Exploring Non-academic Options for Humanities PhDs

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) has embarked upon a program to place individuals with PhDs in the humanities in various NGO and GO positions:

The council’s effort, the Public Fellows program, will place eight recent Ph.D. recipients in staff positions at nonprofit groups and government agencies for two years. The program, which will be financed by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will pay fellows an amount equivalent to what someone with similar experience and education would make as a new employee of the same agency or nonprofit group. Those amounts will probably be comparable to the wages a new doctoral graduate would earn in an academic job, about $50,000 to $78,000, said Nicole A. Stahlmann, director of fellowship programs at the council, a private, nonprofit federation of 70 national scholarly organizations.

This is a great first step, but I really think if we are to re-think the way we do things not only in the academy but also in the corporate world, we really need to see some humanities PhDs in the private sector. What that would look like, I’m not quite sure, but I think that’s where we should set the bar.

I think this target is too low, and, in all honesty, isn’t there already an informal path to NGO directorships and staff positions for folks with humanities PhDs? That’s been my experience, and, I want to be clear, I think it’s a fine option, and I think this program somehow diminishes the work of folks who have already blazed this trail, suggesting as it does that they did it on the fly while somehow this program is going to formalize things, make it official, and *then* it will be okay to pursue this path.

Given the intense scrutiny and funding pressures facing NGOs and governmental agencies, it strikes me that a truly ambitious program would look to the private sector for interesting possibilities. Especially in the American context, growth almost always occurs in the private sector long before it finds its way into the public sector.

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