A Ph.D. in Classics is a prized, advanced degree, which can lead to a variety of careers.
This page is dedicated to compiling the efforts of SCS to expand the conversation, resources, and possibilities for those with a Ph.D. and focuses on the initiatives that have involved Classics alumni who have moved outside research and teaching in higher education, and have generously offered their advice on how they made that transition to students and contingent faculty who may be exploring a variety of options.
Following a 2013 Seattle panel of former Classicists no longer working in academia, the SCS continued to prioritize understanding what kind of careers were open to those with Classics degrees and how they might find those jobs. The SCS joined forces in Boston with John Paulas of phdmatters.org and the Paideia Institute to organize a Career Networking event. This event brought in Classics Ph.D.s from around the country and from many different careers to sit with graduate students and contingent faculty in order to answer their questions about how to break into a new field. The room was set to allow participants access to at least one representative from all the represented industries (non-profit work, technology, finance, consulting, government, and K-12 teaching), and the trading of questions and contact information was encouraged.
Networker participants - whose bios you can read here, though note that not all were in attendance due to weather - were as follows:
- Mike Zimm (technology)
- Ted Zarrow (HS Latin teacher)
- Paul Keyser (technology)
- Alex Conison (business)
- Elda Granata (publishing)
- Jeff Cohen (consulting, non-profit)
- Brigitte Libby (administration)
- Ariane Schwartz (finance)
- Chris Caterine (consulting)
- John Paul Christy (non-profit)
- Adam Blistein (non-profit)
- Gilles Bransbourg (finance/curator)
In all, 44 graduate students, contingent faculty, and other interested parties attended the event (aside from the Networkers). A survey of participants revealed later that the event was helpful in identifying career paths and getting a sense of the options for a Classics Ph.D. It was successful enough that we intend to run a similar style of event at the 2019 meeting in San Diego.
Similarities to the conclusions of the Seattle meeting abound. The transferability of skills earned during a doctoral degree was reiterated here, as were the words of encouragement. Both in 2013 and in 2018 former Classicists ensured doctoral candidates that their time in grad school was not wasted, and that developing an interest in a new field would not be a herculean task.
Other additions to the program included a sit-down lunch between the Networkers and the SCS president Georgia Nugent, where the president was briefed on possible courses of action for the SCS to undertake. This was followed by a meeting between Networkers and the chairs of Classics Ph.D.-granting departments and directors of graduate studies.
Some of the networkers sat down with SCS staff to discuss their impressions of the event. You can watch that video here: https://youtu.be/G8BGSdrl7wc
In addition to the Career Networking event at the 2018 annual meeting, the SCS President S. Georgia Nugent also prioritized other careers by organizing a Presidential Panel entitled "The Ph.D. Today: This is Your Brain on Classics." The panel featured the President, Michael Zimm from "Digital Surgeons," Ted Zarrow from Westwood High School, John Paulas, and pre-written comments from Katherine Eldred, a lawyer working in the U.K. The panel focused on personal stories, with all panelists describing their unique and non-linear paths to their respective careers.
The rest of the time focused on breaking down the self-constructed barriers that would typically turn graduate students away from applying for jobs outside of the academy. Critique of the lack of grad preparedness for anything other than the tenure-track was leveled, as was a reiteration of the necessary resources provided by colleges such as resume reviews, practice job interviews, and networking opportunities.
As part of a separate initiative, the Paideia Institute's "Legion Project" has been gathering a network of Classicists now in humanities careers outside of academia. These Legionnaires - about 48 of which are visible online here - have provided to Paideia a short description of their career path. They are proof positive that one can be outside of academia while still maintaining an active relationship with the world of Classics.
The project also refers to a field-wide effort to track down all Classics Ph.D. graduates from the past thirty years to track their job outcomes. The resulting article of their findings can be found here.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
David S. Potter (email@example.com)
Mike Lippman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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.
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)
Resources and Other Initiatives
- AHA Career Diversity page, highlighting various findings such as how history grads move around the country and how many get tenure-track jobs
- AHA Career Contacts network, which solicits requests from junior scholars to speak with former history Ph.D.s about how they ended up in their chosen career and how the student might go about entering that same field
- MLA data and studies on Ph.D. Placement and general employment statistics
- MLA Career counseling and non-academig job resources (translating an academic resume in to a standard one, negotiating, general career development)
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
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.