What Can You Do With a Humanities PhD Anyway?

This piece by Elizabeth Segran in The Atlantic (March 31) offers some food for thought if you are entering, already in, or find yourself a director of graduate studies in a humanities program.

Here are some highlights that I found important. I recommend the whole thing, however. As the article indicates, the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association are putting pressure on universities to better educate grad students about non-academic possibilities. It would be nice to hear that something similar is happening at the American Philosophical Association.

The latest data goes against the conventional wisdom that humanities Ph.D.s are not qualified to work outside the ivory tower…

So why are humanities Ph.D.s outside academia so invisible? One reason is that within academic departments there is a culture of stigmatizing doctoral candidates who take non-academic posts, making them less inclined to stick around and contribute to debates about the future of the field…

These values are reinforced at an institutional level when departments and advisors are rewarded with grants and better rankings when their graduate students get academic appointments…

“There is a lot of bias in the sample of what departments are tracking… Ph.D.s who slink away from their programs and take jobs that they find very rewarding in business, government, or a non-profit—but are not faculty positions—typically become non-entities within their graduate programs.”

Since most departments did not keep accurate accounts of where their Ph.D.s were ending up, they could not realistically inform prospective students about their chances of getting an academic job upon graduation, which is perhaps why so many felt betrayed when there were no tenure-track jobs waiting for them after years of graduate study…

Few universities offer humanities doctoral candidates career counseling for non-academic jobs, which would help them market themselves and leverage alumni networks… 

via You Do With a Humanities Ph.D., Anyway? – Elizabeth Segran – The Atlantic.


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