From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Dear faculty members: I sell Ph.D. advising services on the open market. And your Ph.D. students are buying. Why? Because you’re not doing your job.
Lest you think that by advising, I mean editing research papers and dissertations, let me disabuse you. I offer those services, but rarely am I asked for them.
A former tenured professor at a major research university, I am now running an academic-career consulting business. That’s right: I am doing graduate advising for pay. I am teaching your Ph.D. students to do things like plan a publishing trajectory, tailor their dissertations for grant agencies, strategize recommendation letters, evaluate a journal’s status, judge the relative merits of postdoctoral options, interpret a rejection, follow up on an acceptance, and—above all—get jobs. And business is so good I’m booked ahead for months.
As my own former Ph.D. advisees would happily tell you, I am not infallible. Your students don’t come to me because they think I’m the perfect adviser. They come because I’m available and you’re not. And because I don’t sugarcoat the truth and you do. When their work is bad, I tell them. Point blank. “Your essay is truly awful,” I’ve said. Or, “Has no one ever taught you how to write a grant?” Most important, I highlight the career stakes of their errors: “This job letter is no better than a B+, which in this job climate, may as well be an F. Do it over.” And they do.
When I ask them why they come to me—and not you, their Ph.D. advisers—the answers never vary. “Oh, my adviser? He’s supportive about the diss. But in terms of my career? I’m totally on my own.”
Why am I the pinch-hitter for an absentee professoriate?
Let me be the first to tell you, your advisees are working hard. They have certainly gotten the memo: Jobs are impossible, so publish before you finish. Network. Professionalize. They just don’t have the foggiest notion how to do any of that.
Cultivate a letter-writer? Do the elevator talk? Tailor a job letter? You are sending your Ph.D. students out onto this job market so unprepared that it would be laughable if the outcome weren’t so tragic.
Sometimes it’s refreshing to read a scold scolding. This is one of those times. It’s not just that professors aren’t doing their jobs on this front–it’s that when they don’t, non-academic others begin to step in and do it for them, and do it better. It used to worry and fascinate me to watch the professoriate trying to commit suicide. That was years ago, when I thought someone somewhere could say the magic words to make them wake up, get serious, and rescue their professional world. Now it’s just boring and pathetic.