What does it feel like to be an unemployed PhD?

Prepwise AnswersCategory: General CareerWhat does it feel like to be an unemployed PhD?
Career Dev Staff Staff asked 3 years ago
1 Answers
Kate McKeon Staff answered 3 years ago

In brief, it feels like you’re lost, naked, and hunted.
It feels like you’ve been duped. But worse, you know you did this to yourself. Kind of like someone who puts all his money into a single Lottery. Yes, you should expect to lose. True, you might win, but you should reasonably expect to lose. Who enjoys losing?
This is what I’ve seen in students and colleagues.
Depression. Massive, sinking depression.
Not getting a job before the ink dries on your dissertation or at least a post doc appointment is devastating – shame, disappointment, and a blinding, total blank on what to do next.
Expectations not inline with realities.
A colleague with a PhD in Literature, who then had a great-on-paper gig at a top tier U, felt she was meant to be at a top tier U. Sadly for her, PhDs in Lit are not uncommon. #DimeADozen.
The market is super saturated. Top Tier school posts are almost non-existent. Those posts that are available are more often capturing faculty on the move, not entering faculty. So . . . job market is a giant zero.
She was not flexible in seeking a post – I don’t disagree with this part** – so she stayed effectively unemployed or vastly under-employed for a few years. This pushed her market value down even further. She is currently employed but not tenure track.
**If you are serious about a top tier post particularly in a non-business school field, you will find faculty reviewing your candidacy ICY about any work you do outside of academia. So it is smart to have singular focus when pursuing an academic appointment.
I wish more people would really study the job market they hope to enter BEFORE starting the PhD. If you have cash to burn – Trustifarians, by all means, get your PhD in any field you want.
If you must make money at some point in order to live, please, please, please, take a serious look at the number of people getting PhDs each year in your field #YourCompetition and the number of desirable posts #YourOpportunities. When you see 80 candidates coming out of competitive programs annually and 1 top tier post (top 25 schools), 3-5 second tier posts and 15 everything else posts (including adjunct) . . . consider your true competition to be the classes ahead of and behind you so you really have about 240 people competing for about 20 total posts – most of which are posts you don’t really want. So really, fewer than 5 posts with loads of competition. Not much room for error.
Scratch off tickets have better odds. (but please don’t do that either!)