There has been a lot of discussion about the deteriorating prospects of Humanities PhDs. Many insiders have argued that it is increasingly hard for those gaining a PhD in the humanities to find a decent job in academia – and that seems to be the place most humanities PhDs would like to end up.
In the Netherlands, we have also had discussions recently on whether there are not too many Philosophy PhD students (and more broadly humanities PhDstudents), and whether those pursuing a Philosophy PhD have realistic expectations of their chances of getting a job in academia. In those debates, one often hears the rough number that about 9 out of 10 PhD students aspires to have an academic job, yet only between 1 and 2 end up in academia. If that is true, there is a serious mismatch between expectations and objective outcomes. Moreover, there is also the impression that the situation has become worse due to the budget cuts for higher education.
I am setting up a small project in order to gain a better understanding of the expectations of Philosophy PhD students in the Netherlands. To the best of my knowledge, we totally lack any information on the career expectations of Philosophy PhD students in the Netherlands, and the career outcomes of those who acquired a Philosophy PhD in the past. At present, there is no systematic information about what Philosophy PhD students expect or hope for after graduating. Neither do we know the extent to which this fits with the opportunities they will encounter.
By collecting information on the expectations of current PhD students, and contrasting this to the realizations of those who received their Philosophy PhD in the past (and the expectations they had), we can gain a better understanding of the labour market for those holding Philosophy PhDs. We aim at conducting and analyzing surveys among three populations: (1) current Philosophy PhD students; (2) former Philosophy PhD students who dropped out; (3) the group who gained a Philosophy PhD in the Netherlands in the last ten years. Sine Bagatur (a PhD student of mine who submitted her dissertation and hence knows all about the relevance of those questions!) will conduct a survey and construct a database of those who received their Philosophy PhDs in the Netherlands in the recent past. Luckily, we have addresses of virtually all PhD students in philosophy, thanks to the fact that, two years ago, all academic Philosophy departments united in the Dutch Research School of Philosophy.
In addition to the survey, we will conduct a literature research so as to compare our results with the findings in other countries, or compare it with the situation of PhD students in other subjects in the Netherlands. This comparison will allow us to see how Dutch Philosophy PhD students’ situation differs from other groups, and also collect a number of suggestions on what could be done to address problems and issues that the findings reveal. If time permits, we also want to conduct a number of in-depth interviews, which would be helpful with interpreting the data, and also with gathering ideas on how to address problems that may emerge.
Given the readership of this blog, I thought it could be helpful to ask for your advice. If you happen to know of any similar research that has been done in your country, Sine and I would be very grateful for any suggestions. Also, if a similar survey has been held in some other country, it would be great if we could build on work that has been done rather than reinventing the wheel. Are there any specific questions you feel should be asked?
The entire exercise will be conducted in English, and in due course (hopefully by the end of this year) I will post a link to the final report on this blog.