In Search of Intelligent Lives After Grad School

In Search of Intelligent Lives After Grad School

Photo credit: Jessica A. Hutchins

By Jessica A. Hutchins

Ask a graduate student in the humanities if she has career options other than becoming a university professor, and you might get the same answer that an astrobiologist would give if you asked her about the existence of extraterrestrial life: Yes, probably, but we lack the information to prove it. While the astrobiologist actively seeks the information that would answer her question definitively, the humanities graduate student has probably been discouraged from making such an inquiry about her own career. The reasons for this are complicated, many, and motivate the creation of this blog.

For several decades, universities have been graduating more Ph.D.s in the humanities than there are tenure-track jobs for them to fill. At the same time, students in these Ph.D. programs often lack the resources to successfully pursue careers beyond the professoriate. In response to this imbalance, and the increasingly large number of Ph.D.s who get caught in the bite of the scales, a discussion has arisen on the topic of alternative academic (alt-ac) careers. Definitions vary regarding alt-ac, but I have adopted the term here to mean any line of work beyond the tenure track that a Ph.D. chooses and in which she makes use of skills and training developed in a graduate program. Ph.D.s in the sciences often choose alt-ac careers in research laboratories or industry, but their humanist cousins are much less experienced in this area.

I have been thinking about alt-ac a lot recently, because I am a soon-to-graduate Ph.D. student in the humanities hoping to join the ranks of the gainfully employed. This blog is my attempt to process and document that transition, and to contribute to the evolving conversation about the role of humanities graduate education inside and outside of the academy. I hope that this blog can become a resource for grad students, prospective grad students, their friends and families, and perhaps even their professors, about both the challenges and opportunities in the job market. I hope you’ll join me on this search for intelligent careers and professional options for our lives after grad school.