Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why Social Science Academia is rather Disengenuous...

Many new grad students when they first come to academia are starry-eyed and excited for the intellectual journey that is socialization into the academy. I, for one, definitely fell into that category. As I have progressed on this long and arduous journey, the ugly crevices  and backdoors of the academy have come into much clearer focus.

1) Graduate School is Socialization into the academy: It means that you must gain acceptance into this group by 'drinking the koolaid' or obeying group norms. Ironic, that social scientists rarely analyze the biases or norms that exist in their own 'little' society.

2) The Social Sciences try to look 'Smart': 'Physics envy' is the prevalent. Math, math, more math solves all social problems, even the one's that are blatantly obvious to everyone else. Grotesquely large words to explain simple, vague topics are thrown around like 'social capital'. Professor, professor what does that mean? 

3) Experience is not valued: Let me describe one of my conference experiences. It was a conference session on the effect of parental incarceration on adolescents. All the speakers as well as almost all participants were wealthy old white professors from elite universities. I could not help but wonder how the lack of personal experience on the topic biased their results. As all of us know, there are no right answers in the social sciences. Data analysis is an art, so is survey research and ethnographic work. Our biases seep in quickly and that was quite clear to me almost immediately. One professor discussed how 'surprisingly' incarnated parents 'really' do care about their children. It was condescending to say the least. Personal experience is invaluable to understanding the root causes of problems. Academia should value experience - there are some aspects of culture or experience that can never be taught. It is just as important to understanding 'why' x or y happens, as statistical models of incomplete data.

4) Social Science Fails to Address the Social Problems in it's own ranks:
  a) The Adjunct Crisis - some 70% of the professoriate is in low wage, non-permanent positions which lack health care with little hope of ever becoming a tenure track professor. Full professors rarely think about or discuss the adjunct crisis, nor are they straightforward about it with their students.
b) The lack of diversity - the lack of diversity in the social sciences is striking. There are so few minority professors at top schools, much lower than percentage in the population. As discussed before, this biases research both in the questions asked and their results. In addition the age structure is skewed up. Most professors were hired during the 1960s  and 1970s. They are out-of-touch with the world as it currently is and for the social sciences understanding current trends are important. Academia is often one of the last institutions to change.

Millenial Inequality

Millenials, are graduating and coming of age, during the most unequal time in US history in the past 100 years. Rich millennials are able to rely on parental support (see article) or utilize parental connections. They are able to take internships or pursue medical school. For the debt ridden underemployed majority, it's quite a bit more difficult. That's a bit dramatic, I know!  Not all of us are debt ridden or 'underemployed', but many of us have an employment 'situation'. You know what I mean such as having 'no job security', 'lack of health care', 'little job mobility' and other less than enviable employment woes.

Before, the Boomers chime in with of your generation is 'lazy, self-entitled' blah, blah, bah... Yes, some of us are probably all those things and most young people struggle through the transition of school to job which includes struggling financially for a while.

But the longer that I work and the further I am out from school, the more I feel like their is no clear path up. Wages are stagnating for everyone, except the very tippy top. It's not just me - the Boomers I work with are very disheartened by current economic situation. The relationship between employee and employer has grown exceedingly one-sided. It seems that every company is about it's bottom line. The human component of the current work environment has been all but squashed.

It makes me wonder what's there to come. What should I be looking forward to? Is there a way up for the vast majority of us - the masses that are destined not to excel beyond 'great'. What happens to us - the people that don't live for their job? We all want to enjoy the work we do, but not all of us can come to define our lives by it or be the 'best' at it.

Since wages are stagnating, the cost of starting your own company, writing a book, and pursing creative passions declines. However, the probability it will be successful also declines, since people have less money to spend and are rationing their money very carefully. Our generation might just have to be 'creative' because their are few other possibilities to have job security, wage growth and a chance at retirement exist.

As a kid, we all wanted to grow up and be 'middle class' maybe 'upper middle class', but as time passes being 'rich' seems far more desirable. For me that's enough to identify that something is horribly wrong.