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Pathways for Humanities PhDs

There are important discussions going on in higher education today about the challenges facing graduate and undergraduate programs in the humanities. These conversations inform the Pathways for Humanities PhDs series, and they will almost certainly affect the next generation of humanists, whether they end up teaching at a university or employed elsewhere. The following readings provide a useful overview of the issues. In various ways, they all suggest that as humanists, we could afford to think more expansively about what our disciplines have to offer to students pursing a variety of callings in society, and to be proactive about communicating this to the public.
Note: You must be connected to the Stanford network to access some of these links.

Part 1. Challenges Facing Humanities Doctoral Programs

Doctoral programs in the humanities face significant challenges today. According to some estimates, only around half of humanities PhDs end up employed in tenure-track academic jobs. At the same time, median time to degree has risen to nine years in some fields. How should doctoral programs adapt to face these new realities? Can graduate training be diversified or streamlined without losing its rigor? What career pathways exist for humanists beyond the academy? The American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association have been at the forefront of much recent thinking about these issues. Stanford has also recently completed a pioneering study of our own PhD employment data.
Grafton, Anthony, and James Grossman. “No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History.” Perspectives on History 49, no. 7 (October 2011).
PhD Employment Studies:
Where Are They Now? Occupations of 1996–2011 PhD Recipients in 2013.” Modern Language Association of America, 2015.

Part 2. Crisis in the Humanities? New Roles for Humanists in Higher Education and the Public Sphere

Over the past decade, there has been much discussion of a “crisis in the humanities” in higher education. In many places, humanities programs have been cut, and there is a rising public demand that universities teach “useful” skills that will prepare undergraduates for a difficult job market. These are undoubtedly serious challenges. Yet they also offer humanists an opportunity to rethink what their disciplines have to offer to the public in the twenty-first century.
Menand, Louis. “College: The End of the Golden Age.New York Review of Books (October 18, 2001).
Recommended: Menand, Louis. The Marketplace of Ideas. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
Berman, Russell. “Humanist: Heal Thyself.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Conversation” Blog (June 10, 2013).
Grafton, Anthony, and James Grossman. “The Humanities in Dubious Battle: What a new Harvard report doesn’t tell us.The Chronicle of Higher Education (July 1, 2013).
Koc, Edwin W. “NACE Research: The Liberal Arts Graduate College Hiring Market.” National Association of Colleges and Employers, November 2010.
Muro, Denise. “Diversity: A Solution to the Decline of the Humanities? (July 31, 2017).
Berrett, Dan. “If Skills Are the New Canon, Are Colleges Teaching Them?” Chronicle of Higher Education (April 3, 2016).

Part 3: Taking Charge of Your Education

Departments and universities are busy rethinking the purposes of doctoral study, but ultimately you should feel empowered to take charge of your own education. Try to remain attentive to what motivates you and be open to unexpected possibilities. Whether you end up applying for academic jobs or discovering a new career interest along the way, know that there are many things that you can do with a humanities PhD, and many resources to support you. The following essays offer a variety of perspectives to get you thinking.
Findlen, Paula. “Why Go to Grad School?” The Chronicle Review (November 17, 2014): B4–B5.
Mace, Emily. “Alt-Ac or Bust.” Vitae.
Hartman, Stacy. “Coming Out As Alt Ac.” Connected Academics (April 30, 2015). 

Doss, Henry. “Can 17th-Century French History Transform Healthcare?” Forbes (November 25, 2014).


Consult your discipline’s professional association for further resources. The American Historical Association, American Philosophical Association, Modern Language Association, and Paideia Institute (classics) have especially robust websites on career diversity for PhDs.