Wednesday, March 16, 2016

An honest day's work

By now, it should be clear to regular readers that I don't waffle and use euphemisms.  Right?  Mine is a Socratic approach.  In fact, the older I get, the less I am able to argue for anything that is way off the truth--I cannot even imagine how lawyers and accountants do that lying day in and day out!

So, in that Socratic spirit, let me share with you something that has baffled me throughout my career as an academic.

I find it bizarre when faculty talk about preparing students for the workforce, and when they give career advice to students.

It is bizarre because most of them--not all, but an overwhelming majority of them--have never been gainfully employed outside the walls of the ivory tower.  I do not mean working summer jobs as students.  I am referring to real jobs with real responsibilities.  Yet, they give career advice to the youth?  And students listen to them?

Most of the faculty were good students who went to college right after graduating from high school.  And almost always, even as they were wrapping up the undergraduate programs, they applied to graduate school, earned their doctorates, and then started working as faculty.  If not for the odd summer jobs, they might not have had any exposure to the real world at all.

My neighbor/friend jokes often that I am like any professor who has never done an honest day of work, by which he means the real world working experience.  But, of course, he knows he is exaggerating.  I worked as an engineer in India.  A real job.  Well, make it three real jobs with three different employers in India.  And then here in the US, I worked as a transportation planner, for almost six years.  The six longest years ever.  A grand total of seven years of work in the world that was far away from higher education.

The more I observe the faculty in higher education, the more I am convinced that most of them should simply admit to students that they have no idea about jobs and careers.  Even worse are the deans and provosts.  All of them should do a full disclosure like "to be honest, the only thing I know is how to prepare for a career in higher education."  As Ken Robinson remarked in this awesome talk that is also hysterically funny, the entire point of education, right from kindergarten, seems to be about preparing clones of teachers.
 If you were to visit education, as an alien, and say "What's it for, public education?" I think you'd have to conclude, if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this, who does everything that they should, who gets all the brownie points, who are the winners -- I think you'd have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn't it? They're the people who come out the top. And I used to be one, so there. 
Which is all the more why I felt awesome on reading a student's email of thanks in which he writes:
The advice you gave was based on your understanding of who I am as a person and what I value, not on some intellectual or scholar you are trying to forge into your own image.
It is unfortunate that most of higher education today is neither about the intellectual aspects of understanding the world nor about workforce preparation.  It has become a self-serving business.  How awful!

4 comments:

Anne in Salem said...

Why would students ask a professor for career advice? It is a bad idea for exactly the reasons you state. I wouldn't ask a doctor for career advice on being an office manager. The students should ask those who work in their desired field.

Of course, that requires the students have a clue what they want to do and what they do well. Some people haven't a clue, even in their 40s. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my history major so took a job in sales for one of Ramesh's competitors. Not a good fit. Raising kids was the right fit, but no professor would advise that. When I needed a job five years ago, I ended up on a farm. Definitely the right fit, but it could never have been advised when I was a senior in college. Nothing I have done is connected to my history degree, save the ability to think, so how could a history professor advise? Curious practice.

Sriram Khé said...

"save the ability to think" ... uh, hello, that is the most important part of higher education and you bury that point? tsk, tsk, tsk ...
You will be amazed (well, after having read enough posts here, you should not) at how much the internal discussions in universities like mine are influenced by the faculty and administrators' arguments on where the jobs will be--and none is even a labor economist who specializes in reading those tea leaves!

Ramesh said...

For once, just for once, I completely agree with the good Prof. Career academicians who do not have a rounded experience make poor career counsellors, specially in specific fields. But they can be good advisers on how to think through options, the way you do.

Sriram Khé said...

The sky is falling!
Pigs re flying!
Hell has frozen over!

All because of Ramesh's comment: "I completely agree with the good Prof."

Muahahahaha ;)

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