Navigating Today’s Academic Job Market

he world of higher education can be a mystery for many graduate students. Finding a job in today’s academic market is a challenge. Many doctoral students still believe that they will get a tenured job. But is this the best career move? Is it really what you want? Maybe it’s time to get back to basics – why do you need a PhD in the first place?

Fantasy and Reality

Maybe you thought that you’d get a PhD and slide right into a tenure-track job. After all, you worked hard, your mentor liked you, and you might be first in line for a tenure-track job at your Alma mater. Fantasy.

The old days are gone when an advisor would call a department head and you landed a job. One blog recognized that the old boy’s network (overwhelmingly wealthy, white, male space) has left higher education in a bad state. While the population of PhD students is growing and more diverse, finding a tenure-track job is more challenging than ever. Reality

Snapshot: The Job Market

Here’s a snap shot: Tenure-track jobs have declined. There are too many PhDs in today’s job market.

If you want to teach in higher education, you’ll have better luck finding an adjunct, contingent or non-tenured position.

Last year, about 50% of US professors were adjuncts. These educators teach a range of courses, from remedial to graduate level. They have the same responsibilities as tenured faculty – designing curriculum, writing lectures, and grading exams. BUT they are paid less than $25,000 a year.

Dr. Patti and I had no illusions about finding a tenured faculty position. We are part of the 25% who are temporary faculty who teach on the side and have regular jobs.

University Hiring

What’s the pattern of universities hiring their graduates? Well, that’s another story. Many university prefer to hire Ivy league graduates, a topic I’ve written about in this blog. A few reasons that schools don’t hire their graduates include:

  • The unwritten rule to prevent “academic inbreeding” – new faces, new ideas.
  • New professors are  labelled as “dumb PhD students” in their department.
  • Graduates understand the culture and may harbor bad feelings about the school.

For example, I found a job post for an adjunct at my school in the public policy department. I reached out to my mentor for advice and here it is: Save my energy – most schools hire only 10% of their graduates. Great! What a nice way to give back to your alumni.

Silver Lining

But there are options in your career choices as a doctoral graduate. The higher education industry is gaining awareness about the gap between graduates and jobs.

There are programs to encourage schools to offer a range of job skills for graduates to think outside the box of academia. Here’s a list of resources:

  • Next Generation Humanities PhD Implementation Grants: These grants are for institutions to support internal and non-academic partnerships, a new model for graduate education, and help students explore career options in the humanities.
  • Graduate Professional Development Framework: This is a career resource from Stanford University to help students in any discipline examine their career goals. It’s like the Myers-Briggs test for career development – it’s easy and fun to use.
  • Alternative Careers – Master’s and PhD: Fordham University offers this resource for students in the social sciences, humanities, biology and sciences, history and English. These “alt-ac” resources can help students transition into non-academic careers based on their interest and skills.

I hope these resources are helpful to your next career move!

Dr. Bessie

Sources: How To Avoid Academic Snobbery
Fixing Our Job Market Problem
Why doesn’t UCSB hire its own grads as faculty?
The Cost of an Adjunct
Next Generation Humanities PhD Implementation Grants
Graduate Professional Development Framework
Alternative Careers – Master’s and PhD

The resources of a university, of a college, should not be wasted in merely academic pursuits.
~~~ Howard Zinn ~~~


Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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