The Set Up
In Fall 2013, I was asked to join a panel titled “Applying to Graduate School” at Wellesley College, the liberal arts institution where I teach. Given the current job market for PhDs in the Humanities and Social Sciences and the climate of higher education more generally, I grappled with how to relay practical “brass tacks” information about applying to graduate school while informing the students in attendance about the challenges that accompany it.
In an effort to come to a more clear understanding of my own ideas on the matter, I reached out to colleagues who had recently completed or were about to complete their PhDs and MAs in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
The questions I posed to them via a survey-styled Google Form were clear-cut: knowing what they know now – about the job market, higher education, the state of their field(s) and respective disciplines – would they still pursue a graduate degree all these years later and would they advise undergraduate students to do the same?
Their responses were, in turns, illuminating and conflicted. Everyone said they’d do it all over again, yet a close reading of their responses revealed that for some, they would go about it differently. One person said they wouldn’t go in 2013.
Knowing what you know now – about the job market, higher education, your field/discipline etc – do you think you would still have pursued a graduate degree?
Even those who counted themselves as “lucky” in securing a tenure-track job discussed complex feelings about the state of academe in general and interdisciplinarity in particular. Others mentioned the challenges of securing fulltime employment. And to my surprise, most people didn’t follow my line of questioning anticipating that MOOCs and online education will eventually upstage or perhaps decenter the primacy of enfleshed and still mostly human professor-instructor-lecturers in higher education.
Somewhat random but still kind of serious question about the future: do you think professors, lecturers, and instructors in the Social Sciences and Humanities will eventually be replaced by online courses and automation?
There is a trove of online sites and social media musings about the state of higher education, the feasibility of PhDs in the Social Sciences and Humanities, and myriad advice-minded discussions that riff off of the “just don’t go” directive. Other discussion threads coming out of blogs, news, and trade sites is that if one