Strategies for Exposing Humanities PhD Students to Multiple Career Paths

Discussions about how fewer tenure-track positions in the humanities and the social sciences are becoming are well documented by scholars like Kezar and Maxey (2012) and Rodgers (2020). No doubt, this dynamic is a major feature of the current neoliberal era that is characterized by social-economic precarity and reduced government funding in education (Deming and Walters 2018). As these discussions continue to gain momentum amongst scholars and practitioners in public and private spheres, I have spent several moments reflecting on how these dynamics continue to impact PhD students and graduates in the humanities. Specifically, I have been reflecting on the strategies that departments can employ to better prepare students for success in the job market characterized by what scholars like Rodgers (2020) describe as the gig economy. Moreso, my interactions with colleagues and recent graduates from different departments in the humanities have fueled my reflection. Like me, many of my colleagues share a growing sense of anxiety about what the future holds upon graduation given present realities.

While I continue to reflect on the ongoing debates about how precarious securing full-time academic positions are becoming for humanities graduates and my numerous discussions with colleagues across different disciplines, a common theme that I have heard from people is that humanities PhD graduates are still expected to secure tenure-track positions upon graduation, despite the current realities. Hence, most graduate training in these fields continues to primarily prepare students for teaching and research with little or no effort to expose students to (and prepare them for multiple career paths). Given the foregoing, many academic departments solely emphasize excellence in research at the expense of other extracurricular activities like volunteering, taking on leadership positions, et cetera, that can expose their students to diverse career paths like Rodgers discussed.

As the discussions about how best schools and colleges can better prepare students for success continue to rage as Visher and Stern (2015) note in their work that chronicles debates about the need for high school training to prepare students for success in college and job market post college, one thing is worth emphasizing: academic departments in the humanities and the social sciences need to be more flexible and encourage their students to get familiar with different career paths. If the role of education is to proffer probable solutions to contemporary problems, academic departments need to do more to prepare their students for the harsh realities of post PhD life. 

Collaboration by Musya Qeburia, Dilk & Feros is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

To achieve the foregoing, humanities departments should consider reviewing their curriculum to include courses that prepare students for multiple career paths. Also, departments should strive to invite departmental alumni working outside the academe to talk with students and share their experiences. Additionally, departments should encourage students to undertake internships both within and outside the university before the completion of their doctorate. From my experience as a 2022 Humanities for the Public Good Summer Intern and my work with non-profits in Nigeria, internships give students an incredible opportunity to apply the skills they acquired in the classroom in non-academic settings. They also expose students to different ways that they can be of value outside the academe.

Furthermore, departments in the humanities should encourage both intra and inter-departmental collaboration and encourage their students to employ interdisciplinary approaches in their work. Additionally, departments need to encourage students to prioritize self-development and learn skills and approaches beyond the ones learned in the classroom. This will prepare students to be effective collaborators and professionals that can perform excellently in multidisciplinary fields which many career paths outside of the academy require. Moreso, departments should encourage their students to make their work accessible to multiple audiences and focus on contributing to the public good.

Finally, academic departments should celebrate students that take on non-academic positions as much as they celebrate those who secure faculty positions. This will help in correcting the popular belief amongst many students that departments value and celebrate alumni that stay in the academy more than those that pursue different career paths.

Works Cited: 

Deming, David J., and Christopher R. Walters. 2018. “The impact of state budget cuts on US        postsecondary attainment.” Draft, Harvard University (2018): 1567-1633.

Kezar, Adrianna, and Daniel Maxey. 2012 “Missing from the institutional data picture: Non‐tenure‐track     faculty.” New Directions for Institutional Research 2012, no. 155 (2012): 47-65.

Rogers, Katina L. 2020. Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving in             and beyond the Classroom. Duke University Press, 2020.

Visher, Mary G., and David Stern. 2015. “New Pathways to Careers and College: Examples, Evidence,     and Prospects.” MDRC(2015).