Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prospects for Newly Minted Ph.D.s

Duke today just had its "Teaching and Learning Lunch" for students in the Graduate Program in Religion, with panel consisting of a provost, a dean, and a former head of an academic society. The topic was job prospects in religion and the humanities. I took away the following points:

  • No doubt about it, the humanities job market will be soft for a long time.
  • Economic pressures affect different schools differently. Particularly, the mix of funding sources (endowments, tuition, etc.) will have different effects in a tight economy.
  • The erosion in the jobs is mainly from the bottom. Weaker candidates are more at risk than ever before.
  • The weaker schools are also being hit harder. Fewer job openings there.
  • The top research schools may be less harder hit, but they will be as competitive as always (perhaps even more so).
  • Second and third private colleges are finding that tuition payers want more prestige from their bucks and are therefore facing a loss in enrollments.
  • On the other hand, public universities are faced with shortfalls from the state legislators. They are having to raise their tuitions, which may end up making the second and third tier colleges less uncompetitive price-wise for students.
  • The age of (over-)specialization may be over. Candidates should show that they can both research and teach in a broader range of subjects.
  • The religion faculty in most schools is tiny, 4-7 professors. Breadth of teaching subjects is important for such schools.
  • Ethics is hot now. Professors in religion should figure how to tie their teaching into ethics.
  • Those getting narrow doctorates from U.K. programs may be at a disadvantage compared to those graduating from American programs due to the their coursework requirements.
  • As schools squeeze administrative positions, new hires may be asked to take on more administrative responsibility than before.
  • Catholic colleges may represent some of the best opportunities for theological faculty in terms of openings. At many of these schools, religion courses are still required and their facing a spate of retirements among the teaching priests.
  • As for Protestant affiliated colleges, mainline denominational schools are shrinking in their enrollments, but evangelical schools seem to be more vibrant.

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