Economy hurts the PhD job market too


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The job market is tough for just about everybody -- but people with doctoral degrees might deserve one of the bigger pity parties. After spending five to six years of intense study preparing for jobs as university professors, many are finding that there simply aren’t jobs to be had.

The number of jobs university math departments were trying to fill in 2009 declined 40% from 2008, according to the American Mathematical Society. There were about 1,000 positions advertised from October 2009 to February 2010 in the Modern Language Assn.’s Job Information List, a 27.5% decline from the year before. (The association’s conference this year will hold the foreboding title The Academy in Hard Times.)

It’s even harder in California, where budget shortfalls have led to cuts in both the University of California and California State University systems.


Some doctoral degree holders are waiting for the job market to improve, taking low-paying jobs as adjunct professors. Others are leaving academia. Sites such as Beyond Academe and the Versatile PhD try to help them do so.

Timothy Clark is still hoping to get a job as a professor of commutative algebra at a Baltimore-area university. But the 34-year-old, who has a doctoral degree from Northwestern University, still hasn’t found anything, and this is his fourth year in the job market. His wife just got her dream job in Baltimore, and Clark knows that restricting the area in which he’s searching reduces his chances. But he’s still looking.

‘I haven’t given up the dream entirely,’ he said.

At least one academic isn’t worried. Patrick Horn is paying $25,000 a year to get a doctorate in mythological studies in the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria. His working class family balked at the tuition and time commitment, but the 30-year L.A. resident says he’s not concerned.

‘It’s a great investment, and I’m not worried about the debt,’ he said. ‘I love being a thinker, I love being a writer, and I feel privileged for the opportunity.’

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-- Alana Semuels