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Don't Do a PhD in History


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Years ago I frequented Gradcafe while applying for a PhD in history. Not all of the advice I received here was good, but much of it was. Partly as a result of that advice, I was admitted to a good PhD program where I had excellent mentors, made some dear friends, and learned a great deal about the craft of writing history. Everyone battles depression at some point while doing a PhD, but on the whole I remember my PhD with fondness. So hear I am with my PhD in hand, ready to pay it forward. This is the best advice I can give you: don't do a PhD in history. Don't do it.

I know that you have heard about how bad the job market is, but "bad" is misleading. It suggests that it is highly competitive, in a slump, leaving some good people behind, or something like that. The reality is that the historical profession is dying. There are no jobs and there won't be any for a long time. By that I don't mean that there are few jobs. I mean that there are none. My field is a large one. Every big history department in America has at least one scholar in my area. And this year there is not a single job that I'm eligible to apply for. If you complete a PhD, you need to realize that there is a good chance that you'll be in the same boat. And if there are two or three jobs when you finish, you'll be competing against hundreds of other scholars desperate for work. Many of your competitors will be 5-7 years out of their own PhDs, have books with good presses, and years of teaching experience. Even if you show enormous promise, why would risk-averse departments hire you instead of someone who has been doing the job well for years?

I attended a top-five PhD program (overall and in my field). I wrote an award-winning dissertation. I graduated with multiple good publications. I received excellent course evaluations for the courses I TA'ed and taught as instructor of record. My mentors wrote fulsome letters of recommendation. I produced polished job application materials. I did a postdoc at another top-five university. I am a friendly person who interviews well. None of those things altered the brute fact that there were no jobs. My profile isn't that of a superstar, but it is the profile of someone who did everything you're supposed to do. 

I'm not bitter about my experience. I have an academic adjacent job that is in some ways better than a tenure-track job. I don't really regret doing a PhD, but I am keenly aware that it came at an enormous cost. If you're on this board, you've heard the rule now that you should never pay for a graduate degree in history. That's true, but the real cost of doing a PhD is time. Everyone pays for their PhD. Even if you are among the vanishingly small number of prospective historians who get a tenure-track job, it will probably take seven years of a PhD work and then several years of struggling in temporary employment. That's probably a decade of your life receiving highly specialized training for a job that doesn't really exist anymore. You will pour most of your youth into a discipline that almost certainly won't have a place for you. 

What should you do? If you are thinking about applying for a PhD in history, don't. If you can't imagine doing something else, work on strengthening your imagination. There are lots of ways to engage in the life of the mind outside of the university. If you are in the first few years of a PhD program, I would recommend getting an M.A. and getting out. If you are close to the end of your program, it might make sense to hang on and finish. But you should write a good-enough dissertation and spend most of your time figuring out how to build a path toward a non-academic future.

Again, I'm not angry or bitter. I had a good experience in my PhD experience and will continue to publish some. But the historical profession is dying. History enrollments have fallen more than enrollments in any other discipline. Administrators are cutting lines or even eliminating departments. It probably won't get better for a generation, if ever. 

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Thank you for sharing this. You will likely face criticism from a couple of the old timers. I hope everyone who reads this post takes it extremely seriously. I'll add this article (perhaps a tad too alarmist) for some broader details that reflect the current crisis.

I am grateful that my PhD (still in the making) has led me to spend many months conducting research in a country I never would have visited otherwise, and allowed me to live the life of the mind. But I fear that at the end of this process I will come to see that these benefits will have come at a great professional and personal cost.

Edited by AfricanusCrowther
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For a long time, this paralleled my thoughts on the matter. But, as an adviser pointed out, a guaranteed 5-7 years making $30k with excellent health insurance coverage isn't nothing in this prepostapocalyptic hellscape. So I'm not so sure anymore.

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Good post and one that really bears repeating. Leaving with the MA was one of the best decisions I've ever made.  And for the record, I see the "alt-ac" thing as a crock. With a few exceptions, "alt-ac" jobs are jobs you can hold with a PhD, not jobs requiring a PhD. I'm sorry, but your dissertation on discourses on bodily fluids in the 18th century or the literary culture of immigrants in the early 20th century isn't a key element of becoming an insurance adjuster or a grants manager. These are jobs you can hold with the PhD.

By the way, if I sound angry about this, it's because I am. American graduate education is rotten from the core. The "alt-ac" push is, in part, a way to justify the cost (financial and opportunity) of students who complete a PhD and cannot find permanent academic employment.

If it's at all possible, mods, please, sticky this thread. Every prospective graduate student needs to read this post.

 

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Even though I was told by a professor that I might have gotten a job had I been born a decade earlier--"maybe"--I would never advise someone not to pursue a personal or professional goal. (The day I passed quals, the committee member who represented my outside field said Think of yourself as a teacher. By which he meant that it was my responsibility to give people information that enabled them to achieve their goals--my opinion of those goals notwithstanding.)

I would (and have) recommended doing a herculean amount of due diligence--including reading the OP again and again. There may be "nothing new" to some readers who are aware of some of the patterns that have been developing since the early 1990s. To many others, the post adds crucial nuance.

 I also recommend setting up job alerts in Linkedin and elsewhere so one understands how graduate degrees may or may not translate into requirements for job qualifications and professional experience. Some consultancies and government agencies require the kind of research experience that cannot quite be satisfied by a master's degree.

FWIW/Neither here nor there, I do take slight exception to the lumping together of the academic job market for professional academic historians as the most important key performance indicator of the profession's vitality or sustainability. 

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I'll wade carefully here as an old-timer. 

When I started my PhD in 2012, I was already ambivalent about being a professor or entering academia. I wanted to get my PhD and work as a historian in a very large museum, which was viable then.

I didn't know what academia was really about. 

I had never run a classroom.  I was told that to be a TA meant running discussion sections and grading but I had no idea that there were positions that involved only grading.  Due to declining student enrollments, my department dropped discussion sections and added more grading positions. Opportunities for teaching sessions before candidacy were quite limited. I didn't get to do it until after I passed my candidacy (partially due to fellowships in my first 2 years). I fell in love with teaching and interacting with students but stopped short at "quality over quantity" approach, unlike so many graduate students who focused on "more classes I teach, the better my CV will look for teaching jobs!"

Throughout my time, I was truly bogged down by heavy coursework load (due to fellowship requirements), research (including writing funding applications and trip and budget planning), conference papers, a journal article, and mental health issues that nearly took over my life. I simply had no time to develop and hone skills that employers valued such as computer programming, organizing and executing events and conferences, etc., etc. However, I did immensely improve my written and oral communication with the incredible support of professors, mentors, and colleagues. I did get to travel the world (literally) which I would have not been able to do until... maybe retirement, much thanks to the fund-raising that I did.  I never imagined that I would have an overall satisfactory experience compared to many horror stories that I had heard.

The pandemic hit when I was interviewing for postdocs. When the campus shut down and hiring freeze went into effect everywhere, I realized that there would be no second wave of postdocs and visiting assistant professor positions that came between March-May. I took advantage of one semester of funding that remaining to postpone my dissertation defense.  I realized that a December graduation meant that I wouldn't be able to secure an academic job to start in January. I started getting used to the idea that I would have to apply for non-academic jobs in this situation and I gradually became OK with that because I've been there before. 

Now, i am applying for a combination of academic and non-academic jobs to see what will bite. When it comes to non-academic jobs, my topic or historical content knowledge does not matter and it is important to separate myself from those and focus on the skills that I have to bring to those jobs. The PhD is simply another degree on your resume, nothing more, but you will have a section under "Work/Grant-Writing/Teachingetc. Experience" which you can tout the skills you have used to complete the degree.

Do I regret going for my PhD? Nope. I was so hungry for an opportunity to dive deep and become an expert in specific historical fields. I went through a MA program (2008-2010) and studied a new language abroad for several months (2010-2011) just to be sure that the PhD was what I wanted, even though I decided in 2006. The key to survival, I think for me, was knowing that I had prior work experience and was developing valuable skills (especially fund-raising if you're great at it) which to highlight while applying for non-academic jobs. And perhaps the comfort of knowing that I may never need to work to become fluent in all of my reading languages again.

And I'm a risk-adverse person. Really know yourself before you apply. Are you the type of person who can complete a big job which you've devoted hours and hours and breathed your life and walk away within weeks?  Do you have the grit and resiliency to overcome obstacles that come your way? The PhD journey is much more suited to street-smart people than book-smart people. If you're the latter type, go for the MA which is less intense in the way of non-coursework stuff.

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Just curious. What do you see as the non-academic jobs available to History PhDs these days?

- Federal government?

- Consulting?

- Advising media productions? 

On a separate note, I found this website to be super interesting:

https://gradschool.duke.edu/about/statistics/history-phd-career-outcomes-statistics

The problem is that they don't narrow it down by year group - just 2004 to 2019

Edited by GradSchoolGrad
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7 minutes ago, GradSchoolGrad said:

Just curious. What do you see as the non-academic jobs available to History PhDs these days?

- Federal government?

- Consulting?

- Advising media productions? 

Honestly, anything that YOU want to do outside of academia. Your goal is to demonstrate that you have the required skills to complete the job that you are applying for.  How the hiring managers/employers/recruiters view your degree is anyone's guess but know that unless they mention it, don't assume that it's your PhD degree that got you the interview.

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12 minutes ago, TMP said:

Honestly, anything that YOU want to do outside of academia. Your goal is to demonstrate that you have the required skills to complete the job that you are applying for.  How the hiring managers/employers/recruiters view your degree is anyone's guess but know that unless they mention it, don't assume that it's your PhD degree that got you the interview.

Tell me if what I am about to say is completely wrong though (which it might).

1. Do you think that one of the reasons why History PhDs don't do as well in the job market as sister fields (Political Science and Sociology) is because history doesn't really touch on data analytics and data based story telling? Anecdotally, In my collaboration with PhD, I was amused by the lack of familarity with excel, stata/SPSS, and tableau --> foundation tools for those other fields which have lots of cross-marketability with non-Academic job.

Ultimately, what I'm alluding to is that due to how the way history has been studied/researched hasn't really evolved with the times, nor has the right skilling to get history academics to be professionally competitive. For those in academia, there might be a trickle down effect whereby undergrads don't want to take classes in something / major in something whereby the field hasn't modernized enough sufficiently. 

2. I have noticed that my super successful non-academic career History PhD friends (and they earned their PhD within the last year or so) spent their dissertation time aligning with organizations with deep pockets (e.g., government organizations that have a vested interest in history to shape their current operations), but they told me this made them weirdos in the history department who were "passion driven". Is there something to be said that history has too long been history for history's sake and not enough history for practical application? 

If I'm off base let me know. I looked into a History PhD a while ago with an interest to go professional sector (like consulting for the CIA in my Jack Ryan dreams), but these were the concerns I had with the field that made me stray away (I went to Policy instead). I wonder if they are still relevant. 

Edited by GradSchoolGrad
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59 minutes ago, GradSchoolGrad said:

Just curious. What do you see as the non-academic jobs available to History PhDs these days?

- Federal government?

- Consulting?

- Advising media productions? 

On a separate note, I found this website to be super interesting:

https://gradschool.duke.edu/about/statistics/history-phd-career-outcomes-statistics

The problem is that they don't narrow it down by year group - just 2004 to 2019

Federal government: yes, either as historians (an official hiring category of the feds) or as regional specialists.

Consulting: yes. PhDs in the humanities show that you can successfully analyze lots of information and present that information coherently. Management consulting firms like this sort of thing.

Advising media productions: no idea.

Other fields (leaving out the obvious): secondary school teaching, non-profit management, scholarly publishing

Edited by AfricanusCrowther
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I have never personally regretted having gotten my PhD in history; it enabled me to have so many experiences I would never have had otherwise, to live abroad, to make wonderful friends, live the life of the mind, etc. I'd be a very different person if I had stayed in the job I worked in before applying to PhD programs; the experience of the PhD helped me grow so much and I would never take it back.

But, I want to second a lot of what the OP said.

There really are so few jobs. When I was first applying to PhD programs in 2011 I knew that the job market was bad, but like OP said, I didn't really understand how bad and how much worse it was going to get. Everyone should look at this: Eg1zhzmXkAAdph-?format=png&name=900x900

 

It could well be that there will be far fewer jobs in the next few years than there have been this last decade.

In recent years history has lost more majors than any other discipline. See here https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/11/27/new-analysis-history-major-data-says-field-new-low-can-it-be-saved Admins seeing fewer majors and lower enrollments require fewer history classes, which means they need fewer history profs, so retirees are not replaced and job adverts are rare.

The situation is worse than a "bad" job market. There have been more than 1,000 History PhDs awarded per year every year for the last decade even though the number of TT jobs for assistant professors is far, far lower. The numbers are just horrible. In popular fields (American and European) you do literally compete against hundreds of other people - including frequently, nearly all of your professional friends unless they are significantly older or younger than you. The experience of applying for these jobs is extremely time-consuming, brutally stressful and heartbreaking.

When I was applying I had this idea that I would come to the end of my PhD and there would be this sort of, referendum moment - either I would get a job or I would not and if I did not, I would move on and do something else with my life. But this is not how it works in reality. One of my advisors told me it often takes people three years on the market to get a job, if they do at all, and frequently in those three years they have to hustle to find temporary positions year to year, whether its extending their PhD, a postdoc, a VAP, adjuncting, "self-funding" (if you're rich), or one of those paper positions where you get affiliation but no salary (again, if you're rich). The reality is that in the final years of this process you often have to continuously make decisions about how much you are willing to sacrifice in pursuit of the dream of a TT job. You may have to weigh whether it's better to work on more publications or take a side job, if you should take an onerous adjucting teaching load that may leave you no time for research or writing good job applications, if it is worth it to uproot your life and move (at your own expense) across the country for a one year position (a bigger challenge for anyone with a partner or spouse). Living with not knowing what you will be doing the next year, and having to weigh these decisions can be very stressful. And, you may feel when you begin a PhD that you would be willing to move anywhere, take any job, do anything, sacrifice anything, in pursuit of the dream, but you cannot necessarily anticipate how those sacrifices will feel when you are older (especially if you have a partner or children).

I want to echo what the OP said about how a PhD comes as a enormous cost, even if it's fully funded, because the true cost is time. Yes, if you get into a good program you may be making a guaranteed 30k (though, to be honest, in many cases less) with health insurance for five to seven years. There is something to that, yes. But being a grad student freezes you at entry level, both financially and socially (as you are always in a junior, subordinate position in the career) for somewhere between 5-10 years. Your salary will likely not increase over your time in the PhD, or if it does, it will do so only minimally. Often, it will not keep up with inflation or rising cost of living, especially if your program is in an expensive city so you will actually be able to live less well in your final PhD years than at the beginning. What seems to you like a generous, comfortable salary when you are 22 or 24 may feel frustratingly or embarrassingly low when you are 30 and your friends from college are starting to make good salaries, get married, have children, and buy houses. You will still be making the same money you made when you entered your PhD.

You need to consider the opportunity cost. The true cost is everything else you could have been doing and earning during the time you were getting your PhD if you weren't doing the PhD. In all that time you spent being a grad student and making what is a 22-years-olds entry-level wage you lose all the time you could have been investing into another career path, in which you could have been moving up, getting raises and promotions, saving for retirement and getting that sweet compounding interest. If you do go on to get a TT job, your time spent in your fully-funded PhD will have been an investment, but if in the end you transition into another field you may be starting over at square one and you will have lost the opportunity for all those other gains forever. 

There are enormous benefits to getting a PhD in history. The work of a history grad student is fun, intellectually stimulating, fulfilling, and prestigious. You usually get a flexible schedule, meet interesting amazing people, travel, etc. But you pay an enormous price - financially in lost time and opportunity, and too often with damage to your mental health. Things worked out very well for me personally and I don't regret my PhD at all. But I know for sure that even though I thought I knew all about how the job market was bad, I did not really understand what the true costs would be when I signed up for this path.

 

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, remenis said:

You need to consider the opportunity cost. The true cost is everything else you could have been doing and earning during the time you were getting your PhD if you weren't doing the PhD. In all that time you spent being a grad student and making what is a 22-years-olds entry-level wage you lose all the time you could have been investing into another career path, in which you could have been moving up, getting raises and promotions, saving for retirement and getting that sweet compounding interest. If you do go on to get a TT job, your time spent in your fully-funded PhD will have been an investment, but if in the end you transition into another field you may be starting over at square one and you will have lost the opportunity for all those other gains forever. 

How many careers are envisioned in the scenario above? 

https://www.kornferry.com/content/dam/kornferry/docs/article-migration/Briefings38_Nomad-Economy.pdf

https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/nlsoy.pdf

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED582350.pdf

IME, working in the private sector (three industries) is not without challenges and risks.

  • No one has tenure. No one.
    • I'm currently in an industry that had two firms that bear the name of one of its founders. He is with neither.
    • In a different industry, founders --and many others-- were tossed aside when corporate decided to change strategy.
  • At will employees can be terminated with zero warning. Turn over your keys, sign this document, here's a live check. GTFO.
  • "Exempt" employees can be required to work more than eight hours a day for weeks at a stretch without additional compensation.
  • Non compete agreements can limit future opportunities. (Even if your pockets are deep enough to get you through the litigation.)
  • Firms that practice "just in time" hiring will expect you to do the job with minimal to no training. 
  • Your plans for a career path centered around areas of practice and types of clients make you the ideal candidate to on board the strategic hire.
  • Raises, salary adjustment, and bonuses are not guaranteed.
    • Sometimes, bosses want to get your attention.
  • Other benefits can be offered on a use it or lose it basis and can be discontinued from one year to the next.
  • Not every employer offers 401(k)s nor matches employee contributions.
  • KPIs are generally centered around numerical metrics that don't always add up and sometimes work at cross purposes.
  • The "grand strategy" of the Powers That Be can be unknown and ultimately at cross purposes of what bosses, middle managers, and worker bees are told. 
  • The pace of work can be bone crushing. Imagine your busiest weeks as a teacher the slowest weeks of a year. Or two. 
  • The paper you write days before it is due -- imagine it being worth tens thousands of dollars to your firm and hundreds, if not millions to a client, even though the client has gone for months without giving you information it said it would provide during the project kick off meeting.
  • Undergraduates unhappy with your work? Try managing Teamsters.
  • Uncooperative colleagues? Try getting members of private and public sector unions to see it your way when they know they damn well don't.
  • "Toxic" work environments/coworkers/supervisors? Unless you get to HR first with clear and convincing documentation, STFU and get back to work.
  • "Scope creep"==> project budget exhausted? Do the work on your own time.
  • "One set of integrated comments" from the client? Here are ten sets of comments, some contradict others. 
  • Disagree with how the work should be done on a project? That's nice. STFU and get back to work.
  • Intellectual freedom? Ah, well, now that you've learned of the existence of that NDA, you may never again talk about it nor the project nor the client.
  • Risk management is everyone's responsibility even if you've never been trained on how to manage risk. 
  • Free and open exchange of information ==> email blast from the bosses after a project manager's POV is printed in a newspaper.
  • Templates
  • Time cards

Morale check?

Edited by Sigaba
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11 hours ago, d1389jjch said:

Has anyone considered the job market outside the United States? A PhD degree from top US schools would be very comepetive in other countires. 

Yes and no. A lot of US graduates have the same thoughts. Plus, the overwhelming likelihood of non-US employment is not a nice position somewhere in Europe. The countries investing most heavily in higher education at this point are repressive petrostates like Saudi Arabia (there was an opening not too long ago at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals) and equally as repressive countries like China.

 

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On 12/3/2020 at 9:48 AM, GradSchoolGrad said:

2. I have noticed that my super successful non-academic career History PhD friends (and they earned their PhD within the last year or so) spent their dissertation time aligning with organizations with deep pockets (e.g., government organizations that have a vested interest in history to shape their current operations), but they told me this made them weirdos in the history department who were "passion driven". Is there something to be said that history has too long been history for history's sake and not enough history for practical application?

To your last point, yes. Part of the withdrawal of history into ever-increasingly narrow and specialized niches has had the effect of making historical scholarship arcane, inaccessible, and generally not too useful to people outside of academia. That's not a criticism of any specialized field, for the record. I actually find some of that work fascinating (e.g. Andrew Warwick's work on mathematical physics education at Cambridge). But, speaking from my history of science/medicine perch, my subdiscipline has actively disengaged from its original mission and attempted to become more integrated with the historical community writ large.

It is extremely common now to see monographs with practically no engagement of the serious scientific issues at hand, especially in history of medicine. I'm not against the social turn at all; it was a good thing and it needed to happen. With that said, the issue is now that the field doesn't actually engage scientists. Instead, it turns its attention towards historians (and other humanities disciplines) that want to know something about the science.

Put more bluntly, a microhistory about the ontology of bodily fluids in 17th century Spain doesn't draw much interest outside of a very narrow crowd of academics.

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2 hours ago, AfricanusCrowther said:

What are you comparing this to? Public-sector work outside academia?

The comparison is my experiences and observations in the private sector to the scenario laid out by @remenis . My point is simply that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is another train or a gorilla with a flashlight.

IRT public sector work, my department does a fair amount of project work for public clients. I would not want to have a public sector job right now. The needs of the here and now are outpacing other considerations.  Strategic plans are being shelved, day to day operations are in constant flux, budgets are getting slashed to the bone. Positions are being eliminated to save money even though qualified to have those jobs could help put out fires right now.

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24 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

The comparison is my experiences and observations in the private sector to the scenario laid out by @remenis . My point is simply that sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is another train or a gorilla with a flashlight.

IRT public sector work, my department does a fair amount of project work for public clients. I would not want to have a public sector job right now. The needs of the here and now are outpacing other considerations.  Strategic plans are being shelved, day to day operations are in constant flux, budgets are getting slashed to the bone. Positions are being eliminated to save money even though qualified to have those jobs could help put out fires right now.

The absence of good alternatives is doubtless why so many of us wish to enter academe. Alas, there are no jobs.

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From my perspective, it seems like secondary education teaching is a great alternative to academia for PhDs. It offers decent pay (particularly if you're willing to move to certain cities and/or towns), unionization, and retirement plans. Not to mention, PhDs are treated exceptionally well in high schools, by faculty, admin, and students. Sure, it's not as glamorous, and it may feel like a bastardization of history, but nonetheless it's consistent -- and (potentially) rewarding. 

 

What are others thoughts on this? Perhaps those who considered this alternate path but opted not to? Would love to hear from folks who have completed their doctoral degrees.

 

- A high school teacher hoping to be admitted to a PhD program. 

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On 12/2/2020 at 8:17 PM, psstein said:

If it's at all possible, mods, please, sticky this thread. Every prospective graduate student needs to read this post.

1) Sticking it will give it an imprimatur I'm not sure I want it to have.
2) We already have too many stuck threads in this subforum.

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2 hours ago, psstein said:

Put more bluntly, a microhistory about the ontology of bodily fluids in 17th century Spain doesn't draw much interest outside of a very narrow crowd of academics.

A good dissertation makes a coherent contribution to a historiography. A great dissertation explains why those who don't have any interest in its particulars should read it. 

That is, yes, in some ways academia is all about counting angels on pinheads, and it always has been. But whether that's all it is rests very much on your own shoulders as a writer and a communicator. 

As unlikely as it is to get an academic job these days, it is even more unlikely if you cannot communicate to a broader audience why your work matters. If you can't think about what you do on that higher level, you will also have difficulty marketing your skills outside of academia. 

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2 hours ago, AfricanusCrowther said:

The absence of good alternatives is doubtless why so many of us wish to enter academe. Alas, there are no jobs.

Yes, unfortunately. Having just gotten off an interview with a consulting firm, they're also getting hammered. Plus, I wouldn't overestimate the value of a PhD to them, at least based on people I've spoken to in them. FWIW, of course.

@Sigaba makes an excellent point. The private sector is bad right now. The public sector is teetering on an apocalypse. Many states have had irresponsible or outright incompetent budget management for years. With COVID-19, the day of financial reckoning draws nigh.

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41 minutes ago, psstein said:

The public sector is teetering on an apocalypse. Many states have had irresponsible or outright incompetent budget management for years. 

 

2 hours ago, exitiumax said:

 unionization, and retirement plans.

It's not all on the pols and bureaucrats. Not in California, anyways. In the 1990s, voters kicked a can down the road. The resulting sinkhole is being filled with crumbling infrastructure and fading dreams.

It's worth pointing out that while budget management is ultimately pragmatic and political in nature. If you were to have 100% budget transparency, "concerned citizens" could sandbag approved policies and projects by sharpshooting costs through the mistaken belief that running a public organization is just like running a business which is just like balancing a household checkbook. ("Why $x.xx for a Z? I can get it for less at Target.")

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The public sector is not a monolith tbh. Of course, the various museums, schools, public transports and other parks and rec are very much in flux right now. But a huge proportion of the government machine is countercyclical. If you have skills in macro modeling, bank closure, and a whole slew of obscure economic-financial subdisciplines, you can have a job yesterday - and the number of these positions will only increase in the next 2 ish years. If US public policy were run differently, a bunch of other sectors, from education to infrastructure, could also be countercyclical.

I don't like to park my fat butt in a conversation outside my discipline, but tbh I think this sense of Universal Suck has more to do with historians not having the kind of experience and credentials that are in demand than with everything being irredeemably shitty. Unless you're brilliant or rich, of course you will have to work long and hard to build a life that is bearable (I'm no historian, but my impression is that the mere opportunity to have a bearable life is a historical exception currently unique to the western world), let alone secure or leisurely. Starting the race with no relevant skills, networks or institutional knowledge implies playing catch-up, even if you can hit the ground faster because you're older and wiser. Doing back breaking work (metaphorically - we are all privileged to be here) for 10 years then having to do it all over again in a new industry at 30 - that's the real cost of the PhD.

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