Friday, July 20, 2018

The most useless career trope: "[insert major here] can do everything"

The American Historical Association last week released a comprehensive snapshot of the entire discipline’s Ph.D. recipients. The project, Where Historians Work, tries to track where all of the 8,500 people who earned a doctorate from 2004 to 2013 landed jobs. About 7 percent of the recipients could not be found.... 
...Critics of the value of a history Ph.D. may find fodder in the history association’s project. Hover over some of the tiniest bubbles on an interactive slide, those representing just a single person, and you’ll see examples of people who may not have needed their Ph.D. for their current jobs: a rental-car clerk. A maintenance worker. An actor. A postal worker. 
But the biggest bubbles tell a more hopeful story about the utility of a history Ph.D. The data show that those who earned history Ph.D.s in that time include 174 chief executives, 363 higher-education administrators, 320 nonprofessors doing history, 57 curators, and 82 editors. The point: History Ph.D.s don’t just stay in academe. They are everywhere.
I admire this survey, and I encourage each field to do more of them. However, I find this trope of "they are everywhere" to be completely useless. Rather than saying "this is what you can do" or worse yet, "here is a story of one history Ph.D. who succeeded", I think it's far more useful to tell students and potential students "this is what you are likeliest to do, and here are the statistics to back that up."

What do they actually do? If you read the story, it sure looks like most of them end up at 4 year schools, either on the tenure-track (47%) or not (13%). Some of them go into higher ed administration (6%), the private sector (7%), government (7%) and non-profits (4%).

Here's what I think the study is missing: wages. What are the wages for these graduates? Until we know what the wages for the people are, there can be no economic conclusions drawn about this group of people. (Also, underemployment, but wages first.) 

1 comment:

  1. Why pick on the field of history? The front websites of the overwhelming number of chemistry departments in the US make claims of career outcomes for their graduates which are 95% irrelevant. And there is no effort on the part of the ACS to tally the long-term career outcomes (i.e., past post-doc-ing) for chemistry PhD graduates.

    For example, how many chem. dept. websites at degree mills claim that their graduates _can_ become MDs. And yet, I would not wish anyone with a degree from those austere institutions anywhere near me with a scalpel!


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