A Good Ph.D. Program Asks Students To Think Beyond the Academic Job Market
But if it doesn't, students can still explore diverse work outcomes
It’s Friday, and we are still thinking about our friends in Florida who face the daunting task of piecing their lives back together and in the Carolinas, where Hurricane Ian is headed next. Be safe! And if you like this post, please:
So the student you have asked to delay entering graduate school has declined your advice. Or the student who did delay is back on your doorstep a year or so later, saying: “I have thought about it and still want to go to graduate school.”
Of course, you know—and they don’t—that desire, hard work, native intelligence, and commitment will probably not result in a better chance of getting a tenure-track job. In fact, the conditions that sustained tenure may be eroding dramatically over the next several years.
But even if your student acknowledges these realities, most do not believe it applies to them. No one embarks on a doctoral program in the humanities believing that in eight to ten years, they will still be applying for post-docs and visiting positions, teaching a dozen courses a year to eke out less than a living wage, or publishing academic articles that, year after year, are not pushing them into full-time academic work. And certainly, none of them imagine getting sucked into the angry, depressive place that many humanities doctoral candidates find themselves in after they start seeing the reality: accomplished friends several years ahead of them who, year after year, do not get an offer.
I want to pause on this point for a second: that students may “know” what the situation in the humanities is without believing that it applies to them. But one of these two things will change, and it is unlikely that the job market will be one of them. A sad aspect of contemporary doctoral programs is that otherwise intelligent, capable, and successful young people often feel trapped by choosing to enter a Ph.D. program long before they have even submitted a job application. But a close and related source of grief is that the inability to secure a tenure-track job can make the prospective, or recent, humanities Ph.D. believe that the time and money they have invested in their dream of becoming a college professor is utterly wasted. Why? Because many believe that they have been trained to do only one thing: teach and do research in their chosen field.
It’s not true, but I will not do a tap dance about all the great possibilities out there. Rather, I want to guide you through the conversation you must have with your aspirational humanities Ph.D. about my second D: diversity of outcomes.
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