What the data says about Ph.D.s’ satisfaction in careers beyond the professoriate

What exactly can you do with a humanities Ph.D. today? Consider the ever-growing number of graduates holding humanistic doctoral degrees who are not working in tenure-track faculty positions. What are they doing and how are they doing it? The results of a recent study conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) demonstrate that humanities Ph.D.s are pursuing meaningful and satisfying work both within and beyond academia, attesting to the versatility of the doctoral degree.

CGS’s large-scale Ph.D. Career Pathways project is an initiative aimed at understanding: 1) How humanities Ph.D.s apply their doctoral training in the workforce, 2) Which skills acquired in grad school are most useful in their current careers, and 3) How satisfied humanities Ph.D.s are with the applicability of their doctoral training to non-academic careers.

The Career Pathways project tackled these questions through a series of alumni surveys in which humanities graduates who were three, eight, or fifteen years out of their Ph.D. program responded to questions concerning their doctoral experience while at school and their employment outcomes after graduation. All ten UC campuses participated in the survey, so the data reflects Berkeley grad student outcomes. CGS published a report in October 2018 that synthesizes the data from the surveys and emphasizes the following takeaways:

  • A large majority of survey respondents believe that their doctoral education prepared them well for their jobs. These results suggest that a humanities Ph.D. education offers relevant training that prepares graduates for jobs both inside and outside of the academy.
  • A large majority of alumni said that they would pursue a Ph.D. in general or in the same field if they had to start over again. In the long term, satisfaction with doctoral training is equal for respondents in both academic and non-academic careers. However, survey results do show that for those employed in non-academic sectors, it may take longer to recognize the value and relevance of their Ph.D. training. Departments and campus partners can take steps to help graduate students identify and develop critical skills while still in grad school that will allow them to more quickly build confidence in their careers outside of academia.
  • Between humanities Ph.D.s working in academia and elsewhere, there are more similarities than differences in key workforce skills and attributes. Over 80% of alumni in both academic and non-academic careers ranked analytical thinking, dependability, and persistence as extremely important in their current positions.

The report supports reflection on professional development while still in grad school, encouraging graduate students to develop skills so that they can build career confidence more quickly following their Ph.D.

Students: Tips for Boosting your Skills

  • Identify and cultivate the key skills and attributes that Ph.D.s find so useful in the workforce. Take advantage of the Graduate Student Professional Development Guide, which highlights critical skills and provides concrete examples of how to develop these skills in graduate school.
  • Subscribe to the Professional Development Digest to stay up-to-date with skill-building events and workshops organized by campus partners.
  • Schedule a one-on-one consultation with GradPro. They can guide you in navigating the wealth of professional development related resources available to grad students.

Faculty and Departments: Strategies for Acting on these Findings

Additional Resources:

  • Using the CGS survey data, the University of California Institutional Research and Academic Planning (IRAP) developed an interactive Dashboard Tool that organizes responses to the survey by UC campus, exit year, and broad discipline.
  • The 2019 Colloquium Meeting of Humanists@Work explored UC-specific data from the CGS initiative. Read more about the event here.

About the Author: Sarah Christofides is a Professional Development Liaison in the Graduate Division and a Ph.D. Candidate in the French Department.