Ne Plus Ultra
Jason Pedicone
267

Whilst I broadly agree with the sentiment of this article, I always come away from pieces like this feeling slightly bemused. I think most people with PhDs who ended up outside academia would be surprised to learn that articles needed to be written about how their lives are not in fact failures! Is there anyone who actually considers academic jobs to be the pinnacle of human achievement, and any other career to be second rate? I certainly never had this impression even when I was in grad school, and I’d imagine most people doing PhDs have friends doing well in various fields. And I’d have thought that the fact that people leaving academia are not keeping in close touch with their former schools, or defining themselves as “former classicists” rather than “current teachers” or whatever is a good sign rather than a bad one.

Having done a PhD (alongside Jason) and left academia myself, I’m not convinced that there’s any need for a PhD-specific careers advice service. The jobs open to a humanities PhD are pretty much identical to those open to someone with a first degree in humanities (ie most professional jobs). Sadly, having a PhD probably isn’t going to be much help in getting a job, and it might be a slight hindrance in terms of perception by employers (though hopefully it will have imparted skills and personal qualities that make up for this). The main problem is that most cases you are going to be entering a job you could have done straight out of college, and are behind your peers in terms of earnings and career development, which is difficult for both psychological and economic reasons. It’s just harder to do unpaid internships and rubbish first jobs when you’re 30 than when you’re 22. However, there isn’t much to be done about this.

The shortfall in jobs in academia is a shame as it disappoints so many, and I do think that someone who knows they don’t want to go into academia should in most cases probably not do a PhD (because it’s mostly going to be more valuable to get ahead in the preferred career, particularly for those who might end up taking a career break after having kids in their 30s). But if you do end up doing a PhD and deciding a career in academia is unattainable or not for you, it’s hardly a disaster, or much more difficult than getting a first job out of college.