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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Dating Service for Grad Students and Society

In my blog on “Pandemonium” I spoke about how the twin forces of the Common Core and digital publishing are rippling through schools, libraries, and publishing houses. But a series of recent conversations suggest that the epicenter of shock, and change, is even wider than I’d supposed: just as K-12 teachers are being asked to train their students in the languages and mindsets of academic professions, Ph.D. programs are facing the fact that they are dishonest with their students — there are no jobs at the end of the rainbow. There is a glorious opportunity here — so long as we are willing to change everything. Dr. Thomas Bender was my doctoral advisor years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch. He sent me a link to an article of his in the Chronicle of Higher Education (link here, but it is only a stub as you need a subscription to get the whole article Dr. Bender argues that the reality for many of even the best Ph.D. students in history is that they will not find jobs as history professors — so what can a university do? I’d been having similar discussions with Dr. Leonard Cassuto, a friend and neighbor who writes about similar issues in his own Chronicle column.

I’d been thinking about the grad school problem when Loree Griffin Burns skyped in to my class on nonfiction for K-12. She told us about her career path: she had her Ph.D. in Biology and was getting set to seek out a postdoc when she learned she was pregnant with twins. Casting about for what to do with herself, she realized that while she loved the work of being a scientist, she had always also wanted to communicate outside the small circle of her academic peers. Thus writing books for younger readers was not a setback, it was exploring a path she had long had in the back of her mind. What if, I thought, every Ph.D. student was required to take a Communications course while they were working on their dissertations. In this course they would gain exposure and experience in a variety of channels for reaching the public: writing books for the adult general reader, writing for K-12, teaching K-12, designing curriculum for K-12, working in museums, creating documentaries, designing edutainment games, sites and activities, etc.

The graduate students would have a better sense of where they could bring their skills and knowledge, while the general public — and the transforming K-12 world — would be infused with an ever-renewing cadre of people who have precisely the training we as a society have decided needs to be shared and expanded. We have grad students with great training but limited job prospects, and a society at large with a rapidly growing need for people with that kind of disciplinary training — all we need is eharmony for grad students — a dating service matching skills and needs. I suggest we call that a course in Communication.


  1. Shirley Budhos says:

    Because of the Great Depression and restrictive quotas on who could study & teach where, some of the wonderful teachers in my 1940s NYC high school held doctorates. To earn a living, which was/is the mantra of my generation meant taking on other types of employment. Knowing one’s subject well and deeply is not a handicap;it enriches students’ lives, as well as the teachers.’

    And frankly, having taught both in college and K-12, I often think that a good dose of K-12 teaching experience forces those headed for college teaching to relinquish the lecture and move on to other well-designed, interesting teaching techniques.

    And, exposing those graduate students to the world of other work enhances their knowledge and skills. On a personal note, my earlier experience in business & non-profits helped me when I taught high school, and as a college advisor, I provided a wide range of possibilities and opportunities because I focused on preparing teenagers “to earn a living” & seek occupations which utilized their interests & skills.

    And, Marc, you mentioned “communication.” Well that means communicating with a world broader, more complex than that of academia. It’s also a form of de-segregation. The labor force includes us all, doesn’t it?

  2. Mark, I think you’ve struck on a wonderful idea. There are so many opportunities for creating and sharing knowledge outside of academia. I watch my children, and many of their best learning experiences happen at museums and through nonfiction picture books.