In case you haven’t noticed, we’re going to be doing a series of posts on academic job market dysfunction and the market for PhDs outside of academia.
In this comment, Miriam writes:
I think it is shameful that many Anthropology programs (including mine) don’t encourage and support non-academic careers. There are both public sector applications and, for those of us who got burned out on low wages in grad school, highly paid corporate anthropology work. User experience research is cultural anthropology. When I compare my experience to my Computer Science husband’s, it’s ridiculous. In my department, I almost had a professor withdraw from my committee when I let slip that I was considering a public-sector Anthropology career instead of an academic one. In my husband’s, the department used the amount of graduates placed with companies like Google as a selling point. More than that, the department actively built corporate links to help with placement.
Given the job market in Anthropology, it is cruel to pressure candidates to value and look for academic careers. Yes, one person from a grad cohort occasionally ended up in a tenure-track job. The overwhelming majority ended up with post-docs or one-year lectureships leading to more lectureships or adjunct positions. I will never understand why professors would expect intelligent people to look at the amount of tenure-track jobs available and not figure out that the odds are heavily against us. I also don’t really understand the bias against public-sector or corporate research. Yes, the research is more constrained, but it’s also more practical. Perhaps one sign that I was always a bad fit for my particular program is that I valued the idea of doing ethnographic research in service of a specific application more than doing it to publish an article or book that would probably only be read by other academic anthropologists.
I’ve noticed this as well. Humanities PhDs seem to be less encouraging of outside careers than are STEM PhDs.
I do wonder if it’s that there are more obvious career options outside of academia for engineers (for example, my DH is working on something very similar to his PhD work for a start-up, large scale work he couldn’t do as a TT professor because he didn’t have the funding) and economists (government, consulting etc.) and all those other disciplines that have pretty decent academic markets. It’s true that in my grad program, our advisers were disappointed when top students chose government positions over great R1s, but for the rest of us they were happy to write non-academic job letters for government and consulting work and they provided panels of graduates to talk about what life is like in those kinds of careers. At my current university, academic jobs (in the US) for our graduates are rare and we funnel most of our students into private-sector jobs.
But Miriam notes that there really are positions for anthropologists outside of the academic sector. Her professors just wouldn’t hear of them.
This musing is coming on the tail end of checking out the tweets that sent people to our deliberately controversial post on the topic. Apparently we’re neo-cons because neo-cons are the only people who ever use the word, “entitled.” (Note: that means a good portion of professors who teach undergrads must be neo-cons!) We’re fairly sure those folks just looked at the title of the post and didn’t actually read the post itself, since the post itself doesn’t actually say much or take a position of any kind, and the comments decry the defunding of academia. (Duh!)
But the truth is, even if we fully funded academia, there still wouldn’t be enough jobs for a lot of humanities folks because the more attractive we make those jobs, the more people will want humanities PhDs, because the humanities PhD is essentially a fun thing to do. We know this because even now there are people willing to starve themselves for the chance of someday becoming humanities professors. If you make it more attractive to be a humanities prof, all that you’re going to do is drive up supply.
Underlying these complaints, we think, is that many of these people who complain about the fact that we don’t just make tenure-track jobs for everyone with a PhD is that these folks think that PhDs can’t possibly work outside academia like the rest of the hoi poloi. They shouldn’t have to, what with their lily white hands and all. That’s where the entitlement actually comes in. There’s this belief that there’s something wrong, something dreadfully wrong, with leaving the ivory tower. That’s what Miriam, above, is tapping into.
And yes, that’s easy for us to say, being tenured at all… but…
But… maybe tenure isn’t all that.
Maybe, sometimes, it’s worth grabbing that golden ring and throwing it away.
One of us lives with someone who made the jump (though before tenure), and he’s so much happier.
So yeah, it would be lovely if, as a society, we took money from Exxon (and you know they’d take it from children’s mouths before they cut corporate welfare) and funded education again, but that won’t solve the problem of the humanities labor market, because the more attractive you make those positions, the more people will want to have them. There will be more jobs, but there will be even more applicants for those same jobs. Heck, even if we cut off all production of new PhDs, folks with humanities PhDs who had given up would return to academia if there were a demand for their services.
Cloud and Miriam were right when they said that learning how to do independent research is a valuable skill, even outside of academia. Maybe we should stop pretending that there’s something dirty about using these skills outside of the ivory tower. Maybe we should try to find value in producing things, like Miriam said, that are read by more than just other academic anthropologists.
And who cares what your out-of-touch adviser thinks.