The job market for historians: some data, 1995-2014

Brodie Waddell

[UPDATE 08/09/15: Please read the updated and expanded version of this post here.]

On August 24th, Matthew Lyons published a piece in History Today on ‘the plight of early career researchers’. Reading the comments there, on twitter and on other blogs, it is clear that he hit a raw nerve.

As commentators pointed out, some of his assertions were unfounded (e.g. ‘many if not most academics disdain teaching’, ‘[ECRs] are offered no career development or pastoral support’). Nonetheless, his claim that newly-minted historians tend to struggle rings true. Between us, the four heads of the many-headed monster have had plenty of experience with job insecurity, poorly-paid positions, forced transience, bad working conditions and other early career problems.

However, a post from William Whyte – a historian of universities – made a very good point: there is nothing new about claims of a ‘crisis’ in academic employment. We need to be careful not to slip into nostalgia for a lost ‘golden age’ when there were jobs aplenty. As historians, we should be particularly critical of ‘fundamentally presentist, ahistorical – indeed anti-historical – peddling of myths’.

In the interests of bringing a bit more ‘history’ to this discussion, I tried to dig up some ‘historical’ data on PhDs, students, and jobs. Continue reading

Thinking about doing a PhD: who, where and how?

Brodie Waddell

Over the past few months, I’ve been getting some enquires from people thinking about doing a PhD in history. I’ve found myself repeating the same thing in many cases, so I thought I’d set it out here in case it’s helpful for current MA students thinking about the possibility. In most cases, there are important personal factors to consider, but I think there are a few pieces of advice that apply more generally.

Note, however, that as an ‘early career’ academic, there is still plenty that I’m learning about the whole process, despite having finished my own PhD over five years ago. Your own thoughts would be very welcome.

Don’t do it!

When a PhD goes horribly wrong, it often turns into a nightmarish snake-cat that stalks you in the library...

When a PhD goes horribly wrong, it often turns into a nightmarish snake-cat that stalks you in the library…

Obviously I don’t believe that or I wouldn’t be writing this post, but I think there are lots of good reasons to not do a PhD right now, the most important being the terrible job market for new humanities PhDs. As innumerable blog posts and articles have said before: even if you are extremely smart, original, hard-working and self-sacrificing, there is a decent chance that you won’t be able to find a permanent academic job. If you are aware of that, and want to do a PhD anyway – perhaps because you’re not doing it to get an academic job, or perhaps because you are young, carefree and willing to roll the dice – then please read on… Continue reading