Academic/lecturing prospects in the humanities - UK

posted
29-Oct-16, 16:10
edited about 29 seconds later
by Cole
Avatar for Cole
posted about 3 years ago
Hi everyone,

I know there are several threads about (the difficulty of) getting academic posts, but they're mostly old/don't address my specific concerns...so here's another thread on the topic! Could anyone give me a little more insight into the jobs market in the UK - specifically in the humanities?

I'm a 44 year old currently trying to decide between taking the leap into a PhD (linguistics) and questioning the wisdom of that leap. I've gone between being almost 100% certain about doing it to feeling that it would be a waste of 3 years+.

My main concern is what my prospects will be afterwards. I have heard that academic posts are becoming more and more short-term, temporary and, even then, fiercely competitive (I have a teaching background but not sure if that would really make much difference).

I love my PhD topic, have a great potential supervisor and have a genuine desire to do the PhD, but the realities (especially at my age) of securing a reasonably secure academic position afterwards is a major concern. Although I have a passion for my area of research and would regret not doing the PhD, I think I would regret it even more if I found myself not being able to use it for an academic career...plus, whether funded or not, being poorer after the 3 years!

Thanks for reading my post...any insights or experiences are appreciated.
posted
05-Nov-16, 00:49
edited a moment later
by Kirst81
Avatar for Kirst81
posted about 3 years ago
Hi, I am afraid I don't know much about job prospects in the humanities, but I didn't want to read without answering you. What is your other option, if you don't do the phd? Is there any way you could do the phd part time alongside other work? I don't think your age is an issue in itself, but perhaps you have more financial commitments than those at the start of their working life? For what it's worth, I think that if you are passionate about the research and can manage financially, then do it, and worry about the career path later. Just because you might not get to live in the bahamas doesn't mean you shouldnt go there on holiday. If you get what I mean. Can't believe I just compared a phd to a holiday in the Bahamas!! Bed time for me I think! Good luck with your decision :-)
posted
06-Nov-16, 11:29
edited about 1 second later
by Cole
Avatar for Cole
posted about 3 years ago
Thanks for your comments. I take your point about doing it for the passion and worrying about career later...that would generally be my approach. However, especially when you're at my age, the very real practicalities of being employable/having secure employment becomes a defining issue in a decision like this.

I'm starting to feel that continuing to work and doing it part-time is the practical option, although I think I would miss out on a lot of the things that full-time students experience...greater focus on your topic/research, interaction with peers/academics, access to (relevant) lectures etc...and it would take so long to complete!
posted
06-Nov-16, 16:28
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 3 years ago
As you classify linguistics as humanities, I'm assuming you're at the modern languages end of the subject rather than the speech and language therapy end? If so, I'm afraid the outlook is not too promising regardless of how good you are. Nationally they think about 6% of PhD graduates will get permanent academic jobs. This is skewed by the much larger numbers in lab sciences but it's not much better in the humanities. If you are also trying to enter a field where UK student numbers are declining, which I think is true for Linguistics then that's an issue too, as govt policy looks to be to further cut non-UK student numbers, which has been the way out of falling UK interest for some programmes. I know for example that there are very high numbers of Chinese students on our linguistics programmes. Brexit and the likely impact on research funding is also likely to cut the number of entry level research jobs. And this is all in addition to the casualisation issue you mention, which is particularly endemic in the humanities. Basically it's a depressing outlook for universities at the moment. I think if not getting an academic job would be a deal-breaker for you, then the odds are probably not good enough to risk it.
posted
06-Nov-16, 18:40
by Cole
Avatar for Cole
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From bewildered:
As you classify linguistics as humanities, I'm assuming you're at the modern languages end of the subject rather than the speech and language therapy end?


To be honest, I'm never clear as to where the line between the humanities and social sciences begins /ends or vice-versa! My area is sociolinguistics/English language with a strong historical and philosophical focus, so maybe it's between the two fields!

Anyway, I appreciate the feedback...some of the specific facts and figures are useful/depressing. All these issues, combined with my already cynical view of the 'commercialisation' of university education, make me question the wisdom of making all those professional and financial sacrifices necessary to complete a PhD.
posted
07-Nov-16, 00:44
edited about 27 seconds later
by Tenzin
Avatar for Tenzin
posted about 3 years ago
Hi Cole,

I am also in the 'upper age' bracket for PhD students - I started mine when I was 46. I'm also in the humanities - religious studies. I was told very bluntly on several occasions at the 2015 AAR conference that I was 'too old' for the academic job market - so in addition to the lack of available academic positions, my age would be a great deterrent to finding a job.

So I think this is something to really think about - I'm now processing a referral, and the prospects of finding work in my field after re-submission, should I pass, are very slim. I'm also in education, so I will most likely return to my previous career as a language instructor.

I love my thesis subject, too, however, with the above givens, had I known four years back what I know now, I would have not pursued this avenue. It's been both rewarding and difficult, but the 'expense' of this experience is now far outweighing the 'returns'.

This is not meant to be overly negative, just an account of my personal experience. There are surely people that have had more positive experiences than me.

Tenzin
posted
07-Nov-16, 07:52
by Dunham
Avatar for Dunham
posted about 3 years ago
The chances that you land a job in academia are probably very, very low (not many opportunities and your age will make it really hard). If you are interested in pursuing a PhD then I would definitely go part-time
posted
07-Nov-16, 09:58
by Cole
Avatar for Cole
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From Tenzin:

I love my thesis subject, too, however, with the above givens, had I known four years back what I know now, I would have not pursued this avenue. It's been both rewarding and difficult, but the 'expense' of this experience is now far outweighing the 'returns'.


Hi Tenzin,

Thanks for your views - your perspective is very insightful, as your experience seems very similar to what could be ahead of me. Your quote above pretty much sums up my thoughts about it all. I hope it all works out for you.

Thanks for your comments too, Dunham...I think part-time is the way to go should I decide to take the plunge.
posted
07-Nov-16, 10:00
Avatar for windowsill
posted about 3 years ago
also humanities here, languages (not linguistics). i know of one occasion where someone finished his phd mid/late 40s and then spend a long time teaching in the department (russell group) on those bad contracts (he's a bit the classic example of not being the sharpest tool in the shed, but having independent means and being of the right class and undergrad degree from oxbridge played a role too) and at some point landed a permanent post at a 1992 institution, he was mid/late fifties then.
i guess on the whole it's pretty bleak, tho there are always some outliers. best not to count on an academic job afterwards, but you might never know... it seems part-time is the way to go...
posted
07-Nov-16, 10:56
edited about 1 minute later
by Cole
Avatar for Cole
posted about 3 years ago
Quote From windowsill:
best not to count on an academic job afterwards, but you might never know...


Thanks for the comments. This is probably the best way to approach things, but as I get older the idealism of going with your heart (in a professional/academic context) and hoping for the best becomes a more and more unwise choice...especially when the professional and financial consequences are harder to reverse compared to when you're younger. At least with the part-time option, although still personally and financially draining, you can continue with your job/career. But, like I mentioned before, I can't see how that route would be as enjoyable or rewarding as being full-time (funded).
posted
07-Nov-16, 15:09
edited about 22 seconds later
Avatar for windowsill
posted about 3 years ago
i am not sure really whether the difference between part-time and full-time is that big in practice, as you don't need a lab presumably. i guess it would depend very much on the situation... nothing at least in principle (except time and the strain of your job which is a big 'except') stops you from going to lectures and conferences just like the full-time students and even completing in less than 6 years isn't entirely impossible if you're organized... it's something you need to discuss with your supervisor to find out what people usually do.... part-time might well be more sane also as your job would give you a perspective and balance which can be very useful considered the general toxicity of academic life.

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