Caveat emptor

Sebastian Nordhoff sebastian_nordhoff at EVA.MPG.DE
Tue Sep 17 10:53:01 UTC 2013

On Tue, 17 Sep 2013 12:35:42 +0200, Everett, Daniel <DEVERETT at>  

> Absolutely correct, Sebastian. But we all know that most people do not  
> do PhDs in typology in order to do accounting, etc.

in my (Dutch) PhD program, we were told from the beginning that only about  
1/3 of us would find a job in research, and that we should get used to the  
idea of working elsewhere.

> A PhD is normally seen as the way into an academic career.

This is the basic misconception I think. It is true that this belief  
exists, but it does actually not correspond to what people with a PhD do  
do in the end. I therefore very much appreciated the University of  
Amsterdam's approach of dispelling this myth from the outset.

> And I see far too many unemployed and underemployed  PhDs in the  
> humanities.

Do you have some numbers for your PhD students? There might be a bias in  
that you are unlikely to meet PhDs who have left academia. The people who  
remain are the few lucky ones with a good position, and the unlucky ones  
still trying.

> To give an example, adjunct faculty in the business disciplines usually  
> have full careers, well-compensated, and do teaching as a satisfying way  
> to interact with future professionals. Adjuncts in the humanities are  
> either retired or, most commonly, underemployed folks trying to piece  
> together a career from the leavings of full-time faculty. They wanted  
> the tenure-track/permanent position. And they still do. And it is wrong  
> to overproduce in this way.

I agree that the ratio of applicants per tenure position is too high. One  
should try to either get more tenure positions (unlikely) or discourage  
people from pursuing this career option. But this is logically independent  
 from people getting a PhD in linguistics.

> Saying that there are other things they can do would be fine for BAs or  
> MAs in linguistics. But a PhD is overkill for positions not in or even  
> only tangentially related to  the field of study.

I know a couple of PhDs who now work outside of the research circus. Maybe  
they have acquired too much specific domain knowledge and scientific  
skills for their new job, but it certainly does not hurt. And, after all,  
it is a great pleasure and privilege to investigate uncharted scientific  
terrain during your PhD.

No need to cut PhD positions, but curtail expectations to follow a  
research career afterwards


> Dan
> On Sep 17, 2013, at 5:59 AM, Sebastian Nordhoff wrote:
>> On Mon, 16 Sep 2013 18:59:24 +0200, Everett, Daniel  
>> <DEVERETT at> wrote:
>>> 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 might note that there are job possibilities outside of "the area  
>> where they have done their PhD". Getting a PhD in Typology does not  
>> necessarily mean that the only career opportunities are within the,  
>> indeed restricted, field of academic linguistics.
>> Best wishes
>> Sebastian

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