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Don't Do a PhD in History


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Thanks for sharing, pretty depressing reality. I’ve been considering doing the exact thing you recommended not to do (paying for a graduate degree in history). I’ve wanted to get an M.A. because I hope to teach at the community college level. Any advice? Feel free to be brutally honest lol

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This is honest and appreciated—grim as it is. 

I'm a current MA student applying for PhD programs now. I'm aware of the dwindling job opportunities and I'm prepared to face the fact there might not be a university job out there for me. (For context, I am a dual citizen and applying to programs in the US and Canada, which gives me a little hope.) I've long been aware that government could be a possible sector to go into if academia doesn't work out. Does anyone know where to find what actual, specific positions are available in government as a historian, or at least with a historian's training? i'm tired of seeing History department pages just saying "many graduates have gone on to work in government...." without knowing what kind of positions they're talking about. I've had someone recommend diplomatic stuff to me (I have some language training), but I don't think I could deal with the relocations every 2 years or whatever's involved with being an ambassador. 

I looove the research aspect of history and the opportunity to pursue that in a tenure-track position (😩), but I know I gotta be ready for whatever may come. If you know of any specific jobs, that might be helpful for me to have as back-pocket stuff to whip out if asked about it, especially with my grad apps underway.

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In addition to their being a skills / credentials issue with PhD in History enhancing non-academic employability, is there an issue with the History field just going towards matters that there is no public demand for (general public market, commercial market, or academia generally - outside of history)? Anecdotally, all my history major buddies who went on to PhD world are mostly doing history in remote and obscure matters out of "passion", but they self-acknowledge that there is no real market for it. Is this just me or is this a micro-slice of a bigger issue? 

As I coach and mentor history majors from my undergrad of going PhD vs. professional sector, I was hoping to get some greater perspective of this PhD business (or should I say - lack of business). 

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3 hours ago, essiec said:

 Does anyone know where to find what actual, specific positions are available in government as a historian, or at least with a historian's training?

Some department of the federal government (State Department, National Park Service) hire historians. They produce archival reports or research historic places.

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This is an important thread and one of the most insightful ones I've read in years here. 

I'll second @Sigaba's comment of not wanting to opine on people's professional goals. I think those fluctuate a lot, and this forum is only a slice of the history community. 

I want to be clear about something. There are no jobs. This is not grim or sad, it's the reality and the hand we are dealt with. In my field, there are two. I could go into the weeds of how this is ridiculous as higher education costs continue to increase, but we won't solve here. 

If you want to do a PhD in history, then accept that you will not probably get a TT job. Further, if you want to do a PhD in history, do not attend a program that is only geared towards the academy.

More programs now are expanding their objectives and preparing students to other careers. We could discuss if that should be the aim of a doctorate, but for argument's sake, let's say it can be done. This is what @TMP referred to as their grant writing skills. Programs today offer certificates in digital humanities or public history, and many graduates end up working in these fields.

For those of you asking of professions outside the professoriate, here is where friends of mine are working: librarians at research libraries, preparatory schools (they pay as good as a TT prof!), digital scholarship coordinators, advanced education directors, writing center directors, archivist (I don't remember exactly the job, but he is working for a federal archive in programming). A friend of mine with a Theology degree went on to work for sports rep agency. I'm not saying you should do a PhD for any of these positions.

But, alas, basically, weigh everything in, and remember the costs of doing a PhD that are not advertised in the website. 

 

 

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7 hours ago, ExponentialDecay said:

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.

FWIW/IME, in California, many municipalities are disinterested in economic / financial analysis that may help them to hit the ground running post COVID-19. Re-staffing and restoring positions will need to occur before additional positions are added. It may well turn out that municipal institutions will turn to consultants and/or seek to bypass the need for complex analysis of current conditions by implementing technology upgrades. 

IRT no relevant skills, if you're a historian, you can read, research, think critically, navigate environments that are fluid and ambiguous, and write. IME, these are relevant skills. At my job, I'm the only one in my department who does not have a degree in our core area of expertise nor more than ten years' experience.

6 hours ago, briskin14 said:

Thanks for sharing, pretty depressing reality. I’ve been considering doing the exact thing you recommended not to do (paying for a graduate degree in history). I’ve wanted to get an M.A. because I hope to teach at the community college level. Any advice? Feel free to be brutally honest lol

Do faculty members at community colleges have masters degrees or doctorates?

4 hours ago, essiec said:

This is honest and appreciated—grim as it is. 

I'm a current MA student applying for PhD programs now. I'm aware of the dwindling job opportunities and I'm prepared to face the fact there might not be a university job out there for me. (For context, I am a dual citizen and applying to programs in the US and Canada, which gives me a little hope.) I've long been aware that government could be a possible sector to go into if academia doesn't work out. Does anyone know where to find what actual, specific positions are available in government as a historian, or at least with a historian's training? i'm tired of seeing History department pages just saying "many graduates have gone on to work in government...." without knowing what kind of positions they're talking about. I've had someone recommend diplomatic stuff to me (I have some language training), but I don't think I could deal with the relocations every 2 years or whatever's involved with being an ambassador. 

I looove the research aspect of history and the opportunity to pursue that in a tenure-track position (😩), but I know I gotta be ready for whatever may come. If you know of any specific jobs, that might be helpful for me to have as back-pocket stuff to whip out if asked about it, especially with my grad apps underway.

I recommend that you set up a search notification on your Linkedin account. Cast a very broad net -- "historian" is going to get hits for architectural historian. "Analyst" will also get a wide range of hits. However, if you habitually study the results, you may start to see patterns. 

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10 hours ago, briskin14 said:

Thanks for sharing, pretty depressing reality. I’ve been considering doing the exact thing you recommended not to do (paying for a graduate degree in history). I’ve wanted to get an M.A. because I hope to teach at the community college level. Any advice? Feel free to be brutally honest lol

Do not pay for a graduate degree in history. There is no clearer way for any of us to say it. It has been a common refrain on this board for a decade, and certainly it is just as true now as ever. There are plenty of funded history MA programs out there. Apply to some of those if you feel the MA is necessary.

 

6 hours ago, AP said:

I want to be clear about something. There are no jobs. This is not grim or sad, it's the reality and the hand we are dealt with. In my field, there are two. I could go into the weeds of how this is ridiculous as higher education costs continue to increase, but we won't solve here. 

If you want to do a PhD in history, then accept that you will not probably get a TT job. Further, if you want to do a PhD in history, do not attend a program that is only geared towards the academy.

Just to reiterate the point further: there is one job in my field this year. Unfortunately, a lot of programs have been devastatingly slow at starting to pivot towards non-TT professional careers, even now.

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Coming out of lurk mode to give my two cents: this topic was my specialty--a conversation I fought tooth and nail to have at my university--until I circumstances placed me in a position to realize that the bureaucracy of doctoral programs is not equipped to help PhD students navigate this new reality. As another poster astutely mentioned: the guaranteed salary and health insurance for 5-6 years is a convincing argument for riding out the storm in the doctoral program, but you are also stunting your career growth.

You can get certificates in DH or archives out the wazoo, or do an internship for a few months--but if you aren't building any credible, progressive skills for a resume, you are merely treading water. Also, since many doctoral students come fresh out of undergraduate or 1-2 years after undergrad, they are emerging from a PhD program at 29/30 without any real world work experience. The private, govt, and academic sectors are hammered by the pandemic. Who is going to make it past the application stage: a 30 year old PhD with no job experience or a 30 year old with direct job experience (bc remember, most people applying for specific jobs went to school to major in that field)?

But again, doctoral programs are not built to address this. Your coursework, your writing assignments, your dissertation, your conference presentations, your TA assignments, and so on are geared towards preparing you for a TT job. You aren't supposed to get a job. Graduate fellowships geared towards some type of vocational training (e.g. editorial assistant at a university press) are few and far between. Your advisors' only assistance is to bring in alums or other PhD "alt acs" to discuss their experiences--they cannot and often will not help you be legible inside and outside of the academy.

It is, IMO, the height of conceit to say you're pursuing the PhD to research and write and read for 5-6 years. The only people who say that are those who have a tiny kernel of belief that they'll be the one to beat the odds and get the TT job at the end of the journey. 

I don't think you shouldn't go for the PhD--my opinion right now is that those whose first dream is to be a professor need to be the last people applying to PhD programs. 

Edited by NoirFemme
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Is judging others based upon assumptions of their motivation through the lens of one's own experiences an effective tactic in getting aspiring and current graduate students in history to manage carefully their expectations?

What are the consequences of telling readers, some who may be people of color, that it is inappropriate to dream of being a professor?

 

 

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Just now, Sigaba said:

Is judging others based upon assumptions of their motivation through the lens of one's own experiences an effective tactic in getting aspiring and current graduate students in history to manage carefully their expectations?

What are the consequences of telling readers, some who may be people of color, that it is inappropriate to dream of being a professor?

 

 

 

I am a black woman who is also first-gen and working class.

I should think that my background gives me qualifications for understanding the way doctoral programs are designed to not only keep people like me out and/or marginalized, but create a false reality that will leave you assed out if you don't go through the program with open eyes for your own future.

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6 minutes ago, NoirFemme said:

 

I am a black woman who is also first-gen and working class.

I should think that my background gives me qualifications for understanding the way doctoral programs are designed to not only keep people like me out and/or marginalized, but create a false reality that will leave you assed out if you don't go through the program with open eyes for your own future.

And rather than offering your experience and expertise in one program to serve as a source of support, you are positioning yourself as a gate keeper. 

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1 hour ago, Sigaba said:

And rather than offering your experience and expertise in one program to serve as a source of support, you are positioning yourself as a gate keeper. 

I don't think @NoirFemmewas gatekeeping. It's important for prospective students to have clear, unvarnished perspectives on what the state of the field and top programs look like right now. Those who have big dreams/aspirations need to hear this kind of honesty and won't interpret this commentary as a "judgement" or a be all, end all on their career goals. FWIW, if I took all the advice I've read/received on here at face value, I wouldn't have managed to eke my applications out in the first place this year. 

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3 hours ago, Sigaba said:

And rather than offering your experience and expertise in one program to serve as a source of support, you are positioning yourself as a gate keeper. 

 

I wasn't aware that being honest about what is happening in doctoral programs in the middle of a global pandemic, which is turning higher ed upside down, is gatekeeping. I find it highly irresponsible for current graduate students to tell prospective students to apply without laying out what they will probably face in programs that are in difficult positions to offer proper mentorship, research support, financial resources, and general advice. I have mentored first years in different programs since I was in my second year, and I am honest and frank with the incoming first years right now about how little advice I can give because I did not begin my program in this context. Pretending that being a doctoral student is solely about a life of the mind, or a few years to explore a dream, is the sole province of the privileged. 

Also, I am not and will never be in the position to gatekeep academia, so throwing that accusation at me is astonishing. 

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1 hour ago, coffeehum said:

I don't think @NoirFemmewas gatekeeping. It's important for prospective students to have clear, unvarnished perspectives on what the state of the field and top programs look like right now. Those who have big dreams/aspirations need to hear this kind of honesty and won't interpret this commentary as a "judgement" or a be all, end all on their career goals. FWIW, if I took all the advice I've read/received on here at face value, I wouldn't have managed to eke my applications out in the first place this year. 

The following passages are what I found especially controversial. 

14 hours ago, NoirFemme said:

It is, IMO, the height of conceit to say you're pursuing the PhD to research and write and read for 5-6 years. The only people who say that are those who have a tiny kernel of belief that they'll be the one to beat the odds and get the TT job at the end of the journey. 

I don't think you shouldn't go for the PhD--my opinion right now is that those whose first dream is to be a professor need to be the last people applying to PhD programs. 

IMO, when you attempt to take away a person's opportunity to fail, you also take away an opportunity to succeed. Also, the way I was trained as an educator, you do not mess around with or question others' motivation unless they specifically ask for guidance. Had @NoirFemme written that those who dream of being a history professor may find the path exceptionally challenging, or suggested that such individuals consider the benefits of broadening their constellation of motivational factors, I would have nodded in silent agreement.

But that's not what she wrote. Instead, she editorialized ("the height of conceit").

But also.. 

3 hours ago, NoirFemme said:

I am a black woman who is also first-gen and working class.

I should think that my background gives me qualifications for understanding the way doctoral programs are designed to not only keep people like me out and/or marginalized, but create a false reality that will leave you assed out if you don't go through the program with open eyes for your own future.

^The position that one's background alone bequeaths an understanding of how doctoral programs are designed, is debatable, especially given the absence of qualifiers. IME, it is the kind of generalization that historians are trained not to make -- autobiography is not history. One's background and experiences may provide additional insight, but do not, in and of themselves provide expertise.

Had @NoirFemme summarized her experiences as being consistent with what is being reported in this and other threads--with or without the disclosure of race, gender identity, and socio economic class, I would find her comments more memorable and less controversial.

Just now, NoirFemme said:

I wasn't aware that being honest about what is happening in doctoral programs in the middle of a global pandemic, which is turning higher ed upside down, is gatekeeping.

Also, I am not and will never be in the position to gatekeep academia, so throwing that accusation at me is astonishing. 

You continue to conflate your individual experience as a graduate student in one history program as a global view of all doctoral programs as well as of thousands of higher education institutions. The latter is especially interesting as individual institutions are themselves trying to figure out if COVID-19 is the cause of their financial misfortunes or, as many administrators and consultancies are arguing, an accelerant. "Being honest" about one's experiences is crucial,  and, IMO, a conversation among historians is not well served by over generalizing and over simplifying cause effect relationships.

Positioning oneself in a role is not the same as fulfilling that role. You sought to establish an order by which people should consider applying to history graduate programs. For whose benefit did you offer the opinion? Certainly not for the benefit of "true believers" who might be able to submit application materials that resonate with like-minded professors who go on to do what history professors are known to do -- lean in and support graduate students who remind them of themselves. 

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Being honest has been there but PhD programs, like @NoirFemmepointed out, haven't been designed to help PhD students develop credible skills.  Working as a grader barely does anything than being assigned as a Graduate Administrative Assistant planning for a big conference at the end of the semester or managing an academic journal.  The anxiety that graduate students have is with the Powers to Be being unwilling to share their graduate labor with the community that would gladly take smart, capable people as interns. My program has decided to circumvent that by simply offering a 3-credit "course" to allow grad students have time to do that instead of taking another readings course. 

I have had many conversations with a particular colleague whose program did not train her to be more cutting-edge like transnational or global history and she's been struggling.  She went directly to PhD from undergrad and has been working to build up administrative skills -- on the side (and her advisers aren't too happy, from what she says). Should she have had to pick up extra jobs to make up for what her top-15 graduate program did not deliver?  Nope.

However, what this pandemic HAS done is make absolutely clear that PhD programs will not be able to place their PhD students at the same rate as they did before.  There are jobs but the crash is real and the lines available are being driven by economics and social demands.  For example, East Asian and Middle Eastern history positions have been relatively plentiful -- until this year.  The new "hot" commodity is African-American/African/Black diaspora history and these fields now combine to about 30 positions or so.  Every other field-- Modern Europe, Latin America, etc. have been relatively flat though they plummeted this year. South Asia and History of STEM are rising. The US History field is, what I have seen, largely defined by current student demands and race and ethnicity have been emphasized. Therefore, graduate students choosing fields need to understand that the market will change and be prepared to accept the market for what it is when they're ready to apply. 

I do agree with @NoirFemme's final point about those who are 100% committed to being professor should be the last ones to apply because what are those people doing to do if they don't get jobs as a professor upon graduating from a PhD program? They are not being open-minded enough and being flexible with the reality.  At the same time, @Sigabais right about commitment to the historian's craft. To be successful academically -- and I mean with a solid CV -- one does need to be committed to research and writing an excellent dissertation that can be converted to a publishable book without significant distractions to slow down the progress (and costing the university/department more $).  Unless you're an amazing multi-tasker and at time management to be able to take up side activities to build up your resume, do work for a few years before entering the PhD so you can, perhaps, easily transition back to the "working world" with those skills and more.

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On 12/3/2020 at 11:03 PM, Sigaba said:

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?

Agreed. I would never work for another corporation ever again. As a former public health official, you become compromised ethically. Even in history, that would happen as well. Also I tend towards critical theory in historical applications. If history offered a good path to my research I would have pursued that route. Instead I am studying photography and combining that with my historical interests.

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1 hour ago, TMP said:

Being honest has been there but PhD programs, like @NoirFemmepointed out, haven't been designed to help PhD students develop credible skills.  Working as a grader barely does anything than being assigned as a Graduate Administrative Assistant planning for a big conference at the end of the semester or managing an academic journal.  The anxiety that graduate students have is with the Powers to Be being unwilling to share their graduate labor with the community that would gladly take smart, capable people as interns. My program has decided to circumvent that by simply offering a 3-credit "course" to allow grad students have time to do that instead of taking another readings course. 

I think you may be underestimating what you have learned as a graduate student--the ability to coordinate / support and evaluate multiple projects as a teaching assistant, the ability to participate in the event planning process, and the ability to manage a publication are skills with a high degree of lateral transfer to coordinating and managing projects, and to working as an analyst. The ability to navigate one's teaching responsibilities while preparing for qualifying exams are not dissimilar to preparing time sensitive, mission critical deliverables while also attending to the needs of internal and external clients.

The ability to do research, and then to synthesize hundreds of published works and to analyze thousands of "data points" into a coherent argument that can be summarized a report that can be distilled in a handful of bullet points that's a big part of consulting. (The bigger part are "people skills" that allow a five minute conversation to last two hours and turn the direction of a project ninety degrees with no adjustment to schedules or budgets. But I'm not bitter.)

And if one's fields / areas of specialization center around anything resembling strategy, operations, and tactics, one can earn a place in conversations about project approach, product development and organizational/division/group "strategies."

IME, the big difference between navigating the Ivory Tower and working in "the real world" (as if one version of everyday life is less/more important or challenging than another), is the pace of work and the focus on money.

Can graduate programs in history be reimagined so that graduate students can learn additional skills that make them more competitive for non-academic jobs? IDK. In my division, every recent hire has a degree in their area of practice as do the interns. Some flourish, some flounder, some don't work out. Notwithstanding my objections, the management team is concluding that it's not about experience or education or  but something else --about being "wired" or the dreaded "t" word. 

Are we asking the right questions about the purpose of earning degrees in history? Is the purpose of earning a doctorate to get a TT job or is it to develop a skill set that enables historians to create new knowledge multiple times through the course of a professional career? 

Are we using the appropriate key performance indicators to evaluate the job market for historians? What is optimal for individual newly-minted historians--more opportunities for TT jobs across a wider range of areas / fields -- may not align with what is optimal for individual departments, if not the profession as a whole. (Ultimately, who is responsible for picking areas / fields that are out of fashion? Graduate students or the department that offers admissions?)

Are our assumptions valid? Members of other professions also have to compete for jobs in an ever shifting marketplace. Not every lawyer makes partner. Not every engineer makes principal. Should it be different for historians?

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5 hours ago, Sigaba said:

Are our assumptions valid? Members of other professions also have to compete for jobs in an ever shifting marketplace. Not every lawyer makes partner. Not every engineer makes principal. Should it be different for historians?

I would suggest that these comparisons do not capture the scale of the problem.

 

My question: hasn't almost everyone going into PhD programs since at least the early 2010s received these sorts of warnings? And then why did we go, just to reiterate them to others (albeit with much greater urgency given the current crisis)? In my case, I was assured that history as a whole might be screwed but that there were plenty of jobs in my sub-field. Ha ha.

 

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I'm late to the game, but I do want to add this: getting a PhD in history doesn't automatically qualify you for jobs in the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector. Those fields require different skill sets that aren't normally taught in a traditional history program. As someone mentioned earlier, getting internships and finding opportunities for certificates along the way will greatly boost your odds of getting a job in that field. I'm biased--my PhD is in public history, my MA is in public history, my undergrad had a public history minor--but we need to be realistic about the "alt-ac" jobs that are pushed, especially if people are unprepared for them. Those fields aren't brimming with jobs either, and even with a PhD you'll need to be competitive against BAs and MAs who have more experience in the field. Twenty or thirty years ago you might have managed to do that. It's harder now. 

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4 hours ago, AfricanusCrowther said:

I would suggest that these comparisons do not capture the scale of the problem.

 

My question: hasn't almost everyone going into PhD programs since at least the early 2010s received these sorts of warnings? And then why did we go, just to reiterate them to others (albeit with much greater urgency given the current crisis)? In my case, I was assured that history as a whole might be screwed but that there were plenty of jobs in my sub-field. Ha ha.

 

Your post inspires questions. The scale of the problem for whom? Would those of you who have earned  your doctorates had gotten TT jobs would you have the same concerns? (I can ask counterfactual questions -- I work at a consultancy. 🙃 [And we're addressing similar questions.])

Are academic historians -- a group in which I include undergraduate history majors as well aspiring and current graduate students--paying an appropriate amount of focus to the question "What do we owe each other?" In my view, the fact that so many need to come to the Gradcafe to get information from strangers rather than being able to rely on the bespoke guidance of graduate students and professors during office hours, speaks poorly for the craft overall.

What are the ethical responsibilities of tenured professors to tell historians in training that getting a TT job is exceedingly unlikely? Where would we be if trailblazers like Du Bois and Woodson and Lerner and Kerber and Foner the Younger had been deterred by the obstacles they encountered and the sand bagging they endured? (At my department, I was one of a handful of graduate students being advised by a professor with a well earned reputation for never finishing (and placing) anyone. Were others supposed to pull me aside? I sometimes wish they had and I also understand why they could not. It was my responsibility to figure it out and my fuck up that I didn't do so in a timely manner.)

To borrow a question that some professional service firms have been addressing for decades--how does the historical profession increase the demand for its work while also commanding fees (in this case TT jobs) commensurate to the services it provides without sacrificing standards of practice and care?

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On 12/10/2020 at 3:45 AM, Sigaba said:

I think you may be underestimating what you have learned as a graduate student--the ability to coordinate / support and evaluate multiple projects as a teaching assistant, the ability to participate in the event planning process, and the ability to manage a publication are skills with a high degree of lateral transfer to coordinating and managing projects, and to working as an analyst. The ability to navigate one's teaching responsibilities while preparing for qualifying exams are not dissimilar to preparing time sensitive, mission critical deliverables while also attending to the needs of internal and external clients.

The ability to do research, and then to synthesize hundreds of published works and to analyze thousands of "data points" into a coherent argument that can be summarized a report that can be distilled in a handful of bullet points that's a big part of consulting. (The bigger part are "people skills" that allow a five minute conversation to last two hours and turn the direction of a project ninety degrees with no adjustment to schedules or budgets. But I'm not bitter.)

And if one's fields / areas of specialization center around anything resembling strategy, operations, and tactics, one can earn a place in conversations about project approach, product development and organizational/division/group "strategies."

IME, the big difference between navigating the Ivory Tower and working in "the real world" (as if one version of everyday life is less/more important or challenging than another), is the pace of work and the focus on money.

Can graduate programs in history be reimagined so that graduate students can learn additional skills that make them more competitive for non-academic jobs? IDK. In my division, every recent hire has a degree in their area of practice as do the interns. Some flourish, some flounder, some don't work out. Notwithstanding my objections, the management team is concluding that it's not about experience or education or  but something else --about being "wired" or the dreaded "t" word. 

Are we asking the right questions about the purpose of earning degrees in history? Is the purpose of earning a doctorate to get a TT job or is it to develop a skill set that enables historians to create new knowledge multiple times through the course of a professional career? 

Are we using the appropriate key performance indicators to evaluate the job market for historians? What is optimal for individual newly-minted historians--more opportunities for TT jobs across a wider range of areas / fields -- may not align with what is optimal for individual departments, if not the profession as a whole. (Ultimately, who is responsible for picking areas / fields that are out of fashion? Graduate students or the department that offers admissions?)

Are our assumptions valid? Members of other professions also have to compete for jobs in an ever shifting marketplace. Not every lawyer makes partner. Not every engineer makes principal. Should it be different for historians?

This sounds like you're trying to excuse a clearly systemic short-coming of both academia broadly and graduate education specifically. The soft skills you outlined (juggling teaching and research responsibilities, being able to synthesize information, etc.) are not developed in the dynamic way you imply they can you used for.

The bottom line is that it should not be the responsibility of grad students to find external "side" gigs that will enable them to be employable at the end of the PhD, but that is the reality today. And this reality is what leads @remenis and others to underscore the PhD's immense financial and time cost. The vast majority of programs still insist on running programs geared towards developing students for TT jobs. With TT jobs now being virtually nonexistent, the PhD itself becomes the side gig (or labor of love, or vanity project, or however one wants to frame it based on their level of cynicism). 

On 12/10/2020 at 2:05 PM, Sigaba said:

Your post inspires questions. The scale of the problem for whom? Would those of you who have earned  your doctorates had gotten TT jobs would you have the same concerns? (I can ask counterfactual questions -- I work at a consultancy. 🙃 [And we're addressing similar questions.])

Your framing seems to miss the scale of the problem at multiple levels-- the viability of the careers of individual graduate students that the discipline continues to churn out, *and* the viability of the discipline/"profession" itself. Excusing the deeply problematic ethics of individual faculty, specific programs, or of academia broadly that maintain the current system because it provides grads with life lessons/opportunities to fail/succeed seems misguided and borderline cruel to me. 

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

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. 

 

The short answer is no.

If a history PhD was applying for a political science job, maybe, but not for history jobs. The historical profession, like political science, I imagine, has its own set of skills that are pretty standard across institutions. They are core competencies of the work we do, and data analysis is not one of them. To be sure, the rise of digital humanities is making data and stats more a part of certain types of historical research, but it's absolutely not an expectation for non-digital history jobs.

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