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Author Topic: Pursuing a PhD for "para-academic" jobs or not?  (Read 7794 times)
fifster
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« Reply #15 on: May 06, 2012, 6:30:07 PM »

PS: I really don't like the term para-academic, which implies someone who helps out or supports an academic.  Perhaps a better term would be non-academic researcher.

You're right, zharkov, that the terminology is imprecise and could use some work.  I decided on "para-academic" as a useful catchall.  That said, "non-academic researcher" sounds a lot like an industry/private sector person to me, whereas the people I'm talking about tend to work for academic institutions, just not on the tenure track.  But anyway, point taken.

Shamu, I understand what you're saying, but I think that we're still talking past each other.  The other commenters have all pointed out plenty of non-academic jobs that require PhDs, regardless of the fact that it is universally agreed that doctoral programs do not provide training for such jobs.  I don't expect those programs to do so, but I do expect them to be realistic about the fact that their graduates may nevertheless be seeking these positions.  I'm not going to engage you further on this issue.

Thanks to everyone for your advice and criticism -- it's been quite useful, and I'll keep it in mind as I continue to plan my next move!
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shamu
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« Reply #16 on: May 06, 2012, 10:43:14 PM »

I don't expect those programs to do so, but I do expect them to be realistic about the fact that their graduates may nevertheless be seeking these positions. 

Fair enough. So, the plan is:
1. Admit fewer PhD students. In today's funding climate, this is already happening and will only intensify.
2. Since we all concluded that a PhD training is basically discipline-based scholarship training, applicants not interested in that should find alternative ways to train and need not feel bad about our desire to admit top talent who want the scholar/teacher path. The issue of that not working out is for another thread.
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flotsam
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« Reply #17 on: May 07, 2012, 12:47:29 AM »

I think shamu is basically correct.  There may also be a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue here.  Many of these non-professorial (or "para-academic") fields that now recruit, if not require, people with PhDs may do so precisely because they wanted someone with that scholarly training.  A PhD program ostensibly catering to non-academics would defeat the purpose.  For instance (and I confess utter ignorance of the field I'm using as an example), if an art museum were to require that its employees have PhDs in Art History, then it probably wants people with that research/teaching background.  A PhD program in "Art-History-for-Museums," distinct from the normal academic art-historical PhD training, might not give the would-be employee the very thing that the would-be employer was looking for. 

By the way, this is often the case for non-academic scientists.  If a pharmaceutical company, say, hires only chemistry PhDs for its labs, that company wants people who can do research that an academic PhD program trains you to do.  A PhD in how to be a Pfizer employee (or whatever) would not cut it. 

So, I think (with shamu) that the content and direction of humanties PhD programs out to be maintained, even -- nay, especially -- where non-academic or non-professorial jobs may be the ultimate destination for many of our students.  Once it becomes merely vocational, such a program will quickly lose the very substance that made employers seek such well-trained scholars in the first place.

A last thought, supplied to me by a musician friend: A bass player, studing classical music with his mentor/teacher, expressed interest in learning more jazz, particularly since he thought he'd get more gigs playing with jazz musicians. The teacher said, don't worry about classical or jazz; learn to play the instrument itself, then you'll be able to play any kind of music.  Overly simplistic, perhaps, but one who learns to do the work (humanities teaching and scholarship) that is valued by these other employers will certainly be able to do the job, and make the adjustments necessary to excel in it, once there.
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fifster
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« Reply #18 on: May 07, 2012, 11:23:28 AM »

I think you've hit the nail on the head, flotsam.  And I hope that it doesn't appear as though I was arguing that an "Art-History-For-Museums" PhD should exist -- far from it.  What bothers me is that it seems like so many faculty in the humanities remain adamantly opposed to the idea that one can or should use the training that a humanities PhD supplies outside the academy.  In the sciences, it would be expected that someone receiving a chemistry PhD might seek a position at Pfizer, just as much as a position at a university.  I'd bet that students interested in worked at Pfizer don't feel that they have to hide that desire from their peers and advisors, and they might even mention it on their applications.  In the humanities, however, the opposite seems to be true:  with some rare exceptions, expressing a desire to seek a PhD to work outside of the academy is seen as incredibly suspect.
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flotsam
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« Reply #19 on: May 07, 2012, 9:01:24 PM »

Thanks, fifster.  I agree with you somewhat, and I wholeheartedly understand the frustration.  I also would like to see humanities programs embrace PhD training as something like my bass-player/mentor example: We will train you to "do" humanities (teaching and research), and you will then be able to use such training in whatever field that you choose or that you wind up in, whether in traditional academe or elsewhere.

However, I have had students say to me something like, "well, I plan to teach at a liberal arts college or community college, so I don't need to know how to do scholarly research."  At the risk of sounding harsh, I'd say that these people should not be in a PhD program.  I know far too many PhD-holding professors at so-called "teaching-oriented" schools who do excellent research in the humanities to want to credit this argument, and I also have too much respect for such colleges to think that they deliberately prefer teachers who aren't equipped to do research in their fields of expertise.  I know you do not mean it this way, but from the point of view of professors in the PhD program it could sound like you're asking for a pass, for a less-rigorous program.

I'm not entire sure about the science-vs-humanities point. For what it's worth, I have a friend who caught a lot of hell from faculty in chemistry when he expressed interest in working in industry rather than academe.  In fact, I think it is at least as common a bias as in the humanities, maybe more so, since the non-academic opportunities are greater; many chemistry profs may be wondering why they are sending students out to make more money than they get.  And, on the other side, when I once had the chance [or was forced to] leave academe, my thesis-committee lauded me for "making it out" and joked about borrowing cash from me, etc.  Admittedly, this is a small sample size, but still ...

Perhaps the best way to approach this is to hedge your bets on both sides (academe/non-academe). That is, as you say, don't advertise your desire to seek non-academic or para-academic employment, but take advantage of all the (pre-professorial) training you can.  Best of luck and please, keep us posted.
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