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What the Numbers Can Tell Us About Humanities Ph.D. Careers

Emma Pettit
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Imagine, Maureen McCarthy asked a room full of faculty members, if you could know where all of the Ph.D. graduates from your program are working, right now.

Not only that, she told a packed session at the annual Modern Language Association conference here in Chicago. Imagine if you could know how satisfied they are with the training they’d received in their Ph.D. program. Imagine if you could know if they’d do it again, and why.

Until recently, that type of data was hard to come by, said McCarthy, director of best practices at the Council of Graduate Schools. The council conducted two surveys last year — one geared toward current Ph.D. students and their career aspirations, one geared toward Ph.D.-program graduates — to fill in those gaps.

But holes still exist. For instance, there isn’t much information about what happens to the people who drop out of Ph.D. programs, said Robert B. Townsend, who directs the Humanities Indicators project for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We don’t have much data about the admissions process, he said, or what happens to people as they go through their doctoral programs.

Townsend and McCarthy both presented during a session called “Diving Into the Data: What the Numbers Tell Us About the Careers of Humanities Ph.D.s.” Those in attendance were well acquainted with the death knell often sounded about the academic job market in the humanities. Since the Great Recession, there’s been a steep drop-off in academic jobs advertised, while the number of Ph.D.s continues to increase.

In previous years, the MLA conference was synonymous with “flop sweat” as anxious graduate students interviewed in the cattle-call room for positions they probably wouldn’t get. (Paula M. Krebs, executive director of the MLA, told me the organization is now discouraging departments from treating the conference as a hiring convention: “We are no longer the place full of sweaty job seekers,” she said.)

View full story: The Chronicle of Higher Education



Humanities Indicators

Norman Marshall Bradburn and Robert B. Townsend