Careers in and beyond the Professoriate
Numerous studies over the past two decades have found around 70.0 percent of history PhDs envisioning careers in the professoriate, roughly the same number as went on to find employment there.2 In addition to the 53.0 percent of history PhDs in the sample with tenure track positions at two- and four-year institutions, 17.8 percent found faculty positions off the tenure track (14.7 percent of the total sample at four-year institutions, and 3.1 percent at two-year colleges). Another 0.4 percent of the sample found employment at for-profit colleges.
Among PhDs found on the tenure track, 43.1 percent had reached the rank of associate professor, and another 10.5 percent were full professors. For those who had received their degree more than seven years ago, we found 68.9 percent at the rank of associate or full professor, while among those who had received degrees within the past seven years, 84.3 percent were assistant professors.
Alongside faculty positions, another 3.2 percent of the sample’s PhDs found employment in positions as academic administrators without significant teaching responsibilities, and 1.2 percent in other positions at colleges and universities (primarily in libraries or archives). Viewed by the most expansive measure, 72.5 percent of history PhDs obtained employment in some capacity at postsecondary institutions.
This study is the first since 1995 to systematically identify the employment of a large cohort of history PhDs. In the earlier study (a survey of history PhDs under the age of 75), 64.6 percent of respondents reported finding employment at four-year colleges and universities, and another 6.4 percent reported positions at two-year institutions.3 Unfortunately, the 1995 study did not distinguish between tenure-track, adjunct, and administrative positions, though 21.9 percent of the history PhDs employed in academia reported not being eligible for tenure (as compared to 29.7 percent of the PhDs employed at colleges and universities in the present sample).
Please note that the large portion of history PhDs recorded in the non-tenure-track category in our study should not be taken as the number of people working primarily as contingent faculty. While this was the only employment discovered by our canvass, many of the history PhDs recorded in that category only showed up as teaching one or two courses during the previous year. For comparison, a recent survey of part-time history faculty found nearly a quarter teaching one or more course alongside a separate full-time job.4 Thus, some of the individuals categorized as non-tenure-track faculty may also be working in another sector.
Among those employed outside of postsecondary teaching, the PhDs in our sample turned up in a wide array of positions—ranging from government offices and libraries to publishing houses and law firms (Table 1).
Four percent of the sample found positions in government at the federal, state, or local level. Managers, analysts, and related jobs in the nonprofit and business sectors accounted for 3.3 and 3.0 percent, respectively. Another 2.9 percent found employment in K–12 teaching; 2.1 percent became independent scholars; and 2.2 percent were self-employed in some other capacity.
Libraries, museums, and archives (tabulated separately from the categories above, even where the employing institution fit under one of the other rubrics) employed another 1.4 percent of the sample. While these institutions are often viewed as career paths for history PhDs, it should be noted that of the 32 people found in this category, at least 12 had also earned MIS or MLS degrees.
In the 1995 study, 27.5 percent of history PhDs under the age of 75 reported employment outside of academia, primarily in the nonprofit sector (5.7 percent), government (5.2 percent), or K–12 teaching (4.1 percent).
Viewed apart from the employing institution, 7.0 percent of history PhDs in the sample could be identified as finding employment in positions that clearly fit under the traditional label of “public history” (which is to say, employment in history work outside of academia). Though a separate survey found public history increasingly feminized in comparison to the discipline as a whole (nearly two-thirds of respondents in a recent survey of self-identified “public historians” were women), the same proportion of male and female history PhDs in our sample found public history jobs.5
Notably, a portion of graduates in the sample built their own paths into history employment. At least a half dozen of the PhDs founded a history-related consulting or research firm, and another 57 (2.3 percent of the sample) worked in various self-employed capacities, though it was not always clear how closely their research work actually tied to history.
Regardless of the employment sector or status, we found evidence that 75 percent of PhDs in the sample had worked in some capacity as historians—either as teachers or authors of history articles and books—during the past five years. Notably, remarkably little difference appeared across the different types and rankings of PhD programs on this result. Still, the result merits one caveat: some of this activity consisted of a single publication, which may have been the remnant of doctoral research, and therefore never to be followed by another publication.
2. See for instance Chris M. Golde, “The Career Goals of History Doctoral Students: Data from the Survey on Doctoral Education and Career Preparation,” Perspectives on History (October 2001), which studied doctoral students enrolled in 1999, and found 70.4 percent “definitely interested in a faculty career.” Similar numbers can be found in annual results from the Survey of Earned Doctorates for the PhD recipients used in this sample (see the annual reports).
3. Linda Ingram and Prudence Brown, Humanities Doctorates in the United States: 1995 Profile (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 1997). Note that the survey on which this information is based encompasses a much larger population of history PhDs and relied on self-reported data, instead of a search for current employment and assignment into a particular category.
4. Robert B. Townsend, “Underpaid and Underappreciated: A Portrait of Part-time Faculty,” Perspectives on History (September 2012). We assigned each of the PhDs in the sample to the position that seemed their primary source of income.
5. For the purpose of this classification, we counted those employed outside of academia whose primary job responsibility involved historical research, writing, or dissemination. For more on the definitional challenges of public history, see John Dichtl and Robert B. Townsend, “A Picture of Public History: Preliminary Results from the 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals,” NCPH Newsletter (September 2009).