Briefly and anecdotally (I have served as a chancellor and president, as well as faculty, in higher education; and, I continue to serve as a tenured professor; and the president of a nonprofit corporation in education) I will address a question that comes to me from time to time. The presenting issue? Let me loosely quote a newly-minted Ph.D. in theology who shared his frustration with me:
“I have given so much, worked so much of my time, and my wife and daughter have sacrificed so much. We were never so thankful and relieved to go through that hooding ceremony. So, now I am Dr. [Davis]. Big deal. I can’t find a position anywhere! I am going to be the only stocking clerk at Home Depot with a Ph.D. in Comparative Religion. Not that that is bad. I’ll do what I must to take care of my family. But why is it so difficult to actually use my Ph.D. in a meaningful way? What is going on?”— [Dr. Davis is a pseudonym.]
Firstly, I had to remind my friend that there are quite a few stocking clerks at Home Depot with Ph.D. degrees. But, on the other hand, I am not sure about the number of Home Depot employees with dissertations on comparative religion.
I responded to my friend with these five reasons that many PhD grads have difficulty moving forward. My goal is that certain directness that invites change. So, I seek to provide some hope. So, don’t give up! Here is my response to why new Ph.D. grads find it difficult to gain an appointment.
1. Free market factors (supply and demand) are as important in higher education as in any other field.
2. Enormous shifts in the higher education sector and, in particular, seismic shifts in how students are educated. These shifts affect faculty deployment (typically, administrators reduce resident faculty and increase adjuncts or visiting faculty).
3. Unrealistic expectations of some new Ph.D. grads hinder their usefulness. Given the evolving landscape in higher education, there is a resistance by some to recognize and embrace the new model.
4. Some confuse dedication to one’s discipline with limitations to traditional roles. Restricting one’s search for employment to the traditional classroom, viz., tenure-track positions at institutions of higher learning, will drastically reduce open doors. When considerable investments in time, energy, and money meet locked doors and (e.g., opportunities abound in private sector higher education companies that support institutions; this is in addition to creative ways to integrate adjunct work with independent research, nonprofit start-ups, and a host of other strategies to use one’s considerable educational investment while filling a need in the larger, expanding marketplace of higher ed).
5. There is often a noticeable deficit in teaching and learning experience. Not a few Ph.D. grads have chosen to emphasize further research into their discipline as a primary commitment of their time and energy (thus, not exhibiting a “student-first” attitude in their Philosophy of Teaching Statement). Research is critical. However, the number-one goal of a hiring administrator is to secure a student-motivated subject matter expert who is eager to engage students and demonstrate a personal learning contract to seek excellence in teaching and learning. As a primary component in one’s division of labor, research can increase in the middle and later years of one’s career. Faculty members can also integrate research into teaching. These and other strategies can provide both vocational satisfaction and student-centered teaching and learning.
Ph.D. grads who combine their degrees with strong teaching and learning postdoctoral fellowship (even if one must “tent-make” to acquire the higher ed classroom experience), combined with a certification in online teaching (e.g., Harvard offers such postgraduate certifications in higher education in multimodal ways of content delivery, as do numerous other institutions) will be a choice candidate, whatever one’s discipline.
In summary, fulfill your dream. Get that Ph.D. We need your doctoral-level expertise, whether in English Literature or Quantum Physics, to enrich our civilization and prepare a new generation to face the inevitable challenges that await us all. Just remember that Doceo, from whence we get our word, “Doctor,” means “to teach.” Ph. D.s, M.D.s, Ed.d., and other academic and professional doctorates should remember the centrality of teaching and learning and the total dedication to students/patients/clients. If such a candidate presents a CV with postdoctoral certifications/residencies and internships in online teaching and classroom teaching and learning (along with good work in the Ph.D.), it is difficult to imagine that this newly credentialed professor will be overlooked.
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