Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: The Road "Less" Travelled: Career Outcomes for Grads

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Road "Less" Travelled: Career Outcomes for Grads

Good morning and happy Friday!
    The Spring semester commences next week, so please go ahead and ENJOY THE WEEKEND! Should be a mild one in NYC -- fitting for the beginning of the "spring" semester. I hope Winter Storm Gandolf doesn't ruin the weekend for our Grad.Life friends and readers across the nation. Here's something to chew on for the day, and for the weekend, as we prepare for Spring 2013!
     This morning, I read an interesting commentary in the January 11th issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. In her essay "Advisors Should Ban the Word 'Placement,'" writer Angela Brintlinger calls for a re-tooling of the way we in the graduate school world think about, and label, "job placements" and careers for degree-holders. Brintlinger calls for a change in semantics and conceptualization of what happens after someone earns a graduate education -- she wants us to think of "outcomes" rather than "placements."

If we talk about outcomes instead of placements, and if we are open, honest, and transparent about what the job market looks like, then our students can take pride in their own talents and accomplishments[...] If we talk about outcomes instead of placements, we can work toward enhancing the value of the Ph.D. outside of academe, including educating ourselves about what "alternative career" preparation might mean.

Brintlinger puts "alternative career" in quotation marks to indicate that the "alternative" path actually has become the path for many, if not most, of existing graduate students. Yes, readers -- I know many of us dreamed of a job as a professor, as an academic, and that it may seem as if someone who is in graduate school for a Phd but does not want to, plan to, or end up on the academic job market is an atypical graduate student -- not following the "traditional" path. But the reality behind op-eds like Brintliner's, and others in The Chronicle over the last few years (especially in the great column, The Graduate Adviser, by Lennard Cassuto) is that the traditional pathway for academics is long-gone. The market has changed, and is changing. To borrow from President Clinton, it comes down to simple arithmetic. Brintlinger writes:
One colleague pointed out that if we all "reproduce" ourselves over the course of 30-plus-year careers, there will never be enough faculty positions for all our academic "children." My own experience as an adviser conforms to both national and Ohio State patterns in the humanities: Half of all students who start do not finish, and half of those who finish do not get positions in academe.
So, we have to face the reality that graduate school degrees do not -- can not -- mean what they used to mean. Here is the heart of Brintlinger's article, in my view: After discussing a student who received her Phd and then began working at an animation production company, she asks:
Did she need her Ph.D. to obtain her current position? Probably not. Was it worth her while to complete her degree? Absolutely.
The question is, rephrased, is a Phd in the arts and sciences inherently worth it, even if you don't "need" it for the career you end up with? Should we feel like failures, or somehow that we didn't follow through or finish, or that we "gave up" on academia, if we earn a Phd but then do not work as an academic? If you don't end up with a job in academia, did you mess up somewhere along the line?

     Or, should we change the way we view our degrees, thinking about them as preparation for more than just academic work? Of course, when we earn a Phd, we have loads of skills and information and knowledge that we didn't have before. We could be an asset to any company, business, or organization. We could be an asset to our country, and to the world. Education, even if not required for a specific position, has to be inherently good, right?
     What do you think? Let me know -- we love comments and discussion!
      Happy almost weekend -- whatever that means for a graduate student! :)

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