Point: Rebecca Shuman
By the time you finish—if you even do—your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: You will no longer have any friends outside academia.)
Counterpoint: Karen Gregory
You’re Fucked, and You’re Probably to Blame.
Yes, things suck. I make no bones about that, but these screeds overlook the work that students are doing to organize, agitate, and resist the restructuring of higher education. And this oversight raises the question...did you then get involved in your union, in an activist group, in an education alternative (like the Free University), or in a conversation with your students? When did you start realizing that a career in academics also means addressing the very conditions of our labor? What have you done besides comparing the kind of tenacity it takes to be a graduate student today to being a willful smoker who smokes “four packs a day” and hopes to not get cancer?
My contribution to this insipid debate: I think they're both right, and they're both full of horse shit. Rebecca Shuman is right that graduate school sucks and you will hate yourself for failing to get a tenure track professorship even though it's statistically almost a certainty that you will fail. Karen Gregory is likewise correct that Rebecca Shuman is wallowing in her own steaming pile of self-pity, and she should STFU and deal with the fact that it is, in fact, a meritocracy, if a flawed one, and she failed on her own merits, not because the system is rigged. But, more importantly, Karen Gregory is blaming the victim, and is completely full of shit if she thinks that activism and organizing by grad students is going to have even the slightest effect on the commoditization of higher education and the resulting decline in quality and jobs in academia. I was a union organizer in graduate school. I organized the SHIT out of grad students. Guess what? It still sucked. And in the end, we may have gotten cheaper healthcare, but we didn't change The Academy™ at all. We weren't in it for that, we were in it to make our lives suck just a teeny bit less. No amount of singing protest songs is going to change the fact that our society is evolving, that engineering and data are on the rise, and erudition and the storing and reproduction of factoids in a mushy mass of cells is no longer the sine qua non of human achievement. The Academy is gone. It's never coming back. It's being replaced by Year of Code and Open Courseware and all sorts of amazing open self-directed self-didactics. Hard sciences will always be a mainstay, and will continue to require enormous amounts of cheap graduate student labor powered by coffee and hope. But college as a Place of Learning, as opposed to a Place of Credentialing while Drinking, is not coming back. Give it up.