The Chronicle of Higher Education, both in its blog and in print, frequently studies the fact that many PhDs never find a tenured position in academia. (The Chronicle is available online to subscribers and can be found in most academic libraries.) An article from November 2011 by A.W. June, entitled "More Universities Break the Taboo and Talk to Ph.D.'s About Jobs Outside Academe" (http://chronicle.com/article/More-Universities-Break-the/129647/), is an excellent survey of the current state of affairs. The article describes a web site called "The Versatile PhD”, which aims to offer "first-hand advice about nonacademic careers for humanities & social science PhDs." (http://versatilephd.com/)
The prudent recent PhD must consider that current market conditions or personal priorities may rule out a permanent academic career. Yet, as observed above for those with a BA degree in the Classics, the skills and abilities provided by such training have proved to be useful outside of academia in the fields listed above. The problem is really one of rhetoric, of learning to describe one's qualifications and experience in ways that emphasize the proper things. One also needs to deal with the prejudices on both sides, which hinder communication and understanding between trained academics and representatives of business and industry. The non-academic sector, for example, may stress cooperative work over independent research, will generally think in terms of more immediate deadlines, and will tend to emphasize production over credentials.
The best places to begin are by talking with a college or university career counselor and by browsing among the steady flow of books and articles that deal with career planning and career transition. A standard book, with a well-deserved popularity, is Richard Nelson Bolles, What Color Is Your Parachute 2012- A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters & Career Changers. (Ten Speed Press, updated annually).
Still of some use, though a bit out-of-date, is Elaine Showalter, The MLA Guide to the Job Search: : A Career Guide for PhDs and PhD Candidates in English and Foreign Languages (rev. ed., MLA, 1985). Chapter 4, by Howard Figler, is entitled "Succeeding in the Nonacademic Job Market" (pp.75-101). It discusses many career opportunities outside higher education for PhDs in the humanities and ends with a bibliography for further reading.
See below for more information from a pane discussionl on alternative employment.
Alternative Employment for PhDs and Advanced Graduate Students in Classical Studies/Archaeology
A Panel organized by the Joint APA/AIA Committee on Placement and held at the Joint Annual Meeting in Seattle on January 5, 2013
In light of the weak academic job market for PhDs in Classical studies—philology, art, archaeology, history, philosophy, and related fields--the APA/AIA Joint Placement Committee assembled a panel to discuss alternatives at the 2013 Annual Meeting in Seattle. All of our panelists have backgrounds in Classical or Medieval studies, but each has left academia, temporarily or for good, to pursue rewarding careers in a wide range of professions: administration, consulting, informatics and technology, heritage management, journalism, national security, and web design. They have worked for the government, for companies large and small, and in their own start-ups.
The panelists offer no single formula for success, but several themes recur throughout. Presentations and discussions emphasize that academic skill sets (particularly research, analysis, writing, and the ability to pursue a project to its end) are directly transferable to a wide range of professions. Non-academic careers often offer more choice in where to live, competitive pay and benefits, flexible hours, vacation time, and accelerated searches and hires.
Be creative, innovative, and independent. Take stock of all your interests, strengths, and skills, and think about how you can apply them broadly. Be proactive in educating yourself about other professions and acquiring relevant skills. Try to develop (and demonstrate) real interest in chosen fields. Gain experience and build connections with “temp” jobs, summer internships, and free or inexpensive courses (in web design or programming, for example). Take chances and seize opportunities! Maximize chances for “good luck” by networking, asking questions, and securing “informational interviews” with successful professionals.
Look ahead, not backwards, avoiding the “sunk cost” fallacy—the idea that the time invested in graduate school will have been wasted if doesn’t lead to a traditional position. Don’t be afraid to test new waters: Decisions are often more reversible than one might think, as several panelists emphasize. Conversely, it is never too late to leave academia for a better “fit” elsewhere. Finally, a new career need not keep you from Classical studies: Stay in touch through reading, travel, membership in the APA and/or AIA, cultural organizations, volunteering, and teaching in continuing-education programs.
The panel was made possible by generous funding from David Potter and the University of Michigan, in recognition of Ludwig Koenen's contributions to our field.
Betsey A. Robinson (email@example.com)
David S. Potter (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mike Lippman (email@example.com)
Panelists and Presentations
- Track 1. Introduction (Mike Lippman, University of Arizona and David Potter, University of Michigan) and First Speaker: Michelle Berenfeld, Pitzer College (formerly World Monuments Fund)
- Track 2. Second Speaker. Diane Cline, University of Cincinnati (formerly National Security Agency).
- Track 3. Third Speaker. Max Christoff, Google Wallet (formerly Morgan Stanley).
- Track 4. Questions and Discussion.
- Track 5. Fourth Speaker. Paul Legutko, Semphonic.
- Track 6. Fifth Speaker. Paula Willard, Wildflower Interactive (formerly National Geographic).
- Track 7. Sixth Speaker. Frederick A. Winter, U. S. Department of Education (formerly Association of American Colleges & Universities and National Endowment for the Humanities).
- Track 8. Seventh Speaker. Clare Gillis, Freelance Journalist.
- Track 9. Questions and Discussion. Betsey A. Robinson, Vanderbilt University.
Recommended Internet Resources
Websites mentioned by our panelists (and related)
- American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)
- AAC&U Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) Initiative:
- Google (jobs)
- Lynda.com online training videos, manuals (Check to see if your university subscribes)
- National Security Agency
- United States Institute of Peace
- Versatile PhD, especially “Humanities Forum” (Fomerly WRK4US)
Sites focused on leaving academia
- “The End of the University as We Know It,” by Nathan Harden, The American Interest January/February 2013:
- “For Graduate Science Programs, It's Time to Get Real,” by Amanda A Shea, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 25, 2013:
- “The Disposable Academic: Why Doing a PhD is Often a Waste of Time,” n.a., The Economist, December 16, 2010:
- “MLA President Offers a Sobering Critique of Graduate Education in the Humanities,” by Stacy Patton, The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 6, 2012:
*While these are all worthwhile sites, they are views from the inside of the academy looking out. We feel that the somber tone, while appropriate, masks the fact that nontraditional careers can be very rewarding, as our panelists point out.
- Allen, Susan Hueck. Classical Spies: American Archaeologists with the OSS in World War II Greece
- Bamford, James. The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, the America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization
- Bamford, James. The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America
- Bamford, James. Body of Secrets, Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret Natonal Security Agency
- Basalla, Susan. So What Are You Going to Do with That?
- Bolles, Richard. What Color Is Your Parachute?
- Donaghue, Frank. The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities
- Nussbaum, Martha C. C. Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities
- Pink, Daniel H. Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself
- Winks, Robin. Cloak and Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961
Careers in Library Science
Members of the Western European Studies Section (WESS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) have formed a committee to address the current and long-term shortage of academic librarians. They are particularly interested in advising scholars and teachers with foreign language training and advanced degrees that careers in academic librarianship provide additional options for using their training in an academic setting.