Alternatives to academia needed for Ph.D.s


By Zahra Haque, Staff Writer

The number of full-time tenured professors serving on university faculties has been dwindling for the past several years — 76.4 percent of college professors today are adjunct professors. This is bad news for current doctoral students intent on academic careers, who may find that the tenured faculty positions they aspire to are increasingly harder to attain. More doctorate holders are venturing beyond the ivory tower and pursuing careers outside of academia, but, unfortunately, many universities have yet to embrace the changing goals of graduate students.

Many doctoral programs cultivate an atmosphere in which students who decide to forgo the professorship route are made to feel like failures or sellouts. As a result, many graduate students feel compelled to hide their interests in careers outside academia for fear that their advisers will take them less seriously or that they will be treated as second-class in their program. University faculties often disregard the fact that merit alone is not enough to achieve success in the world of academia. Nowadays, securing a job as a professor necessitates a remarkable degree of luck as well. Instead of setting starry-eyed graduate students up for failure, universities need to be more attuned to the realities of the academic job market and create awareness of alternative career paths.

Internships can be a vehicle for graduate students to explore job opportunities outside in the real world and sharpen their resumes. Many universities, including NYU, offer extensive services dedicated to helping undergraduate students find internships. Doctoral students should have similar services at their disposal. Expanding internship programs, particularly in the humanities and social sciences where academic jobs are especially scarce, would go a long way in preparing graduate students in those fields for the cutthroat job market. The Wasserman Center for Career Development already hosts seminars to help doctoral students tailor their resumes for industry jobs, but it can go further. Creating networking opportunities for doctoral students is essential. Universities can host career fairs specifically for doctoral students, allowing them to talk to professionals in their industries of interest and make business contacts. Many graduate students may have little exposure to work outside of a classroom — workshops can teach them how to apply their academic skills to non-academic jobs.

Doctoral programs must abandon the notion that non-academic careers are less prestigious than academic ones. This sort of elitist thinking is insensitive and destructive to students’ professional futures. Universities must accept certain economic truths and be cogniscent of the changing landscape of academic careers. By fostering an environment in which students are encouraged to embrace all their career interests, universities can demonstrate that they are in touch with the times and with their students’ needs.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 22 print edition. Email Zahra Haque at [email protected].