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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D. 325

Posted by Soulskill
from the start-calling-it-word-engineering dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new report from the Modern Language Association focuses on the decline of Ph.D. programs in the humanities over the past several years. "These programs have gotten both more difficult and less rewarding: today, it can take almost a decade to get a doctorate, and, at the end of your program, you're unlikely to find a tenure-track job." According to the report, 40% of new Ph.D.s won't be able to find tenure-track jobs, and many of the rest won't manage to receive tenure at all. "Different people will tell you different stories about where all the jobs went. Some critics think that the humanities have gotten too weird—that undergrads, turned off by an overly theoretical approach, don't want to participate anymore, and that teaching opportunities have disappeared as a result. ... Others point to the corporatization of universities, which are increasingly inclined to hire part-time, 'adjunct' professors, rather than full-time, tenure-track ones, to teach undergrads. Adjuncts are cheaper; perhaps more importantly, they are easier to hire." The MLA doesn't want to reduce enrollments, but they think the grad school programs should be quicker to complete and dissertations should be shorter and less complex."
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Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

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  • Because... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ... Everyone goes to work and says, "What we need is someone who's spent the last 15 years studying Humanities. That will make filing these invoices sooooo much easier."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It looks like we have a good trend going, so I'm failing to see where the problem is or what actually need to be fixed.

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:25PM (#47181027)

    Others point to the corporatization of universities, which are increasingly inclined to hire part-time, âoeadjunctâ professors, rather than full-time, tenure-track ones, to teach undergrads. Adjuncts are cheaper; perhaps more importantly, they are easier to hire. Whereas it takes a committee of experts months to decide if someone's scholarship is good, it takes an administrator only a few minutes to decide if that person can teach. That makes it easy for faculty size to track student demand. Today, more than half of all the academic jobs at American universities are part-time, non-research positions.

    If you think "good scholarship" is the first (or only) criteria for getting tenure, then you don't know anything at all about academia. Getting tenure is about politics and schmoozing and ass-kissing.

    • by Arakageeta (671142) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:47PM (#47181245)

      There is a new problem that comes with reliance on adjuncts. Departments rarely monitor the performance of instruction themselves. Departments make decisions on re-hiring or firing an adjunct based upon student reviews and evaluations. Left without recourse, adjuncts are perversely incentivized to teach easy classes and give out high marks---this helps ensure good reviews. (It also continues the trend in grade inflation.) Adjunct professors cannot challenge their students without risking being fired.

      • Then again students can't challenge tenured professors without risking their future careers, leading to the oft bemoaned academic echo chambers in the humanities.

        • by CRCulver (715279)

          Then again students can't challenge tenured professors without risking their future careers

          Tenured faculty shouldn't even be teaching, inasmuch as one of the keys to getting tenure is a strong list of publications, showing that it is better to have these particular scholars concentrating on research.

      • Departments rarely monitor the performance of instruction themselves.

        This is not a new problem, and teaching ability or efficacy - from what I've seen - has absolutely no bearing on granting tenure. Adjunct professors may not challenge students as much as tenured professors, but a large swath of tenured (and untenured) professors seem down right hostile to teaching classes, with many of the rest being indifferent. Research is what they enjoy, and what lines their pockets. Teaching is a necessary evil that, given a choice, they would eliminate entirely.

    • by sdinfoserv (1793266) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:24PM (#47181635) Homepage
      If you think moving up the corporate ladder is about competencies, you don't know a thing about business. Getting a corner office is about politics and schmoozing and ass-kissing.
  • Based on the summary it appears that the solution to humanities PhDs not finding work is to graduate more people with humanities PhD degrees. Law schools around the country have been trying that approach and it doesn't seem to be working out very well. Considering the lawyers have government buildings full of lawyer advocates (such buildings are often called "congress"), which the humanities decidedly do not, it is hard to see how the humanities could possibly bode better from this approach.
    • by timeOday (582209) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:48PM (#47181251)
      The story already responded to your comment:

      Only briefly does the report address what, to many people, is the most obvious solution: reducing admissions. âoeIn the face of the post-2008 contraction of the academic job market, proposals to reduce the size of graduate education in our fields have been heard,â the committee writes:

      The ostensible goal of such a reduction would be to realign the rate of PhD production with the number of tenure-track openings. While the logic of the strategy may seem at first clear, the task force believes it is misguided. Doctoral education is not exclusively for the production of future tenure-track faculty members. Reducing cohort size is tantamount to reducing accessibility.

      I think what they are saying is - this won't stop being hyper-competitive. Most will not end up getting that tenured professorship. But a reasonable period in academia of 4 or 5 years for a PhD should be enough to differentiate candidates and put them on that track or not, instead of leading people along for 7+ years before flushing them. Put the rest out of their misery sooner so they can go do whatever they are going to end up doing in industry.

      • by Minwee (522556)

        But a reasonable period in academia of 4 or 5 years for a PhD should be enough to differentiate candidates and put them on that track or not, instead of leading people along for 7+ years before flushing them.

        What, and give up three or more years worth of tuition, fees, and cheap labour? You're talking as if the goal of a University is somehow academic in nature, rather than to make as much money as possible.

      • by indytx (825419)

        I think what they are saying is - this won't stop being hyper-competitive. Most will not end up getting that tenured professorship. But a reasonable period in academia of 4 or 5 years for a PhD should be enough to differentiate candidates and put them on that track or not, instead of leading people along for 7+ years before flushing them. Put the rest out of their misery sooner so they can go do whatever they are going to end up doing in industry.

        I'm not sure most people here understand how it works to get a Ph.D. in the humanities. For example, in history the years long effort to finish a Ph.D. program happens because it takes a long time to do original research and scholarship that contributes original scholarship to the field. A history grad student can finish her coursework fairly quickly and take comprehensive exams. I have known people who had read SO MUCH and remembered SO MUCH that they were probably ready for comps day one. It's the period

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by erikscott (1360245)

      The MLA's principal source of revenue is... wait for it... humanities PhD.s and their annual dues. So hell no they aren't going to call for a reduction in output.

      Historically, the sink for all those graduates was Law School. University education basically was Law School until individual "majors" started being created in the mid nineteenth century and the J.D. became a degree in its own right. Lawyers are in something of a unbalanced predator/prey relationship now, and it'll take a while to swing around

      • The Great Doctor Famine (minus a number of high paying subspecialties) is last month. I would hazard a guess that you are correct - a PhD in the humanities plus some minimal assurance that you can handle some 'hard' science will get you into med school. Of course, paying for it is another question entirely. By the time you've finished your PhD dissertation on the effect of the Little Ice Age on parchment longevity you should be well into ramen-for-life and have made the max donation to the local plasma b

  • In other news, who cares? When was the last time something important was done as a result of studying the humanities? They're only good for "huge manatees" puns.

    • by digitig (1056110)
      Depends. What do you count as "important"? A lot of great books (which do have commercial value, for the Gradgrinds reading this) are written by English Lit graduates, and are likely better for that. Of course, being an author isn't a "tenure-track job", which the OP seems to think is the only sort of job that matters.
    • by geniice (1336589)

      Depends how you define important. Things like history tend to be significant in terms of how we define ourselves so you get the odd war and revolution. Maybe those are important? From time to time people insist on not killing people from other countries so working out what the people who talk funny are actually saying becomes important.

      Depends on the field of humanities in question.

    • by CRCulver (715279)

      In other news, who cares? When was the last time something important was done as a result of studying the humanities?

      Constantly. During the Soviet era, scholars studying the minority peoples of Russia were a key part of US military readiness, espionage and political negotiations. Indiana University at Bloomington in particular was commissioned for a number of projects by the Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force, and three-letter agencies. After the invasion of Afghanistan, people who had stu

  • market at work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:35PM (#47181119)

    This is the market at work. A Humanities degree is fiscally worthless. At best, you can teach other people how to get the same degree you have. You might as well be teaching someone about stamp collecting or theology. Sure, there's rare cases where that will be handy to some company, but for the most part the humanities exist in their own echo chamber. You can teach other people about them, right books for other people interested in humanities, but it does the rest of the world almost no benefit. Get your humanities degree and you'll most likely end up working in tech support and spending your day correcting other peoples grammar. What's worse, is those other people (like me) wont care and just flag you as a troll.

    • Re:market at work (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wiggles (30088) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:37PM (#47181141)

      > right books

      Yeah - humanities education is worthless.

      • Its not the job of any third level course to teach basic spelling and grammar to anyone, or it shouldn't be. That's a failure of primary and secondary education.

        • Its not the job of any third level course to teach basic spelling and grammar to anyone, or it shouldn't be. That's a failure of primary and secondary education.

          Or: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disor... [nih.gov]
          Which I have. I spent years in handwriting classes. Thank god computers came along. Those classes didn't help at all. I can't even read my own handwriting.

          Homophone mistakes are my biggest problem, followed closely by just general spelling. I literally don't even see what I'm typing. I think "Write" and a word pops out on the screen which my brain sees and it sounds correct so on I go. But spellcheck helps immensely (again, thank god for computers) Though I love Firefox

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        I don't think 2nd grade spelling is covered in most humanities courses. The damage was done by age 8 here.

        • by digitig (1056110)
          Still counts as a "liberal art" -- it has general application, rather than being specifically vocational.
      • > right books

        Yeah - humanities education is worthless.

        So you're working in tech support I see? ;-)

      • by bigwheel (2238516)

        You just proved his point. "spending your day correcting other peoples grammar"

    • Get your humanities degree and you'll most likely end up working in tech support and spending your day correcting other people's grammar.

      FTFY

    • by MattGWU (86623)

      Man, what's it like to be dead inside? To exist in a world with no art, no music, no literature.

      Humanities grads are useful to people who have lives that extend beyond, and desire enrichment beyond....shot in the dark here...their full-stack or at least web developer job that following a stint in tech support? You mentioned tech support, and I work tech support, and use it all the time as an analogy to illustrate things I don't like, either. Plus, the usual trope is 'flipping burgers at McDonalds' for dis

  • by GlobalEcho (26240) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:39PM (#47181149)

    The median time to get a Ph.D. is nine years.

    I think students who enter are often doing so by default. Education has been their life unto that point, they have always been outstanding students, and they enjoy it. They are too young and inexperienced to realize how long 9 years is and what they'll be missing (or perhaps they are too optimistic about their personal chances of being an outlier).

    • That was the case for my husband, although he got his PhD in education and not humanities. But he basically wanted to be a professional student. Lucky for him he DID become the outlier and was awarded tenure at his job this year, which he likens to smoking a pack a day and living to be 100.
    • by Megane (129182)
      They are also too young and inexperienced to realize just how much student loan debt they're going to end up with after 9+ years of college.
  • by Arakageeta (671142) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:40PM (#47181167)

    My girlfriend recently graduated with a PhD in history from a department ranked 11th by US News. She's won a number of nationally recognized awards. She still can't find a tenure-track job. She was hired as a visiting professor at a university for this past year. Pay was around $40k with benefits. She got great reviews from her students, so the university offered to re-hire her as an adjunct with the same workload (teaching four classes a semester)... but at *half* the pay and *without* benefits. Her pay and benefits were better as a graduate student! She politely declined the offer. Being valued so little by the same world that qualified you is hard to endure.

    • by onepoint (301486)

      I would advise your girlfriend to get a job with the military. History and battle tactics repeat themselves often, so her use would be of benefit.

    • by Maxwell (13985)

      Why was your girlfriend sucking up to students? There is a time for that, and it is after sucking up to whoever can get her tenure and getting tenure. If you want tenure, every hour you spend outside mandatories with students is a waste of time. Also if less people are getting humanities degrees, less are taking history....

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Friday June 06, 2014 @03:22PM (#47182131)

      Liberal Arts and Humanities need a STEM infusion much like how technical degrees get a Humanities infusion as part of the graduation requirements.

      My Undergrad in Computer Science, required me to take 200+ level humanity classes. Humanity Majors just need to take pre-100 level Math and Science classes. (Basically a rehash on what they took in high school)

      As for creating a balanced education Humanity Majors should Take Calculus I-II and 1 200+ Level Math class. And none of this watered down Calculus for Humanities, take the same class that freshmen engineers are taking. And they should be required to take 2 100 level Natural Science Classes (Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy (The real Astronomy not star gazing and remembering the planets) )

      There is a lot of value in a humanity education, it teaches you new ways to think about situations, but so Does Science and Math, when the situation needs a solid fact not a well formed opinion.

    • by GGardner (97375)
      Was she surprised by this outcome? What percentage of the previous, say, 20 history PhD students at her institution now have tenure track jobs? In the past 10 years, how many history PhDs has her institution matriculated? And how many tenure-track faculty have they hired? If the institution has graduated 50 PhDs in the last 10 years, and hired 5, you don't have to be a statistics major to see that there's a looming problem.
  • 40%? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ubi_NL (313657) <joris@ideee l . nl> on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:46PM (#47181229) Journal

    So 60% of phds gets a tenure position and they still complain? In Medical Biology less than 3% gets tenure

    • People with Medical Biology PhD.s are employable. In their field, not as Office Managers.
    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Yeah, but with a Medical Biology degree there are lots of career paths open aside from teaching. When a tenure track position is the only decent career you're qualified for you have a problem.

    • Not quite, the summary is misleading. According to the article, the 60% number came from this: there were 600 open tenure-track positions and 1000 fresh graduates, therefore 60%. What it ignores is that those 1000 graduates were emptying themselves into a pool already overflowing with graduates and existing non-tenure professors fighting for the same jobs. The actual percentage will be much, much lower.

      And that's just tenure track. Only a fraction of people on the track will actually receive tenure. Humanit

    • It does seem a bit odd (or, perhaps, telling) to expect that the only value of a humanities PhD is to teach in the humanities. If that's the case, it follows that since the only value is internal, they may as well eliminate the program entirely.

  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:52PM (#47181299) Homepage

    The career options for half of the courses offered in universities are strictly limited to teaching that subject at some university. In that way, from a financial angle, they are simply pyramid schemes. Many of these disciplines important for science, ie Theoretical Physicists, but the idea of churning out classes of hundreds of future physicist is just ridiculous.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday June 06, 2014 @01:55PM (#47181329)
    If these humanities graduates were numerate as well as literate, they'd easily be able to calculate that supply far outstrips demand.

    If the only jobs for freshly minted PhDs is teaching the next generation of students (even supposing that most are only there to study for fun - and have neither the intention nor the motivation to try and get a degree-based job), then it will quickly become obvious to them that filling the "dead mens' shoes" is a suckers game. Given the low to zero growth in humanities departments, there simply aren't enough vacancies created every year.

    The biggest shame is that this comes as a surprise to so many of them AFTER they've graduated.

    • by roc97007 (608802) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:08PM (#47181461) Journal

      > The biggest shame is that this comes as a surprise to so many of them AFTER they've graduated.

      I think it's a matter of denial. Being in humanities is comfortable. You learn the process of being at university and the process of making your professors happy and the process of negotiating a doctorate, and the rest is social mixers and waking up in the park naked with no idea how you got there. (This isn't just me, is it?) If you're getting a full ride, there's a tendency, I think, to just enjoy the trip and not worry about what you're actually going to do with your life until the subject becomes urgent.

    • by onkelonkel (560274) on Friday June 06, 2014 @04:02PM (#47182433)
      You are exactly right.

      There was a sad story on the radio the other day. A nice lady with a PHD in Art History was living in her car because she was broke and unemployed.

      What struck me was how very _betrayed_ she felt. Here she had studied hard, gotten good grades, and had achieved the highest academic degree possible and yet the job she expected wasn't forthcoming. All her life she was told "you need a degree to get a good job" and she somehow interpreted that to mean that if she got a degree she would get a job. Her whole attitude was that she was all but promised a job, and that it was the university's fault that this job wasn't there, and that she should have been told by the university that there were no jobs in her chosen field "before they took her money".

      She wanted to work as a museum curator, cataloging and managing the museums art collection. When asked how many such jobs existed, she was taken aback, as if she had never thought about it and then said maybe 10 or 20 in the entire province.
  • by show me altoids (1183399) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:00PM (#47181379)
    ...for humanities PhD grads is to add a required class in which they are taught all the nuanced ways in each regional dialect to say, "Would you like fries with that?"
  • If we fix humanities (assuming it could be done at all) we would not have the humanities PHD to make fun of anymore.

  • If the primary application of a specific education is to provide that specific education to the next group of people who will be providing that specific education, doesn't that strongly imply that it's not a very necessary area of expertise to have, and in turn, you should NOT have many jobs because they provide no benefit?

    What is the end goal of getting an education that you only spend on furthering education? Specifically in the humanities fields where, often enough, the majority of obvious career option

  • Cultural issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:11PM (#47181503) Homepage

    Some critics think that the humanities have gotten too weird—that undergrads, turned off by an overly theoretical approach, don't want to participate anymore, and that teaching opportunities have disappeared as a result. ...

    I think this is pointing at a larger cultural issue: The "Humanities" disappeared down a post-modern rabbit hole of nonsense. It's become widely held by "experts" that classics are all bullshit and only the most novel works are interesting. Paintings aren't important unless it's an abstract piece painted with feces. Literature isn't interesting unless it's incomprehensible. Philosophy isn't worth talking about unless it's mathematically provable.

    These subjects have the potential to be incredibly interesting and even important to our lives, but instead it's relegated to pseudo-science and trivia, and as a result, a lot of the "expert" PhDs don't know what the hell they're talking about.

    • Re:Cultural issues (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sandytaru (1158959) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:33PM (#47181723) Journal
      I majored in English for my undergrad. I quickly found that all literature was carefully supported BS, all my lit classes were teaching me was how to produce more carefully supported BS, and while I was good at the BS production I despised it and myself for doing it. I couldn't stomach it. It's a hot mess of group think.

      So I focused on technical writing instead, which was a good decision. There are not a lot of ways to BS in a software manual, nor do you really need to.
    • Re:Cultural issues (Score:4, Insightful)

      by debrisslider (442639) on Friday June 06, 2014 @03:27PM (#47182159)

      What happened to you to make you so bitter towards harmless humanities cranks?

      The whole point of the article is that there are too many Ph.Ds out there. One way to get noticed is to do work in new areas - either reexamining an older work through the prism of newer theories, examining a newer book/artist that hasn't had a lot of critical attention paid to it yet, or tearing down someone else's criticism of older work.

      The humanities isn't narrowing, it's broadening. I assure you there are just as many people studying the classics as there were before, but there are also people following other interests that have more meaning for them - people spending their time on minority authors, foreign works, the avant garde, or radically different approaches to criticism. There's also a lot of political ax-grinding and agenda-driven studies, but that comes from being in such a personal field.

      It's easy to set up a strawman argument against professors who write theses about things you don't understand or don't want to understand or don't think are valid art (let's not go there), but it's still a pretty small area of interest. You are, however, more likely to hear some (cultural) conservative bitching about corner-case dissertations and minor gallery pieces made with menstrual blood, and whatever happened to gosh-darn UNDERSTANDABLE art, in the same way that you get old-timer laments about how violent the country has become when crime is at an all-time low, or how every teenager dresses like a prostitute because Miley Cyrus.

      There has been a backlash against 70s-80s style Continental theory for quite some time now - the heyday of 'overly theoretical' has died down. But also... why should undergrads dictate what they should be taught? I promise you, any high-schooler coming into Lit 101 has a pretty narrow view of how to interact with art, because that's just not taught in high school, because high school English is geared towards SAT scoring. It's difficult to learn new ways of reading outside of the common-sense interpretations, the "what does X symbolize?" essay questions printed in sophomore textbooks. If all you want to do is talk about what base symbolism means and whether characters have 'realistic' depictions, or bear testimony about how deeply something moved you, why pay thousands in tuition when you could just join a reading circle?

      What is so scary about learning new frameworks with which to interpret art? Placing works in context, historically and stylistically and politically? Spending some time thinking about how meanings are produced? Examining how something completely constructed and with a particular motivation can end up seeming so 'natural' and 'true'? Learning to completely disregard authorial intention in favor of coming up with your own meaning for something, OR learning more about an author and how the circumstances they lived in shaped their thought and style? Examining cultural or historical bias in older works through today's ideas about race, class, ethnicity, gender/sexuality, political power, psychology, etc? About looking beyond 'obvious' meanings? Learning a bit more about linguistics and grammar and cognitive language processing?

      All those things take a bit of "theory," because you kind of need a framework of words and concepts to be able to articulate them - how do you describe what you don't know how to describe because you haven't known to look for it before? Or if you don't need them, it's certainly easier to have a pre-established dictionary of terms to work with than to reinvent the wheel in every paper you write. Theory is shorthand for complex ideas. It's jargon, but no worse than reading a scientific paper without enough preparation. It makes no sense to an outsider, and people feel threatened by that for some reason - the big scary professor doesn't make sense to me, therefore he doesn't deserve a living. Kind of like how some people don't understand science, therefore it's wrong or incomprehensible or against the natural order of things because it doesn

  • I notice the phrase "tenure-track" used a couple of times to describe the desirable jobs that might be obtained with these degrees. I've never heard the word "tenure" used to refer to a job outside an educational institution. If the only job for the degree holder is at the same sort of educational institution where the degree was obtained, perhaps that department could be merged with the other departments that teach people who will end up working within the education industry. Other subsets of the humani
    • That happens at Research I institutes, to some extent. Many of the university faculty members at the big schools only teach occasionally. The rest of the time they are doing experimental work.
    • Actually we do have a very small number of life tenure positions outside Academia. The most noticeable examples would be Supreme Court Judges and Members of the UK House of Lords.

      The purpose of tenure is actually the holder the freedom to explore unpopular ideas and the freedom to make unpopular choices without having to worry about political consequences from the bureaucracy. Tenure in the judiciary and politics, along with separation of powers, was a practical solution to the previous abused of power unde

  • If professors are teaching their replacements, they need dramatically fewer students, or an ever continuing ponzi scheme.

    Assuming a stable population of x professors, with a career time of y years, each individual professor needs to engage only enough students to get a *single* success in y years. Assuming a success rate of z%, that means 1/z students in y years.

    So, concrete example - 30 year career, 50% success rate of training a replacement, means each professor gets to teach 2 students in 30 years. Say

  • Shouldn't the goal be a world with no tenure?
    • by onepoint (301486)

      In Capitalism, yes. Since the best will always be paid top $$$
      I really don't know how to argue the no side of this question but I believe that it has to do with job security.

    • The argument for tenure is that a professor needs insulation from the politics that inevitably comes about when they touch on prickly subjects. It's even more of a problem these days when you have helicopter parents harassing professors who gave their 19-year-olds a C and the 19-year-olds complained that the teacher was pro-union or talked about evolution, which went against their personal beliefs.

      All tenure means if that some student or parent makes a complaint like that, the professor gets a hearing bef
    • The main rationale for tenure is to provide a safe environment for unpopular ideas. In the sciences at least you do have ideas like plate tectonics and the big bang model, which start out as laughingstock ideas but eventually gain acceptance. The argument is: If people are afraid to propose controversial ideas then what happens to future innovations like this? You could look at a scientist like Hugh Everett, who had his big controversial idea (the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics) too early i

  • According to the report, 40% of new Ph.D.s won't be able to find tenure-track jobs... The MLA doesn't want to reduce enrollments, but they think the grad school programs should be quicker to complete and dissertations should be shorter and less complex.

    So since there's already too many PhDs competing for too few tenure jobs, their "solution" is to decrease the effort of getting the degree, which econ 101 tells us will increase the number of teachers. With increased supply (PhDs in humanities) and the same demand (no new teaching slots), price (wages in this case) should go down.

    ...maybe it makes a good case for humanities PhDs taking some economics courses during their decade of school?

  • by swb (14022) on Friday June 06, 2014 @02:41PM (#47181795)

    I think this is right, Universities have turned themselves into vocational systems which claim to provide educations that provide white-collar middle class jobs. It's why everyone "wants" to go to college so that they can get some corporate job.

    Of course the irony is that nobody gets a job anymore with their corporate-approved education.

  • Hilarious Irony (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858)

    Am I the only one who finds it hilariously ironic that a lot of the people who insist that the future of work is everyone having a "creative" job (i.e., humanities) are the same people mocking humanities majors for having useless educations?

    • by Maxwell (13985)

      I find it hilarious you associated "creative" with "humanities". Those two are as close to opposites as the English language allows.

  • Seriously? As opposed to what? Governmentization? Why would the government be any better than a corporation, especially when the government is given a monopoly? It's not like politicians or even many of the voters are less greedy than anyone else. At least corporations have some incentive to fund the humanities. Politicians incentive is to get re-elected and embezzle taxpayer funds and since they control the media and the investigative bodies who will hold them accountable when they fail to adequately fund

  • It is normal for it to be "unlikely to find a tenure-track job". It would be extremely unusual for it to be otherwise unless students in general embarked on a policy of assassinating at least one professor after getting their doctorate.

  • by Stuntmonkey (557875) on Friday June 06, 2014 @03:14PM (#47182069)

    I have a PhD in physics, where a much fewer percentage of people get tenure-track positions. I feel every grad student's pain here.

    Mathematically the entire doctoral system is designed to turn out more PhDs than can be absorbed by academia. Seeing why is simple: If the number of academic positions is constant over time, then every tenured professor who advises PhD students can only expect on average one of his or her students to get a similar position. This is just the mathematics of population replacement. The problem of course is that many professors turn out dozens of PhD students, far above replacement.

    The key for any PhD student -- regardless of field -- is to accept the fact that you will most likely spend the bulk of your career employed outside of academia. In engineering and many of the sciences this is understood, and people regularly go to tech companies and other places where the PhD profile is valuable. In humanities there aren't so many obvious places for PhDs to go HOWEVER this in my experience is more perception than reality. Marketing departments are full of English PhDs with very successful careers. The absolute key is to not define your skills too narrowly. If you bill yourself as, "I'm an expert in X, Y, or Z" you'll likely be disappointed, but if you can think of yourself as "I'm a good writer and problem-solver." you'll have a much better time of it.

    Unfortunately when you're a student, the "system" has no incentive to prepare you for this likely reality. They think of their mission as turning out academics, and because of selection bias (every professor by definition succeeded in getting an academic position) it's a self-reinforcing belief. There is a huge risk of disillusionment and bitterness if you the student have unrealistic expectations. I maintain that if more degree-granting institutions looked at where their graduates end up, then with some simple adjustments they could make it a far more useful experience: For example shortening the time to PhD, providing greater opportunity to acquire marketable skills, and more interaction with program graduates.

  • by bitingduck (810730) on Saturday June 07, 2014 @01:03AM (#47185205) Homepage

    Essentially *all* fields overproduce PhDs relative to the number of tenure-track positions out there. Given that faculty can have decades-long careers and the increase in available tenure track positions is slow, anybody producing more than one or two PhD students is probably overproducing. But faculty are rated in part on the number of PhD students they graduate, and in the sciences there's an expectation of very high publication rates to get tenure, which leads to large groups and probably more overproduction than in the humanities.

    The issue is really more that much of academia (including a great deal of the sciences) considers students a failure if they don't end up in a tenure track position somewhere, and students buy into it. PhDs in the hard sciences and engineering tend to have low unemployment, but it results from people shifting into industry or government jobs of various sorts, often that pay much better and have more mobility (and not significantly less job security). Tenure is overrated -- tenured faculty tend to have relatively low (and slow) mobility compared to industry, and pay scales in industry tend to be much better. I know quite a few tenured faculty who feel more or less trapped in the institutions where they were tenured - tenure is a big commitment for institutions (and tenured faculty tend to want big startup packages to move) so there tends to not be a lot of moving around except among the top ones who get recruited from place to place. In principle, tenure gives you a lot of flexibility in your research, but it's still limited by what you can convince a review committee to rank highly enough to fund, so money tends to follow name recognition and familiar research.

    The separate problem that humanities has is that many, if not most, students pay for their own advanced degrees, where in science and engineering you're paid (not highly, but enough to live) to get your degree. If you're in a technical field, your undergrad loans are getting to look less and less expensive as you get deferments while in grad school and aren't racking up any additional debt. In the humanities, you tend to just be adding more debt on top of the undergrad loans. There are plenty of jobs that humanities PhDs can do just fine that probably pay better than faculty jobs-- what's needed is a cultural shift that says "you don't have to do research on whatever you did your PhD in for the rest of your life, or even research at all. A PhD is a demonstration that you can do unique, intensive research in an area and makes a contribution to the knowledge in an area. It shows that you can read, write, and think independently." It shouldn't be treated as trade school for whatever narrow subject you wrote your thesis on.

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