Paul L. Caron

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chronicle: Most Ph.D. Programs Hide Job Placement Data

Chronicle of Higher Education, Master's in English: Will Mow Lawns:

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.

Update: U.S. colleges and universities awarded 49,562 Ph.Ds in 2009, up 1.6% from 2008 and 17.7% from 2004.

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There is a fundamental difference between Ph.D. programs and the training schools for the professions, i.e., law schools, med schools, and business schools. The former programs are intended to produce university researchers and teachers. They are and should be oriented toward academic pursuits, indeed, the pure pursuit of knowledge. Job placement rates, salaries, and career tenure should not be major considerations for Ph.D. candidates any more than for divinity students. The "professional schools," however, are intended to train bright people to perform the more practical and mundane functions of lawyers, physicians, and organizational managers. Med schools and business schools take their training functions seriously and produce graduates who are oriented toward practice upon graduation. Law schools, unfortunately, are not quite sure what they are supposed to be doing. Caught in a cross-fire between the academic and practical worlds, law schools fail to satisfy either.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Nov 29, 2010 6:53:49 AM

PhD programs are small, and it's easy to find out placement for anybody who's interested. Just google the 20 or fewer people who graduated last year nad see where they are. Or just ask--- the current graduating class members probably know what's happened to each of last year's graduates. It's not like an MBA class of 200 people.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Nov 30, 2010 2:39:25 PM