Caveat emptor

Tue Sep 17 09:52:35 UTC 2013

It might be late, yes. But a PhD is seen the key to a permanent job in the field. Choices are much harder after that investment.


Sent from my iPhone

On Sep 17, 2013, at 5:49, "Johannes Reese" <johannesreese at GMX.DE<mailto:johannesreese at GMX.DE>> wrote:

Hi folks,

restricting PhD programs: Isn't that rather late? When you start your PhD, you have already spent many years of studying. Then you shall be told it was all worthless? Shouldn't we "discourage" students at a much earlier date of their study, maybe before they get their B.A.? There are not a lot of professional options these days you get with a B.A. or M.A. in linguistics, are there? Some counterexamples?



I am posting this because linguistics is one of the disciplines I think needs to consider this seriously. There are too many academics in the liberal arts with no chance of full-time, secure employment in the area in which they have done their PhD.

I am not knocking the discipline. I just see too many folks in the areas where I have lived looking for part-time employment because they cannot get full-time work.


A lot of what drives prestige attribution in academics are rejection rates. Publishing in a journal with a 95% rejection rate is usually more prestigious than publishing in a journal with a 50% rejection rate. Getting into a college or program with a high rejection rate is usually more prestigious than getting into one with a lower rejection rate.

So it is only natural that academics, enculturated into this system, might believe that their department is better the more applicants it gets for a position. Up to a point perhaps. But if you are, as we had at places I have been in English departments, Linguistics Departments, Philosophy Departments and so on getting, say, hundreds of applications per position, it isn't prestige that is involved. It is an ailing discipline that needs to declare a moratorium on PhDs. Remember, potential graduate students  trust us. They will enter our programs if they seem interesting, even if there is about zero chance for them to get a good job. They do this because they believe that you wouldn't have accepted them knowing they had little chance of employment.

We need to think about this and talk about it more as a discipline.  One might make the case that PhD students should not be admitted to programs who have less than 95% employment rate in the subject of the PhD. Perhaps a few points lower. At least perhaps we could consider a moratorium on PhD admissions for lower-placement departments.

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