Most programs don't say where graduates get jobs, and future Ph.D.'s don't demand the data.
James Mulvey, who has a master's degree in English, abandoned his lifelong dream of getting a Ph.D. and becoming an English professor after taking a hard look at the job market. He now works as a landscaper and a technical writer in British Columbia.
When a group of prospective graduate students visited the physics department at the University of Washington during a recruiting weekend last spring, they asked lots of questions about their lives as doctoral students. But none of them seemed very interested, the department's chairman says, in how recent Ph.D.'s fared after graduate school—on the job market. ...
Even if students did want to know, job-placement information would be hard to get. Most academic departments in the arts and sciences at universities nationwide don't share those data with students, because they don't keep close track of their Ph.D. graduates. Since prospective students don't demand it, departments don't collect it. And in this vacuum, some departments say they are reluctant to be the first to put their records out there, because they don't know how they would compare. The National Research Council wanted to use job-placement data in its latest rankings of doctoral programs but abandoned the idea when it realized universities didn't have the numbers. ...
Even though the market for tenure-track professors may be the bleakest in decades, students are more likely to evaluate the quality of a doctoral program based on the reputation of its faculty members and on how much financial support a department can offer. Even factors like whether prospective students feel comfortable in a department and where a university is located can trump data about future careers, say faculty members and students.
"Ph.D. students are extremely bright people who have been successful their whole lives," says David D. Perlmutter. He is director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa and author of a new book called Promotion and Tenure Confidential (Harvard University Press). "They are like the hundreds of thousands of inner-city kids who believe they are going to be playing in the NBA," says Mr. Perlmutter, who also writes a column for The Chronicle's Careers section. Despite gloomy job news and the hundreds of applicants for any opening, "they still think they'll be the exception."
The Web sites of the country's top business and law schools devote entire sections to the job market. Professional schools have to be upfront about the experiences of their graduates because students demand it. Unlike most Ph.D. students at top research universities, law- and business-school students pay full freight, and they want proof that jobs are waiting when they're done. In Ph.D. programs, though, forces can work against making job-placement information available.