There is a widespread belief that the value of a Ph.D. in the humanities is decreasing, as tenure-track faculty positions were being replaced by adjunct positions. It was hard to argue against that fact, as most graduate programs rarely track the outcomes for graduating students. However, recent data from the Council of Graduate Schools says that the vast majority of Humanities graduates are rather satisfied with their employment. An article from Inside HigherEd shows not only that Ph.D. recipients are not only doing well in their eventual jobs but that they felt that their degree prepared them well for their careers, provided them the skills needed to succeed. Not surprisingly, the study also found that if given the opportunity the Ph.D. recipients would have still sought their advanced degrees in the same general field all over again.
While there is a lack of reliable data on employment outcomes, the American Historical Association(AHA) and the Modern Language Association(MLA) have undertaken a large-scale effort to document professional advancement for Humanities Ph.D.’s. Early reports have found show that 24.1 percent of history Ph.D.’s and 21 percent of English and Foreign Language degree recipients in the past 10 years have taken jobs outside of academia in business, publishing, museums, and other associated industries. Traditionally degree programs in the humanities lend themselves to training for faculty positions, many of those that have received their degrees have found excellent placement in the non-academic world as well.
The recent survey from the Council of Graduate Schools reporting overall job satisfaction and satisfaction with attaining a Ph.D. sampled 882 Ph.D. alumni that were three, eight, and fifteen years out of their programs. It included graduates from Anthropology, Archeology, English, Foreign Languages, History, Religion, Philosophy, and other humanities associated fields. The study, results displayed in Figure 1 below, found that their Ph.D. programs had prepared them well for their work, inside and outside the academy (77% satisfaction in the academy versus 52% outside).
The difference between those employed in academic and non-academic jobs for whether their programs prepared them well and if they would pursue the same training, narrowed the further out the participant was from degree completion. Further, participants reported that the most important skills gained from their program included their attentiveness to detail, their ability to think analytically, their persistence and dependability, and the integrity that they had in their work. One can find a more thorough discussion of the study’s findings in the article for Inside HigherEd here.
So, for those of you considering taking the step towards a Ph.D. in the Humanities, here are a few things to think about when considering that you are applying to:
What resources are the program, department, or university that you are considering allocating to the diversification of career trajectories for Ph.D. students? This can include things like:
- Assistance with career transition after graduation
- Internships with businesses outside of the university
- Funding opportunities outside of a departmental stipend
- Career panels or symposiums dedicated to non-academic careers
- Practical skills training for work outside of the academy (e.g. the use of excel, research techniques like interviewing or focus group work)
- Preparedness or help in developing career documents or skills (like interviewing) for non-academic or academic settings
- Administrators or liaisons that focus on career placement in both academic and non-academic jobs
These are just a few options for things to think about when researching programs and talking to members of programs that you are interested in. Further, you can always research by looking into career placements of recent graduates using their personal websites or by simply asking!