Sunday, June 6, 2010

Momma, Don't Let Your Kids Grow Up to be PhDs

Yet another story about how dismal it is for newly minted PhDs.  There is no question that today's academic job market is the worst in my lifetime.  The question is whether this is a temporary condition or a trend.  Probably a bit of both, as universities have been hit hard by endowment shrinkage, state/provincial budget cuts, and the like but also an "unsustainable" business plan.  This last phrase was uttered by a senior Canadian poli sci prof at last week's Canadian Poli Sci Assn's reception for international relations types. 

I have a handful of PhD students entering the market soon, and I think they can do well.  But would I encourage folks finishing their B.A.'s now to go into PhD programs?  Only those PhD programs that serve as pathways not just to the academic world (that would be the sciences, engineering).  At least the stuff in poli sci is far more interesting than law school and the education is far cheaper.  On the other hand, it takes twice as much time.  These days, neither grad school nor law school are good strategies for kicking the can down the road--for delaying decisions about the entry into an adult life.  These credentials are simply no longer guarantees of good jobs. 

Students will need to weigh the opportunity costs of the time spent in grad school or law school, the path dependence these choices seem to create, and the financial costs of debt built up, and compare them with the joys of academia or law versus other modes of employment.

The conclusion, as always, is that we are a bunch of crappy guilds.

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