Work/life balance and the (over)supply of PhDs

Should it be the duty of faculty to be honest with doctoral students about their prospects of securing a tenure-track position in academia?

As a recent article (The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is a waste of time) in the Economist noted, between 2005 and 2009, the U.S. awarded more than 100,000 new doctoral degrees. During that same period there were only 16,000 new professorships.

And the nearly 7:1 oversupply of PhDs relative to openings in academia has occurred even though only 57% of doctoral students in American universities will earn a PhD ten years after their first date of enrollment. In the humanities, this figure is 49%.

I would agree that it’s important to strike a balance between work and the rest of life; but a question every doctoral student should ask is whether she or he feels it is possible to out-compete the rest of the field by putting in fewer hours?

It should provide a measure of comfort to know that once one secures a tenure-track position, the bar for promotion is relatively low.

But the next time there is an opening in your department, it might be worthwhile to ask the chair how many people applied for the position. 42? 117? 283?

And just for kicks, ask how many candidates were selected for interviews not on the strength of their CV but on their apparent ability to strike a reasonable work-life balance.

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