau, a 43-year-old single mother who teaches two humanities courses at Yavapai College, in Prescott, Ariz., says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. Recipients include growing numbers of people like her, the highly educated, whose advanced degrees have not insulated them from financial hardship.

But the “ghetto” is larger than just the humanities. Many non-progressive sciences are in the ghetto, because they are run by old boys networks — by their pimps. Likewise, even having progressive research programs does not (necessarily) protect against ghettoization. Using information from Indeed (which suffers from all sorts of biases, but the relative values of which have face validity), this is a chart of the overlapping ghettos by PhD concentration, against where you want to be:


The humanities does not confine you to poverty (you can escape). Whether or not science comes to an end, the myth that scientific training means a successful life certainly should. Being in a normal science does not guarantee success. Personal success comes from finding something that can provide you with joy, provide you with the ability to be the best, and provide you with pay. If you have these attributes in what you are doing, you can be successful, whatever your compensation (in terms of money, power, and prestige).

Petroleum engineers who enjoy their work can enjoy these from heights. Pimps can enjoy these from the ghetto. But without these three, you are much more likely to be miserable.


In other words: if you can’t pimp, get out of the ghetto.

Pimpin’ the ghetto

Many of my academic friends are upset at the American Historical Association’s suggestion that dissertations not be posted online for free reading. Jason opined that “The AHA is neglecting the public value of history”, Razib Khan‘s writes “The American Historical Association seems nuts to me,” And over at The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen says “Ultimately, what is so frustrating about the AHA’s stance is that it seems to view the purpose of historical scholarship narrowly, as a means to securing employment.

But the only one of the criticisms I agree with is this: Patrick Wyman is the only one who gets is:

It’s a cruel irony that the historians whom this policy hurts the most — everyone other than the students of the best-known historians at the top 5-10 institutions, who are massive favorites to get jobs anyway –“ would actually benefit professionally from the exposure that open dissertation access provides. If this policy becomes the norm, the vast majority of the research that’s conducted will never see the light of the day

Remember that the humanities is a ghetto of low-employment and low-wages. There are four kind of people in this ghetto — four kind of humanities scholars who get their PhDs


1. Disaster tourists who are getting the PhD because its fun — these are the same sort of people who enjoy Detroit ruin porn — and after graduating will go back to whatever world they are from. In other words, people who got a PhD because they love the humanities.

October 2011 Coalition rally

2. Losers who spend a decade getting a worthless degree and have nothing to show for it. These are the kind of people who actually live in Detroit. In other words, they are just more foolish variants of the sort of folks who joined Occupy Wall Street because they were surprised their college vacation from reality cost money.


3. Escapees who got out, and are stronger for it. The digital humanities is one way of escaping the humanities ghetto, by combining employable skills with domain and research expertise. These are the people who get to the top outside the ghetto.


4. Pimps who run what little economy exists in the ghetto. They control the humanities ghetto, have old boys patronage networks to fall back on, and have a great deal in a slummy part of town. In other words, folks who get tenure-track PhDs at research universities.

The American Historical Association is run by pimps for pimps — by professors at research universities, for professors at research universities. That their policy does not help the public or most PhD graduates of history programs is besides the point. They are an old boys network protecting themselves.

The AHA isn’t out to protect disaster tourists, or losers, or escapees. The AHA is by, for, and of pimps.

This isn’t too criticize pimps — if you actually love the ghetto, why not be successful in it? — but to say that not everything they do is in your best interests.

If you are in the AHA, here is your choice: You can like that, or you can get out.

How Academia Works After the Quantitative Revolution

In 2008, I noted the “quantitative revolution,” which replaced the romantic academia many dream about with a discovery factory:

Both the old Academy and the Leftists, however, are under even more heartless attack from the Quantitative Revolution, the measurement-and-control movement that subjects everything to test-and-reject, measure-and-fund, quantitative certainties.

The romantic academia that lives in our heart is dying or dead. Given a future between the Tyranny of Leftists and the Tyranny of the Quantitative Revolutions, my sympathies go to the quantitativists. They save what can be saved, submitting the universities to Research, Application, and funded Goals.

Last year, I formalized that description of how academia works:

Professors, like most people, respond to the incentives of power, influence, and money.

The institution of tenure reduces uncertainty regarding money, and focuses the incentives on power and influence.

Power in academia comes from the number of bodies a professor has under him. These bodies might be apprentices (graduate students he advises), journeymen (post-docs who have a PhD and work at the lab, or staff researchers), or simple workers (lab technicians, etc).

Influence in academia comes from the extent to which one is successful in influencing one’s peers. This is typically measured in terms of influence scores, which are a product of how often the academic is cited, weighted by how important of a publication he is cited in.

The best route to both power and influence is to earn grant money.

Daniel Allington must read my blog, as he writes the same thing:

Even among successful players of the funding game – and certain digital humanists have been very successful players, of late – one may find disquiet at the game itself, at the disproportionate importance now attached to it, and at the negative impact it is having on the careers of new researchers and (in the long term) on access to the profession as a whole by accelerating the casualization of both teaching and research. The underlying problem – regretted by practically everyone with a genuine love of scholarship – is the ongoing reconstruction of all disciplines on the social model of the natural sciences and the creeping abandonment of ‘autonomy’ (in the sense used by Bourdieu, 1993 [1987]) in the academic field through tacit acceptance of the principle – shared by university administrators, government ministers, and hiring committees alike – that knowledge can and should be valued primarily for its moneymaking potential. In

Allington is particular worried about the “digital humanities” which provides a road out of the ghetto for humanities students. Allington criticizes this as revealing “the corrupting agenda of our paymasters” — apparently he sees nothing wrong with the old boys network that progress-based research replaces.

Should you go to graduate school?

Everyone else (Daniel Drezner, Joshua Rothman, Rebecca Schuman, Katie Roiphe, Annemarie, tressiemc, etc) is making pretty obvious points about graduate schools and becoming famous for it.

Here are some actually useful questions to determine if you should go.

1. Do you want to go?
-> If No, DO NOT GO.
-> If Yes, read on.

2. Are you thinking about being a lawyer, medical doctor, or nurse?
-> If Yes, that’s not what I’m talking about. Read this blog instead.
-> If No, read on.

3. Is the degree you’re thinking of a STEM (Science, TEchnology Engineering, or Math) degree?
-> If Yes, GO. Start filling out applications. You’re done.
-> If No, read on.

4. Can you get a job even if your graduate degree is worthless?
-> If Yes, GO. Start filling out applications. You’re done.
-> If No, DON’T GO.

There, that saved you a lot of time.

The reason this quesitonaire is so short is that this is a good approximation of success.

1) Do something you enjoy, AND
2) Do something you can get paid for doing, AND
3) Do something you are great at


(3) will come with practice, which you will have plenty of it’s (1) and (2).