The facts are hard to look at. Attrition from doctoral programs in the arts and sciences stands at about 50%. Median graduate student debt is tens of thousands of dollars, and rising. Time to degree ranges from over seven years in the sciences, to over nine years in the humanities. Tenure-track professorships have been scarce for as long as any of us have been in the profession, but they’re so rare now that it’s a cause for celebration whenever anyone gets one.
Most students start graduate school with the idea that they want to become professors. Most will not attain this goal. What is an adviser to do in light of this fact? Some students decide during graduate school to pursue careers outside of academia after they get their degrees. Some choose to leave before they finish. How should we advise these students? For those who are lucky enough to get them, most full-time college teaching jobs are 1) not professorships anymore; and 2) at teaching-intensive rather than research-intensive institutions. Yet the graduate school curriculum (including the dissertation) typically centers on the skill set that is appropriate for work at a research university.
We have to change, but how? We must renovate our practice by thinking of these employment problems as teaching problems--and then adjust our teaching to meet them. (Advising is part of graduate teaching, perhaps the most important part.) How long should a PhD take? That's a question we have to answer in relation to the realities that face our students. What should the dissertation look like going forward? Should it change to fit our new surroundings? Are graduate students apprentices, or term laborers? Should the answer affect how we teach them?
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