Thursday, January 08, 2015

New Economics Study on English PhDs

I recently stumbled across some sobering news about the job prospects for English PhDs, which seems to reflect a broader trend in academia:
While students in top-10 programs might have a reasonable chance of getting tenure-track jobs at a national research university or national research liberal arts colleges, the chances for such placements are essentially nil for students graduating from lower ranked programs. If students from lower ranked programs do get tenure-track jobs, they will most likely be at schools where the primary focus is on undergraduate teaching to students with weak academic backgrounds.
After posting a link to this article on social media, some of my friends were upset that the author of the article apparently assumes that a tenure track job at a research oriented university is the only academic job worth having. This is a good point, but I think the article is noteworthy even if you don't share this assumption. There is (or at least seems to be) a mismatch between the training many English PhD students receive and their likely job prospects; the article claims that English PhD students are usually trained to be scholars at research oriented universities, even though most of them will not actually be employed in this capacity after graduation. There is also an apparent mismatch between the culture of expectations in English PhD programs and the realities about the job market facing graduates of those programs. I experienced something similar in philosophy, and this leads me to believe it is a common problem in PhD programs in the humanities in general.
Personally, I highly value teaching, and have even considered working at a private high school. Some of my high school teachers had PhD's and were passionate and fantastic teachers; they were probably a big influence on my interest in teaching and learning. But the fact remains that the training we get in PhD programs in the humanities often does not reflect the job prospects we face upon graduation. To be clear: training in research methods is important, even for graduate students who will eventually get jobs which focus on teaching, but there should probably be more teacher training in many PhD programs, and fewer PhD programs accepting fewer students into their programs (because of the current surplus of people with PhDs in the academic job market).
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