One of my former students just passed this article along. It reminds me a lot of Tony Grafton and James Grossman's "No More Plan B" article from earlier this year.
L. Maren Wood is a 2009 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill where she received a Ph.D in American history. Her and her friends all have Ph.Ds in the humanities, but most of them have been unable to find jobs in academia. She is a researcher at an educational consulting firm in Washington D.C.
Like Grafton and Grossman, Wood calls us to do some more thinking about the kinds of non-academic work that humanities Ph.Ds can do and challenges graduate programs to invest more in job training. Here is a taste of her recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
So where do Ph.D.'s go when they leave academe?
Far from the stereotype of the Ph.D. baristas at Starbucks, career-outcome data (see charts for each of the four institutions
here) shows that history Ph.D.'s are thriving in a versatile range of
careers. If we remove those who are deceased (2 percent) and those for
which there are no data available (3.75 percent), then 27 percent are
working in a range of industries other than academic research and
teaching. (The remaining proportion at the four institutions ended up in
temporary part-time, non-tenure-track, or postdoctoral appointments.)
Some of the history Ph.D.'s can be found working in areas where we
would expect to find them: higher-education administration, publishing
and editing, high schools, museums, government agencies, and
public-history sites. They are researchers, consultants, and editors.
One Ph.D. from Ohio State University is a vice president and corporate
manager of a heavy-metal-equipment manufacturing company. Some are
active-duty military officers. Many have successful careers as
independent historians and scholars. Others run small businesses that
specialize in everything from editing to organic food. Several decided
to pair their doctorates with additional degrees to become lawyers,
politicians, and librarians.
Her comments about public history are also interesting:
A nonacademic career path often suggested to history Ph.D.'s is public
history (that is, working for museums and historical sites). But the
data I gathered showed that history Ph.D.'s in those four university
programs have not ended up working in public history in any significant
number. Moreover, a quick browse of job openings at museums and other
public-history sites showed that those organizations seem to be looking
for fund raisers, business managers, curators, and people with
specialized training in museum studies. It's not clear how many doctoral
recipients in history would actually qualify for such jobs. So
public-history careers may not be the panacea that some academics have
UPDATE: My former student Katie Garland, who is working on a graduate degree in public history, notes that Wood's discussion of public history above is skewed by the fact that three of the four universities she examined--Duke, Ohio State, and UNC-Chapel Hill--do not have programs in public history. The lone exception in her sampling is UC-Santa Barbara. Good point, Katie.