Last week, I addressed the question of whether graduate school was a path to certain doom. In the comments of that post, John questioned my use of statistics to show that people with Ph.D.s had relatively good job prospects in this economy. He shared a personal experience with trying to find a tenure-track faculty position in the humanities. Now that is a completely different matter than simply getting a job, and the outlook isnâ€™t nearly as bright.
James K.A. Smith has written a series of posts offering advice on going to graduate school. He puts it very well:
Do you want to be an academic superstar, teaching at Harvard or Yale or at least Notre Dame? Do you want to be at the very pinnacle of your discipline? The go-to guy or gal that NPR calls for comment? Do you want to become moderately wealthy?
Well, then letâ€™s be clear: In some cases, you simply canâ€™t get there from here. If youâ€™re at a Bible college right now, or a little Christian college, or probably even just a local state university, I hate to break it to you, but that routeâ€™s pretty much blocked for you.
Smith goes on to address the question of simply being in academia, not at the elite level, and offers a bit more hope. Still, I would compare the dream of getting a tenure-track job (especially in the humanities) to the dream of becoming a professional basketball player. Many things have to break just right for a person to even have a chance, and the chances still arenâ€™t great. Iâ€™m not sure whatâ€™s a more amazing stat: that 17% of 7-foot-tall American men play in the NBA, or that only 17% of them play in the NBA.
Does this mean that you shouldnâ€™t get a PhD in the humanities? Not necessarily, but it does mean that you should count the costs very carefully. And keep an open mind about alternative paths that might make themselves available.
James Sire: Yes, Virginia, There Is Life After Traditional Academe!
After my post last week, James Sire sent me the story of his decidedly nontraditional career. With his permission, Iâ€™d like to share it with you below.
When I graduated from the University of Missouri in 1964 with a Ph.D., all those who graduated with me were offered and took jobs. I had 3 choices â€” Nebraska Wesleyan; a new branch of Miami University (OH) in Dayton, now a university on its own; and the University of Baghdad. I chose the one that offered a traditional liberal education (my core interest). Three years later I began looking and interviewing for a Ph.D.-granting institution. I wanted to advance my narrowing academic interests (literary criticism or Milton or 17th century English Lit) and teach doctoral students. [Read more…] about Is a Tenure-Track Job a Futile Dream?