What Can You Do with a Ph.D. in the Humanities?

In a recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, L. Maren Wood features the results of her research regarding what nonacademic career paths recent graduates with Ph.D.’s in history are taking. Curious about what fields graduates like her who didn’t take the tenure track are working in, Wood researched the careers of history Ph.D.’s who graduated from 1990 to 2010 (taking every other year) from Duke University, Ohio State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California at Santa Barbara, four top-tier programs. Since many departments don’t track the career outcomes of their graduates – especially for those who leave academia – Wood used “university and company Web sites, online directories, publications, conference papers, blogs, Linked In…and other sources” to find data on the 487 history Ph.D.’s in her sample set. Her results show that, from 1990-2010, only 50.7 percent of doctoral recipients ended up in tenure-track jobs. For those who graduated in 2008 and 2010, only 38.5 percent had tenure-track jobs.

Wood has created a chart showing these results for each department. Her results also emphasize that “while the Great Recession has intensified the problem of too few tenure-track openings, it has been a long time in the making.”

The results of Wood’s survey also reveal that these alternative careers are many and varied. Many recipients of Ph.D.’s in history, for example, are in fields where we might expect to find them, working in “higher-education administration, publishing and editing, high schools, museums, government agencies, and public-history sites” as “researchers, consultants, and editors.” Some fields are more surprising, perhaps, as Wood discovered that history Ph.D.’s are working in areas as diverse as business, the military, the law, politics, and libraries.

This versatile range, Wood argues, means that departments need to expand their job-placement training to include preparation for how to find and secure careers outside of academia:

It’s in the long-term interest of history and other humanities departments to revolutionize the career training they offer to doctoral students. More and more people are leaving academe, and more and more people are shouting that smart students should avoid Ph.D. programs in the humanities because there are “no jobs.” To survive, departments must demonstrate their worth to trustees, deans, students, donors, and taxpayers, and show that graduate programs in the humanities are worth saving because students do end up in excellent careers.

Read more at The Chronicle.

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