A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my attention, not for what it said, but for what was omitted. The article, “Odds Are, Your Doctorate Will Not Prepare You for a Profession Outside Academe,” describes how author, L. Maren Wood, who earned a Ph.D. in History, is now working at a job that has little or no connection to her doctorate.
While the Ph.D. traditionally prepares one for a scholarly career in research, teaching, publishing or academe, such skills and acquired perspective do not easily translate to the real, non-academic world. With the demise of the tenure-track concept in higher education, many newly graduated Ph.D.’s find job openings in education to be few and far between. Their recourse is to seek employment and careers in non-academic areas where their skill-set can benefit the employer’s needs. Since they are trained to be academics, their mindset has been conditioned to think and behave in the academic world rather than the cold reality of competitive business.
Case in point: My nephew Robert earned his Ph.D. in Greek Classics where he focused on translating Sophocles from the original Greek for authenticity. Beyond editing a few Greek plays for friends, he has been largely unemployed. He is satisfied with his education and his accomplishments, but not with his temporary job as a substitute teacher in a local high school, often only being called when a classroom monitor is needed. After a dozen years, with some parental assistance and being unable to find gainful employment with his Grecian abilities, Robert returned to college for a new Ph.D. and a new career. This time in a field that offers both academic and non-academic employment: psychotherapy.
The moral of this story is obvious: There is nothing wrong with the Ph.D. “The fault, dear Brutus” lies with pursuing a doctorate that may not result in the outcome that you expected. If you want to pursue studies in History or Greek literature, then you must accept the possible consequences that your career path may be tied to college teaching or research. If you want a profession outside of academe, then your doctorate should be geared toward practice and application, such as a Juris Doctor, Doctor of Psychology, Doctor of Education, or Doctor of Business among others. So, be sure to decide what you want before you commit to a specific program whether based in academe or practice, since a horse trained to be a race horse cannot be easily retrained to be a trotter.
L. Maren Wood, author of “Odds Are, Your Doctorate Will Not Prepare You for a Profession Outside Academe,” is co-founder and CEO of Beyond the Professoriate, a company that works with individuals and universities, offering career services for graduate students and Ph.D.’s.
University Founder and President Emeritus
About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.