I teach in an M.A. program in history at a small liberal-arts college. We have a strong track record of placing our students in good doctoral programs. Because we do not offer a Ph.D., however, we are also free to be candid about why going on to a doctorate might not make much sense in financial and career terms.
Five years ago, we starting giving our students William Pannapacker’s essay “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.” Some cohorts heard this earnest advice on as many as six occasions.
To reinforce Pannapacker’s message, we would parade before the students some graduates who had rested content with an M.A. as their terminal degree and were now living rich and full lives as librarians, archivists, journalists, and editors, or who were working for nonprofits, community colleges, or elite secondary schools. We also incorporated “the talk” into our contacts with prospective students: “Yes, since you ask, our program is good at placing people in doctoral programs, but you might not know that many doctoral programs are not very good at turning their graduates into full-time faculty members. …”
Over and over again we have tried to convince students that the question of whether they were talented enough to do a Ph.D. was not the point at issue—that our cautionary tale is not merely a polite way of hinting that they are not the sharpest pencils in the box. <Read more.>