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The Employment Picture

Last week, the university program from which I earned my doctorate hosted its annual "visit day" for potential doctoral students. I wanted to e-mail each of them, "Don't do it!" Not because it isn't a good experience (it wasn't) and not because you don't learn something (you will learn something, mainly about humanity). You should reconsider a doctorate in the "digital humanities" because the job market is saturated, driving down wages for the few jobs that do exist.

I had a state college hiring committee tell me they could only offer $38,000 to $42,000 a year for a new professor. That's simply not enough money to justify selling a house and moving in my case: my wife is an engineer and technical writer with a great employer. Taking such a post would be impossible, financially. My wife's career and our overall security do come into play. Plus, we have already cut our expenses dramatically. Student loans must be paid, and they are the second greatest expense we have.

The hiring committee told me that they offered $50,000 or more only three years ago. With summer school teaching, that would be nearly $60,000 and worth relocating for a job I love. But, state budgets have resulted in far, far lower starting salaries.

I've written several times that it appears I'm going to continue freelance writing as my primary vocation. This week, I came close to two permanent posts, but in one case the company admittedly chose the cheaper employee and in the second case the university was unable to fund the position for next year. I read the economy is improving, but it is doing so at a painfully slow pace.

The jobs simply aren't there in my fields. That does not make things easier, since millions of people are out of work.

Would I like to be teaching full-time? Yes. Would I like to have a post doing research? Definitely. I wouldn't mind doing something tech-based or something creative (or some mix of the two), but the jobs aren't there.

My degrees include undergraduate degrees in English and journalism, a master's degree in English composition and rhetoric, and a doctorate in educational technology / special education (within the field of rhetoric and communications). Those qualifications are not like degrees in petroleum engineering or genetics. There are hundreds (600+) doctoral graduates in "rhetoric" each year and nearly same number of "educational technology" graduates. That means I'm competing with 1200 or more (most likely twice that number) "doctors" out there in my fields.

I have technical certifications, too. I'm Microsoft certified, an "A+" PC technician, and a certified Web designer. The problem is, as one retailer told me, "People buy new computers for the price of repairs." I tried to argue the point, but then I saw that a complete system (with "free" printer) was $500 at that store. Hard to justify repairing an old system at that price. Web design? People are moving from the traditional Web experience to phones, tablets, and other connected devices.

I am good at the things I do. I know that. I graduated with honors (perfect grades in my M.A. program, one B+ in my Ph.D. studies) and I've never doubted my skills either as a writer or as a tech geek.

Before a student considers the cost of a graduate degree, I suggest he or she consider the realities of this job market. Make sure the major you plan to pursue has a solid future with enough demand that you're not forced to take any paying job after graduating. I know too many humanities graduates working entry-level jobs that have no connection to their educations. I also know Ph.D. graduates looking for any work at all.

I'm not sure what the future holds.


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