COLUMNS AND DEPARTMENTS

Picturing the Perfect Job

Newly minted humanities PhDs are struggling to find teaching posts. For a happier career story, talk to Art Streiber.

July/August 1999

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Picturing the Perfect Job

Photo: Joe Pugliese

The résumés were piling up on my desk. When it came time a few months ago to sift through them and hire an editorial assistant, I was surprised to discover that several applicants had recently earned Stanford PhDs. Overqualified, I thought. More to the point, why would someone who had just completed eight years of graduate work, who was on the brink of a fulfilling academic career, be interested in an entry-level post with us?

The answer, we discovered, is brutally simple: there are not enough jobs in teaching to absorb the PhDs spilling out of the nation's universities. The crisis is most acute in the humanities. Across the country, only one-third of those earning doctorates in linguistics, classics and English land full-time jobs within a year. This PhD glut, while not entirely new, is attracting greater attention as it becomes more severe. Forbes, for example, recently lamented high unemployment rates in "obviously useless subjects like English and political science."

What is new, explains contributing writer Joan O'C. Hamilton, '83, are some proposed solutions to the problem. One remedy: help PhDs find jobs outside academia -- in business, government, even magazine editing.

What if some current professors had faced similarly dismal job prospects when they got out of school? What nonacademic routes might they have pursued? Ramón Saldívar, a professor of English and comparative literature, imagined going to law school if his first career didn't work out. (Who didn't?) Jeffrey Schnapp, chairman of the department of French and Italian, considered journalism and auto repair (he liked to disassemble Alfa Romeos while reciting Ariosto's Orlando Furioso). History professor Jim Sheehan would have turned to business or government if he couldn't land a teaching job. But, he says, "when I got my degree in the mid-1960s, everybody got a job, and I mean everybody." Tell that to the subjects of Joan's story, "Pecking at Crumbs."

"Stanford sports -- how we dominate. Cover image is probably a portrait of an athlete or two."

Ninety seconds later, the phone rang. I've got a better idea.

Indeed he did. As Art Streiber, '84, described his vision for presenting the 10 ways Stanford rules college athletics, we knew we were in good hands. We were, in fact, in the hands of the same photographer who persuaded Vanity Fair to rent a crop duster so he could re-create the most famous scene in Hitchcock's North by Northwest for a photo of its writer, Ernest Lehman. The same photographer who convinced newsman Sam Donaldson to roll in the grass with nine Labrador puppies for George and actor Michael Keaton to take a bath for In Style.

Art's power behind the camera is even stronger than his powers of persuasion. The proof is evident in our first-ever fold-out cover -- and in the striking photos of coaches and athletes on our inside pages. The story was researched and written by Jeff Brazil, an L.A. Times city editor.

I met Art in 1982 when he was a photo editor at the Stanford Daily and I was a page one editor in charge of layout and headlines. He'd argue for bigger photos and quibble with the lame puns in the captions I wrote. Since then, we've collaborated on camping trips to Yosemite, coverage of the 100th Big Game and a recent jaunt to Disneyland with our families. (Somehow our vacation photos are always better when we're with him.) For this latest partnership, Art and his team built a Madison Avenue-style set on the indoor courts at the Taube Tennis Center. I hung around, threw tennis balls at Ryan Wolters, did handstands with Amy Murakami -- and watched Art Streiber bring his "better idea" to life.

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