For any students out there who aspire to graduate education to launch a career in this discipline, allow me to offer the one bit of advice that no one wants to tell you: Don’t. I really hate to be the one who rains on the parade, but the stark reality is that the Academy is a collapsing profession–while we seem to be producing more and more PhD’s, the academy has fewer and fewer jobs to ply the trade of “academic.” We don’t appreciate or really recognize the contributions of those operating outside the university / peer reviewed journal realm, and yet that’s where more and more of our students are going to end up.

The economy’s collapse hasn’t helped things at all. The NYT reports today that graduating PhD’s are facing incredibly tough times:

“This is a year of no jobs,” said Catherine Stimpson, the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at New York University. Ph.D.s are stacked up, she said, “like planes hovering over La Guardia.”

They may find a post-doc here or a temporary / adjunct position there, but I can pretty much guarantee you that these disappearing jobs won’t come back as fast as we can flood the market with more graduates.

Andrew Delbanco, the chairman of the American studies program at Columbia University, said that the system producing graduate students was increasingly out of sync with the system hiring them.

“It’s been obvious for some time — witness the unionization movement — that graduate students are caught between the old model of apprentice scholars and the new reality of insecure laborers with uncertain employment prospects,” Mr. Delbanco said. “Among the effects of the financial crisis will clearly be shrinkage both in graduate fellowships and in entry-level academic positions, so the prospects for aspiring Ph.D.’s are getting even bleaker….”

Many students now finishing their doctorates began working on them when the economy was in much better shape. It often takes about nine years to complete a dissertation in English, said Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, explaining that students have to devote so many hours to teaching and making money that they don’t have time left over to write.

William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, Mich., who writes a column for The Chronicle of Higher Education under the name Thomas Benton, has frequently tried to dissuade undergraduates from pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. He is convinced that the recession will push universities to trim the number of tenure-track jobs further.

“It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource,” he wrote in a recent column. “If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault.”

Unless you are independently wealthy or really well connected, don’t apply, he advised.

At ISA this year, much of the conversation was about how the budge crunch was impacting everyone’s department. I heard about departments where they let go all the non-tenure line faculty, departments where people had to take pay-cuts, departments where classes were cut, job searches canceled, and candidates going on interviews only to have searches canceled before an offer could be made. In IR, we’re about to have a glut of 2 to 3 year’s worth of top graduates on the market unable to find jobs. They aren’t there.

As a profession, we need to really reflect on our place in the world and perhaps find a way to get these people the jobs they need to survive, while at the same time not alienating them from the profession.

So, if you’re thinking about getting a PhD– don’t. And after all that, if you still want to, be forewarned, this is what you’re up against.

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