PhD and Career Shifts

PhD and Career Shifts November 6, 2012

By L. Maren Wood:

You have perhaps heard this from me before. My concern is with those PhDs in Bible or Theology of History who are primarily focused on teaching in Bible, theology, religion and philosophy departments but who are struggling to find a job. A PhD in such a field needs to see her or his calling first to the church and in the church, and see academic work in such disciplines as discipleship in the church. That is, seeing the calling as a church vocation and not simply an academic calling divorced from the church. Hence, I would urge said PhDs to consider from the very beginning: (1) that an academic post is hard to come by, (2) that pastoral ministry and academic teaching are not opposites but need to be seen in similar terms, (3) that serving in a church along the way will help shape the academic toward the ecclesial, and (4) that closed doors at the academy might turn out to be open doors in the church.

Maybe we can think creatively: maybe more and more churches need to hire PhDs (i.e., see this as a vocation for the church and in the church) to teach the congregations — classes in the evening, weekends, develop some certificates…

L. Maren Woods writes about PhDs in History, their prospects for employment in the academy, and where they end up…

I recently went to dinner with six friends to talk careers. We all have Ph.D.’s in the humanities, but only one of us is working as a tenured professor.

Of the remaining five: One of us started in a tenure-track job but left to find more satisfying work and better pay as an international insurance consultant. Two others left academe upon graduation—one teaches courses in writing and computers at a law firm and the other is a gender specialist at a nonprofit agency. Having spent three years in pursuit of the illusive tenure-track job, I suspended my own search to work as a research consultant….

The problem we faced—how to leverage a humanities Ph.D. into a meaningful nonacademic career—is a fate shared by thousands of Ph.D.’s. For years, universities have been producing Ph.D.’s far in excess of tenure-track openings. As undergraduate enrollments have grown, universities have hired more and more faculty members in part-time, temporary, low-paying jobs rather than create permanent tenure-track positions to meet the demand. According to the American Association of University Professors, 70 percent of teaching jobs at U.S. institutions are now non-tenure-track posts, and nearly 50 percent are part-time….

The math is depressing enough if one assumes that only new Ph.D.’s are applying for those jobs, but of course that is not the case. A backlog of doctoral recipients are underemployed, unemployed, in temporary positions, or unhappy in their current jobs, and compete for any newly advertised tenure-track openings….

I entered all of that into spreadsheets listing each Ph.D. by name, year of graduation, job title, institution, and industry category. Among my results: Only 50.7 percent of doctoral graduates from those four top-tier programs ended up in tenure-track jobs. For those who graduated in 2008 and 2010, the average was even lower: 38.5 percent.


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