The PhD, Then What?
Humanities and Social Science Graduate Programs Adjust to a Changing Job Market
By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
It is a well-known fact that since the early 1970s, the academic job market for graduates with PhDs in the humanities and social sciences has deteriorated.
Gone are the golden years of the 1960s, when a PhD candidate could expect at least three good tenure-track job offers even before degree completion, say Berkeley faculty.
But Berkeley PhDs are finding good jobs both within and outside academia, Dean of Humanities Ralph Hexter and Dean of the Graduate Division Joseph Cerny hasten to point out.
Figures released May 4 by the Graduate Division show that 42 percent of Berkeley humanities and social science PhDs finishing between December 1995 and May 1997 are in tenure track jobs 12 to 18 months after graduation -- half of them at prestigious research universities.
The survey also shows that 23 percent are in non-tenure track positions and another 20 percent found employment outside academia.
Only four percent of Berkeley graduates completing PhDs in humanities and social sciences between 1995 and 1997 are still looking for a job.
The predicted upturn in academic jobs during the 1990s -- based on an anticipated wave of senior faculty retirements and a boom in student enrollment -- failed to materialize, partly due to the national economic downturn that cut into higher education budgets. Exacerbating the situation, say campus faculty and administrators, was the elimination in the early 1990s of mandatory faculty retirement ages and an increase in part-time, temporary lecturers to save money.
Add in the common complaint that financial support for graduate students is inadequate to attract and keep the best, and the result is a downsizing of many graduate programs, including at Berkeley.
In the Feb. 26 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, an article by Denise Magner, titled "Doctoral Programs Decide that Smaller is Better," said that "recently, some graduate schools have chosen to cut enrollment in order to offer more support to those students who are admitted, especially in the humanities and social sciences where extramural support dollars are scarce."
Included in the survey were the Universities of Chicago, Michigan, Wisconsin and Columbia, Duke, Indiana and Washington (St. Louis).
"PhD enrollment at Duke has fallen 28 percent since 1994," wrote Magner. "The English department at Indiana University, which admitted about 65 students eight years ago, expects to enroll just 20 students this fall. The history department at U Michigan cut its first-year doctoral class from 47 in 1995 to a maximum of 25 now. These schools indicate they need to offer larger support packages to attract the best students because of growing competition for graduate students."
Berkeley's English department has reduced its entering class of graduate students from 32 in 1990 to about 20 in the coming years, says Associate Professor Samuel Otter, chair of the department's graduate program.
Jane Stahlhut, a graduate assistant in history, says applications to her department dropped from more than 700 in 1992 to 400 this year. Those admitted dropped from about 100 in 1992 to 67 this year, partly in order to offer more funding to graduate students.
"We're constantly fighting the best private universities -- who have more fellowships to offer -- for the best candidates," she notes.
The Love of Scholarship
Many of Berkeley's humanities programs have downsized a bit, largely because of a lack of graduate fellowships, says Classics Chair Donald Mastronarde. "The rise in out-of-state tuition makes that situation worse."
Mastronarde says that classics graduate students, like many in the humanities and social sciences, "know this is not a field you're going to get rich in. We don't encourage undergraduates to go to graduate school, because it's a long haul with a very uncertain outcome. We wait for them to come to us. Students go into classics out of love for the field and a love of doing scholarship."
The employment picture for the sciences, where many pursue postdoctoral study or enter industry, is very different. The Sept. 3 issue of Science magazine will feature findings by Dean Cerny and Maresi Nerad, Berkeley's director of graduate research, on postdocs in science and engineering.
Departmental placement committees in the humanities and social sciences that help graduate students land jobs say it can take two to three years for Berkeley PhDs to land good, tenure-track positions.
In the meantime, many graduates take postdoc or temporary teaching positions, sometimes well below their level of expertise, says Paolo Mancosu, who chairs the philosophy department's placement committee.
Mancosu adds that Berkeley had 300 applications for its one philosophy faculty opening this year.
Charles Faulhaber, former chair of Spanish and Portuguese, notes that Spanish is better off than other foreign language graduate programs because study of the language in this country has grown dramatically. Of seven million students in higher education studying a foreign language, he says, four million are studying Spanish. "But most of that teaching is done by part-time lecturers," he adds.
Part-Time Faculty on the Rise
In a column in the April 25 Sacramento Bee titled "A Glut of Ph.D.s.," George Will wrote: "the academy is not immune to the trend elsewhere in the economy toward 'temps' -- part-time workers, often called 'adjunct professors.' At four-year public institutions, 23.7 percent of faculty are part-time; at private institutions, 38 percent."
Postdocs, normally associated with the sciences, are increasingly finding a place in the humanities and social sciences (see chart, page 5), thanks to organizations like the Mellon Foundation, which funds postdocs in the humanities.
The success of Berkeley's humanities and social science programs in placing their graduates fluctuates from year to year. Most report a modest upswing in the academic job market since the economic doldrums of the early 1990s.
Says Wendy Allanbrook, chair of the music department: "Most of our graduates have been getting jobs, some extremely good ones, knock on wood. The situation is an improvement over the late '80s and early '90s. Two fields in music where the demand is growing -- world music and electronic music -- have always been strong at Berkeley. There has also been a good fit," she notes, "between the areas our musicology students are most interested in and the jobs available."
Robert Price, chair of political science, says the situation for PhDs in his department has remained about the same: "good students get good jobs, while those who struggle take more time to find satisfying work."
Price also points out that graduate students in currently hot sub-fields like international politics, European integration and mathematical modeling, find jobs quickly. But interests change, he notes. During the Vietnam war, Southeast Asian studies was hot. Today it isn't.
"The job market for political science PhDs has been better, but we don't feel we're in a crisis mode," says Price. "The Graduate Division has reduced our incoming graduate student class from about 35 to about 25 over the past decade. We haven't objected."
On the other hand, Cynthia Vogel, student affairs officer in psychology, reports no reduction in that department's graduate enrollment.
Overall, Jan Devries, interim dean of social sciences, notes that "there is no single story" on graduate programs in the social sciences, and that departments do not always agree with enrollment limits set by the Graduate Division.
Setting Enrollment Limits
Toward the end of each calendar year, the Graduate Division sets in motion the complex process of allocating admission slots to departments, schools and graduate groups for the following fall semester. Berkeley is the only UC campus to use this centralized approach to graduate enrollment, currently supervised by Joseph Duggan, associate dean of the Graduate Division.
"The process was devised in the early 1970s by Eugene Hammel, now professor emeritus of demography," Duggan explains. "It's triggered when the Office of the President tells us how many graduate students state funding will permit at Berkeley -- usually about 8,800."
If a program requests a permanent increase in the number of graduate students, says Duggan, the request must be accompanied by an account of the placement situation in that field, availability of financial support for graduate students, relevant faculty resources and departmental time-to-degree information.
Cerny notes that over the past 12 years, the overall PhD completion rate at Berkeley has increased from 50 to 60 percent. In part, he says, this is due to paring down graduate programs to a more practical size.
Target graduate enrollments, and upper and lower limits, have changed considerably over the years as units have requested modifications, says Duggan.
"In some fields in the humanities and social sciences, the job market for holders of the doctorate has deteriorated," he says. "In other fields, mostly in the professional schools, there has been increasing demand. Some new programs have been introduced while others have been disestablished."
Dramatic art is a good example of both. Frozen from 1995 to 1998, its graduate program has been thoroughly overhauled and this year accepted its first five students.
"We've reinvented ourselves as an interdisciplinary department, and we don't know how our PhDs will do," says Classics Professor and Chair Mark Griffith. "But we're already attracting top students and faculty."