As a chemistry graduate student, I got free classes and even a pittance of a salary as a laboratory teaching (and later research) assistant. I lived on the $3,000 a year, using my LBYM skills.
I observed that much of the work in the research labs was done by postdocs – scientists with Ph.D.s who worked with little recognition and very little pay. I decided that was a non-starter toward my goal of becoming financially independent. I got an M.S. in Chemistry and went to work in industry, which was well-paid (and which I really enjoyed). I later got an M.B.A. and moved from research into product management.
Non-scientist grad students are in a worse position. Most of them have to pay for their graduate education. After their Ph.D.s, they can work as postdocs or as adjunct professors for a pittance. In 2010 (in retirement), I taught Chemistry for Science Majors at the local community college for a year. It was a lot of work (lesson plans, teaching and setting up 33 separate lab lessons). I did it for personal entertainment but tried to do a quality job.
I met the younger adjuncts who were teaching to make a living. The department tried to keep them to 2 classes each because they would be full-time (and get health benefits) if they taught 3 classes. These were mature people in their 30s and 40s who still lived on the edge of ruin because the pay was so low. I don’t know why they continued to teach but they were dedicated. If they were high school teachers at least they would have had decent pay and benefits.
American universities rely on this exploitation. It’s one step removed from outright slavery. Now UCLA has taken that final step.
**Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0.**
**After protests, U.C.L.A. took down a job posting that offered no pay. But it turns out colleges often expect Ph.D.s to work for free.**
**By Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times, April 6, 2022**
**The job posting for an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, set high expectations for candidates: A Ph.D. in chemistry or biochemistry, a strong teaching record at the college level, and three to five letters of recommendation.**
**But there was a catch: The job would be on a “without salary basis,” as the posting phrased it. Just to be clear, it hammered home the point: “Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”...**
**But the unspoken secret had been fleetingly exposed: Free labor is a fact of academic life....Contingent faculty, the umbrella term for all kinds of generally part-time and untenured college teachers without much if any job security, make up a huge portion of the teaching staff of universities — by some estimates, around 70 percent overall and more in community colleges....** [end quote]
The U.S. has a ridiculous higher education system. Too many students are educated for the available positions. The cost is extremely high, either out of pocket ($1.5 trillion in student debt) or subsidized by the government. The graduates can’t find jobs that compensate them for their investment in education (not to mention a living wage) so they are forced to settle for near-slavery – in fact, hundreds may apply for a single sh!tty research assistant or “contingent faculty” position.
Before embarking on any further education, a high school graduate should consult the Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Many, many people would be much better off avoiding college completely and going into one of the many highly-paid trades (such as electricians or plumbers). Those who go to college can choose studies that train people for professions that need a lot of people.
The super-educated slaves are not, of course, chained to their desks. But they may not realize that they are endangering their financial security by wasting time serving an exploitive system instead of immediately going into a well-paid for-profit position.
When I was in grad school, the professors used to say that the smartest scientists worked in academia, while second-rate minds went into industry. My response was, “If they’re so dumb, why are they the ones making money?”