Obtain a doctorate. is not an easy task. For an average of eight years – the average length of a marriage in the United States, as assistant philosophy professor Sam Asarnow points out – students work through a grueling learning process to conduct research and produce articles. in their respective field. They teach classes at the same time, earning a low salary. Almost half do not complete their doctoral programs.
Increasingly, PhD graduates are entering the workforce only to find that there are few jobs to match their hard-earned credentials, finding instead that they are 30 years old and not yet. started a professional career. About 30% have an education-related debt.
“The job market for higher education graduates is clearly tightening,” says Laura Mckenna, educational editor. reported few years ago. Indeed, 31% of doctoral graduates in 2019 had no online jobs after graduation, either in academia or in the private sector.
Universities face financial incentives to exacerbate this problem: hiring non-tenure professors costs less than hiring tenure-track professors and hiring doctorates. students to teach are even cheaper. The share of tenured and tenured professors decreases from 45% in 1975 to 29% in 2015.
Nevertheless, students still get doctorates The survey of doctorate holders find that in seven of the nine years from 2011 to 2019, including 2018 and 2019, the number of doctoral students. beneficiaries in the United States increased. During this period, the annual amount of doctorate. beneficiaries have increased by more than 10%.
Students pursue a PhD because they are genuinely passionate about the field they are studying, a passion deep enough that they are ready to spend eight demanding, low-paying years learning how to publish in that field.
“A Ph.D. is as much a labor of love as it is an investment in a career, ”said economics professor Gabriel Lade.
In addition to the value of the doctorate in itself, many find academia an attractive career.
“People choose to go into academia, to be professors, because of non-monetary compensation,” Asarnow said. “There are travel possibilities, working with kids is fun, people love to teach, they love to mentor and then do research.”
For Lade, academics’ offer of freedom and independence is particularly valuable.
“As far as my research goes, no one is telling me what to do,” Lade said. “I dictate my entire research agenda. Anything I want to study, I study. This part gives me a lot of use. “
In some disciplines, an academic career is a realistic goal to pursue. Lade is an assistant professor at Macalester, which means he’s leading to tenure but has yet to secure a post. He described a relatively favorable labor market in his field.
“Everyone gets a job with a doctorate in economics, and everyone usually gets a job that suits them,” Lade said.
In economics and fields such as applied mathematics, finance and the hard sciences, job applicants are not limited to academia. With more options in the private sector, doctoral graduates face manageable employment prospects. However, many other fields have few options in the industry, limiting career choices to a tight labor market in academia.
According to Oliver Lee Bateman, a former history professor who quit his job at the University of Texas after being deeply frustrated with academia, students don’t always understand the degree of competitive adversity they will face upon entering. in the university job market.
“Many promising young people make rash decisions with an inadequate understanding of their long-term implications,” Bateman wrote in an article about his decision to leave.
“You don’t know it’s that bad, so go ahead,” said associate professor of religious studies Ahoo Najafian.
Lisa Naples is an assistant professor of mathematics at Macalester. She got her doctorate. in the spring of 2020 and spent her final year in school applying, interviewing, and visiting campuses for jobs.
“My undergraduate teachers tried to warn me that it was going to be difficult, but that I should still do it. [a Ph.D. program] anyway, ”Naples said.
She applied for 120 jobs; each had hundreds of candidates. As a visiting assistant professor, she was hired on a one-year contract at Macalester, which was then extended for a second year. Next year, she will face this job market again when her contract expires, and she will spend her summer preparing to reapply before returning to teach three courses in the fall. Somewhere in between, she will find time to work on the research.
In a job market as fierce as academia, there are no guarantees. Even the most skilled researchers and teachers may be unable to achieve the security of a tenure-track position.
“It is simply wrong that you are making your own luck; it is wrong that the cream rises to the top. Said Asarnow. “There are a huge number of extremely talented and very exceptional people, and there are a very small number of jobs.”
As the students move towards obtaining a doctorate. then to fight against an unwelcoming labor market, gender, race and class distort the already low chances of success.
Racial representation is also low in academia, like Adam Harris written in Atlantic. In 2017, more than a dozen subdomains did not have a single black doctorate. recipient, who stayed true in 2019, the most recent year for which data were available. More broadly, black students only went from 5.8% to 7.1% of the doctorate. beneficiaries from 1999 to 2019, and the under-representation of Native Americans and Latinx persisted among recipient doctoral students. Harris writes that direct discrimination and the burden of costs – issues that arise every step of the way to earning a doctorate – help compound this problem.
Naples recalls attending networking events as a graduate student and finding herself attending post-conference dinners in unfamiliar towns with groups of unknown men. In 2019, just 29.08% of the doctorate recipients in mathematics were women. For Naples, these networking events have resulted in some tough decisions.
“I should go to this social event because making these connections is important for the job market, but is it safe?” Naples said she remembered thinking.
In addition, it becomes a huge advantage to have parents who understand how to navigate the trying experience of graduate schools. doctoral students engage in years of difficult study without much pay or much promise of long-term gains, and it is much easier to endure such a challenge with the support of parents familiar with the publication processes of research or networking. In 2019, 12% of recipient doctoral students also had a parent with a doctorate. The rate of doctoral students in the general population is 1.2%.
Yet despite the harsh realities of the job market, none of these professors said that students should not pursue a doctorate. in their field.
“There are definitely days when I still wonder if this is the career path I want to be in, especially knowing that I have to reapply for the job,” Napoli said. “And there are other days that I’m on, it’s the best thing, and I get all that flexibility, and I can try a new part of the country and meet this very diverse group of people.
Naples, Najafian and Asarnow – professors of math, religious studies and philosophy, respectively – cautioned that students should be realistic when considering a doctorate. in their respective fields, and they agreed that professors have a responsibility to relay the full truth about the difficulties encountered.
“I hate that the university has turned into this market, but it really is a market, and the fact that you have to sell yourself in this job market is pretty disgusting,” Najafian said. “Some people don’t even care about your intellectual quality, and you just need to know how to play the game.”
Ultimately, the imbalance between supply and demand for doctoral students goes beyond the choices and actions of individuals.
“The students are going to make the decisions they want to make,” Asarnow said. “I made the decision to go to graduate school against the advice of my mentors, who were trying to encourage me to make more rational decisions. They did everything to encourage me to make more rational decisions, and it didn’t work. And I fully expect that the advice I give to my students will be treated the same. “