Why Ph.D’s don’t get jobs as professors

I just posted an explanatory comment to:


The article was by Jordan Weismann

Here is my comment.  (The data I refer to shows that not many Ph.D’s get jobs as professors.)

This data only substantiates what we in the business of higher education have known for years, “…universities give Ph.D.’s for reasons other than that the student earned it…” (From my comment on  a previous Atlantic article “The Ph.D Bust: America’s Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts” For an actual example, see that comment. ) The data substantiate this because professors know that most of the doctorates that they grant are not for work good enough to demonstrate doctoral level quality. So, of course, they won’t hire them.

Here is where the story gets even worse.  Many universities grant faux Ph.D’s.  Many of those faux Ph.D’s do get jobs at colleges.  Those faux Ph.D’s are not really equipped to teach at the college level.  Thus, their students don’t learn what they deserve to learn – and should learn.  Some of these graduates go on to teach in k-12.  They aren’t really prepared to do a good job.  Thus, many k-12 students don’t learn well.  They go on to college.  Colleges, many of whom started all of this, say, “They aren’t prepared.”  Standards go down…Everything gets recycled downward.


  1. Old essay but the recycled downward insight struck a nerve. My daughter received her PhD from a respected research university. They liked her well enough that they picked up the tab for her degree and hired her in a tight job market for a year as a visiting assistant professor after graduation.
    Her next job was problematic. It was a lessor school with claimed high standards and visions of greatness. Her first task was to rewrite much of the school’s education curriculum to bring it current with current practice and scholarship.
    She was in teacher education and saw her job as preparing students to excel as teachers in their own right. She, therefore, expected excellence in her class. This ultimately clashed with the schools unstated mission of filling seats with paying customers.
    The push to fill seats naturally drove down standards to the point that the school district the university partnered with eventually told the them that they would no every hire any of their graduates. The university’s immediate response when given this news, according to my daughter who was in the meeting, was to redesign their web site.
    She quit figuring no job was better than working at that job. She’s cobbling together another career even now.

    • It sounds like you have a great daughter. Not everyone can stand up to the pressures that universities put on people to do the wrong thing. Your daughter did the right things.

      Imagine all the people that would benefit, if, and that’s a big if, we had an educational system where people like your daughter thrived. In our present system, its the people who are willing to be unethical, and prey on the unknowing, who succeed.

      It’s stories like yours, and I see many of them, that outrage me, and motivate me to write this blog and try to be informative.

      Thanks again for your comment.

  2. The fact is that even at very good universities the hardest part of getting a ph.d. is passing the qualifying/comprehensive exams. Once you clear the quals, you can find a professor who looking for cheap labor for his research and/or a field that requires very little further knowledge. In math I challenge anyone to find a poor phd in, say, Algebraic or differential Geometry or Representation Theory, Number Theory but you can find plenty of poor phds in, say, finite groups, combinatorics/graph theory or parts of “applied” math. In fact, a typical theoretical physicist knows more math and at a deeper level than run of the mill math phds.
    (I am not saying that there are no good students in these areas. Only that it’s easy get by if you are not that good.)

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