Friday, 10 April 2009

Why do a Humanities PhD in this Economy?

Recently on a number of websites, there has been a lot of discussion on whether academics should encourage the young to do PhDs. There has been a lack of real [aka non-temporary, well-paid] jobs for the recently qualified PhD-er in academia and as studying for a PhD is not well-paid, if paid at all, and it takes years, many people question the wisdom of pursuing this career path. Now, if you are doing a PhD because you want to be rich, or because you see academia as a easy career choice, then you probably shouldn't be doing a PhD in this market [if any]. And if you are doing a PhD and you are not enjoying your research [ok, the academic politics can suck, but I mean your own actual research- and I don't mean that you can't have bad days], then you shouldn't be there- because our love of the subject is why we do this. But, as someone who was paid to do her PhD, I really enjoyed the experience and I earned about as much as a full-time job in a supermarket. It was a lot of work, but I made my own hours, and I did something that made me happy. The loss in theoretical income that I would have earned in a graduate job was more than worth the experience.

Now, I was fortunate to get a job after the PhD, although it is contract work, so I am not suffering some of the angst of yet another year's miserable pay, multiple jobs, and scraping by, in the hope of hanging in there. And I understand that if you really want to be in academia, then having to hang-on in there isn't really a choice, but on the other hand, you wouldn't even have a shot at academia if you hadn't done the PhD. And, PhDs do not just qualify you to work in academia. There are a number of organisations that like researchers with PhDs, even those in the humanities, including the government- at local and national levels, and in the civil service; there are private organisations that do social research for the government and for private companies; the NHS employs researchers for health studies; there are also plenty of companies that just like to employ over-educated peoples. And, I know people who have got these jobs, so they're not imaginary. So your PhD is not worthless just because you don't work in academia, and indeed in the non-humanities, many people do PhDs with no intention of ever working in academia. The trick, and the angsty-bit, is knowing when to change paths.

Now, I know that there is the line of thought that if you need to go into a non-academic career than you have wasted time that could have been spent working up a career ladder. But, in this day and age [and annoying historical note, this seems to be true for a lot of history], few people remain in the same career for their entire lives and wider experience (such as a PhD) can translate into real financial benefits or advancement, just like other forms of life experience. People with PhDs have transferrable skills!!

So I guess my point is, if you want to do a PhD and you go in with eyes open knowing that there is no cushy guarantee of an academic post at the end, then do it. Life is more than money and, well, who wants a real job anyway?

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Advertising Sexual Health.

In what is a rather confusing article on the BBC, apparently the Archbishop of Westminister has responded to a public consultation on allowing advertisements promoting safe sex and sexual health services on TV and radio, by asking for all adverts from organisations that refer women for abortions to be banned. “Archbishop Nichols urged Catholics in England and Wales to respond to the consultation, saying that the country would not expect abortion to be advertised "alongside a packet of crisps".” Somebody else, or perhaps him as well (bad writing journalists!!), ask for organisations that refer women for abortions to clearly state that in their ads. The need for such advertisements on TV and radio is due to the dramatic increase in STDs amongst under 16s and a desire to tackle these issues.

It seems to be that there are number of problems with this issue. First, seeing as in the UK, the vast majority of (but not all) sexual health services and sexual health advertisements are provided by the NHS, who also provide abortions, this would mean that the NHS could not advertise, so no stop smoking ads, no stop drinking ads, no phone the NHS hotline, not your Dr, ads etc, etc. Alternatively, they may just have to state that they provide abortions services in their ads, so look out for: ‘Stop Smoking Phone 0800 *****, ps you can also get an abortion with your nicotine patch’.

Second, the fact is that equating the advertising of sexual health services with advertising abortion is really just a bunch of scare-mongering to turn a rather banal issue into a hot topic. These adverts are to stop STDs, not ‘encourage’ abortion. By providing info on contraception it might even help prevent the need for abortion. But, if we must imagine that advertisers are lining up to sell abortion: How exactly does one advertise abortion anyway?

‘Hey, you’re pregnant and you thought having a child was the thing for you-Stop, have an abortion, it’s an experience of a lifetime’.

Or perhaps,

‘it’s a Saturday night and you’re bored- you were going to have a packet of crisps, but instead, have an abortion?’

Perhaps the adverts are to make sure people are aware that organisations that provide abortion exist and to ensure they can make an informed choice, but it seems unlikely, and frankly demeans women, to suggest that they will or will not choose to have an abortion based on a TV advert. Abortions are not life-style accessories (perhaps unlike children?). They are a necessary service that prevent women’s deaths, help protect their fertility, and give women control over their own bodies. The only way that an advert will improve the likelihood of a woman having an abortion is by offering her information to get one that she previously lacked. And, do you really want to argue that you think enforced pregnancy is a better option that a 30-second advert, next to the one about a packet of crisps?

Perhaps, I don’t want to know the answer to that.