The Utility of a PhD

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Humanities professors at colleges and universities are re-thinking what it means to offer a PhD. The old model is proving unsustainable. It takes an average nine years to get a doctorate, but less than 60 percent of PhDs are finding tenure-track teaching jobs.

The recession of 2008 accelerated the trend. As state budgets contracted, so did many PhD programs at public colleges and universities.  The humanities were especially vulnerable, as students and state governments chose to invest in what they considered more “practical” pursuits.

The so-called “crisis in the humanities” prompted the Modern Language Association to take a hard look at PhD programs across the country. The MLA’s report came out this summer with several striking recommendations. Russell Berman, former chair of the MLA, and one of the authors of the report, joins us on the podcast this week. Berman says PhD advisors need to be more realistic about what kinds of jobs are out their for graduates, and not try to steer students to exclusively academic careers.