Bright Spots in the PhD Job Market?
May 2, 2005 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Are there any PhDs that offer a better chance of getting an academic job than others?

For those us who love academic life but know that our dream jobs as English or anthropology professors are likely pipe dreams, are there any PhDs that afford better job possibilities? I'm thinking marketing, mass communication studies, or education. Any input?
posted by lalalana to Education (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am currently a graduate student in psychology (quantitative), but I do know that many of my fellow students have geared their research toward business / consumer research. Even better, the tweaking of your interests doesn't even have to go too far in the business-y direction. I know 3 social psychologists and one specializing in judgment and decision making who are now or will be soon teaching and researching at top business schools. As an added bonus, a job in a business school is a lot more lucrative than getting one in a psychology department.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 7:02 AM on May 2, 2005

Do some have better odds of getting a tenure-track line?


I'm thinking marketing, mass communication studies, or education

I wouldn't think there, though I don't have any numbers in front of me.

People in the sciences will have to some extent better opportunities than people in the social sciences, and they in turn will probably have somewhat better opportunities than people in the humanities.

If I had to guess, I'd say that it's mostly just a difference in where people get weeded out. People weed themselves out of physical-science PhDs from the get-go by not majoring in physics, etc. People weed themselves out of social-science departments when they discover that yes, Virginia, there's math (or get weeded out at that point). But there's less to drive away (psychotically determined) people in a humanities program, so more of them stick around until the bitter end even though they should have been kicked out yonks ago because they were never going to get a job. So there are more English PhD's who could never really cut the mustard out there cluttering up the job market than there are physics or bioinformatics PhDs.

Apply in what you're interested in, but only to very good (say top 25) programs. From a top-tier program your odds of getting a tenure-track line will be entirely reasonable, though there's never any guarantee and it'll likely take a couple of tries. If you don't get in to a top-tier program with a free ride (barring weird state laws for some state schools) and stipend, go get a regular job.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:35 AM on May 2, 2005

Finance. Demand far exceeds supply for Finance PhD's.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:01 AM on May 2, 2005

You can definitely tweak your interests towards a business school, however, ask yourself first (and investigate) the extent to which this actually qualifies as an "academic appointment".

Business schools are more professional schools than academic departments. Ask yourself to what extent they're actually pursuing knowledge (or what it is they're pursuing), and ask yourself if you want to teach MBA students.

My understanding from talking to people who are inclined towards academia but working in business schools is that it can be very hard to get real research done, that the MBAs are a pain in the ass who aren't at all interested in anything academic, and that it's very isolating to not be working with academics (yes, your colleagues have PhDs, but that doesn't make them academics).

I would say that your best bet is to find a field you're interested in and go to a top school. Yes, there are more PhDs out there than the market can support but rightly or wrongly, the ones at the top aren't generally the ones who get pushed out of the market.
posted by duck at 8:13 AM on May 2, 2005

Response by poster: I was thinking that a program in something like education would be good due to a similar self-selection weeding-out process. In my experience (I was a teacher for 2 years), most education majors don't go to grad school, and those who do, do it so they can be bumped up on the teacher salary scale or qualify to be school administrators. Still, there is a need for people to teach those classes, and there doesn't seem to be that many people applying for those PhD programs. I know that the top ones are a lot easier to get into than the top ones in, say, English.
posted by lalalana at 8:33 AM on May 2, 2005

I'd have to second the vote for finance, if my own experience is any indication.

I've got a Master in Quantitative Finance, and was recruited in 2002 by a University to teach part time. I lectured for two terms, and since then I've been tutoring students on their disserations.

I specialise in Econometrics, particularly in the Equity or Fixed Income markets. I've seen lots of Phds come and go, and most of the departed end up going to industry. Universities just can't compete with the starting salary an investment bank would offer. At all. There are usually several open slots in Finance at the University I work for - they just can't find the people.
posted by Mutant at 8:34 AM on May 2, 2005

I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Management right now, and I will graduate next year. I have to mostly disagree with duck above. I am doing "real" research in an area that I am interested in, and I am pursuing knowledge. My collleagues and professors are definitely academics with a love for inquiry and research. It can be a pain dealing with MBAs, but at a good Bschool, you are still rewarded for research.

The demand outstrips the supply for Ph.D.s in all concentrations of business (Finance, Accounting, Marketing, Management, Information Systems). This is especially true at the top end of the market (the best research schools). However, unlike other academic disciplines, people with Business Ph.D.'s basically never worry about getting an academic job, they just worry about how good of an academic job they will get. Also, the pay is much better than most other academic disciplines.

I love what I am doing and I have lots of information about the subject. If you are really interested, send me an email (in my profile). I will be happy to give you real numbers, etc.
posted by bove at 9:01 AM on May 2, 2005

Hey, mutant-- Do econometricians usually run high-yield debt? Are you doing some sort of arbitrage up and down the capital structure?

Junk seems like the last place I'd put a quant.

(apologies for the derail)
posted by Kwantsar at 9:37 AM on May 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, Bove. E-mail sent.
posted by lalalana at 10:07 AM on May 2, 2005

School Psychology. I defend my dissertation in 10 days. The world is basically my oyster!

When it comes down to it, you have to do something for which you have a passion. If you aren't already passionate about a subject area, then I can't see that a PhD is what you want.

If it's academia you love, which part of academia? Classes? Teaching? The professorial life? Education is a really good field, but it sounds like you aren't interested in an applied field. Maybe I'm wrong.

Determine what you want to do, then pick the appropriate degree to match, not the other way around. PhD's aren't easy! This is my 7th year of toil!

That said, getting a PhD in English is rarely a good idea. I have many friends who either have or are working on this degree. Some are in their 3rd year after successful dissertation defense, degree in hand, and without a job. I'd especially steer clear of Critical Theory. There are no jobs to be had.
posted by abbyladybug at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2005

Communication Sciences and Disorders (or Speech-Language Pathology) has a huge Ph.D. shortage, because everyone gets their M.A. and bails to become a clinician.
posted by kmel at 5:22 PM on May 2, 2005

Assuming you have the interest and aptitude, I'd recommend an area of psychology focusing on issues that business schools value (e.g., teams, leadership, marketing, etc.). Go to a top tier program at a university with a good business school and at least two good possible psych advisors. Take B-school classes when you can, publish in business school related journals/conferences (e.g., org science, academy of management) all while keeping a strong footing in Psychology. Pick a dissertation topic with some sex appeal -- an applied hook is nice, a counterintuitive theory & results are a necessity.

When you are ready to hit the job market you'll be able to apply to Psychology programs, business schools, possibly communication(s) departments, and possibly others depending on your specialization.

Oh, and I have to disagree with ROU_Xenophobe about the availability of science faculty positions. At least in the life sciences, things are not pretty. From the link:
Between 1993 and 2000, the number of U.S. life science Ph.D.s under age 35 holding coveted tenure-track jobs in major research universities declined by 12.1%, to 543; meanwhile, the number of U.S. biomedical Ph.D.s in that age range increased by 59%, to nearly 20,000, and tens of thousands more scientists with foreign Ph.D.s came to fill postdoc positions in U.S. labs.
posted by i love cheese at 6:48 PM on May 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Any field where there is historically higher paying jobs in industry will do. This is because fresh phds are lured away to industry. No industry in cosmology, for example, so all new phds go into academia. Also, for fields where the phds are swept away, then the academic jobs pay better than other academic jobs since the universities have to compete with industry. For most hard sciences and business degrees this holds.
posted by about_time at 6:55 PM on May 2, 2005

A Ph.D. may do you good in the non-academic job market, but the prospects of landing a tenure-track academic job range from near-zero to zero.

To have any hope, you need to have produced published material and have a "rabbi" -- a department chair or well-known prof. whom you have cultivated, and who loves you and wants to find you something.

The worst possible thing (which is what happens to most people) is to end up in a part-time, adjunct, non-tenure-track position, from which there is no exit up.
posted by KRS at 10:48 AM on May 3, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the concrete suggestions (I'm hearing Business, Finance, School Psychology, Pyschology with a business emphasis, Communication Sciences and Disorders). Any way to check these?

I've been reading the want ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but it seems, from the ads, that everyone is hiring for just about everything but, from the articles, that no one is hiring for anything.
posted by lalalana at 11:04 AM on May 3, 2005

Seconding kmel, my wife (freshly minted PhD) tells me that academic positions in SLP can go unfilled for years.
posted by turbodog at 4:05 PM on May 3, 2005

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