Where Do Ph.Ds Go When They Leave Academe?

One of my former students just passed this article along.  It reminds me a lot of Tony Grafton and James Grossman’s “No More Plan B” article from earlier this year.

L. Maren Wood is a 2009 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill where she received a Ph.D in American history.  Her and her friends all have Ph.Ds in the humanities, but most of them have been unable to find jobs in academia.  She is a researcher at an educational consulting firm in Washington D.C.

Like Grafton and Grossman, Wood calls us to do some more thinking about the kinds of non-academic work that humanities Ph.Ds can do and challenges graduate programs to invest more in job training.  Here is a taste of her recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

So where do Ph.D.’s go when they leave academe?

Far from the stereotype of the Ph.D. baristas at Starbucks, career-outcome data (see charts for each of the four institutions here) shows that history Ph.D.’s are thriving in a versatile range of careers. If we remove those who are deceased (2 percent) and those for which there are no data available (3.75 percent), then 27 percent are working in a range of industries other than academic research and teaching. (The remaining proportion at the four institutions ended up in temporary part-time, non-tenure-track, or postdoctoral appointments.)

Some of the history Ph.D.’s can be found working in areas where we would expect to find them: higher-education administration, publishing and editing, high schools, museums, government agencies, and public-history sites. They are researchers, consultants, and editors. One Ph.D. from Ohio State University is a vice president and corporate manager of a heavy-metal-equipment manufacturing company. Some are active-duty military officers. Many have successful careers as independent historians and scholars. Others run small businesses that specialize in everything from editing to organic food. Several decided to pair their doctorates with additional degrees to become lawyers, politicians, and librarians. 

Her comments about public history are also interesting:

A nonacademic career path often suggested to history Ph.D.’s is public history (that is, working for museums and historical sites). But the data I gathered showed that history Ph.D.’s in those four university programs have not ended up working in public history in any significant number. Moreover, a quick browse of job openings at museums and other public-history sites showed that those organizations seem to be looking for fund raisers, business managers, curators, and people with specialized training in museum studies. It’s not clear how many doctoral recipients in history would actually qualify for such jobs. So public-history careers may not be the panacea that some academics have suggested.

UPDATE:  My former student Katie Garland, who is working on a graduate degree in public history, notes that Wood’s discussion of public history above is skewed by the fact that three of the four universities she examined–Duke, Ohio State, and UNC-Chapel Hill–do not have programs in public history.  The lone exception in her sampling is UC-Santa Barbara.  Good point, Katie.

One thought on “Where Do Ph.Ds Go When They Leave Academe?

  1. Another key to the specificity of this study is that all of these universities are rather prestigious places to receive a Ph.D. in History. I wonder what the chart would look like if it examined four less-prestigious public universities. Any idea?


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