So, you want to be a professor?

Scott McKnight links to an article from ABC News on job outlook for PhDs. The gist of the story is that universities are over-producing PhD graduates for the supply of jobs on the market (current and foreseeable future).If you’re considering graduate school or are currently in graduate school consider the business plans of many major universities. A significant part of the their ability to remain competitive in the delivery of education is the use of graduate students as an affordable labor force. As a result the number of the PhD students used to teach is increasing (and therefore the number of the PhD slots).  A second trend is the increased use of adjunct or part-time faculty. According to the ABC article approximately 50% of professors in the United States are on part-time contracts. These folks are another source of affordable labor for universities and, basically, are in this position because of the over-supply of PhD graduates and the increased competition in the higher education market. Here are a couple of other pieces of advice:

  •  Try your best to get into a top program. Duh. Having worked at a couple of universities with top five PhD programs in certain disciplines, I can attest that graduates of these programs will get jobs. 


  •  Try to be flexible in your choice of discipline, selecting one where there is demand. Duh. Economics is, for example, a discipline in which there is increasing demand for faculty. If you get into a good PhD program (not even an elite one) you will get interviews and you will get a job. One friend of mine in an econ program had 25 interviews. Certain types of history, for example, are also increasingly popular. Choose African-American history or Southern history…and go to a good program. The story isn’t the same for English and Philosophy students!


  •  If you absolutely must study something arcane and in low demand, be prepared to earn income other ways for a while. Learn a skill or gain a certification that will allow you to, say, teaching adjunctly and still make an adequate income. Or, think about alternative uses of your PhD. Consulting, writing, editing, come to mind.

 My comments here have been practical to the point of almost being crass. I think we all bemoan the way we have allowed higher education to become a service industry. Unfortunately we have to live in light of that reality.

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