October 25, 2005

Non-academic careers -- think out of the box

I just got off the phone with a client and she raised the topic I had wanted to blog about. So many graduate students see being a professor as the only possible outcome of getting an advanced degree. And yet, the truth is that many will not be professors. Here is a quote from a Chronicle Article, which is entitled "A Ph.D. and a Failure":


But there are countless faculty members, administrators, and students themselves who continue to perpetuate a narrow definition of success in academe. Anything else is "less than."

Unfortunately, the hard facts show again and again that only a small percentage of doctoral students can achieve the success of becoming a tenure-track professor at a research institution. In their study, "Ph.D.'s -- 10 Years Later," Maresi Nerad and Joseph Cerny found that only 58 percent of Ph.D.'s in English were on the tenure track or tenured 10 years after graduation. Of those, less than a fifth worked at top research universities (The Chronicle, September 10, 1999).

Those numbers do not include the approximately 50 percent of students -- cited by Barbara E. Lovitts in Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of the Departure From Doctoral Study -- who never even completed their Ph.D.'s. Thus, a great majority of students who begin doctoral programs will never reach the "nirvana" of the tenure track. What happens to all of those students who don't make the cut?

Perhaps such figures help explain the recent finding that "depression and other forms of mental distress" were a serious problem in a study of more than 3,100 graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley. According to the study: "Nearly half of all survey respondents (45 percent) reported an emotional or stress-related problem that significantly impacted their academic performance or well-being." Another 67 percent reported feeling hopeless at times, 95 percent felt overwhelmed in graduate school, and 54 percent said they had felt so "depressed that it was difficult to function." About 10 percent had seriously considered suicide, and one in 200 had actually attempted suicide in the last year.




This sorry state of affairs is scandalous. I urge all people in academia to realize that jobs in the "real world" can be just as interesting, rewarding, fruitful, enjoyable and lucrative (often more so) than those in academia. My client had met a Ph.D. who had a career that sounded fascinating to me, doing all kinds of different things including writing, editing, researching, consulting and teaching. She had urged my client to think outside the box and embrace all the possibilities that her degree and training would give her.

I urge all of you who are feeling like a failure (despite all the academic success you have clearly had) to do the same.

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