Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Preparing PhD Students For Life Outside Academia

Bill Petti:

Curry was commenting here on changing the mindset of the students, but I would argue in many disciplines the problem isn't the students, but the professors.  There are still large groups of people in academia that not only disagree with this sentiment, but actively work to undermine students who choose to take their education and apply it outside of academia.  My experience has been in the realm of political science, but certainly know others that have had similar experiences in other disciplines.

The skills one learns in graduate school are absolutely applicable outside of academia.  In many cases, students may be better positioned to apply what they've learned and have a more fulfilling career in either government or business.  Not everyone is cut out for this type of career, but then again not everyone is cut out for a life in academia either.  In many cases, it takes a different set of talents and to thrive in either environment.  And when we take into account the utter dysfunction of the academic labor market, I don't think pressuring students to seek a career in that market is the most responsible thing to do.

Bottom line: the focus should be on the students and what will be the best move for them, not what professors think is the 'proper' career for those pursuing and holding a Ph.D.

Absolutely. While many students go into Ph.D. programs thinking that they want to be professors, the reality is that most them won't get tenure-track jobs. It's absurd to keep admitting students if you are only going to train them for academia.

Universities do a terrible job preparing students for anything outside of academia. This is natural in some sense--professors are the ones who succeeded. But to assume that all their students will also succeed in the academic job market is dishonest and almost fraudulent. Universities and the individual departments within them must do a better job of opening students' eyes to multiple career choices. Individual professors sometimes do this with their students, but they are usually anomalies within the department.

I've been in a series of visiting positions. I don't really know what to do if I don't get an academic job. At least I am conscious about trying to improve my job prospects outside of the academy, but I am by no means confident, nor do I have a strong plan of what to do if this all falls apart. I wish I understood the path to move into policy for instance. And I consider myself far better off for this transition than most people in my position.