Graduate School Placement Statistics

Should you go to grad school?Responding to a correspondent lamenting that there isn’t a uniform set of placement statistics available to help prospective doctoral students choose the best program for them, Dean Dad points out that there are all manner of reasons why this is so.  Most important among them is that measuring “success” is itself controversial.

For example, I have been many things — a freeway-flying adjunct, a full-time professor, a chair, an associate dean, a dean — but have never been a tenure-track professor in my scholarly discipline. (Proprietary U had full-time permanent faculty, but it didn’t offer tenure, so there was no tenure track.) If you just count tenure-track positions, I show up in the stats as a washout. I don’t consider myself a washout, but depending on how you define the variables, there it is.

Few of my former grad school colleagues wound up with tenure-track jobs, although most wound up doing interesting things with their degrees.  I landed two consecutive tenure-track jobs but ultimately found myself outside academe completely.

I have, though, been fortunate to be able to live the proverbial “life of the mind” in a satisfying, if unexpected, way.  I’ve edited a foreign policy journal and several scholarly books and am now working in a think tank.  I’ve published dozens of articles since leaving the academic track and, of course, there’s this blog, which allows me to think and write for a much wider audience than I would have thought possible.

Beyond that, though, DD gives some excellent advice that I’ve passed out more than once over the years:

In some disciplines, it’s probably pretty easy to have a high success rate; in others, any program below the top ten or so is really a shot in the dark. And if you’re on the fence about going to grad school, don’t go.

If the program won’t pay you — tuition remission and some sort of livable stipend — don’t go. If it won’t commit to funding you beyond, say, the first year, don’t go. And if it can’t even fake convincing success stories, run for the hills and don’t look back.

Forecasts of Baby Boomer retirements and a massive demand for new tenure-track professors have been made, incorrectly, for going on twenty years now.  Even in the top programs, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be “successful” in the traditional sense.  So, go to grad school only if you love your field of study and want the experience for its own sake.  After that, “success” is what you make of it.

Photo credit: Zurich Graduate School in Mathematics

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.