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.

Packard-plant-1940s

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.

Packard-Plant-Detroit

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.

Gtfo.

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.

Gainful Employment and Education

Courtesy of College Insurrection and Instapundit, NBCNews has a story about student loans held my college drop-outs.

The article discusses a number of victims, but this one stood out:

Drew Scott, 26, registered for the for-profit Art Institute to study video game arts because he was attracted to the accelerated program.

“I didn’t completely understand what I was getting into,” he said. “I knew it was more expensive, but at the time, I thought, ‘they wouldn’t be charging more if it wasn’t better, right?’”

After two years of uneven teaching quality—“some of the teachers didn’t quite know what they were doing”—Scott concluded he wasn’t getting his money’s worth. He left the program earlier this year, owing $30,000 to the government and $15,000 to his parents. Scott now lives in Seattle and makes $11 an hour working part-time at a game-testing job. “I definitely didn’t need to go to school” to do this job, he said.

For profit-colleges have poor “optionality.” Instead of providing good opportunities with little danger, they provide mediocre opportunities with higher danger. The Department of Education’s new “Gainful Employment” is a first start, but it is took weak. The “gainful employment” rule should apply to all institutions that receive student loans.

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_mdA degree in the humanities ghetto from a Big State University or a private religious college is just as worthless as a degree in “game design” from the “Art Institute.”

We don’t know what the future holds. We need an educational system that makes learners resilient, even if the world changes. Our test scores are stagnant, our tests are broken, and top-down efforts can’t be the whole solution.

seattle_ghost_ramps_blocked

We need to close the road to dead-end non-bankruptable debt. We need a “gainful employment” rule to apply to all colleges and universities. We need to track graduates, to to the PhD level. The Department of Education’s new rules are a good start. But more needs to be done.

Optionality and Education

This post introduces optionality, optionality in the context of foresight and then raises implications for education.

Discussing Optionality

A bit ago, both Tren Griffen and Nassim Taleb discussed “optionality” on their blogs.

“Optionality” refers to an investment decision where the reasonable upside is much larger than the reasonable downside.

Here are some of Tren’s thoughts on optionality:

Optionality is lost when you’re initial investments are so large, you cannot afford to abandon your initial plans:

“A rigid business plan gets one locked into a preset invariant policy, like a highway without exits —hence devoid of optionality.” I am at my self-imposed 999 word limit so what follows including this quotation must largely stand on its own without commentary…

“Optionality… explains why top-down centralized decisions tend to fail” …

“Like Britain in the Industrial Revolution, America’s asset is, simply, risk taking and the use of optionality, this remarkable ability to engage in rational forms of trial and error, with no comparative shame in failing again, starting again, and repeating failure.” Entrepreneurs harvest optionality when they tinker and experiment as they run their businesses and as a positive externality benefit their city/region/nation/the world in the aggregate by generating productivity and genuine growth in the economy even if legions of entrepreneurs may fail. Taleb: “Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are the source of our antifragility. Our nation thanks you.”

Optionality in the Context of Foresight

Unlike rigidly planned investment strategies, optionality emphasizes only maintaining flexibility and recognizing success when it happens:

“If you ‘have optionality,’ you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells. For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself (some acts of omission) and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur. (The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)” Being able to make decisions which do not require correctly forecasting the future is a wonderful thing. Not one of the great value investors identified in the series of posts in this blog relies on macro forecasts of the future. Instead, value investors use the optionality of cash to buy after the outcome exists (i.e., a significant drop in intrinsic value). Regarding venture capital, Warren Buffett believes: “If significant risk exists in a single transaction, overall risk should be reduced by making that purchase one of many mutually- independent commitments. Thus, you may consciously purchase a risky investment – one that indeed has a significant possibility of causing loss or injury – if you believe that your gain, weighted for probabilities, considerably exceeds your loss, comparably weighted, and if you can commit to a number of similar, but unrelated opportunities. Most venture capitalists employ this strategy.”

“Optionality” is related to the career advise given by Jim Collins. Instead of simply cataloging your skills, and applying for high-paying jobs in which those skills are required, Collins recommended first looking at (a) what you love, (b) what you can be great at, and (c) what you can make money doing. The goal isn’t to aim for some perfect job sometime later in your life, but to set yourself up in an area where you enjoy practicing and you adaptable for those opportunities that appear.

3-circles-hedgehog-concept

Implications for Education

Optionality is an investment choice that has a small potential downside but large potential upside. You don’t need a strict plan, lots of foresight, or even great environmental awareness to look for investment choices that have optionality. You simply need to keep from making bad decisions, and need to tolerate “getting it wrong” (which means simply starting over).

So what does this mean for education?

Student loans are an anti-optionality catastrophe.

Student loans are impossible to get rid of in bankruptcy. They also require a lot of foresight and planning — and worst of all, require it of 18 year old idiots (that is, virtually all 18 year olds).

Being an idiot isn’t a bad thing — if you have optionality, you try, fail, and learn from experience. But being an idiot with debt is a horrible fate.

At the very least, non-bankruptable student loans should never be offered for non-Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics majors. To force someone with no work history to take ten thousand, twenty thousand, or more in non-forgivable debt for a worthless English literature degree is horrid. It is the closest thing to “usury” that exists in our world outside of organized crime.

Not only do non-bankruptable student loans kill optionality by making education have a big potential downside, they make that downside more likely. Student loans for non-STEM majors encourage failure by getting students to loan up to enter a ghetto of low wages and few jobs. This is the opposite of encouraging wise investments.

We need to close the on-ramp to the ghetto by discouraging youth from making choices that don’t have optionality. We need to end non-STEM student loans.

seattle_ghost_ramps_blocked

It’s better for an 18 year old to be a drug dealer or go-go-dancer than to take non-bankruptable loans to study sociology. Those options may have optionality. Sociology doesn’t.

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.

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_md

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.

marijuana_farmer

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.

seattle_ghost_ramps_blocked

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.

pimp_duck

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?

tdaxp’s Note: Once in a while I use the platform of this blog to give personal advise. Recently a blogger, who also comments at Duck of Minerva, asked if blogging was a sensible choice in today’s world. This post is an attempt to answer that question.

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.

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_md

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.

salary_by_phd_md

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.

godleftdetroit-575

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.

Pimp Gets Bitch-Slapped

Watching a pimp get bitch-slapped can be funny. But watching that pimp cry for forgiveness afterwards can be pretty upsetting to watch.

I’ve said before the academic ghetto (composed of the humanities, International Relations, and other old boys networks) is a place of low-employment and low-wages. There are four types of people in the academic ghetto:

1. Pimps (professors at research universities) who run the game
2. Escapees (graduates who leave the field but use their skills) who are about to get out
3. Losers, like non-tenture track teachers, those sucked into the system until their time, youth, and money desert them, and
4. Disaster tourists, who get a thrill out of the place

Pimps are in a zero-sum competition with each other. For one pimp’s old boy network to thrive, another has to fall. Thus, the ghetto is a place of violence, where pimps will attack each other for seeming ridiculous reasons. But being in a zero, the reason isn’t ridiculous: it’s because taking down someone else is the only way for your own friends to be successful.

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). .

But it was Brian’s post, his self-criticism, which was hurtful and upsetting. Because while I view pimps fronting each other as a natural part of life in the ghetto — and in my experience, the academic ghetto is so intellectually and and self-referential that it’s the perfect breeding ground for mob outrage — its obvious that Brian is a transgressive thinker who has learned the art of strategic cowardice. This is doubtless necessary for someone in the humanities ghetto — an individual capable of saying his own thoughts in International Relations is in a situation slightly less precarious than a comedian in North Korea — but it’s still upsetting, painful, and sickening to watch.

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

wages_employment_majors_humanities_ghetto_md

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:

salary_by_phd_md

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.

3-circles-hedgehog-concept

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