Clear thinking about pursuing an academic career

twitter threads, advice

I’m regularly contacted by random young scholars who want to chat with me about pursuing graduate study related to Taiwan: either studying in Taiwan, or just doing research there. I always enjoy these conversations,

(link to twitter thread)

but I also feel it is my duty to encourage some clear thinking about pursuing an academic career in this day and age. The reason I mention this is that I’m almost always shocked at how little they know about the realities of the academic job market.

Often nobody else has ever told these young scholars what is in store for them. They just assume that if they work hard and do a good job, they will be able to get a job in academia. In a recent conversation one particularly bright student at UCLA suggested a reason for this:

survivorship bias. Most of his teachers are the ones whose careers went the way people expect such careers should go: elite colleges, then graduate school, then a tenure track job at UCLA. (With maybe a short stop somewhere else along the way.)

While it is true that many students in America are now taught by adjuncts, this isn’t necessarily the case for students at some of the top schools, at least for courses in their majors. But another reason might just be that students are blissfully ignorant of these distinctions.

They have no idea who is a tenure track and who is an adjunct. But if that were the whole problem then at least some of these adjuncts would have told them the truth of the job market, and that doesn’t seem to be happening.

There is also some selection bias in terms of the students who contact me. Many of them are wealthy kids from elite colleges. Their whole life they’ve been told that they can do whatever they put their minds to and nobody has ever suggested otherwise.

So, what do I tell students? That might be best to discuss in another thread. The key point, however, is that I try not to discourage them while simultaneously impressing upon them the reality of what it would take to succeed in the current job market. Not an easy task…

These young people are incredibly bright, motivated, care about Taiwan, and want to do something meaningful with their lives. Many of those who contact me are specifically interested in working on Indigenous issues as well. I really wish there were more opportunities for them.