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Hey, guys. I've recently applied to some MA programs here in Canada and I'm excited to start my research if I'm accepted. My plan has been to eventually do a PhD in history, but after reading all the statistics and sob-stories online (not here at grad cafe, just online) and speaking with some of the staff at my university, I'm starting to reconsider this. I'm very passionate about history and I want to build a career out of it, but I also want to have a job stable enough and salary high enough to start a family near my thirties (I'm 22). I was wondering if anybody could suggest some career paths for someone with my interests.

My field is the history of democracy and republicanism, meaning I specialize in political and intellectual history. My MA research will involve the development of republican thought in early modern Europe, though I have also explored republicanism and democracy up to the present, as well as in the classical world. I think it's a very relevant and important field and was hoping to use my expertise to address modern issues in democratic statecraft, in both developed and developing countries. I have also looked into some areas of democracy promotion. It's admittedly a wishy-washy dream job, but I'm very interested in it. I was hoping that being a professor could allow me to inspire a new generation of students to better understand their representative governments, how the concepts they take for granted came to be, and how they can solve problems related to republican thought. I have plenty of transferable skills and experience: I have lived abroad for one year, have a good knowledge of nearly three additional languages, participated in my university's foreign affairs society and model UN, tutored students in academic writing, have been published in an undergraduate journal, and have received an award for one of my other essays.

Unfortunately, the job market for History PhDs, especially those interested in intellectual history and European history, seems to be shrinking and shows no signs of picking up again. I've read stories about history scholars searching for many years for a permanent teaching position, making meagre pay, and shouldering large graduate school debts. By the way, I don't want to offend anybody on this forum who is pursuing a PhD or has already obtained one. If it's something you're passionate about, it's always worth it. But as I said, for my purposes, I want to live somewhere stable and raise a family, and this really concerns me.

Therefore, I've looked at several more professional paths I could take after completing my MA. The first is pursuing a career in international law. I'm aware this would still mean some relocation, but it could allow me to play an active role in helping people around the world get access to democratic rights. Whether this is a viable path will depend on my LSAT score and performance if accepted, but that's another story. I've also considered some kind of government job, but I don't specialize in Canadian history specifically. I'm not entirely tethered to Europe; I've studied American political history as well as some Middle Eastern and Latin American history. I'm really just interested in the origins and development of modern democratic republics and how we can improve them.

My third possible career path - and believe me, it was very hard to come to this - is technical writing. I have relevant experience and education, it generally pays well and it's a moderately secure career. But I wouldn't be doing what I enjoy most - this is really the fall-back position. If I end up doing this, I could study history on the side, as a hobby. I'm not sure if History MA's are generally able to publish books or articles, but it would be nice if I could still contribute to the historical community on the side.

So, I really have a two questions:

- If I were to go through with the PhD option, are there any ways I could significantly increase my chances of employment at a university?

- Can you suggest any careers or organizations for someone with my particular interests (e.g. in democracy promotion, democratic law, politics, etc.)?

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Could it be possible to do my PhD later in life? I haven't heard of people taking a break between their MA and PhD, but it might work out if I can set some money aside. Maybe I could do it part time. I was thinking that if I work as a technical writer for 5-6 years and then start freelancing (which in tech-writing pays well if you can establish yourself beforehand, and I could work from home), I might be able to put myself through school.

Since I'll have an MA, I'd like to write some history books and papers in my spare time, and maybe get published. Would my chances of being published be seriously hindered by not having a PhD?

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There are many who take a break between MA and PhD. You can do that.

As for career paths, you can look for jobs with the international NGOs and also at the various UN organizations. Of course, these jobs may require you to travel to the Third-World countries.

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My mom got her PhD when I was in high school. :D (Granted, she went straight through BA-PhD, but still.)

As for the difficulty of publishing, I'm no expert, but I would say possibly to probably it would be harder. It's less about having a PhD than having institutional affiliation, whether a thinktank or university. If you get a job at a place like that (or even if you were in law school or whatever) and had access to journal databases, archives etc, it would be much easier to actually, y'know, do history. It would also help with connections with publishers. But if you're thinking popular press, I'm sure all of us have a few choice examples of both really great and really horrid history or "history" books that were written by people w/o advanced degrees.f

I'm a medievalist, and at Kalamazoo (our big conference) every year a pretty large number of papers are presented by "Independent Scholars." You can still be involved, though it would be a greater expense on your part. ('Course, you'd likely be making more money. :lol: )

fuzzylogician's advice to check out Versatile PhDs and the network of blogs about nonacademic careers for PhDs is also excellent.

As for maximizing your still-small chances at a univ. job: go to a top program in your subfield to study with a top scholar in your subfield, publish, get to know Important People, publish, write a knockout dissertation, and sacrifice a few small animals to a deity of your choice.

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getting a job at a museum or archive is as competitive as getting one at a university. for museums, you usually need internship experience, which people rarely do during their PhD unless their ultimate goal is to work in a museum rather than at a university. for archives, you almost always need a library science degree. if you have that AND a PhD, then you're really well positioned for archive jobs, but you will almost always be paying for the masters of library science yourself (and taking out loans and/or working a full-time "regular" job).

there are a lot of options in public history (government, NGOs, think-tanks, historical societies) and private enterprises (business stuff? private consulting) but if these are going to be realistic fall-back options for you, you need to build networking connections in these fields as you do your PhD, not once you're finished and can't get a teaching gig.

in this political climate, with growing attacks on higher education and public education, i think everyone needs to at least be building connections for a non-university plan B, if not making that their plan A. read the chronicle of higher education's website to get a feel for the job market problems and please realize that the job market isn't bad because the economy is bad right now. the academic job market has been in the toilet for 15-20 years.

now, despite all this doom and gloom, people do in fact get tenure-track jobs. and they're not all 4/4 teaching loads, and they're not all at community colleges and state satellite campuses either. for real! it happens. the best book i've read on how to navigate graduate school successfully and maximize your odds at getting a tenure-track job is graduate study for the 21st century: how to build an academic career in the humanities by gregory colón semenza. it is my bible. it is worth reading before starting graduate school and re-reading repeatedly throughout the process.

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