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Doctoral candidates feeling an extra edge in the workplace: the world outside of Academics

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As to whether such people enjoy work outside of academe, the answer is very clear. Many who initially hoped or expected to be college teachers found other occupations satisfying, and many who became teachers found their work not satisfying. On the whole, in fact, professors liked their jobs less than did humanities Ph.D.'s who were in administration or who were out editing magazines or marketing lingerie.

The disparity could, of course, be discounted as a function of academic melancholia. A closer look at what the two groups of respondents had to say provokes doubt, however, as to whether the differences can so easily be explained away.

Recipients of the questionnaire were asked to rate 18 aspects of their current jobs. In regard to 13 of these aspects, the teachers registered lower levels of satisfaction than did the non-academics. They indicated significantly greater contentment only with their autonomy and independence, opportunity for scholarly pursuits, and opportunity for leisure. By wide margins, they rated lower than did non-academics not only material aspects of their work-salary, fringe benefits, and opportunity for advancement-but also its social and psychological aspects. They were markedly less content regarding a sense of possessing responsibility or policymaking power. As compared with non-academics, only about half as many academics indicated high satisfaction with the status of the institutions employing them. Perhaps most significant, they rated lower than did the non-academics the challenge and variety of what they did, and they also rated lower the congeniality of their work relationships and the competence of their colleagues.

That those in academic life exhibited a relatively lower level of satisfaction on these last counts is hard to explain solely as a function of the academic temperament. Especially is this so because of contrasting evidence that the group of humanities Ph.D.'s most satisfied on most of these counts were those who remained in the academic environment as administrators. One exception was competence of colleagues. The administrators were even more down on their peers than were the teachers. Although they felt a great deal less autonomous and independent and lamented their lack of leisure and opportunity for scholarship, academic administrators registered almost twice as much satisfaction with the challenge of their work. On most other counts they seemed more satisfied than faculty members.

That humanities Ph.D.'s should be comparatively less content as professors than as businesspersons or government officials or college presidents or deans is probably to be explained at least partly by evidence regarding attitudes of graduate students, for most students never considered any career except college teaching, and the majority had unrealistic notions about a professor's work life.

To compare benefits of academic jobs with jobs in government or business, over 90% of humanities graduate students cited greater flexibility in the use of time. Two-thirds or more mentioned freedom to do as one wishes, opportunities to experiment with differing life-styles, and ability to flout social conventions. On the down side, one-quarter to two-fifths expressed suspicion that a teaching job would carry less social prestige and less job security. They were divided almost evenly on whether teaching would involve less leisure or more. The chief drawback to the academic career identified by the majority was relatively lower earning power.

Interviews confirmed that most graduate students had little sense of the variety and complexity of the world outside academe. A doctoral candidate in philosophy at Stanford defined government work as "delivering mail." One in history at Berkeley said, "If you have morals or ideas, you can't last in government." A woman studying English at Bryn Mawr spoke of all corporations as populated by "little gray people." A woman at Berkeley in the same field defined a career in business as "being a waitress or a bottler of cough medicine for horses."

Expressions of discontent by professors probably reflect disillusionment experienced upon learning what really lies on the other side of the podium. One graduate student interviewee voiced suspicion that his level of enthusiasm for Browning might fall by the time he had taught the poet's works five years in a row. One can infer from the survey data that many actually found this to be the case. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine experiences that could produce answers evidencing a low level of career satisfaction. Many college teachers find themselves repeating material that no longer excites them. Free time is swallowed in committee meetings (where doubts about the competence of colleagues develop and flourish) and in counseling sessions with students or parents. Experimentation with life-styles turns out to involve little more than a daily choice of whether to be costumed as a student or as a com-muter. Meanwhile, the expected drawback does materialize.

Whatever the life-style, it costs a lot. Much time and energy therefore go to lectures in extension courses or in summer school or to small-fee talks before local service clubs.

The survey results show clearly that dollars and cents turn out to be more important than most graduate students anticipate. To be sure, the students are right in supposing that certain academic environments can be rewarding in their own right. Among faculty members in the survey, those in universities were significantly more satisfied with their work than were those in 4-year colleges or 2-year colleges. They registered about the same levels of contentment as did administrators or people in business. But income was a factor, even for them. When those expressing generally high satisfaction with their work became specific, they cited satisfaction with expected earnings more often than any other factor.

Non-academics did so a little more frequently than academics but not much more so. The second factor that showed up most often was the extent to which the individual's job was related to his or her doctoral studies, though this held true only for academics.
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