Re: When Did Employers Stop Training People?

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Possibly related: I am trying to figure a way to raise my current salary to the level of better credentialed but less experienced cow-orkers. In preparation, I'm dropping hints about just how long it would take to get things running smoothly without somebody who knows what I know.

I've also started delaying action on e-mails from higher ups who aren't my boss by pretending I need to wait for my over booked boss to reply before I take action, but that counts as recreation, not labor relations.


Posted by: Gerald Ford | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:17 AM
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I believe demand for many kinds of skilled workers is decreasing and there is little reason to train more such workers when there is already a surplus. And you can't trust anything employer groups say about future labor shortages as they want an oversupply of workers.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:19 AM
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I can't wait for bob to explain it!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:23 AM
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I'm going to agree with Shearer here. I belong to the most infamously oversized worker population in the world, according to every op-ed ever, in which each employee has 4-12 years of postgraduate education, with 4-12 years of on-the-job training under conditions that we are constantly reminded are produced for the sole purpose of reminding us of our "apprentice" status, despite the fact that most of the work in our field is actually done by lifetime "apprentices." We apply for single positions all over the world in groups of 400-1000 people, and get countless rejection letters saying we really should have more experience. And meanwhile, the same people telling us to buck up, work harder, and stop complaining are the ones who got their jobs after 3-4 years of a well-funded degree 30 years ago and had never taught a course before their first day as an Asst. Prof.


Posted by: AWB | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:29 AM
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I have a feeling Gerald Ford might soon experience the truth of one of my favorite grim maxims from Dilbert: "There's a lot of demand for workers like you, but not for you in specific."


Posted by: Adam Kotsko | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:45 AM
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I believe demand for many kinds of skilled workers is decreasing

Yes, but that for others is increasing. Is there any reason to believe that skilled labor is any less valuable in the aggregate? I mean, demand for everything sucks, there's a recession on, but the OP is referring to a medium to long-term trend.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:48 AM
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and get countless rejection letters saying we really should have more experience a dozen articles and a book contract.

Seriously, what have you even been doing with your time? If you don't love the field enough to accomplish these things without institutional support, you clearly are a slacker not serious a woman with young children not as dedicated as we were 30 years ago.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:51 AM
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5: Maybe. I'll switch fields then. My salary isn't high, it has been 8 years without a real raise, and my workload has steadily increased as I get better at what I do.


Posted by: Gerald Ford | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 7:52 AM
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7: Exactly. I find it very hard not to ask these people how long they had been teaching 4-4-2 at multiple campuses for 2700/course while writing those 12 articles.

The other effect of this is that the work force isn't as mobile as it used to be. There was a time when a bright person could jump careers multiple times. Now, if I were to apply for, say, a food service job, they'd say, oh, but all of your experience is in college education. We can't possibly train you to bus tables; it's a very modern process that requires years of experience.


Posted by: AWB | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:00 AM
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The other effect of this is that the work force isn't as mobile as it used to be. There was a time when a bright person could jump careers multiple times. Now, if I were to apply for, say, a food service job, they'd say, oh, but all of your experience is in college education. We can't possibly train you to bus tables; it's a very modern process that requires years of experience.

This. I'm bullshitting without knowledge here, but while I'll believe there's an oversupply of skilled workers generally, and employment is generally a hirer's market, that doesn't mean there's an oversupply of workers with each specific skill set an employer wants. The simple solution is to hire someone generally competent-appearing and train them, and that used to be conventional, but there seems to now be a whole lot of cultural resistance among employers to that solution.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:05 AM
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Companies don't train workers because they feel that the worker will take that investment in training and leave for another company. When employment with a company was a more long-term prospect than it is today, companies were more willing to take on the expense of training workers. Now they instead put the effort into poaching the trained workers from other companies.

Also, when recessions hit, the training budget is the first to be cut.

As for Gerald Ford, I have found that, in my industry - enterprise software - the only way to get a non-paltry raise is to switch employers. Oddly enough, its actually possible to do this while staying in the same job - you could quit and then get hired back as a consultant.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:06 AM
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And again, still with the bullshitting, and I don't have data for this, if I'm right about the Catch-22 trend: (1) on-the-job training is necessary to develop most genuinely useful skills, and (2) employers are now very reluctant to train anyone, then it's an unsustainable situation. New trained workers have to come from somewhere, eventually.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:08 AM
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10: but that seems like a product of the recession. Certainly, when I was working in tech in the '90s, companies were perfectly willing to hire somebody who seemed competent and motivated and get them up-to-speed on the job. But ig you don't have to do that (and can instead hire somebody who already has those skills and more), why would you take on the expense? Which is to say, it's the recession, except in certain specific industries (like, say, academia) with large structural oversupply.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:08 AM
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Sometimes I look up famous older scholars in my field to find an article or book for a student, and am shocked to find that, the more famous they are, the fewer publications they have. Distinguished Emeritus Prof. X published two short books and three response articles in a career spanning 40 years. He really thinks I ought to be working harder to get published.

This is either a sign that the older generation of profs are lying hypocritical assholes, or (and I really think it might be this) that people who have the time, space, and dignity to do careful, slowly researched work often produce publications that are memorably unshitty. Maybe they're famous because they had the support to write something good.


Posted by: AWB | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:08 AM
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3:Why there is a shortage of new people to install industrial power systems?

You can't handle the truth. You wouldn't really believe me, but planting the idea in your head would be so cruel...

We won't need any in twenty years. You made me tell you.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:09 AM
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This is actually one thing that I really respect about my current employer. They have a long and laudable record of hiring smart, trainable people (more or less as utility infielders) and then figuring out what they're going to do with them later. Also, they put a lot of emphasis on cross-functional training within the company and there's a fair bit of lateral movement as people discover what they like and prefer*. It's worked very well for us so far. I don't have hard numbers to look at, but we're in a very high-turnover industry and have had a pretty stable roster for the nine years I've been there.

*Two of the company's mission-statement core values are adaptability and agility, which half-jokingly became the single core value of adaptagility.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:10 AM
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the only way to get a non-paltry raise is to switch employers...then get hired back as a consultant.

This is part of my problem. There aren't many plausible local employers, they can guess I can't switch towns because of the family situation, and I can't work as a consultant until (unless?) HCR gets me some of that sweet, sweet non-employer health insurance.


Posted by: Gerald Ford | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:10 AM
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if I'm right about the Catch-22 trend: (1) on-the-job training is necessary to develop most genuinely useful skills, and (2) employers are now very reluctant to train anyone, then it's an unsustainable situation. New trained workers have to come from somewhere, eventually.

Why, we need to ramp up immigration of people trained in other countries, of course. That's good for our economy in some mysterious way. Presumably in the zero-sum world where it's worse for the economy of other places.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:10 AM
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12: New trained workers have to come from somewhere, eventually.

If my field is any indication, what happens is that new trained workers get more and more training and experience while enduring unlivable conditions, with the promise of a "real" job at the end of the tunnel, while the employers figure out that people with extraordinary levels of education, experience, and preparation are willing to live on piles of excrement to do a job they used to have to pay people for. The emphasis on hypercredentialization just means that soon even the hypercredentialized remain lifelong "apprentices."


Posted by: AWB | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:12 AM
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I can't work as a consultant until (unless?) HCR gets me some of that sweet, sweet non-employer health insurance

Score one for the tax subsidy on employer-provided health insurance giving employers undue leverage over middle-class workers.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:12 AM
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If my field is any indication

I suppose this doesn't really need to be said, but that is sort of vanishingly unlikely to be the case outside of the academic world.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:14 AM
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3,15: YES!! It was even better than I thought!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:16 AM
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Distinguished Emeritus Prof. X published two short books and three response articles in a career spanning 40 years. He really thinks I ought to be working harder to get published.

John Rawls published three papers his first ten years out of graduate school.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:18 AM
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and I can't work as a consultant until (unless?) HCR gets me some of that sweet, sweet non-employer health insurance.

Working for a 3rd party that contracts to your company - the Deloittes and Ajilons of the world - is one option here, but they will take a cut of 30% or more off the top. It could still work out in your favor, depending on the math.

Its impressive how having a dysfunctional health care system fucks up so many other areas of the economy.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:19 AM
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19, 21: It's nowhere near like as bad -- the only resemblance is structural, rather than in the conditions people are working under. But you could tell a similar story about the BigLaw partner track. It was always a tournament, but it used to be a shorter path, with higher odds: during my career, the partner-track for someone who remained continuously with the same firm changed from a pretty solid seven years, and if you didn't make partner you went and worked somewhere else, to 12 years, 14 years, maybe never.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:20 AM
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In my experience part of it is that they don't care about the difference between a minimally trained and a highly trained employee. The incentives have shifted and in many cases there's no reason to, from a narrow quarterly-profits kind of perspective.

I've done a number of jobs where *I* could tell you the difference between a skilled and an unskilled worker would do in that job, but the person who hired me couldn't.

One place I really regret this is in retail. The difference between a salesperson who actually cares and will phone another store to see if they have the right size or something, and one who will shrug and say, "Sorry, that's sold out" -- that's real to me. But I recognize that these stores make their money on volume, even the higher-end ones, and having clerks making phone calls to satisfy a customer who probably won't even drive 15 minutes to pick it up if they do hold it for her, is a bad use of time. Better that they be folding display clothes or chirpily greeting the next customer, or policing the dressing rooms for theft.

That implicit contract (you go to the bother of doing X for me, I'll live up to my end of the bargain and buy it) is another change, I think. At least in my family, keeping appointments was a pretty sacrosanct thing growing up. I can't remember that we ever canceled a doctor or dentist appointment. But these days, the number of reminder phone calls and the draconian threats and fines (!) that medical providers impose indicates that a lot of people don't abide by that implicit contract.

I'm sure an economist would say this is all very rational. I'm just glad I don't have to live with anybody to drags out those explanations on a regular basis, because I would probably want to commit some very rational violence.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:22 AM
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6

Yes, but that for others is increasing. Is there any reason to believe that skilled labor is any less valuable in the aggregate? I mean, demand for everything sucks, there's a recession on, but the OP is referring to a medium to long-term trend.

Aggregate demand doesn't matter much if you are in a field where demand for workers is declining. An occupation with few young workers sounds like an area where demand for labor is declining.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:23 AM
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s/b the difference between what a skilled vs. unskilled worker would do in that job.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:24 AM
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You think 15 is a joke?

Here's Numerian of the Agonist looking at economics for 2011.

Chinese are producing 18 million net new cars a year. By comparison the US produces 12, and scraps 6.

China is projected to need 20 million barrels of oil per day in ten years.

That is not going to happen, but whatever does happen, will likely occur during the Obama regime. It will start with $150-300+ per barrel oil.

CRE is still toast. No factories being built. We won't need any new electricians. We will just be herded into the empty malls.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:26 AM
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Let's face it: 2011 is going to be worse than ever.


Posted by: Guido Nius | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:26 AM
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25: well, sure, traditionally highly credentialed industries with basically stable workforce needs have changed as more population has more access to the credentialing process. But again, that's a very small part of the economy.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:26 AM
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31: You could be right. I have the gossipy impression that IT generally is turning into much more of a highly credentialed industry than it was, and not merely as a response to the recession, but I could be wrong about that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:31 AM
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, why would you take on the expense?

This. Isn't it just a cost-cutting (short-sighted) externality?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:31 AM
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Score one for the tax subsidy on employer-provided health insurance giving employers undue leverage over middle-class workers.

Is it really the tax subsidy or just the fact that it is expensive (because of adverse selection) to buy individual health insurance?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:32 AM
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34: Well, the tax subsidy makes it much, much more expensive to buy for yourself rather than through your employer. Buying individually rather than in a group doesn't help, but the subsidy's a significant factor as well.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:34 AM
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I suppose this doesn't really need to be said, but that is sort of vanishingly unlikely to be the case outside of the academic world.

I think there's a comparison to be made with creative industries that work with a large stable of 'permalancers'. I know several people who worked for Sundance for pretty decent stretches on that basis, always with the "real job" (with benefits and stability) dangled just out of their reach.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:36 AM
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32: that's certainly plausible; as an industry matures and stops growing so rapidly, that's what happens, right? On the other hand, IT has probably way undershot the average as far as possible white-collar salary per level of educational attainment for decades now.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:37 AM
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The emphasis on hypercredentialization just means that soon even the hypercredentialized remain lifelong "apprentices."

Also, being exploited in academics isn't actually an example of this phenomenon, right? There isn't any training to teach college courses, and that's actually what you're being exploited to do.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:39 AM
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I'm a little confused about 38. You mean the credentialing process (getting a PhD) doesn't teach pedagogy?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:43 AM
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35

Well, the tax subsidy makes it much, much more expensive to buy for yourself rather than through your employer. Buying individually rather than in a group doesn't help, but the subsidy's a significant factor as well.

I am not a tax professional but I thought self-employed people could deduct their health insurance premium from their gross income and this seems to agree.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:44 AM
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There isn't any training to teach college courses

HA HA HA HA HA.

Sorry, for writing courses, because I am an adjunct, and only have 10 years experience teaching writing courses, I have to do about 25 hours of required "training" to keep my job every semester. This "training" is done by someone who has less teaching experience than I have and has never taken a course on pedagogy (I had to take three semesters of pedagogy). I also have to submit my syllabi to people who then tell me to change assignments and due dates in the middle of the semester.


Posted by: AWB | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:45 AM
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39

I'm a little confused about 38. You mean the credentialing process (getting a PhD) doesn't teach pedagogy?

Perhaps you being sarcastic but in fact getting a PhD in math involves (at least in my case) no instruction whatsoever in teaching.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:48 AM
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I'm with spike in 11: since the 80s, companies have been telling people they could be laid off at any time and that lifetime employment was a thing of the past. But companies also realize that they can't get loyalty from us if we don't get loyalty from them, so they don't want to invest in training.

The root cause is the general decline in long term thinking. No, an industry cannot survive if every just poaches each others skilled workers rather than training new ones. But that doesn't matter to any given manager, because they will be gone by the time the shit hits the fan.

All the stuff that Bear is complaining about in acedeme is a product of the same trend. College instructors are the ideal flexible labor force and the people who got into the castle before the gate shut are only concerned with keeping themselves on the safe side of the gate

Pretend the last metaphor made sense.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:49 AM
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40: I'm not a tax professional either, and I was actually mistaken about how deductible health insurance is for someone self-employed, but even that page doesn't say it's deductible from the gross income, but from self-employment income after self-employment tax (social security and Medicare). That's still a tax subsidy for employer-provided health care.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:50 AM
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Credentialing is at best orthogonal to the skills-acquisition you'll actually need to be successful at a job; I thought that was a well-established cliche?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:52 AM
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42: I'm not claiming that a PhD program necessarily teaches you pedagogy; that's not my point. I'm confused by 38 because whether or not the credentializing process deals directly with the profession you're supposedly training for is moot, because you have to have the credential either way.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:52 AM
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44: The bigger thing is that so many of the basically healthy people are in the employer-based health insurance market that is it basically impossible for any other group to get insurance without a weaker (i.e. more expensive to cover) pool. Unless you can get all the twenty-something people to all of a sudden by insurance. That might require mandating it or something.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:55 AM
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I should expand 44 to say quite how mistaken I was. I don't know how I got the impression, but I thought non-employer provided health insurance wasn't deductible at all (and I could swear I've read a whole lot of stuff about the health insurance market that only made sense on that basis).


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:58 AM
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I'm confused by 38 because whether or not the credentializing process deals directly with the profession you're supposedly training for is moot, because you have to have the credential either way.

I'm just saying that being an adjunct is not an apprenticeship for a hypothetical tenure-track job. It's the actual job.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:59 AM
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And, I'll add that back when you could afford private coverage, it was when health insurance was more toward the catastrophic care end of the spectrum. Somewhere along the line, the issue of providing health care and providing health insurance got mushed into one big thing instead of being two related but separate issues.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:59 AM
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48: But is the deduction worth as much as the employer one? The employer can pass the deduction on to you (in the form of a lower salary) regardless of other tax issues and your part of the payment comes from pre-tax dollars. A deduction, on the other hand, may not be worth it depending on your standard deduction and other expenditures.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:03 AM
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51: I was wondering about that. I'm figuring that anyone self-employed probably itemizes, and paying for health insurance should be a big enough bite that the deduction would be enough to make itemizing profitable. But there could be issues I don't understand that make it less valuable than it appears.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:05 AM
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There are tax benefit things like Flexible Spending Accounts for medical expenses which are a lot easier/less costly to be managed by a corporation than an individual (they may even be prohibited for self-employment, I am unclear on this). Just one more reason why FSAs suck.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:08 AM
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I think the SS tax adds another layer I don't understand.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:08 AM
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53: Looks as if you don't need to itemize; as Shearer indicated by using the word 'gross', it's not a deduction, but an adjustment to gross income. It's contingent on the business through which you are self-employed making a profit, but I think that just means that you have income from it rather than losing money.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:09 AM
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44 48 51

I should have qualified "gross income" as you can only deduct up to the amount of your self-employment income (so for example I can't retire and deduct my premiums from my pension and investment income). However the deduction is "above the line" which I presume means you can still take the standard deduction also.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:10 AM
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Perhaps you being sarcastic but in fact getting a PhD in math involves (at least in my case) no instruction whatsoever in teaching.

Also getting a PhD in a lot of biological sciences. No undergraduates at your institution means no teaching opportunities. Maybe you can be a TA for one of the two intro classes that you took your first semester.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:11 AM
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I'm just saying that being an adjunct is not an apprenticeship for a hypothetical tenure-track job. It's the actual job.

But a job that not a lot of people are doing by choice, right? We're mostly not talking about people who are just picking up a class here and there to supplement other income or because they like it. It's people who have been trained and credentialed for a particular job (tenure-track professor), and are doing something lesser while they try to get that job.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:11 AM
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56: Yes, as far as I can tell that's right.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:12 AM
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58: I'm not sure that this is Heebie's point, but adjuncting isn't building your credentials for getting a tenure track job. The credentials you need are published research, and an adjuncting position (while it may be paying the bills while you do research), isn't paying you to produce research, just to teach. It's weird, though, because I get the impression that supporting yourself while you do research by adjuncting maintains your eligibility for applying for t-t jobs in a manner that supporting yourself some other way while you did the same research wouldn't: if you were producing scholarship while waitressing, people would look askance at your applications.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:15 AM
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(While 60 is stated dogmatically, of course the only thing I know about the academic job market is from reading all you people talking about it. I may be fundamentally confused.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:18 AM
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With large corporations, things can look very different if you can get in touch with someone who would actually be your boss if you got hired, as opposed to whoever in HR posted the position and may not have any idea what the job actually entails. My VP routinely hires people who seem smart and either interesting or willing to work hard, with no directly relevant experience, and figures they'll pick up the technical skills on the job, but these people would have approximately zero chance of their resume making it past HR if they went through the normal channels.

Of course, the other officers think he's a weirdo. On the other hand, they think he's a weirdo who somehow magically finds smart people...


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:21 AM
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We had this problem at my firm. At first we hired unskilled people as paralegals thinking that they were smart and enthusiastic so they could pick it up with some training. But it turns out that you have to be really really good at getting all the details correct. The vast majority of people aren't detail oriented.

The advantage of hiring someone experienced is that they already survived the weeding out process.


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:21 AM
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... if you were producing scholarship while waitressing, people would look askance at your applications.

I don't think this is exactly right. If you are writing impressive mathematical papers while working for say Goldman Sachs I doubt it would hurt your chances of getting an academic job.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:22 AM
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But it turns out that you have to be really really good at getting all the details correct.

An old firm of mine (the one where Idealist still works) hired the 'bright untrained kids right out of college and thinking about law school' type of paralegals, and generally they worked out quite well. But I still feel bad about blackballing an applicant because, even though she seemed bright and enthusiastic, her resume had a bunch of formatting glitches -- inconsistent use of hyphens and dashes, that kind of thing. Nothing terrible: I would have hired a lawyer with a resume that sloppy. But for a paralegal, it just looked like she didn't have the right sort of feel for how things look.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:25 AM
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A cynic might argue that the devaluation of skill and expertise have gone hand-in-hand with trends that are typically lauded, like the Internet replacing distance and delay with instantaneous, if imperfect, response, and growing skepticism toward the pretensions to moral superiority of America's scolding, sticky-fingered busybodies elected officials.

OT: I appear to have gained 4-5 lbs over the holidays. This is what comes of eating "meals" "with" "other" "people," rather than subsisting on protein bars, vitamins and mealy lavender smoothies.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:27 AM
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mealy lavender smoothies

This sounds horrible enough to put me off food entirely. I have to get back to running: after all my burbling about my silly shoes, I hurt my foot in them two weeks ago, and it's still a little sore. Anyone have a diagnosis for pain in the ball of the foot behind the fourth toe (i.e., one in from the pinky)?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:29 AM
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While this rings somewhat true, it's a lot less so where I work now. We're large and have a great deal of custom systems and infrastructure, which absolutely nobody on the outside is going to have detailed expertise in. We also move people around internally a lot, so your Project A experience isn't going to be useful for very long. So we do try to hire for general smartness/talent, including hiring people right out of school with no industry experience, and expect a significant training period - if you accomplish something useful in your first four months on the job, that's really quite good. I think it works well, but our cash cow churns out enough cash that we can take on all kinds of idealistic or long-term-only practices that probably wouldn't pass bean-counter muster elsewhere.



Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:33 AM
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I agree that Spike has it right. The question though, is the chicken or the egg. Did companies originally decide to skimp on their training budgets by poaching qualified people from competitors, and thus breaking the tradition of having a career with a company, or did decide that short term employment was better suited to the sort of business models we remember fondly from the 80s, and thus destroy the training model in passing?

Incidentally, the present British government is crazy keen on apprenticeships, and apparently won't rest until every NEET in the country is shoehorned into one.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:33 AM
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67: To be fair, the smoothies are lavender-colored because I put in loads of black- and/or blueberries, and mealy because I usually add a half-handful or so of oats, all of which are enhancements.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:35 AM
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mealy lavender smoothies sounds worse than bad food. It sounds like slang for a gigolo from a 1950s anti-gay propaganda tract.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:36 AM
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65: I wouldn't feel bad about rejecting resumes with small errors. That resume is the thing you give to potential employers. If you can't get that right, you'll never make it as a paralegal.

Similarly, we've given a little bit of slack to people whose resumes have errors when they're non-native speakers. But only if, after pointing out the error, they seem to actually care that an error was present. We've passed on several people because they didn't even care that their resume had a misspelled word!


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:37 AM
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That sounds much less horrible. I was thinking of a smoothie strongly flavored with lavender, which would be gross.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:37 AM
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43

All the stuff that Bear is complaining about in acedeme is a product of the same trend. ...

The problem with the academic job market is not a failure to train new workers. With say 1000 new PhDs every year and 10 people getting tenure it is not surprising that conditions are poor.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:38 AM
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72: Oh, I don't think I was wrong. But I really would have hired her for almost anything else -- the errors weren't big. I have a bad eye for that kind of thing too, so the fact that I spotted them means something, but they weren't bad enough to make me think she was generally careless, just that she wasn't persnickety.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:39 AM
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It will start with $150-300+ per barrel oil.

Rule one of successful long-term forecasts: don't try to be too precise. All forecasts have significant error-bars. Giving an overly specific number is simply a hostage to fortune.

Also, plenty of industrial electrics here. Even a jobs board, forsooth.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:40 AM
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A friend's spouse is interviewing for academic jobs, again, this year, and it sounds, once again, like a miserable process. Is there no administrator in any academic setting to whom it has occurred that it might be possible to get better performance out of faculty and students alike if the majority of the faculty were not miserable and anxious?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:40 AM
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smoothie strongly flavored with lavender, which would be gross

That does sound gross. The best smoothies are flavored with rosemary and basil.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:41 AM
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I sort of have a problem with smoothies generally: I like chewing. But to each their own.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:43 AM
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75: I've lost my patience for errors after probably ten instances this year where we would have had to pay a fee or miss a filing date if not for me catching the error. I used to be really sympathetic to these problems, but now I get mad rather quickly when it's the same mistake again and again. Especially when the paralegal's mistake is considered my mistake because I'm the one who signs the documents.

So in conclusion, only experienced people need apply.


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:48 AM
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I get the impression that supporting yourself while you do research by adjuncting maintains your eligibility for applying for t-t jobs in a manner that supporting yourself some other way while you did the same research wouldn't.

This is absolutely right for the humanities. (I can't speak to Shearer's conjecture about math.) There are also structural barriers to being outside of academia: for example, to get to the main job list site for foreign languages, the department of affiliation you list in your MLA membership has to be a paying ADFL member. If they're not, you can't get to the list, even if your own MLA membership is up to date.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:51 AM
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I've lost my patience for errors after probably ten instances this year where we would have had to pay a fee or miss a filing date if not for me catching the error.

Sounds like you use paralegals differently than we did; we could hire inexperienced kids because they weren't generally in position to make that class of mistake. For someone who is, you'd need experienced workers.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:52 AM
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I sort of have a problem with smoothies generally: I like chewing

You may not understand why, but you're right. The soft foods. That's how they'll get them into the empty malls. Comity!


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 9:53 AM
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Further: so in that this
adjuncting isn't building your credentials for getting a tenure track job
is true, that's basically the crux of the problem. You can't leave academia (if you want to get a t-t job), but staying there isn't making you a particularly better candidate.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:10 AM
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76: Tell that to OPEC

Wiki, "Peak Oil"

OPEC had vowed in 2000 to maintain a production level sufficient to keep oil prices between $22-28 per barrel, but did not prove possible. In its 2007 annual report, OPEC projected that it could maintain a production level that would stabilize the price of oil at around $50-60 per barrel until 2030.[96] On November 18, 2007, with oil above $98 a barrel, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, a long-time advocate of stabilized oil prices, announced that his country would not increase production to lower prices

Smoothing out the 2008 spike and crash, the increase has been pretty steady at $7 to 10% a year since 1999. That puts us at 6 x 7 or $130 by 2016, under current economic conditions. If the developed economies improve, BRIC and the developing economies will grow even faster. I think $150 a barrel is pretty conservative, and I think a minimum.

The geopolitical and psychological reactions are too difficult to predict, both for producing and consuming states. That OPEC no longer will increase production is significant, not only that they might not be able to, but that they no longer worry about their customers lowering demand due to increased efficiencies or recession. Demand has become inelastic and has outstripped possible supply.

At some point soon, the producers might start holding back, or the consumers start to stockpile, as the worry about PO becomes a certainty. This could create a feedback spiral, and prices could spike and still climb.

I can't predict the next campaign in the resource war.

Obviously, if you read the quoted paragraph at the top, this is all happening much faster than anyone predicted. It is catastrophic, in the sense of unexpected structural change, and it is happening now.

Too fast. Too late for cap-and-trade or conversion to nuclear or green economy or any mitigation. Too late. We needed the Revolution ten years ago.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:12 AM
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I thought you'd moved on to something else?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:18 AM
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That OPEC no longer will increase production is significant, not only that they might not be able to, but that they no longer worry about their customers lowering demand due to increased efficiencies or recession

This doesn't make any sense. Why would you increase production because you were worried about your customers lowering demand, unless you wanted to lose money?

this is all happening much faster than anyone predicted.

I can remember as far back as 2005, thanks.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:22 AM
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We've always already needed the revolution ten years ago.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:22 AM
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86: in some worldviews the sky is always already falling. It just has to, this time!!!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:24 AM
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Dang you Stormcrow. I just knew that italicized exclamation point was going to make me late.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:26 AM
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Why would you increase production because you were worried about your customers lowering demand

OPEC and producers got badly burned in the early 80s, as Carter etc helped push for improved efficiency, and the price crashed. Since then OPEC policy has been to seek the sweet spot where consumers don't adopt crash programs for efficiency.

30 years on, with China online and all the easy gains already here, it no longer matters, for any number of reasons.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:27 AM
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74: You are right. I should not have implied that universities are not training enough new professors. I really just meant to say that the problems in the academic job market stem from the same short-term "I'll be gone before the problem hits" mentality.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:31 AM
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Shearer's right about math. If you're applying to places that don't care about teaching, then they don't care if you supported yourself by waittressing, as long as they like your research.

At least, this is historically true. Lately most research universities are getting dinged a little for having terrible teachers, so to compensate they'd want to see that you've taught one or two semesters.

It's a small enough world that you've met the people in your tiny field at conferences, and they have a basically good feel for who you are by the time you apply for tenure track jobs. And if your advisor did their job right, they know at least who you are when you're graduating with your PhD and looking for post-docs.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:32 AM
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Before 2000, the rule of thumb was that every $10 per barrel increase in oil price meant a 1% drop in GDP. We have not exactly slashed consumption in the last decade.
$28 => $89 in the last ten years.

Greenspan and Bernanke have been trying to cover up the Great Depression II with insane liquidity, but nobody is fooled.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:36 AM
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11, 69: Did companies originally decide to skimp on their training budgets by poaching qualified people from competitors, and thus breaking the tradition of having a career with a company, or did decide that short term employment was better suited to the sort of business models we remember fondly from the 80s, and thus destroy the training model in passing?

I suspect that at the strategic level no one explicitly decided shit, but rather sneaked up on it from both ends by a series of next year's budget crisis cost-cutting measures.

When my father started his engineering job in the late '40s with a now much-reduced American industrial company all of the new engineers went through a one or two-year stint on "the squad"* which rotated through all different aspects of the company's operations. Definitely part of an implicit lifetime contract. I should remember to ask him when and how it got dismantled.

*I suspect GE had something similar which was the inspiration for Vonnegut's Player Piano.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:43 AM
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Definitely part of an implicit lifetime contract.

And he in fact did end up working there for nearly 40 years, although for the last few "there" became a spun-off small part of the business bought by a mid-sized company later snapped up by one of the giant military-industrial conglomerates (which is one part of why it has changed).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:49 AM
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Since then OPEC policy has been to seek the sweet spot where consumers don't adopt crash programs for efficiency.

Now that is actually a sensible argument...although I think it contains a good dose of the fundamental-attribution error.

all the easy gains already here

I'll believe that when I see a lot more TDis getting exported westwards. Did you know that the UK's oil consumption has actually peaked, before I was born?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:50 AM
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Who wants to sing "Auld Lang Syne" with me? I love you guys.


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:11 AM
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Did you know that the UK's oil consumption has actually peaked, before I was born?

What are you, 25?

That puts that peak, the transition at what 1976-1985? Or earlier? The period when GB went to the IMF was it twice? Been great since Maggie, huh? GB zooming right along now, ain't it?

We don't have the slack anymore to repeat 1975-1985, the extra income and credit where it counts, in the bottom 80% of earners. They can't buy a new refrigerator, an electric car, convert their AC, or pay taxes for light rail, or move to a smaller house. They can't afford it.

Not planning on selling, but this morning I wondered if anyone would ever be able to buy my house. Permanently decreasing GDP makes the 30 yr mortgage ridiculous.

We found out in summer of 2008 what would is going to happen when PO is acknowledged. Next 5 years. I think.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:17 AM
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95, 96 -- one of my good friends works for a giant international shipping company. He joined about 1998 as a junior trainee and went through an incredibly elaborate, 5 year training program, followed by (it seems) various other more or less formal-seeming training or ladder advancement things. So maybe that only works in giant corporations in extremely old industries?

My new firm doesn't hire lawyers out of law school, relying on some other firm to do at least two years of tranining. That's nice for me.

Also, I've been practicing law for years now and still don't really understand what it is that the paralegals are supposed to be doing or how to use them effectively.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:19 AM
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The only place I've ever had much satisfaction out of them was at Idealist's firm -- we had them doing pretty much anything where you had to be fairly clever but didn't have to be a lawyer. Stupid stuff like physically assembling documents for filing; smarter stuff like going through discovery documents and making compilations of data therein (for categories of documents that were already pretty well understood).

Mostly, whenever you hit that "Three years of law school and I'm doing this?" moment, you could think about whether you really needed to be doing it (either because it should be done by someone with a license, or because you needed to do whatever it is to develop understanding of the facts or something) and if the answer was no, you threw it at a paralegal. It worked pretty well.

Bigger firms, they did organizational stuff, but it was such a hassle using them that I didn't much -- it was mostly easier to do clerical stuff myself than to get someone assigned to do it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:25 AM
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LizSpigot sounds like her firm uses them for things that I'd usually think of as lawyering tasks, low level, but stuff I wouldn't hand off. I know that a lot of firms do that, and I'm sure it works well, but no place I've worked has used them that way.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:27 AM
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one of my good friends works for a giant international shipping company. He joined about 1998 as a junior trainee and went through an incredibly elaborate, 5 year training program, followed by (it seems) various other more or less formal-seeming training or ladder advancement things. So maybe that only works in giant corporations in extremely old industries?

I considered applying for some stuff like this when I was fresh out of college. I ended up not doing it because I decided I'd prefer to look for jobs in publishing. Boy was that ever a bad call.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:32 AM
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97: Surely that just means the UK's oil consumption just got offshored along with its manufacturing industry?


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 11:46 AM
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And dwarves. Those poor guys aren't around burning oil anymore.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:06 PM
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Shearer's right about math. If you're applying to places that don't care about teaching, then they don't care if you supported yourself by waittressing, as long as they like your research.

Huh. I guess research in math is often more solitary than in theoretical physics -- I can't imagine anyone who left the field easily re-integrating, even if they were doing brilliant work. Hell, I know someone doing brilliant work as a postdoc at a first-rate institution who's idiosyncratic enough that he's having trouble finding a job, because he doesn't fit into anyone's preconceived categories for what their new hires would be doing.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:12 PM
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In other words, I doubt a waitperson would be integrated enough into the social network to do the kind of research that gets recognized as hire-worthy, no matter how brilliant their independent research might be.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:14 PM
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I guess research in math is often more solitary

I have no idea, but now I'm going to picture them sitting alone in an office furtively typing into a giant TI machine while David Attenborough films from a hidden blind in the office and narrates. "The mathematician is a solitary animal...."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:19 PM
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Also, letters of recommendation are a huge component of getting a job, which would make it difficult to break in from the outside. I imagine it's the same in the humanities, and that adjuncting provides a way to get them? I've had a couple of frustrating conversations with faculty members, along the lines of:

Me: Wow, I'm suppressed [x] didn't get a better job this year.
Faculty person: Well, you didn't see their recommendations from [y].
Me: Um, I've read all of their papers? Really good stuff. Much better than what the people who got better jobs are doing.
Faculty person: Well, [y] doesn't think they're so strong.
Me: Doesn't anyone read their papers?
Faculty person: You don't understand. What [y] says matters.
Me: Hiring committees don't read papers?
Faculty person: ....


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:28 PM
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106

Huh. I guess research in math is often more solitary than in theoretical physics -- I can't imagine anyone who left the field easily re-integrating, even if they were doing brilliant work. ...

Well there is the famous example of the guy who was supporting himself working for the Swiss patent office.

Actually you have a point in that if you are not part of the academic community it can be harder to stay motivated, connected and up to date. However this is more the case for a waitress than for someone in a non-academic technical job.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:29 PM
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the guy who was supporting himself working for the Swiss patent office.

Dabney Coleman?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:32 PM
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107

In other words, I doubt a waitperson would be integrated enough into the social network to do the kind of research that gets recognized as hire-worthy, no matter how brilliant their independent research might be.

Depends on how brilliant the research is. Ramanujan got recognized.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:33 PM
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I'm a little uncomfortable with how your examples are both about a century old.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:35 PM
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Well there is the famous example of the guy who was supporting himself working for the Swiss patent office.

That was more than 100 years ago. Come on Shearer, at least try.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:36 PM
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Physicist pwned!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:36 PM
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I imagine it's the same in the humanities, and that adjuncting provides a way to get [letters of recommendation]?

Getting good letters of recommendation from the higher ups when you are in a temporary gig is difficult. As an adjunct you are supposed to be invisible (as Mary Catherine might remind you). No one you ask for a letter is going to have thought about you much. Not only that, but they have no motivation to help you get a job. Unlike your dissertation adviser, their reputation isn't in any way linked to yours. They are doing it out of pure altruism.

Hiring committees don't read papers?

At least in philosophy, they are typically not in much of a position to judge the paper, because they aren't in your subdiscipline. No one in the department is in your subdiscipline. That's why they are trying to hire someone like you.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:40 PM
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You know what position never faces oversupply? Best friends! Forever! I'm hiring!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:41 PM
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109: Man, if I were in any way at all personally concerned, that conversation would leave me wanting blood -- the person I was talking to if I got the impression they didn't understand how bad what they were saying was, or at least [y]'s.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:41 PM
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113

I'm a little uncomfortable with how your examples are both about a century old.

It may be harder for an outsider to do brilliant cutting edge research than it used to be but that is a different issue than whether it would recognized if they somehow managed it. You prove the Reimann hypothesis people will notice.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:43 PM
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Seriously, I'm in the market for friends! The pay isn't great, but the benefits can't be beat!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:43 PM
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You prove the Reimann hypothesis people will notice.

But will they give you a professorship? I'm guessing not necessarily.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:47 PM
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At least in philosophy, they are typically not in much of a position to judge the paper, because they aren't in your subdiscipline. No one in the department is in your subdiscipline. That's why they are trying to hire someone like you.

Interesting. In large physics departments, hiring begins at the "group" level -- experimental particle physicists search for another experimental particle physicist, astrophysicists look for new astrophysics colleagues, etc. -- and only after the group has selected someone (or at least narrowed things down to a couple of candidates) do people in the department as a whole get a say (which in some cases is mostly just a rubber stamp, although some apply a lot more scrutiny). I haven't had enough interaction with small departments to know how things work, but I guess I can see why it would have to rely mostly on recommendations. In the cases I'm aware of, though, there's no excuse for people at the group level not to be pretty familiar with the content of the papers of the people they're thinking about hiring.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:50 PM
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118

Man, if I were in any way at all personally concerned, that conversation would leave me wanting blood -- the person I was talking to if I got the impression they didn't understand how bad what they were saying was, or at least [y]'s.

What's so bad? Presumeably y is a recognized authority in the field. Why shouldn't his opinion carry more weight than that of some random postdoc (or whatever essear is)? As for hiring committees reading papers life is too short.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:51 PM
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You prove the Reimann hypothesis people will notice.

I think it would be an uphill battle, given the number of purported proofs that appear, although I guess if your writing looks professional and doesn't set off obvious crackpot indicators someone competent might read it carefully.

(There was the recent example of a claimed P vs. NP proof, which got a surprising amount of expert attention despite apparently not looking plausible from the outset to people who know what to look for.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:52 PM
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Also: <nitpick>it's Riemann, not Reimann.</nitpick>


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:52 PM
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As for hiring committees reading papers life is too short.

When choosing a colleague who will potentially be working around you for decades, and who will help determine what sort of postdocs and students you're able to recruit and what kind of visitors you'll attract, even if you don't plan to collaborate directly with them? I think it would be worth investing some time.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:54 PM
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121

But will they give you a professorship? I'm guessing not necessarily.

You prove the Riemann hypothesis I expect you would have a choice of good academic jobs. Unless you are serving life without parole or something.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:54 PM
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123: What's so bad?

There's a difference between, "[y] thinks the papers are weak, and as the authority in the field I think he's probably right -- I can't judge myself, and I expect committees to be relying on his judgment rather than judging themselves," and "Whether or not his work is good isn't as important as what [y] says about his work." Essear's description of the conversation sounded much more like the latter than the former to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:57 PM
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124.last: I thought the deal was that it was apparently implausible from the start but still an interesting, novel and potentially promising approach?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 12:59 PM
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I think it would be an uphill battle, given the number of purported proofs that appear, although I guess if your writing looks professional and doesn't set off obvious crackpot indicators someone competent might read it carefully.

If somebody invents a method that works for cold fusion and penis enlargement, they should write two separate papers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:00 PM
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129: Yeah, probably. I know nothing about that field, I just skimmed a few of the blog posts on the subject.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:01 PM
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Me: Wow, I'm suppressed [x] didn't get a better job this year.

Uh huh.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:01 PM
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128: Yeah, that was the impression I had. That people could have judged for themselves, but were too lazy to, and just went by what [y] said.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:02 PM
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Speaking of letters of rec, I was talking with a faculty member from another university who said there are some people whose letters he and his colleagues just don't bother to read. (In one case—this may have been the general model—he said he got a positive letter from $PROF, then called $PROF up to talk about the candidate/letter, and was told, "can't you read between the lines? The guy is no good." Given that the candidate never sees the letters anyway, one wonders why a letter writer wouldn't just say what s/he thinks; it would make h/h praise much more plausible in other cases. That's before one starts to wonder why the candidate is on the market at all, if that's what the letter-writers think.)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:05 PM
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Given that the candidate never sees the letters anyway

I don't think letter writers would bet on that.


Posted by: BA | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:09 PM
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Well I never.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:12 PM
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At least in philosophy, they are typically not in much of a position to judge the paper, because they aren't in your subdiscipline. No one in the department is in your subdiscipline. That's why they are trying to hire someone like you.

This seems problematic in a number of ways, although I can't come up with a plausible alternative system for a small department.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:13 PM
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I can't come up with a plausible alternative system for a small department.

Ad hoc buddying up with comparable colleges that are strong in the subdiscipline being hired for? "We want an [X], and your [X] department is good. Find us five strong candidates, and we'll choose between them on non-academic grounds." I can't come up with a plausible way for one college to pay the other college for doing its hiring work for them (hiring's probably too infrequent to be certain of being able to reciprocate) but maybe there'd be a way to work it out?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:17 PM
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124 129 131

The guy has a PhD and a good (albeit non-academic) job, he isn't totally without credentials. The odds were still against the proof being correct but it wasn't totally impossible.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:18 PM
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Ad hoc buddying up with comparable colleges that are strong in the subdiscipline being hired for?

Maybe, but the logistics of this seem difficult. Another option might just be for different departments to specialize in different subdisciplines and not bother trying to hire people in other ones. That would be a problem for effective teaching of the discipline of a whole, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:20 PM
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the logistics of this seem difficult

To put it mildly. It's probably a completely loopy idea.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:21 PM
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Computer Science is a bit different, in that you see a lot of publishing from people in corporate R&D, and in that there tends to be a lot more fluidity in people's movement between academia and the corporate world. (lots of CS PhDs are basically in it in order to start a company, for instance)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:21 PM
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102: I swear I'm talking about low level tasks, but sometimes it seems like you have to be a lawyer in order to care enough about it to do it right. On the one hand it's a waste of my hourly rate to be preparing things like cover sheets and transmittal documents to file with a patent application. On the other hand, if it's done so poorly that you're open to a malpractice claim, maybe a lawyer should be doing it.

Being a patent law firm, we also have patent specialists. They're not attorneys but they do a lot of attorney work. I give them the smarter stuff that I can't bill for. Things like, find me a trademark case for the following proposition. And they're fantastic at those tasks because young engineers are so good at finding things on the Internet.


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:21 PM
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but sometimes it seems like you have to be a lawyer in order to care enough about it to do it right.

Yeah, that's the problem with that class of work generally: mindboggling dull, but has to be done accurately.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:23 PM
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Another option would of course be to just have fewer but larger departments.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:24 PM
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134

... That's before one starts to wonder why the candidate is on the market at all, if that's what the letter-writers think.)

What sort of question is this? Why do people buy lottery tickets? Why did Dennis Kucinich run for President? Hope springs eternal ...


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:26 PM
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134: My guess is it's about the ingrained paranoia that the letter would become part of discovery in a lawsuit. In my area I've never heard of anyone receiving a bad written recommendation. Which is why we always call up the references to hear what they really think.


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:28 PM
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I am so glad to be going into a career field that doesn't use recommendation letters.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:29 PM
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My understanding is that the choice of certain apparently positive-sounding words or phrases, like "hard-working", is intended to shout "don't hire this fool!" Also that this makes letter-writing treacherous for non-native speakers or even those who don't know the codes.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:30 PM
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What sort of question is this? Why do people buy lottery tickets? Why did Dennis Kucinich run for President? Hope springs eternal ...

Your advisor is supposed to give you advice about whether you're ready to go on the market. One does well to heed the advice, because guess what? Your advisor's letter of recommendation is important.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:31 PM
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Also, apparently the most important part of a letter for faculty positions in my field involves explicit comparisons to other people in the field. "Comparable to [z] at a similar point in his career," etc. The prospect of someday having to generate such comparisons makes me uncomfortable.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:31 PM
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144: It's so true. I like to read the discussions on legal blogs. Whenever patents come up, people frequently say "Yeah patent law is a pretty stable career. But the work is so boring I'd have to kill myself after a year or two." Which is how I feel about contract law so I guess to each his own. I'm so glad that I love patent law because everyone else seems to loathe it.


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:32 PM
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Also, apparently the most important part of a letter for faculty positions in my field involves explicit comparisons to other people in the field

Length or girth?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:36 PM
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It's New Year's Eve! L'chaim, y'all!


Posted by: Pauly Shore | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:37 PM
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Why did Dennis Kucinich run for President?

"For me, the action is the juice."


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:37 PM
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150

Your advisor is supposed to give you advice about whether you're ready to go on the market. One does well to heed the advice, because guess what? Your advisor's letter of recommendation is important.

And if your advisor doesn't think you are ready to go on the market what are you supposed to do instead? And you generally have to get letters from people other than your advisor as well.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:41 PM
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Don't you stay in grad school another year and write more papers, or give up on the whole thing and go be a gardener?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 1:45 PM
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My understanding is that the choice of certain apparently positive-sounding words or phrases, like "hard-working", is intended to shout "don't hire this fool!"

You mean all the compliments I would get about my excellent handwriting weren't intended in absolute sincerity?


Posted by: persistently visible | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 2:12 PM
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And you generally have to get letters from people other than your advisor as well.

Yeah, that's true. You should talk to them before going out as well, and make sure that they're willing to write you glowing letters. Of course even if the rest of your committee thinks you're ready, if your advisor doesn't, that's pretty bad, since your advisor is (theoretically) the one keeping closest tabs on you.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 2:41 PM
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Advisor, parole officer. Whichever.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 2:47 PM
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Somebody is grumpy. Probably got called for Jury Duty.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 2:54 PM
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157

Don't you stay in grad school another year and write more papers, ...

Deliberately delay your PhD? My postdoc academic jobs weren't great but they beat being a grad student.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 2:55 PM
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159

... You should talk to them before going out as well, and make sure that they're willing to write you glowing letters. ...

And how are you supposed to do this? Get some compromising phototgraphs?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 2:58 PM
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Deliberately delay your PhD?

People have done it frequently. "You need to get that paper accepted and do another presentation" was common enough advice in my field.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:04 PM
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Hail satan.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:12 PM
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164: I assume, James, that "make sure that" meant "determine whether," but your reading is certainly entertaining, if implausible.


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:19 PM
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Pauly Shore screwed up my numbering.


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:20 PM
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164

People have done it frequently. "You need to get that paper accepted and do another presentation" was common enough advice in my field.

That doesn't mean it is good advice. How often do people hang around another year or two but fail to improve their prospects by proving the Riemann hypothesis (or whatever)? The quicker you fail at academia the sooner you can get on with life.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:27 PM
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166

I assume, James, that "make sure that" meant "determine whether," but your reading is certainly entertaining, if implausible.

And if they aren't willing then you are supposed to hang around indefinitely as a perpetual grad student?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:31 PM
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No, at some point you leave.

If they aren't willing you aren't going to get a job anyway.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:43 PM
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My advisor asked whether I had considered teaching high school. Thanks to my ingrained sense of futility we are both still alive.


Posted by: Digestif | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:48 PM
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If they are willing, you still might not get a job.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:51 PM
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171: Ouch!


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 3:53 PM
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If they are willing, you still might not get a job.

YOU DON'T SAY.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 4:00 PM
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The only part I experienced directly was the part where your committee loses interest if you don't write a chapter.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 4:10 PM
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170

If they aren't willing you aren't going to get a job anyway.

You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 4:23 PM
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176: What if you found the winning ticket on the ground? Betcha didn't think of that, smarty pants.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 4:24 PM
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Impossible, if there were a winning ticket on the ground someone would have picked it up.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 5:42 PM
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The only part I experienced directly was the part where your committee loses interest if you don't write a chapter ...wait, who did you say you were again?


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 6:01 PM
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Different field.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 6:22 PM
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I'm at my non-academia job right now. (In fairness, though, I'm about to leave to go to a NYE potluck/boozeluck.)


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 6:24 PM
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Did the OP see 'Utilities Seek Fresh Talent for Smart Grids"
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/30/business/energy-environment/30utility.html#

?


The power companies desperately need a jolt of youthful energy. The industry and the creaky distribution system it
manages are on the cusp of a major technological overhaul just as about half of electric utility employees are expected to
retire in the next 5 to 10 years.


Posted by: Econolicious at 2000 and late | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:41 PM
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Sigh.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 8:56 PM
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Another contributor I think is that there used to be a lot of "informal apprenticeship" where more junior people were assigned to tasks along with more senior ones. "Getting leaner" has reduced that greatly.

Many industries have the kind of statistics described in 182, and it has caused an uptick in interest in "knowledge management" solutions and even corporate social networking (you know, because someone might be motivated to encapsulate their 30 years of experience in a tweet).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 12-31-10 10:46 PM
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That smart grid story is a good example of why all the "impending skill shortage must import Punjab" fears are overblown. If the workers can't be replaced, the technology can.


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 5:12 AM
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That puts that peak, the transition at what 1976-1985? Or earlier? The period when GB went to the IMF was it twice? Been great since Maggie, huh? GB zooming right along now, ain't it?

1979. After the UK went to the IMF, in 1977, once. That was the period when the UK struck oil in the North Sea and became a major exporter. Strangely, striking oil did not equal ponies for all. Also, note I said consumption. Not production: consumption. Consumption.

Further, the period 1994-2008 was the longest continuous economic expansion in UK history. Can you please, please try to avoid not-even-wrong errors?

H-L: not really. If you look at the breakdown, what happened was that we basically stopped using any oil for electricity and put a lid on consumption growth in the transport sector up to the early 00s, and then again since 2006.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 5:24 AM
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Haven't yet finished reading the thread yet, but:

Kath/leen The/len's book (illegal full-text pdfhere) is all about how different institutions for the training of skilled workers have evolved (or not) in the USA, UK, Japan, and Germany. Perhaps of interest to folks!

The USA has historically been quite weak, or at least non-institutionalized, on this dimension, at least compared to Japan and Germany. We don't usually think of places like De/Vry Technical Institute or whatever as making up an important sector of the economy.

Mmmm, chocolate chip pancakes. Mmmm, Grade A maple syrup.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 6:53 AM
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Hrmm. Maybe I should see if I can get one of those giant shipping companies referenced in 100. I like logistics & constrained maximization!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 7:45 AM
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I've worked at a paper mill in Eastern NC for twenty seven years. For many of those years we had a robust training program for the maintenance force. Millwrights, Welders, Pipefitters and Electricians were vigorously trained to keep up with changes in technology and a state certified apprenticeship program was in place to train production employees interested in learning the trades. Then when manufacturing jobs began heading overseas there were plenty of tradesmen available to replace retiring workers. In just a few years however workers with those skills began to become more scarce as many of them began to retire as well. Trade schools closed and junior colleges stopped offering courses to teach these skills as the focus shifted toward less physical labor oriented work. When employers couldn't find workers with the skills to maintain plant operations they decided it was more cost effective to lure workers from other facilities that still trained them. When as a union official I tried to negotiate a restart of our own training and apprenticeship programs I was told by our plant manager that "it was cheaper to steal them". Now after so many years of bad contracts due to grim economic conditions our wages and benefits are no longer much better than the non-union facilities so workers are less likely to leave jobs with seniority for ones where they would have to start over. In 2010 the first apprentice was accepted since 2004 but the apparatus to train him was dismantled years ago. He is struggling in the program to learn his trade from books without the benefit of skilled trainers to teach the hands-on Millwright work and the company still refuses to allot the resources to do so. I would like to hear from someone with similar experiences so I can try to push management in the right direction.


Posted by: Bartedous | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 8:43 AM
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I witnessed this transition in business.

At Westinghouse in the 80's and early 90's we still funded training classes for our new engineers and managers.

Then our staffs were instructed by InHuman Resources to stop doing so: that we were no longer going to hire for those positions unless they already possessed "certifications" that should have been obtained from specific agencies with those charters.

Thus came into being the "fake" training schools.

And today they are running amuck selling debt to the unsuspecting unemployed who think there are jobs awaiting them after their "certifications."

Good luck with that!

Suzan


Posted by: Suzan | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 9:05 AM
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An interesting contrasting anecdote to Bartedous's 189: I recall hearing a report on the local radio station this fall about a surplus of apprenticeships here in Baden-W├╝rttemberg. I didn't listen all that closely, but since B-W is very big in machine-tools and the like, I doubt this is all white-collar or, alternatively, low-skill/low-pay stuff.

I suppose I should really finish reading that The/len book I linked to...


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 9:06 AM
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(B-W is a state, not a company, in case there's confusion.)


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 9:07 AM
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Tangentially, it's no more masturbating to Rosie the Riveter. Actually she was operating a stamping press, although the piece doesn't say what it was that American Broach & Machine was producing for the war effort.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 9:33 AM
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...our wages and benefits are no longer much better than the non-union facilities so workers are less likely to leave jobs with seniority for ones where they would have to start over.

Why can't they give somebody credit for the skills they got elsewhere?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 9:46 AM
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194

Why can't they give somebody credit for the skills they got elsewhere?

That's not how senority works in an union shop.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 10:16 AM
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You can't be less senior but in a higher-level classification? I was in a union once, and there were a whole bunch of people who got paid less than me the day I got there.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 10:19 AM
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Actually, not a whole bunch, but some. My classification got changed 6 months after I started, then I got enough money to buy a Dodge Neon.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 10:21 AM
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You can't be less senior but in a higher-level classification?

It's a common thing in police departments. Laterals from other departments are given credit for those years on the pay scale. A guy who gets hired on after me but had 8 or 10 years at another department has less dept. seniority in the event of layoffs and such but is making around 20k more a year.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 10:47 AM
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I think there are two components to seniority... experience at a job, and longevity at an organization. Experience counts when figuring out who gets paid how much, but longevity is the measure as far as who gets stuck working Christmas Eve.

I think this describes the system as it is widely, but not universally, followed.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 11:03 AM
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In fairness to those why don't train employees any more, I have this to offer:
People who are truly good at teaching others are very rare.
Just take a look at the dolts "graduating" from high school, for instance.
I was given a job in the cable tv business.
That job entailed running an RG6 cable from the source up a pole, or an underground connection, to the building, then inside it, thence to a wall, where more cable plugged in, and into the tv.
After that, the tv had to be programmed, and the operation of the equipment explained to the consumer.
This is a simplified version of a much more complicated process, for which I received ZERO training. The boss, in a miserable attempt to explain away his inability to effectively communicate, let alone impart knowlege to anyone, breezily explained "it's just common sense", therefore excusing himself for any subsequent failures on the part of his charges.
I was left with the task of teaching MYSELF the job, and got good at it, no thanks to my boss.
This is all to common across the broad spectrum of vocations here.


Posted by: William J. Mac Bean | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 12:11 PM
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Apologies -- I've read this thread only in choppy, back and forth fashion, so I don't have a good sense of the tone.

143: On the one hand it's a waste of my hourly rate to be preparing things like cover sheets and transmittal documents to file with a patent application. On the other hand, if it's done so poorly that you're open to a malpractice claim, maybe a lawyer should be doing it.

The latter is surely true. Your paralegals should obviously be better trained.

On yet another hand, from a client's perspective, it's already a questionable use of funds to pay $15 for even a paralegal to simply read an email from you (the client); god forbid the paralegal decides to talk to the actual lawyer about the email, resulting in $90 or something. The hourly rate system of the legal profession is troublesome from the outset.

Nonetheless, since a great deal of what the legal profession produces can be dealt with by paralegals, they should be trained well enough to handle it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 1:21 PM
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I work for a vocational school that trains electricians. The major focus of the program is residential/commercial wiring for new construction, although we do offer a basic course in industrial power. I search the job ads for electricians in our market every week and I have noticed a lot of ads for industrial maintenance electricians, but they always specify 5-10 years of experience in the field. Most also want that experience to be in the same kind of industry (ie. food, machinery, etc). But I have never seen an ad for an entry-level position in that field--never.

I think the poster in #189 has identified the main problem--companies were spoiled with an excess of skilled labor for too long.

Another problem is that at the same time that skilled workers were aging out of the labor force, the trend also shifted away from promoting managers up from the shop floor, to hiring more college graduates. They don't always seem to understand why it is getting harder to find good help, perhaps because they have never worked for a shop that trained it's own skilled tradesmen, and because they don't really appreciate the skill level involved in the jobs they're hiring for because they don't have those skills themselves.

A few months ago, I saw a (Reuters?) article (which might as well have been written by Manpower International, as they were the only source) in which the Manpower executive thought the solution was to import more skilled tradesmen from low-wage countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Very frustrating to me when I know how hard it is for entry-level electricians to find jobs here.


Posted by: Julie | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 1:46 PM
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202: because they don't really appreciate the skill level involved in the jobs they're hiring for because they don't have those skills themselves

This, certainly.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 1:51 PM
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the trend also shifted away from promoting managers up from the shop floor

Bob should say something about the othering of the working class.

Also the evil that is human resources. The one time I dealt a strong HR office (they had to sit in on all interviews to stop racism and coherent conversation), it was hard to get the competent person hired until I learned the way to handle them.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 1:58 PM
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the Manpower executive thought the solution was to import more skilled tradesmen from low-wage countries in Asia and Eastern Europe. Very frustrating to me when I know how hard it is for entry-level electricians to find jobs here."

There is a strain of "blame America first" in the "we need more skilled immigrants" argument. The rapturous press China gets is also a version of "see how hard these Chinese work! Americans are fat and lazy and don't deserve to make 10x more." Usually made by somebody sitting at a computer.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 3:02 PM
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bjk above


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 3:03 PM
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The one time I dealt a strong HR office

Dealt them what, a deadly blow? No, surely, something worse. A lousy hand in Go Fish?


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 3:46 PM
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I give them the smarter stuff that I can't bill for. Things like, find me a trademark case for the following proposition

You can't bill for that??


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 01- 1-11 6:29 PM
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208: Not for as long as it would take me to find the case. We're doing trademarks mostly as a favor to patent clients, so I don't usually charge more than $1000 for a filing, search or a response.


Posted by: LizSpigot | Link to this comment | 01- 3-11 5:33 PM
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