Thursday, March 30, 2006

Rocking the Boat

Dear Reader, I am angry.

I've blogged before about the abysmal labour market for archaeologists in Sweden, both at the graduate and the doctoral level. Judging from the unemployment rates, Sweden currently has no need for archaeology instruction at any level. The subject should be seen as strictly for transient students who harbour no hopes of making a living out of it. I've also discussed these issues in a trade union newsletter and recently on national TV.

The last couple of days I've received letters from two archaeology professors at a Scandinavian university, I'll call it Dingledongle. They're not happy. They really don't like me saying publicly what I've said. It's making things difficult for them. One said explicitly that it would hamper my career. (My career! Haha, that's a good one!)

The other one really disappointed me, because I like and respect him a lot. His take on the situation is that whereas it's true that in Scandinavia generally archaeology PhDs are a dime a dozen, in Dingledongle these people aren't unemployed.

My only response to that is that if the apparently plentiful post-doctoral archaeology jobs in Dingledongle were ever actually open for application from outside, then some of them might be taken by more qualified people from other parts of Scandinavia, and the unemployment would be more evenly distributed.

This guy also complained that his doctoral seminar is slowly becoming extinct as no new doctoral student's salaries have been forthcoming lately from the money people at the University of Dingledongle.

Well, my friend, a doctoral seminar isn't an end unto itself. It's a public utility whose function is to produce scholars to fill society's needs. And the unemployment rate for archaeology PhDs shows pretty plainly that Scandinavian society does not currently feel a need for more archaeology PhDs.

I don't understand these people. They're sitting in their little incubator, all warm and cozy. Then somebody outside in the cold suggests, through chattering teeth, that the incubator might not be of much use to society outside Dingledongle. And they get all worked up, expecting this person to shut his mouth because otherwise they might get chucked out into the cold too.

All I can say is, that's a mighty fine incubator you've got there. What's my loyalty worth to you guys?

Update 30 March: My friendly professor in Dingledongle has made an entertaining clarification. When he wrote that archaeology PhDs in his area aren't unemployed, he didn't mean that they have post-doc academic jobs. He meant that they have all returned to their pre-doc jobs in contract archaeology! Oh, goodie, they're working on highway digs for SEK 22000 a month! That's €2300, £1590, $2770 of which taxes take about 30%. Dear Reader, I rest my case.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a conspiracy theory (TM) concerning the education system in Sweden. There seem to be a large over capacity in the production of academics in Sweden, why is that? Could it be as simple as stocking up in anticipation for when all the current people aged 60-67 will retire? And is this even a conspiracy theory (TM) or a known fact?

31 March, 2006 09:42  
Blogger Martin said...

No, I don't think it's as rational as that. I think it's because

a) our politicians feel that being a worker is bad, being an academic is very good, and so everybody should be an academic,

b) university education lowers the unemployment rate among the young in the short-term perspective -- while they're students.

31 March, 2006 09:52  
Anonymous Tor said...

If it is indeed possible for Doctoral graduates of Dingledongle University to make SEK 22000 a month doing a form of archaeology, then it would seem you are exaggerating -- if only a bit -- when you say that ``the subject should be seen as strictly for transient students who harbour no hopes of making a living out of it.''

31 March, 2006 13:42  
Blogger Martin said...

Archaeologists without a PhD are also paid 22000 to perform these tasks. It's just really, really hard for them to get those jobs anymore.

It takes at least four years to do a PhD. What has apparently happened around Dingledongle is that instead of 4 years of university education, you now need >8 years to become a site manager at a highway dig subject to the field-archaeological paradox I described earlier.

31 March, 2006 13:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worked as a university lecturer for ten years in literary studies. I taught in Norway, Finland and then came to Sweden. I managed four years here before I had a nervous breakdown and burned out.
I was teaching 250 students a term, was told I owed hours (!) when I'd actually given up lots of free time to help weak students get through their C level studies but my head just said I had to let them suffer and fail. Before I came to Sweden I published four books in six years and a stack of articles.
I think I published one article in the four years I was here because I was so stressed out working as a teacher. there was no emphasis on research at my department. Many of my colleagues had no PhD and never looked like they were going to get one. They just played safe pretending to be academics but really being high school teachers or worse.

I got so disolusioned with academia after working in Sweden that whilst sjukskriven I realised the profession was changing. And it was awful in this country. So I started my own company and have nevr looked back. The criticla and creative skills I had from my academic job have served me well.

I don't regret having a PhD or having met some great students over the years but I regret the day I tried the Swedish university system. There are too many scared people afraid to make changes to a very sick system.

Martin, I wish you every success in your endeavours.

31 March, 2006 15:54  
Blogger Martin said...

A grim story with a happy ending!

I know, you have to be tough to survive inside the system too. But that's where the real research money and the academic credibility is.

What does your firm do?

31 March, 2006 15:57  

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