I really never thought it would be possible for someone to earn a Ph.D., which is the highest degree one can earn in any field, and not be able to get a job. I have, however, been able to see a recent example of this. What this tells me is people who are in Ph.D. programs are going to have to make strong efforts to obtain positions before they actually graduate. You cannot sit back and wait until you have graduated before you try to get a position. My early thoughts on this issue have me to think that a person like this really did not do good work while he or she was in graduate school. I often hear graduate students talking about what they have done, but the things they are saying are really not substantive achievements that employers will value. Some graduate students have tried to hate on me and criticize me, but what they have to recognize is my numerous authentic accomplishments have enabled me to gain previous and current positions—while I am still in graduate school.
Some people in Ph.D. programs try to act like they are so superior to all other students and try to use the fact that they are a Ph.D. student or Ph.D. candidate as the simple justification for why they are so accomplished. What they are failing to realize is they cannot simply rely on their Ph.D. student status or Ph.D. candidate status to secure them a job. You actually have to have authentic accomplishments while you are in graduate school before employers will really value what you have been able to accomplish. Just obtaining a Ph.D. is not enough. In down economy like the one we are experiencing, just having your Ph.D. is not going to be enough—employers are going to need to see that there is real value attached to the person who has this degree.
I contend that a person who does not obtain a job after obtaining his or her Ph.D. has to be someone who really did not deserve the degree in the first place or who has not done all that he or she can before he or she graduated to make himself or herself an attractive candidate. Don’t be sitting back while you are currently in a Ph.D. program thinking that you are simply the best thing since sliced bread and not doing the work that is necessary to obtain a job after you graduate. You should also be strongly encouraging the faculty members in your department, especially your dissertation director and dissertation committee members, to do all that they can to help you to secure a position. Do not allow them to simply give you empty rhetoric about what they are doing for you. Encourage them to give you genuine and meaningful opportunities while you are in your Ph.D. program that will empower you to be attractive to employers before and after you graduate.
Right now, I have to place the dominant blame on those who are graduating with a Ph.D. and are not able to get a job. At the end of the day, you can come up with all of the excuses you want to, but the dominant blame for your situation you have to place on yourself. I guess being called “Doctor” is not as satisfying as you thought it would be after all, huh?
Finally, don’t try to make what you are currently doing while you have no job seem to be more than it is. You have to remember your harsh social reality—you have a Ph.D. and no job.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison