Lenny Cassuto makes one:
What if we reconceived the guiding assumption that Ph.D.’s are supposed to become professors? As the Versatile Ph.D., a Web site dedicated to alternative careers for Ph.D.’s, pointed out in a comment to me, “Recognizing nonacademic placements as legit communicates a much more positive message about the skills and abilities that are nurtured by graduate education. It affirms the value of the entire enterprise.”
But it also throws a bone to administration. If graduate programs were tricked out with nonacademic job training programs and workshops; if they forged partnerships with university career services offices, AltAc alumni, and administrators; talked openly about applying PhD training and skills, rather than relegating these conversations to the shadows; and/or incorporated internships and/or service learning into their programs–if any or all of these things are done, then graduate schools gain a competitive advantage. They can say to prospective students: “We don’t just place our graduates in tenure-track jobs. We prepare them for a whole host of careers in different sectors.” A healthy culture is one capable of criticism, reform, and adaptation–that is how institutional metabolism works. But as Cassuto points out, cultural change can only happen if it starts at the academic equivalent of birth:
That affirmation has to begin at the earliest stage of graduate school. Professors need to shape students’ expectations before they enter graduate school—which means more transparency about their career options. And we need to shape students’ expectations while they’re in school about what’s waiting for them afterward. Most important, we need to alter their training accordingly, to prepare them for the full range of jobs they will be able to get.
The system only gets fixed from the inside, granted. But I worry that Cassuto’s solution is only a rearguard action that eases the passage of the current generation of graduate students but concedes that the war is lost: admissions will be cut and programs will close, and “becoming a professor” will no longer be a legitimate career path.
In any case, if present trends continue, I think we’re likely to see three species of PhDs: the few Elites idling in Ivy Heaven , the many Plebs toiling away in Adjunct Hell, and the plucky, creative NACs who parlay the PhD into something new.
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