Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mama, Don't Let Your Kids Grow Up to Be PhD Students Anymore

This graphic was circulated today:
Media preview
Oh my.  The job market was not good before 2008 (has it been "good" at any point since the recession of 1992-93?), but the most recent trends suggest things are getting worse.  A much smaller hunk of folks are getting placed in tenure track positions--from 40 percent (which ain't great) down to 25ish percent.

This all raises some big questions:
  1. Have many (any?) departments reduced how many graduate students they admit?
  2. Have many (any?) departments engaged in serious efforts to train their graduate students for non-academic jobs?
  3. Have many (any?) departments engaged in serious efforts to place their graduate students for non-academic jobs?
  4. Have universities stopped creating new PhD programs in political science and adjacent programs?
I have no idea, but I have little confidence that things have changed much, given what I have seen.

NPSIA aims to produce policy-oriented folks for non-academic jobs BUT the history of the program seems to be that graduate students come here expecting to get placed in academic jobs.  Not great.  One reason I left my previous job is that I didn't want to be producing heaps of new Phds as the market for them crashes.  Sure, damn near all of them got tenure track positions, but I saw the writing on the wall.  I do have Phd students now--but fewer of them and I am very clear about their job prospects.   Oh, and leaving McG means writing far fewer recommendation letters for students who want to ignore my advice about pursuing Phds.

Sure, folks can still succeed, but the odds have changed and our guild is not really adapting very well.  


Unknown said...

Do lots of students arrive at NPSIA thinking the MA is non-terminal?

Steve Saideman said...

No, I am referring to those who come to our Phd program. One reason I felt comfy coming to NPSIA was that the MA program was terminal and had an excellent program aimed at producing hireable folks for govt positions and those nearby.

R. William Ayres said...

Speaking from the admin side, at least in the regional public university sector (which employs a LOT of the faculty positions across the US) - the pressures pushing to reduce the numbers of tenure-track faculty are intense. It's not a long-term, diabolical plot by administrators to horde all the wealth (what wealth?) for themselves, and it's not about the fear of making long-term budgetary commitments. Universities like mine choose lecturers or adjuncts over new tenure lines because we need to survive right now. The universities most under budget pressure are least capable of making long-term plans; we're looking to fill million-dollar budget holes this year and next.

So when a line goes open, it's often filled with a lecturer or some adjuncts "just for now". But "just for now" turns into two years, then three, then five, and by then no one remembers that there was a line there (or those that do remember can't document it).

This is one of the results of the Great Defunding of Higher Education. I agree that we need to dial back on the production of PhDs (my institution, thankfully, doesn't have one in poli sci and is in no position to even thing about setting one up). I have had exactly one student in the past 10 years that I was willing to support going off to a PhD program. I think that's a good rate.