A historian’s advice to students thinking of getting a PhD in a tough economic climateHistorians in the News
tags: education, history crisis
… For me, the cost of graduate school was reasonable. Yes, we were dirt poor for about 8 years. Yes, I didn’t sleep very much and spent a full semester before my comprehensive exams dreaming about questions in Latin that I couldn’t understand. Yes, I had to experience the very humbling experience of applying for many, many jobs and receiving very few interview invitations. Yes, we are now older parents because we chose to delay babies until I finished my PhD.
But still, almost 12 years after my degree, I am a happy tenured professor with a great family.
So everything worked out. For me.
What about for you? Is graduate school, especially in history, really worth it? According to the recent Survey of Earned Doctorates, more than 40,000 students earned a PhD last year, granted from one of the approximately 400 graduate institutions in the United States (see George Walker, et. al., The Formation of Scholars). Around 1,100 of these (according to the AHA, the American Historical Association) were new PhDs in history. Only 587 academic job openings awaited them.
I am a historian. Yet even for me this is easy math. There were almost 50% more PhDs than academic jobs available. When that is added to the backlog of graduates from last year (more than 400 PhDs than academic jobs available) and the year before, the number of academic job openings compared to the number of available PhDs becomes frightening. Especially when Robert Townsend and Julia Brookins state on the AHA website that: “The academic job market in history remains quite challenging for recent PhDs, and evidence…indicates that these challenges are likely to persist.”
So for those of you considering a PhD in history followed by an academic career, I have some advice.
1. Don’t do it unless this is truly your calling. If you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else, than apply. Otherwise, don’t bother. It isn’t worth it….
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