Graduate school with no intention of academia

<p>I'm about to be a senior, and am weighing the prospects of graduate study. All of my professors are pushing me in that direction, and I would relish the opportunity for deeper study and more extended research (it would be either in History or Political Science). However, even if I pursue a PhD, I have no intention of entering academia. I know how brutal the job market is, and is likely to remain in the coming years, and am more interested in different fields, particularly policy. </p>

<p>Would my lack of desire to fully enter academia preclude me from being able to pursue a higher degree? Or would it simply change my experience as a graduate student, since I would not have such a vested interest in conferences, publications, and so forth?</p>

<p>It will be tough in a history PhD program NOT to want to be in academia. I am in history (not in PhD but have PhD friends and have taken classes with those people).</p>

<p>You will be surrounded by pressure. Your peers are going to be all "Professor, Professor, Professor." They will be competing for the best TA jobs and professors' attention come dissertation and comprehensive exams. They will do their best to get into conferences and journals. Professors and staff do notice students' attitudes and who are the most proactive and productive ones. The most competitive students will get felllowships and grants that will enable to finish their PhDs in a timely basis.</p>

<p>Right now, not too many people, graduate students and professors alike, are supportive of the idea of using a history PhD for something outside of the academia (despite harsh reprimanding from the American Historical Association for programs to change their attitudes). As someone who wants to keep an open mind in case a TT job doesn't work out, I would suggest that you play the game, whether you like it or not, in order to stay competitive for fellowships and grants and on professors' good side. If professors notice that you are productive and do excellent research, they most likely will support you all the way through regardless of your post-PhD plans. But I would not enter in a PhD program and announce that you don't want to go into academia. Play the game. </p>

<p>If you can't play the game or allow yourself to get suck up by academia, then don't go. </p>

<p>I think political science has a more lenient attitude towards industry. Try to take a year off and see where you are, especially if you're thinking of history. Maybe you'd rather just do a Masters in Public Policy. But do not get into debt for humanities if you can.</p>

<p>Never admit that you don't want to go into academia, even if that's the truth. Actually, you can't even admit that you want to teach at a non-research university. PhD programs in all disciplines expect their graduate students to be their research offspring; by training students and sending them out, faculty members expand their influence and therefore their reputation. Of course professors know that not all of their students will go into academia or be successes; however, they don't want to start out with students they suspect might be wasting their time. They want researchers, and that's why research experience trumps grades and other quantitative measures of performance.</p>

<p>Depending on the program it may be difficult - some fields are easier than others to express a desire to go outside of academia. Like I'm in public health and psychology, and there are lots of industry jobs in those fields, so when I express that I'm not sure I want to be a professor I'm in good company. We're pretty mixed here, and most of the students in my stage say they don't know what they want to do later. I'm thinking in history and political science, though, you'll find fewer people with non-academic aspirations. Especially at top programs, most or all of your peers will want to be professors or academics in some sense, and your advisors will more or less expect you to want academia.</p>

<p>The other thing is, if you don't want academia, why even get a PhD in history or political science? If you are interested in policy, there are master's and doctoral programs in policy that might be better suited for you - social welfare, social policy (Brandeis has a good one), public policy, public administration, social work, etc. Not that the skills you'd learn as a PhD student in history or political science wouldn't be useful as a policymaker, but a policy-related degree might be more useful to you. You can study history and poli sci more deeply by hitting the library and getting the books, but if you don't have a direction in which to go with the PhD you'll regret your decision.</p>

<p>Whether or not you can admit to your desires depends on your program. I go to an R1 but I've told my (understanding and awesome) advisors that I'm not sure on academia, and have shared my desires to perhaps be a health science administrator or a researcher at a government agency or think tank instead of a university. That's fine for them. What I have not said is that I've also considered doing research as a military officer, joining the foreign service, or doing management consulting. You don't have to tell them everything, but it may be good to release a little bit because one of your advisor's jobs is to help expand your network for the future. Mine has made a point of introducing me to program officers (grant directors) because I've expressed an interest in that.</p>

<p>Here also, admitting you want to teach at a non-research university isn't a taboo either. My university regularly brings in professors from small liberal arts colleges to speak about teaching at LACs and encourages students to take their experiences there. We've also got an excellent teaching center, and we're required to teach one semester out of a year (except in the health sciences). I'm not saying the focus is not on research - it definitely is, but they seem open to the idea of students going to LACs too since they realize we won't all get jobs at Harvard and Michigan.</p>