Monday, June 23, 2008

Nobody Gets into This Profession for the Money


I got into this profession for the money. Not that I ever thought I'd make "real" money or get rich, but yes, money was a factor. Like I never cared that I'd make above a decent middle-class wage where I'd be able to pay my bills and never have the phone shut off. But seriously: when I decided on graduate school, part of what I considered was that if I got a tenure-track job, I'd make on my own per year what my parents made combined, if not a bit more. And I'd be doing something that I loved to do, but no, I wasn't some martyr to a profession that wouldn't pay me.
When people note that "nobody gets into this for the money" they're basically saying that in choosing a field that they "love" they have sacrificed money they would have made elsewhere, money that other people that they know make.

I've got exactly one friend/family member outside of the academy who makes more per year than I do. So yes, I suppose, I got into this for the money.

So why am I writing about this? Well, one of the threads that ran through DD's comments to Friday's post especially was this idea that workers who choose an academic path somehow have "chosen" love over money. I agree that we've chosen love over lots of money, but seriously: I make more money than many people I know. I didn't choose to do what I loved without regard to money. I chose to try to do what I loved if I could be compensated adequately and if I could have greater job security by not seeking more than adequate compensation. That's not the same thing as having no regard for money.

Fact: the only people who have the luxury of choosing a career path with no regard for compensation are people who have money already. Whether it's family money or a spouse's money or money that they saved up before embarking on the love-path. And that's not a discipline-specific fact, but rather it is a universal fact. A truth, if you will. And I believe in very few of those, but this is one of my exceptions to my general rule that there are no universal truths.

Now, this is something that BFF and I have talked a great deal about, because she got the "Nobody gets into this profession for the money" argument when she was offered her new job, and they tried to offer her less than she was offered to start at my institution - even though she'd already been on the tenure track for five years. Her response to them ultimately was, no, I'm not in it for the money but I don't expect to take a pay cut to accept your position (a pay cut that would have been close to 10 grand, with identical cost of living in both locations). Ultimately, she got them to hire her in at just about her current salary, and that worked for her. She didn't make money on the deal, but she didn't lose money either (except if you count the time she's lost on the tenure clock, the cost of moving, etc.). But the whole "you should just feel lucky to get a job" thing totally wasn't where the conversation stopped. Why? Because that's bullshit.

My concern, when people make this argument, and I'm thinking about this with my specific field in mind, is that it increases the class uniformity of the professoriate. And yes, I think it's valuable that people from a variety of backgrounds - class, ethnic, whatever - can choose this profession and try to succeed in it. New ideas come from people who have differing backgrounds, life experiences, and worldviews. What a commenter to Dean Dad's most recent post, Joe, writes, is true:
I recognize that society benefits by having people study the classics, whether or not there is an immediate need. But society also benefits by filling in pot holes, funding the public defenders office, and not taxing me so damn much that I might have to move just to keep out of bankruptcy.
The question is, who is going to decide that filling in potholes is an option? To be a hair-dresser (the career I thought I'd have if I wasn't able to go to college)? To dig ditches (a profession that a real jack-ass in my high school European history class used to like to reference when talking about the unwashed masses)? To work construction, to work in crappy office jobs as my mom has done throughout her working life, to work in a steel mill (as my dad did throughout my young life), to work in a factory (as a cousin of mine and a kid I went to grade school with do) to work in food service or retail? I'll tell you who: it's people whose parents didn't save a dime for them to attend college, people who don't know anybody who has gone to college, people who, ultimately, don't know that NPR exists before they attend college (if they do) and people who don't have the material or cultural resources to know that you can choose something that you love even if it means a "pay cut" - a "pay cut" that still will give you more than your family and friends make.

It's not that all of the jobs that I've listed don't have value. Obviously they do. But I really bristle at the idea of limiting a whole class of people to those jobs if they could succeed in others that would be more fulfilling to them. And I know that my students do benefit from the fact that I, coming from where I come from, teach them, if only because I don't think of them as lesser human beings because of where they come from (as some of my more privileged colleagues do).

When we think about restructuring the pay scale and professional structure of higher ed and even before that the funding structure of higher ed, we've got to think about those students - and potential workers - whom the new structure might exclude. If we don't, we only replicate and perpetuate fucking injustice.

Now, all of that being said? Had I not secured tenure-track employment in my first year out, my plan was to have them to convert me to an actual full-time employee at the job that I was temping at for the months leading up to my defense (which they wanted to do, and which would have given me benefits), to adjunct one or two classes a semester in addition to that in order to keep my teaching current, and to write a shitload and to attempt to publish hardcore. I never considered adjuncting full-time because I didn't have the money to consider doing that. And if that hadn't worked after three cycles on the market? The plan was to say fuck off to the profession and to find a real fucking job. Because you know why? I needed the fucking money and I'm not a total idiot. Just only a little bit of an idiot, for otherwise I'd not have chosen this path in the first place.

The point here, for me, is it's not about love or money. It's about love and decent money and job security. So don't tell me that I didn't get into this for the money. Dude, I'd have made more money than adjuncts make, and with benefits, working as a transcription typist, and I'd have been living in my hometown with tons of support networks. I could read in my spare time, and I'd have had spare time to do it with. Seriously. Even I can do that math.


Doctor Pion said...

I'll admit that I'd teach at least one of my classes for free if I was independently wealthy, but I am certainly in it for the money. As you say, there are ways for me to make more money, but I'm not willing to starve just to teach.

I have no idea how single adjuncts live on what we pay them, but they certainly can't afford private health insurance so they better be young and healthy.

JustMe said...

when I decided on graduate school, part of what I considered was that if I got a tenure-track job, I'd make on my own per year what my parents made combined, if not a bit more

exactly, i so feel you. i think the "no one gets into it for the money" person is speaking through their own class privilege.

all the things you mention are all right there, i agree. it is a variety of things, all together.

go dr. crazy!

Sisyphus said...

Hear, hear!

It's about love and decent money and job security.

Exactly ---- it's not the tenure-track even so much as it's my friends who are adjuncts never know from one 10-week session to the next whether they will be working, and how much.

Constantly freaking out about how you will pay rent the following quarter sucks any enjoyment out of the teaching currently going on.

Flavia said...

This is a really good point, Crazy. I'll admit that I do feel that I gave up money and a certain amount of security--my other plan was law school, and boy, do I have a lot of friends who make much more than I do--but I'm not really complaining about it, and I always said that if I couldn't get a job in a reasonable period of time, I'd leave the profession (given that I don't/didn't have a spouse, or familial money to keep me afloat). To me, anyway, "love" just isn't enough to pay the bills or keep me happy.

I'm actually pretty darn satisfied with my salary, job security, and benefits. The opportunity cost of spending so many years in school I'm less happy about--but I hope that starts to feel less burdensome in a few years!

Anastasia said...

going in the other direction, the comments suggest no one goes into software because they love it . Um...really? do you know any software engineers? because the ones I know, love it. Yes, they like the money they're able to make doing it but when it comes down to it, they are a bunch of geeks and writing code really does rev their intellectual motors. I mean, damn. Why do you think PH loves (and excels) at logic?

Point being, people do get into fields like software engineering for love and not just money.

as for money, I certainly thought getting the PhD was a smart move financially and even now, we're taking a calculated risk. PH is taking a big paycut right now to go to grad school but the idea is that if we can both get academic work, our combined income will be quite comfortable again. if not he has other options. The point being, we have money in the bank but it's not like we're throwing caution to the wind and giving it all up for the love of philosophy. PH is making a career change and while he'll have less earning potential as an academic, it'll be more than sufficient.

you know, when I was a kid, my dad actually used to dig ditches. :) I'm glad he doesn't anymore--ruined his back. He's in nursing school now.

gwinne said...

You know, this is really interesting, because it points out just how incredibly naive I was when I applied to grad school. I never thought about money--how I'd make it--at any point in my undergrad career, and, I wasn't coming from a family with money. I grew up knowing the place I'd go to college was the place that gave me a scholarship. And, still, I went to grad school in English because it was the only thing I could imagine myself doing, and I had enough sense to know (and I guess this is where money factors in) that one couldn't just "be a poet" and survive.

*Now* of course I understand all these economic realities all too well, and I very much appreciate your post. While my salary has increased significantly from Job 1 to Job 2, cost of living has incresed even more so (i.e. I pay *double* for daycare what I did at my previous job). And when I talk to students thinking about grad school in English, we do talk about the "market" and what it means to make a living in this profession.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Can I offer a less sinister interpretation of the idea that "no one gets into it for the money"? Yes, it can be used as a rationalization for offering, or accepting, scandalously low adjunct pay or even t-t salaries. But in my experience (dealing mostly with historians and other humanists), most of those who make that claim are NOT comparing themselves with family and friends and asserting some kind of class privilege. They're comparing themselves with other paths THEY might have taken, and assessing the opportunity cost of 5-10 years of graduate school.

I make a pretty good salary where I am now, and our faculty union does a good job negotiating new contracts. But I started on the t-t shortly before I turned 30, and I just finished paying off my student loans last year. Had I gotten a job at Accenture and then gone to business school after a few years (while continuing to work), in my 20s I would have been earning 3-4 times my graduate student income and setting aside money for retirement. And I would not have faced the risks of the academic job market--risks of which I was fully aware when I started my Ph.D. program.

In short, in many cases "I'm not in it for the money" could be translated as: "With my talent and perseverance, I could be a successful lawyer/senior vice president/hedge fund manager/etc. making a lot more money than I do now, but I imagine that I would be much less happy because, except for grading, I am doing what I enjoy for a living, and I have a hell of a lot more autonomy than almost any other professional in 21st-century America." Those of us with tenure can add, "And I have the kind of job security that others in our economy can only dream about."

Bardiac said...

Great post.

When a couple commentors over at DD's talk about cutting the numbers of grad students admitted, I worry, because I know how most grad admissions at uppoer tier schools work, and I think a lot of great folks would be even more excluded.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

I kind of have Brian's reaction, but that said: With my talent and perseverance, I could be a successful lawyer/senior vice president/hedge fund manager/etc. making a lot more money than I do now is actually a very specific point of view. I mean, you have to be from a background that considers those appropriate and achievable careers to begin with, whether or not you actually have family or friends doing any of those those things (except that in such a case, you probably do). And maybe it seems like if you're considering grad school in English/history/whatever, those would be the natural alternatives to consider, but I don't think that's necessarily the case, depending on your education and experience. I think it's a very middle/upper-middle class view of possible careers. (That's not a knock at Brian!)

the rebel lettriste said...

Oh Hell's yes. For me, the choice was: garret-living poetess barely surviving by adjuncting; or: going back to grad school, putting a stop to the student loans, and credentialing myself so I could get a tt-job and actually have a salary.

And my uncle, who funded a damn lot of my education, actually does dig ditches for a living.

Tenure, at the end of the day, is going to mean that I'll have the flexibility and the wherewithal to take care of HIM in his dotage.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

New Kid: I agree, except that situations matter as well as background. For instance, management consulting was something that a lot of my classmates went into after college; bond rating was another. I wouldn't have known about either before going to college, even though my high school had decent career counselors.

Also, I'd like to reiterate that in my experience, the "" judgment is often made retrospectively, not prospectively.

flacius1551 said...

I am with Brian, except that I don't think it's very clear cut that one has to think about careers in management or finance as the necessary alternatives. My best friend from high school went to a paper mill two weeks after graduation. For the last twenty years she has operated a machine that draws lines on notebook paper, except when she is operating the machine that punches the little holes into the paper, or very occasionally, when she operates the machine that cuts the paper into the appropriate sizes. She is a union employee, and her base wage works out to around $50k before taxes, plus with required overtime she takes home around $70k. Her husband, whom she met in the factory, does the same. She hates her job and lives for her time off. In other words, she makes an amount that is competitive with my salary with no post-high school education. Not only that, for years and years when she made less than she makes now, she was still making money and saving for retirement when I was so poor that I was getting an EIC on my taxes despite not having any children. She is bored out of her wits. While she could find other jobs that would interest her more, they pay less (infant child care, for example). So she is doing it for the money. There is no way that I could do what she does even at her salary rate. No, I do not come from an independently wealthy family. Yes, I knew that I was going to have to support myself after college. Even so, if I were going to have done something for the money, then I should have gone into the paper mill.

Or another demonstration: I pay money voluntarily beyond what my university covers to do professional activities that I enjoy and will further my career. I purchase items necessary for work (expensive books, computer software, microfiches) out of my own pocket. If I were doing this job for the money, I'd most likely be putting those funds into a house down payment.

flacius1551 said...

So I guess what I think "nobody goes into this for the money" means is that no-one whose priority number one in a career choice is the financial remuneration would pick "university professor" as their ideal career.

Kate said...

You have perfectly described why I volunteered 40-50 hours a week as an organizer for my union while I was a grad student.

Anastasia said...

That those other paths were options is a kind of class privilege. I think that's the point. Both the awareness of what a lawyer, for instance, makes and a knowledge of how to get into that field is class specific. I can promise you my sister has no idea what a lawyer or a professor makes or what the difference is. If you asked her, she'd probably say it must me about $100,000 because this is about the biggest salary she can imagine. She really has no idea because both are solidly out of her reach.

when I applied to grad school, that was my mind set. Any job that doesn't pay an hourly wage is a good job, a real job, a job worth going to school to get. There were no other options for me. I don't sit back and wonder what if I went to business school. I'd never heard of business school when I stumbled in the front door of my master's program.

my point being, even imagining oneself on a different path suggests privilege. Not everyone had options. I certainly didn't. I was purely an accidental grad student, after one of those good jobs that don't pay hourly. period.

In other words, I went for the money.

Dr. Crazy said...

Anastasia: exactly.

Flacius: I see your point, but I think that the "nobody gets into this job for the money" argument ultimately puts a whole class of people into the paper mill worker business. I agree that "no-one whose priority number one in a career choice is the financial remuneration would pick 'university professor' as their ideal career." but I also think that most people who would go to work in the paper mill don't think that being a 'university professor' is an option. That was *only* an option for me because I attended college, not first in a liberal arts major but as a journalism major, which had a direct connection to a job, even if that job would have had me starting at *less* money than a university professor, and working more (and less self-directed) hours. I do take your point that people from not-well-to-do backgrounds can make good livings, and that they don't face the opportunity cost of years out of the workforce during schooling. That said, tell me what professional-class person's child will choose the paper mill. The point is, that professional-class person's child won't (in nearly all cases). It's not even an option.

Brian: I suspect you went to a relatively good school in the Northeast? Of the college grads I know, who went to midwestern regional universities, most ended up in much less lucrative lines of work. I do know a fair number of people who went to law school, but most are working at relatively crappy jobs (by standards in that profession) and make about what I make. Of those who pursued other fields, they ended up in PR/non-profit sort of work, in high school teaching, human resources, and other like fields. In other words, I do think that location-location-location does matter in the discussion, as well as what kind of institution one went to as an undergrad. One of the reasons that I don't think much about what might have been had I not chosen this path is that the people with whom I went to high school and college with didn't ultimately end up doing better than me. Not most people who went to my college alma mater (or similar) do. A final note: I also invest those sorts of dollars in professional things, but I write those dollars off on my taxes if I spend them. Also, I buy far fewer books and things because I make my uni library buy them, and the travel that I do is subsidized. I am saving for a house. Why? I have to. My parents can't help me.

Gwinne: I was naive, too. I thought this was the "safer" and more "sensible" choice than being a poet living in a garret. This is actually one of the things that makes this profession about money rather than love for me. I *thought* I was being practical. Thank god the whole thing worked out!

flacius1551 said...

Sorry, I also come from a less than privileged background, and I just don't buy that huge spectra of people out there think "I want to earn as much money as I can, so I will become a university professor." There were a few kids from my high school who went on to college and are now professionals for whom money was an important motivation. My brother is one. They chose majors that had a clear professional application, not liberal arts subjects where most of the career opportunities are in teaching of some kind.

I also think that proportionally very few people enter college thinking they want to be professors--maybe the children of academic families. I do think that many people enter college thinking they want to find a job that they are interested in--and that there is some kind of complicated calculus that goes on where they balance out personal interest and potential earnings. I discarded the career of poet along those lines, for example. I also think that the relative significance of those two things changes; it's easier to say when you are single and 20 that you are not in it for the money than when you are forty with 3 children.

No one who says "professors aren't in it for the money" really means "professors shouldn't get paid" or "professors would work even for free." What they mean is that professors have been willing to sacrifice earning power to do something they ostensibly love or are good at--and I think that does hold true even for people who need the paycheck.

At the same time, however, I think it is undeniable that tenure creates a guild situation that distorts both the actual market for academic labor and broader perceptions of it.

gwinne said...

I wonder the extent to which the issue of "class" here has more to do with parents' education levels than money. We didn't have money--I went to college on a full scholarship--but by the time I went to college both my parents had done graduate work. The expectation that we had some kind of "career" (instead of a job to pay the bills) was fairly expected. Or maybe it would have occurred to me that I could have been a poet and worked at Denny's or somewhere, at least right out of school...

But I do think that anyone going into grad school (in English, esp) needs to understand the economic realities of that choice: that while you aspire to be part of the professional-managerial class, you might end up without a job at all. It's sort of an odd class paradox at work there...

Dance said...

Just agreeing with a great post....

I also went into this expecting job security, and willing to walk away if I couldn't get it, having had the luxury of 7 funded years doing something I enjoy.

The claim "I could have earned more money on leaving college by doing something else" is rife with class privilege, or possibly educational privilege transformed into class privilege.

I will suggest that a lot of professors are probably specifically thinking of law school/legal career as the comparator, as that pulls a lot of people who are good at school and not sure what to do. I know that my senior year, I was thinking "hmm, law school would be the safe, monetary option, and I'm sure I could do well".

James said...

Having gone into industry after getting my Ph.D. and then returning to academia later at half my previous salary, I interpreted the dichotomy of love vs money as a comparison between academia and industry in the same field. I agree that class privilege has an effect on this decision, as I didn't realize what salaries were possible until I saw a couple of graduate classmates from such backgrounds leaving science for 6-figure jobs on Wall Street.

However, despite being in the same boat at Dr Crazy this year (an untenured faculty member being given a 2% raise that's going to be largely eaten up by a new city income tax and continually growing parking fees, while the states wants to double enrollment by 20xy at the same time it cuts funding; at least last year's raise was good), I think I made the right choice. Perhaps I'm happier than if I had known about and possibly chosen a higher paying alternative. I know I'm happier than I was in industry.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Heh, I decided to go to grad school in history because I thought it was more "practical" than trying to write novels and stuff like that. Little did I know! ;-)

And while I don't think anyone from any background is thinking, "To make the absolute most money I can, I'll be a college professor," I do think that what being a college professor looks like depends on what the alternatives are. It's not lucrative compared to Wall Street, consulting, and (a small proportion of) law firms. It would look a lot better to me than working in a paper mill or as a transcription typist - and here "better" isn't purely money, but money + security + not doing crappy stuff over and over again (or, different crappy stuff over and over again ;-D). So I think one thing is that we talk about this as "money" when it's not always "money" as much as "a better job," where "better" is a material thing, not just the love of the subject and so on.

And the thing about deciding to be a college professor is that depending on where you go to college, you might not be surrounded by consultants/financial people/lawyers/doctors as your peers, but you're going to have professors, so you get exposed to that field in a way you might not get exposed to others.