The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s
Liquid courage is a necessity when examining the data on Ph.D.s in the latest NSF report, “The Survey of Earned Doctorates,” which utilized figures from the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The report finds that many newly minted Ph.D.s complete school after nearly 10 years of studies with significant debt and without the promise of a job. Yet few people seem to be paying attention to these findings; graduate programs are producing more Ph.D.s than ever before.
Getting a Ph.D. has always been a long haul. Despite calls for reform, the time spent in graduate programs hasn’t declined significantly in the past decade. In 2014, students spent eight years on average in graduate school programs to earn a Ph.D. in the social sciences, for example. It takes nine years to get one in the humanities, seven for science fields and engineering, and 12 for education, according to NSF. In other words, Ph.D.s are typically nearing or in their 30s by the time they begin their careers. Many of their friends have probably already banked a decade’s worth of retirement money in a 401K account; some may have already put a down payment on a small town house.
While most doctoral students rely primarily on some combination of grants, teaching assistantships, and research positions to cover tuition and living expenses, they also often use personal savings, spouses’ earnings, and student loans. Consequently, more than 12 percent of all Ph.D.s complete their doctoral programs with over $70,000 of combined undergraduate and graduate student-loan debt. Rates are especially high in the social sciences and education. Those debt levels are alarming, especially because fewer students have jobs lined up immediately after graduation than was the case 10 years ago.