Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday links (updated)

We, and by that, I mean "I", like to talk a lot about the apparent shortage of students studying science and engineering.  I've never understood how a pile of CVs for a research faculty position can show a dozen talented candidates each with six years of postdoctoral research experience while we have too few scientists.  This article casts more doubt on that.  So there.  I was right all along.

Next up, a new academic journal: Porn StudiesThis article makes a good case for it's value to academic discourse which I don't doubt.  I know some of you might scoff at the idea that this blog should consider something so serious and boring as academic journals but I assure you that I only looked at the pictures.

Last for today's links is the story of UCSB professor Mireille Miller-Young and the bizarre kerfuffle over her taking a protest sign from a pro-life protester on campus.  Here's the story from a local paper and a blog post that quotes extensively from the police report.  Nothing worse than The Man shutting down a campus protest.  Makes you want to play a Peter, Paul and Mary album.

How could I forget this one?  Nazareth College rescinds a tenure-track job offer when the candidate tries to negotiate.  Online shit storm of outrage ensues.  I'll only add this link for some perspective which you may not have seen.

Have a good Saturday!


  1. Another good, albeit old reference is Philip Greenspun's "Career Guide for Engineers and Computer Scientists," here:

    It came out in 1994, but it has this quote:

    "I am fascinated by the 30-year decline in the relative salaries and prestige of engineers and scientists that has been accompanied by 30 years of statements by politicians and university administrators that there is a shortage of engineers and scientists."

    1. Norm Matloff wrote about this several years ago:

      During the times I was out of work, which was often when I was a lot younger, I heard the same rubbish. My failure to find a job was usually attributed to people perceiving me as being lazy, which I certainly wasn't.

      The fact is that companies want cheap, docile labour, which they can dispose of whenever it suits them. It was that way when I got my B. Sc. in the late 1970s and it hasn't changed much since then.

    2. If my nursing students (who appear to me to be competent and professional; our program is pretty selective) are any measure, it's not so easy to get a job in nursing, either. Employers, however, happy to hire trained nurses as aides, LPNs, office staff, etc. (at considerably less than a nurse's salary).

      In many fields, I'd attribute a "30-year decline in relative salaries and prestige" between 1964 and 1994 at least in part to the entry of women into that particular part of the labor force (this would apply, I think, to humanities professors, as well as to ministers in many denominations, and perhaps to public school teaching -- especially high school teaching -- a generation or two earlier). That doesn't seem to quite work for STEM fields -- but I wonder. Maybe it does to some extent? And maybe the ability to rely heavily on immigrants is the other puzzle piece?

      Docile and disposable definitely describes what many employers, including higher ed employers, want these days. Did we already discuss Columbia's impending dismissal of long-time non-tenure-track (I think the term "soft-money position" may apply) researcher/teachers Carole Vance and Kim Hopper here?

    3. Cassandra: What you are describing is bad enough, but I think the real kicker is "...that has been accompanied by 30 years of statements by politicians and university administrators that there is a shortage of engineers and scientists." So, the next time someone in a suit clucks about "the innovation deficit," or "thinking outside the box" (although if they say this, better get out the buzzword bingo cards), or "the death of genius," or "where are the new Einsteins?" or even how there's been so little great literature or art since the rise of television, blow him a raspberry. They still want ideas, all right, but they don't want to pay for them. They get what they deserve.

    4. Industry also contributes to this notion. In my part of the country, there are lots of jobs for engineers being advertised. The reality is that those are for people with specialized backgrounds and experience and there aren't that many positions that require them. What those ads really represent is one company trying to poach people from competitors, but there are enough of those being posted that one outside the business could be easily swayed into thinking that there's a great demand.

      As well, what one doesn't often hear, is that in many areas of engineering, one is considered to be washed up starting at 35 or 40. (That might explain why so many of the managers I dealt with were thick as planks.) The apparent justification for this is that engineers of that age aren't familiar with what's current and are also set in their ways of thinking.

      The real reason comes back to what I stated earlier: companies want cheap and docile labour. Young graduates are seen as not requiring as much pay and, because they're young, they can be easily influenced into believing what their employers tell them. (I was a bit of a bad boy right after I received my B. Sc. I didn't buy into everything that my employer at the time told me, being skeptical about such things. I quickly became persona non grata as a result and I was out the door less than a year after I started.)

    5. I think another piece of the puzzle (which also may help explain the "washed up starting at 35 or 40" pattern) is that companies neither want to train workers, nor allow them on-the-job time to train/retrain themselves (which, of course, most smart people can do). And higher ed institutions are only too happy to oblige with endless M.A.s, certificate programs, etc., etc. Workers are expected to "invest" heavily in themselves (student loans and more student loans), but companies just want people who can do what they need, immediately, and then can be let go when the job is done (and/or new skills are required).

  2. Regarding the Nazareth College story: essentially the same thing happened to me as I came out of my program. I interviewed at a large school in the South and had a pleasant visit. In my meeting with the department chair, who would make the hiring decision,a salary was mentioned. Subsequently, I received an offer that was fine except that the salary was $3K less than the discussion. "Okay", I thought, "this must be a negotiation ploy". My adviser, who is very well known is the field and knew the players, agreed, so I went back with a counteroffer of $3K over the number discussed, figuring we would meet in the middle, By return email, I was curtly informed that the offer was withdrawn (i.e., not nearly as polite as the Nazareth letter). I was crushed...but in a few weeks a better job in a northern state opened up very suddenly and I fit right in. So, it turned out to my advantage but I still remember the sense that those guys were jerks for not playing the game as I had always heard it was played.