Follow-up To Another Note On Graduate Education

Continuing a topic that I wrote about a few weeks ago . . .

APSA has built a repository of working papers that discuss strategies for “navigating graduate school and beyond.” Subjects include concerns for first-generation graduate students, internships, and adjunct/visiting positions. Several of the papers contain information that I wish I had received when I was a doctoral student. But so far, there is only one that discusses the scarcity of full-time faculty positions and career opportunities outside of academia.*

The paper notes that graduate school can be an opportunity to learn how to synthesize large amounts of information, evaluate arguments, conduct research, communicate to non-specialist audiences, and manage projects. Similarly, as mentioned in an online discussion I recently read, graduate students can learn how to work with people of different backgrounds and develop solutions to important social problems.

The problem with this argument? None of these skills require a Ph.D.

As I’ve written before, the working environment for many people in academia has been deteriorating for much longer than the coronavirus pandemic. Eighteen years ago, before the current crop of undergraduates had even entered kindergarten, Frank Donoghue concluded in The Last Professors that tenure-track faculty no longer had a place in the USA’s system of higher education.

In sum, doctoral programs in the humanities and social sciences are built on training people for careers that either no longer exist or that have an insufficient return on investment. These programs need to completely retool to credential people in skills that can’t be learned more efficiently elsewhere. If they don’t, they will eventually disappear.

*”Pushing the Boundaries of Your PhD: Exploring Careers Outside of the Ivory Tower,” by Danielle Gilbert, S.G. Gubitz, Jennifer Kavanaugh, and Kelly Piazza.