Whatever Happened To The Food Stamp Ph.D?
In May 2012 I highlighted a Chronicle of Higher Education story about a history Ph.D who couldn’t find work, and had to go on food stamps. Ever wonder what happened to her? The Chronicle‘s Stacey Patton did a follow-up. Excerpt:
Her efforts yielded a grand total of six phone interviews and visits to a couple of campuses—Martin Methodist College, in Pulaski, Tenn., and Landmark College, in Putney, Vt. Landmark paid for her plane ticket. But to get to Pulaski, Bruninga-Matteau had to dig into what little savings she had until Martin Methodist reimbursed her.
During her phone and campus interviews, Bruninga-Matteau’s appearance in the food-stamps article inevitably came up. At Martin, she tackled the subject head-on: She told the college’s president that, if offered the job, she would act as an advocate for adjunct faculty instead of shying away from contentious issues.
Months later, though, Bruninga-Matteau still had no job offers. June 11 was fast approaching. The medievalist prepared herself to walk away from academe for good.
“But the universe had a different plan,” she says.
It’s kind of a happy ending for Prof. Bruninga-Matteau, though she understandably sees it as an ecstatic ending, given where she started out. I say “kind of” because for all her study and work on her degree, and suffering on welfare, it sounds like she barely has a toehold on stability (though again, that is far, far better than where she was).
How are we going to do better by our scholars? As I said in that earlier post, I could have been this woman. If I had gone into academia, my subject would likely have been history, or some related humanities field. What will I do if one of my children has a passion for the humanities, and wants to be a scholar? I can’t see not supporting his or her dreams, if they’re any good in the field, but I also can’t see that it’s loving or wise to encourage them to go into a field in which they stand a good chance of being unemployed. What do you think? What would you tell your child who wants to be a history major (or lit major, or philosophy major, etc.)?