Chronicle of Higher Education, Colleges Can’t — or Won’t — Track Where Ph.D.s Land Jobs. Should Disciplinary Associations?:
Colleges are bad at collecting data on where Ph.D. recipients end up working. In addition to the logistical challenges of tracking their alums, graduate programs often want to forget about those who didn’t become professors. Attitudes have started to change in recent years, but not landing a tenure-track job is still viewed in some circles as a failure for both student and program.
An ambitious new effort aims to erode that narrative. The American Historical Association last week released a comprehensive snapshot of the entire discipline’s Ph.D. recipients. The project, Where Historians Work, tries to track where all of the 8,500 people who earned a doctorate from 2004 to 2013 landed jobs. About 7 percent of the recipients could not be found.
The data set comes at at time when Ph.D. programs, especially in the humanities, are under withering criticism for strapping doctoral students with record student-loan debt and poor prospects for landing a secure academic job. The programs lack accountability, critics say, operating like fiefdoms not subject to the centralized data-collection requirements common in undergraduate education.
Critics of the value of a history Ph.D. may find fodder in the history association’s project. Hover over some of the tiniest bubbles on an interactive slide, those representing just a single person, and you’ll see examples of people who may not have needed their Ph.D. for their current jobs: a rental-car clerk. A maintenance worker. An actor. A postal worker.
But the biggest bubbles tell a more hopeful story about the utility of a history Ph.D. The data show that those who earned history Ph.D.s in that time include 174 chief executives, 363 higher-education administrators, 320 nonprofessors doing history, 57 curators, and 82 editors. The point: History Ph.D.s don’t just stay in academe. They are everywhere. ...
The data set provides a snapshot of where the discipline’s Ph.D. recipients are at a moment in time. But individual graduate programs, which are better positioned to collect and publish more granular data about their own students, are still for the most part unable or unwilling to do so.
There are many reasons for this. Keeping track of graduates costs a lot of money. The history association estimates that it takes up to 10 minutes to track down each person using online resources like Google, LinkedIn, and other social media. That’s without counting the time it takes to clean up the data and make it presentable. For a university with thousands of graduate students, that would be a huge investment.
But there’s also a “cultural inertia” that poses challenges, says Emily Swafford, director of academic and professional affairs at the history association. Ph.D. programs that have tracked careers data, she says, typically would only pay attention to people landing tenure-track jobs at four-year colleges.