This is a post about numbers.
1. The other day I was thinking about conferences. Let’s say you’re in a panel with 10 people, and each person pays a total of $500 dollars to get there. This includes conference fees, airfare, hotel, and so on. So that’s a grand total of $5000 dollars so everyone can write a paper, fly across the country, walk into a room, present their paper for 12-15 minutes and maybe have a group conversation for another 20 minutes or so. It’s a lot of money. Granted, conferences are about a lot more than just going to present. They are about going to other presentations, making connections, seeing friends, etc. But I think there are times when it might make sense to take that collective $5000, round up 10 people who want to collaborate, find a cheap central place to meet—and then do something. Like write a book. Create and actually start implementing a project. Whatever. Again, conferences have their place. But I think sometimes it’s also good to look at what we’re doing—and what we want to do—and know when it’s the moment to do something a little different. Imagine what 10 people with a common goal could really do if given some serious time to really put their heads together.
2. I saw this chart the other day. It showed the number of PhDs produced every year compared with the number of jobs that are actually available each year. The ratio was something like 35,000 to 3,000. These are not good odds.
3. Ok, so you need to do interviews for your long-awaited year of fieldwork. How many people should you interview? Maybe 70? Or 90? Or 175? How do you determine this number? Is your number based upon the size of your study population? The number of contacts you expect to be able to establish? The various numbers of interviews you have seen in grant applications you read that were actually funded? Seriously, where do you get your numbers? And think about this: is more really better? Are there cases in which it would better—and more methodologically sound—to base you dissertation on interviews with a total of 25 people, or 15, or even 12? Why not?
4. When you’re doing fieldwork, what percentage of time are you actually doing fieldwork? Think about all of the logistical things you have to do to get to the field, and all the stuff you have to do while you’re in the field. You know, like getting your documents in order, fixing your vehicle, figuring out where to live, washing your clothes, finding things like toothpaste, and so on. What percentage of the time are you really sitting there being the ethnographer writing notes like Stephen Tyler on the cover of Writing Culture? Really digging in. 50 percent? 15 percent? More? Or Less?
5. During my fieldwork there was one person I tried to interview for about 8 months before I was finally successful. The interview lasted 29 minutes and 48 seconds.
6. Now let’s talk about funding your fieldwork. Everyone wants to get a grant. A lot of time goes into writing them. Now, think about the total amount of time you put into writing a grant. Let’s say you work on a grant for a year, and you average 5 hours per week (of really working on it). And, after that year, let’s say you get a grant for $10,000. That would be about $38.46 per hour of work (this does not account for the work time of your adviser or anyone who helps you edit etc). If you work on this grant for an average of 10 hours per week, that would be $19.23 per hour. If you average 20 hours per week, that translates to about $9.62 per hour. At what point does it make more sense to work slinging drinks in the local bar to fund your fieldwork?
7. How much money do undergraduate students spend on the average introductory textbook? Let’s say it’s about 100 bucks. And let’s say there are 300 undergrads in one particular department. That’s $30,000. Multiply that by 5 years. Now we’re at $150,000. Imagine what one department could do with 150 grand, a heap of political will, and all of the potential of open access publishing.
8. There are about 38 million students in debt these days. Think about that. Check out 9 charts about the student loan crisis.
9. You finally get your PhD, and you end up with 50 grand in total debt for all of your college education. Your interest rate is 6.8 percent. Your loan payment term is 25 years. Let’s say you were in college for a total of 12 years. That means you incurred an average of $4,166.67 per year. Your monthly loan payment is $347.04. Your cumulative payments will be $104,108.90 after those 25 years. The total interest paid will be $54,108.90.
10. A.L. Kroeber committed himself to anthropology around 1899—1900. He defended his 28 page dissertation in 1901. What’s the average time to degree these days? And how many pages is the average dissertation in anthropology? Do PhDs take longer now—and use up more words—because they’re better?