The Future of Jobs

Occasionally I try to think about what the future will look like for my students: how best can I prepare them to do whatever it is they want to do? And so I find myself reading things like the World Economic Forums “The Future of Jobs”, which opens with this rather stunning claim:

65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

Hmmm. I don’t quite know how to feel about statements like this. I get the extraordinary changes taking place in the world’s economy, but I think it also ignores the extraordinary changes not taking place: we still have bodies. We need to feed those bodies. We need to house those bodies. We need to move them about the landscape. (If the singularity comes sooner than expected, than all bets are off.)

Reports on the Future of Universities

I have managed to collect a number of reports/assessments/surveys of the current and future nature of universities. I offer them as links to PDFs below: Harper’s “How College Sold Its Soul” and the Pew Higher Education Research Program’s “The Lattice and the Ratchet”.

Of Dissertations and Monographs

No comment in the process moment, but two items of interest:

* [“How long is the average dissertation”][] across a number of disciplines. The analysis uses R and includes the code.
* [“A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities”][].

[“How long is the average dissertation”]: https://beckmw.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/how-long-is-the-average-dissertation/
[“A Study of Direct Author Subvention for Publishing Humanities Books at Two Universities”]: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/handle/2022/20408

Linguistic Engineering

A recent posting from _The Humanist_ noted the following:

> The MPhil Linguistics at the VU University Amsterdam now offers a two-years specialization in Linguistic Engineering. Linguistic Engineering is a young research field that holds a unique position between linguistics and computer science. The program is offered by the Computational Lexicology and Terminology Lab (CLTL), a leading research group in computational linguistics.
>
> Bachelors in linguistics, computer science, artificial intelligence or a comparable bachelor’s programme are encouraged to apply. Programming skills are not required, but candidates do need a clear motivation and a firm linguistic background.
>
> Take a look at the website of the CLTL for information about the program and the CLTL research group: http://www.cltl.nl/le for details.
>
> For more information on the MPhil Linguistics, admission and application, visit the VU University at: http://www.vu.nl/en/programmes/international-masters/programmes/l-m/linguistics-research/index.asp

Somewhere some part of me wants to respond “I do not think that means what you think it means” but another part of me recognizes that I am just fascinated by how these things are playing out.

I Am Not Late

[Kevin Kelly tells][kk] those of us interested in the conjunction of the internet, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, and sensors that we are not late:

> Because here is the other thing the greybeards in 2044 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an entrepreneur in 2014? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category X and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh, “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

Good thing I spent the weekend with an Arduino board.

[kk]: https://medium.com/message/you-are-not-late-b3d76f963142

What Lies Ahead

Take another look at the photo. It was originally posted to Reddit, and its topic was the dog, sitting patiently on a bench in what, I believe, was described as an animal shelter. Sure, the dog is sweet, but what really captured me in the photograph was the setting: that bench, the glass partitions, the easy-to-clean tile floor, the cinder block walls that someone has tried to camouflage with some military-gray wainscoting as well as the slip of paper that no one could be bothered to pick up and the glimpse one catches of institutional lobby furniture suggested to me a kind of emergence of a common institutionality.

What is the consistency of that common institutionality? There is, of course, the ever-present rationalization that we are doing what we are supposed to do because the numbers all add up. No one asks larger questions, about meaning and quality, because to do so would be to call attention to oneself. You have a limited set of options: give in and go along, invest and get promoted, or retreat into whatever private world keeps you sane when you have had contact with the institutional world.

Whoa, I surprised myself with just how fast all of that tumbled out. And I wondered: is it just the current moment, the current circumstance? I work at a regional public university which has given up even trying to be better: our dean recently told a fellow faculty member that quantity of publications count, not quality. When asked about getting back some of the 20 to 25 percent in wages we have lost over the past 8 years, his response was simply “Talk to the legislature.” But he isn’t alone in not caring. A number of faculty have begun not to care, and so hallways that were once vibrant with conversation are now deserted. Office doors that were once open are now closed. People used to at least rally around getting and keeping the building clean, which has been a regular struggle for the last decade, but now no one even complains about the stairway handrails that you dare not touch or the dirt accumulating in corners of the computer classrooms. Like that piece of paper lying under the bench in the photo above, it just doesn’t matter enough to anyone anymore.

I hope this is just Louisiana, and not some larger set of trends. I gather from colleagues elsewhere that things have begun to turn around, but here, here I don’t know if they ever will. The budget for higher education might get better, but I’m afraid the organizational changes that have occurred during this period may not be so easily reversed.

Life after Academe

Zachary Ernst [left his tenured position][] at University of Missouri for a job with a Chicago-based company called [Narrative Science][]. (A very intriguing name.) His first post is a nice rant — sometimes one likes the jagged edge — but he also has a [follow-up post][] that considers the gains and losses in moving from an academic job to an industrial job.

[left his tenured position]: http://zacharyernst.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-i-jumped-out-of-ivory-tower.html
[Narrative Science]: http://narrativescience.com
[follow-up post]: http://zacharyernst.blogspot.com/2014/01/after-jumping-off-ivory-tower.html