Good news from Uppsala: after the end of the year, there will be only one PhD student in archaeology left in that august academic city. This is the result of a simple reform enacted ten years ago by Minister for Education Carl Tham: since that date, no student may enter a PhD program at a Swedish university unless she has funding. The reform was a non-event in well-funded economically productive subjects, but it hit the humanities like a bomb. PhD student seminars started to melt away as people graduated or gave up.

But, as I said: good news. It’s neither in the best interest of students nor of the tax payers that the education system produce a lot of over-qualified bus drivers with PhDs in obscure subjects.

Now, if we could just limit the availability of archaeology MAs severely as well, our labour market might actually reappear.

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Comments

  1. #1 Janne
    February 13, 2008

    I’m honestly not sure if you’re being sarcastic here or not. But the reality is that the previous system with stipend PhD’s (“stipendiedoktorander”) and shadow PhD’s was a really, really lousy system. No pension, no job security, no time off (people could – and sometimes did – lose their funding because they became a parent or fell ill) and none of the other basic rights that protects everybody else in the workforce.

    And too many departments simply used these PhDs as a convenient, cheap source of labour, as teachers, research assistants and low-level administrators, while investing only the absolutely minimum required in the way of workspace, materials or PhD adviser time.

  2. #2 Martin R
    February 14, 2008

    Jan, we’ve talked about this before, you know I’m not being sarcastic! I sincerely believe that we need to limit the availability of education in subjects where there are no jobs. Tham rules.

  3. #3 Janne
    February 14, 2008

    No, I know, and I strongly suspected you were serious. But a lot of people in the humanities do not see it that way. I was a PhD student representative at the time the reform was instituted and a common attitude among many of the representatives from the classical areas were that making the PhD research a proper job with a hard and fast time limit, yearly performance review and social security would cheapen the experience and destroy the nobleness of the pursuit. There was (is?) seriously a view that you should suffer as an academic; you should spend ten or fifteen years crafting your masterpiece of a thesis in a drafty attic supported by the meager earnings from tutoring undergraduates or puttering about as an assistant department librarian.

    Interesting meetings they were, at the PhD student association.

  4. #4 ArchAsa
    February 14, 2008

    Reports of our death are exaggerated…
    Since I sort of started this with my blog, I have to set a few things straight. It is not so much extinction as evolution looming on the horizon for our department, with everybody holding their breath to see where the penny will drop.
    By autumn we should get a new research assistant, and his/her interests and network will profoundly influence our profile. We will also receive a half-time lecturer in GIS, who will also make a big impression. Until they arrive and can take part in the planning, things are sort of up in the air – and new PhD-positions are on ice. Since 2-3 of us with a PhD will finish this year, we will have excellent leverage to demand new PhD-students, especially since our department’s budget has been a lot better than most other in the Humanities the last few years. And the big university evaluation (KOF) that took place last last year resulted in unusually high marks for parts of our department – world leading was the word I believe.

    But in a way, it might be something completely new and different that rises from the ashes, something unlike the archaeology-courses at other departments, focusing on our strengths in global archaeology and GIS. I don’t know, nobody knows. It depends on how students react, what future projects receive funding (several projects are in the process of being evaluated) etc. It also depends on those that will replace all the baby boomers retiring in the next 5 years, something affecting all levels of the universities in Sweden.

    In a way, it’s as if Sweden itself is holding it’s breath.

  5. #5 R
    February 14, 2008

    Sorry for being pedantic here… “Research assistant” in the Americas means a grad student who gets paid to do research as opposed to a teaching assistant who gets paid to teach. In Sweden it means an assistant professor who doesn’t have to teach.

  6. #6 Martin R
    February 15, 2008

    Forskarassistent is a really confusing term. I have no idea how they ended up calling it that. It’s actually a form of post-doc without any connotations of moving abroad.

  7. #7 R
    February 15, 2008

    It’s something historical I’m sure. But yeah, it’s like a glorified postdoc although it’s counted as a faculty position. Normally you get a grant (or can at least apply for one), so it’s a bit better than being a postdoc, though. I’m hoping the assistant professor system biträdande lektor will take off.

  8. #8 ArchAsa
    February 16, 2008

    You are so very correct. Apparently the correct translation for the untransatable is “Research Fellow”
    It is a very strange position, as it is supposed to be almost exclusively research with little or no teaching involvement, and a complete ban on working part time, and be employed as a teacher the rest of the time. A great idea in its way, a position that is supposed to generate good research without much chance of the department using 90% of the poor dependents time as a drudge.
    However, since this is almost the only step between PhD student and lecturer, the result is that the department looses the opportunity to have younger and energetic individuals taking active part in development of the subject. Also, they are hired almost solely on scientific merit, not administrative and pedagogic ability. But by the time their fellowship runs out, they are – if very lucky – hired on as lecturer, where 80% of their time is taken up by…teaching and doing administration.

    So you are potentially waisting cutting edge researchers who have only a fleeting interest in being a teacher, on an administrative position – by the time when they are really able to start major research projects and make use of their established network. And you are also denying those that would thrive as teachers and administrators a chance to get a foot into the door.

  9. #9 R
    February 16, 2008

    I think you can actually do 80% research and 20% teaching as a research fellow (you can do that with the VR-foass at least). But then you have to get a 20% teaching salary from somewhere, of course, which is not guaranteed. And if you don’t, you better do some teaching for free to get the necessary teaching experience so that you can apply for a lecturer position later on.

  10. #10 Martin R
    February 17, 2008

    The pressure on forskarassistent positions in Swedish archaeology is such that you’ll have a hard time getting one without solid teaching experience. A few years back a highly qualified archaeologist and university teacher in his late 40s applied for the chair of archaeology at Uppsala. He was in my opinion fully qualified for such a job. But at the same time, he also applied for a forskarassistent at the same department! And that was what he got.

  11. #11 Lars
    February 20, 2008

    Do you yourself work as a bus driver?

  12. #12 Martin R
    February 20, 2008

    I do not. I subsist mainly on small research grants. This is possible because I have very modest habits, I am willing to live outside the social security system, I publish profusely and nobody else tries to live like I do, thus competing for those grants.

  13. #13 Alexa
    June 29, 2011

    Yeah, come to Italy and see how the PhD holder live!
    Alexa

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