It’s no secret that the academic job market for humanities PhDs is, euphemistically, challenging— and PhD programs are beginning to make some tough choices, including limiting program sizes at some institutions.
With the average time-to-degree in the humanities stretching to nearly a decade (and many students taking much longer than that), UC Irvine has a new proposal to shorten degree times: doctoral study capped at 5 years (with a more generous funding package, including summer support), followed by a two-year, teaching-intensive post-doctoral position.
The 5+2 program will begin in two Irvine departments this fall—philosophy and visual studies. The university anticipates that more departments will follow. (With the new funding structure in place, philosophy experienced an increase in yield from 40 to 75%; visual arts’ yield stayed flat at 40%.)
This move follows an MLA report last year that called for shorter PhD programs and better funding packages, along with stronger career preparation.
Critics of UCI’s plan have voiced concern about both sides of the proposal—the 5-year PhD, because they worry it will put limits on complex dissertation projects and shut out people who might need more time, such as students with families or those from disadvantaged backgrounds; and the 2-year postdoc, because they are concerned that it could contribute to the growing “adjunctification” of the university by creating a new pool of low-paid lecturers (while taking jobs away from experienced non-tenure track lecturers).
While these are certainly valid concerns (particularly the concerns about adjuncts) this seems like a step worth trying— especially the proposal for a better-funded, 5-year doctorate. Given the state of the job market, it does not make much sense to spend 10+ years in a PhD program, amassing debt while writing a dissertation that might never translate to a job. A program that allows students to complete their dissertations faster (with better financial support) and also attempts to provide opportunities for professional development sounds like a step in the right direction. (The problem of universities relying so heavily on contingent faculty will require different solutions!)
By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, Accepted.com consultant since 2008, former Student Affairs Officer at UCLA’s Scholarship Resource Center, and author of the ebook, Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School. Dr. Blustein, who earned her Ph.D. at UCLA, assists our clients applying to MS, MA, and Ph.D. programs. She is happy to assist you with your grad school applications.