I have been meaning to post on the Economist's article in the Holiday Double Issue (Dec 18, 2010) entitled: 'The Disposable Academic: Why Doing a PhD is Often a Waste of Time'. I had hoped to write some longer comments on the article, but the beginning of the semester and now the mid-point of the semester have taken over.
Before some people get jumpy, take note of the word 'often' in the title, and I must say that I agree with them. I have a number of friends who have been looking for academic jobs for years now. The statistics that the Economist highlights make this ongoing job search appear much starker. For instance, between 2005 and 2009 the US alone produced more than 100,000 PhD students. Over that same period, only 16,000 new professor positions were created in the US. This is largely true in Canada and Britain.
The essay does move back and forth between science related PhDs and the humanities. I think that the difficulties of finding a job related to a humanities PhD are more pronounced because of the perceived lack of usefulness of a PhD in the humanities. This has become more pronounced as endowment funded universities and colleges have struggled through the economic downturn and uncertainty
The article is a good read, even you may not agree with everything. It is a good reminder that one should only pursue doctoral studies if a doctoral degree is necessary for what a person feels called to do. If it is not, I highly recommend thinking twice about struggling through the financial and emotional stresses of pursuing such a degree. I am glad I did it, but it is not easy.