It is a truth universally acknowledged that academic jobs for PhD graduates in the humanities are scarce. The Chronicle of Higher Education overflows with commentary on the same in its forums and advice columns. This isn’t to say that everyone who does a PhD in English wants an academic job. But I suspect many want to feel that at least they have a reasonable choice in the matter.
For those who do want an academic career, it’s useful to look at the data. According to the most recent MLA study, published in 2011, within roughly two years of graduating, about 32% of PhD graduates in English in Canada had secured tenure-track positions, and 24% had non-tenure-track teaching. Running the numbers more broadly, as one Chronicle blogger has, suggests that overall fewer than half of English PhDs secure tenure-track jobs. Cross-referencing that with the MLA study suggests the percentage is lower in Canada.
There are multiple ways to parse, nuance, qualify, and interrogate that data in deeply meaningful ways that speak to the profession, institutional practices, and labour issues. I encourage everyone to seek out those conversations in a variety of forums (including Hook and Eye, to which our own Dr. Aimée Morrison contributes; please feel free to post others in the comments section). My point here is to consider the basic question those PhDs seeking academic jobs want answered: how does Waterloo English compare?
The answer is: not so bad. Department chair, Dr. Fraser Easton, has been compiling data and reports: “Of the 47 graduates of the PhD through 2012, over 60% have full-time academic jobs at universities and colleges across Canada, the United States, and Asia.” Again, this statistic can be parsed in various ways, but I encourage you to check out the list of Waterloo’s PhD English graduates, and decide for yourself.
**This is not to say that we are ignoring the other 40%. Our new English graduate professionalization seminar includes components on alternative careers in and out of academics. But I’m saving that for another post.