From the Letters to the Editor column in the September 1999 Perspectives

The Employment of PhDs

Jeremy D. Popkin, September 1999

To the Editor:

Ted Margadant's article on "The Production of PhDs" in the May 1999 Perspectives, like the surveys of job prospects you have published in recent years, gives a salutary warning about the continuing competitiveness of the academic job market. Nevertheless, Margadant's gloomy statistics on the job prospects for PhDs from smaller PhD programs do not square with the track record of my department, and I think I know the reason why—not that we at the University of Kentucky are so much better than other schools in our category at finding jobs for our graduates, but that the database Margadant has used omits many of the institutions where we and other small PhD programs place many of our students.

From 1992 to 1997, 67 percent of our new PhDs eventually found tenure-track placements in four-year institutions, nearly double the rate that Margadant's figures would suggest. Moreover, perhaps as many as half of our students found employment in institutions that are not listed in the AHA Directory and that apparently do not have web sites listing their faculty. Many of these are small private institutions, but some are good-sized public campuses. (I note that three of the eight public four-year institutions in Kentucky are not listed in the Directory, along with about half of the state's private colleges, and that only three institutions of any sort in the state of Mississippi are listed, although there are many more.)

Undoubtedly, the majority of the institutions omitted from Margadant's survey are in the category of "teaching institutions," with relatively low salaries and high teaching loads. They are, nevertheless, colleges and universities that need well-trained faculty, and many of our PhDs who go to such schools report that their careers are challenging and satisfying. All of us, top-20 PhD programs and smaller ones alike, need to be honest with graduate students about the difficulties of finding jobs and the nature of the jobs that PhDs are likely to be offered, but Margadant's statistics overstate the case when they imply that PhDs from any but the top 20 programs face a less-than-even chance of finding any kind of tenure-track teaching job. It would be a shame if such figures deter motivated and well-informed students from pursuing their career goals.

—Jeremy D. Popkin
University of Kentucky