Ph. D.s Face Bleak Job Prospects

Glut in Academic Positions Anticipated in 1990s Has Failed to Materialize

At one time, a Harvard Ph.D. Was a guarantee of sorts, a hard-won ticket to a life of thought study and security.

The 206 Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) students graduating today no longer have that guarantee.

A bleak academic market and the aftereffects of the recession have left many graduate students--some after enduring more than a decade of graduate school--jobless, bitter and disappointed.

"Pretty much across the board things have been pretty dismal for the last three years," says Margaret L. New house, assistant director of the Office of Career Services (OCS) for graduate student placement. "A new Ph.D. has to be pretty lucky to get a tenure-track position that they really want."

Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Christoph J. Wolff says a majority of today's Ph.D. recipients do have jobs for next year. But he admits that the number of people who do not is "too large."

Take, for example, the case of new economics Ph.D. Andrew D. Harless, who has sought more than 100 jobs in finance, management consulting and government.

Harless--who wrote his dissertation on help-wanted advertisements--is 0 for 100 in his job search.

"In retrospect, I wish I had gotten a different degree because I don't know what I can do with this one," Harless says. "I'll do whatever job I find, assuming I can find one."

Though he was not seeking one of the even rarer academic positions, Harless' attitude is typical of many in the graduating GSAS class who are.

"I do sometimes wonder whether getting a Ph.D. was the right thing to do, whether getting an M.D. wouldn't have been better," says Tassie L. Collins, who will receive her Ph.D. in immunology today. "I definitely feel like I chose the tougher row to hope."

Collins is holding out for an academic position after her post-doctoral fellowship, but says she will consider jobs in other fields if she must.

A Gamble

The academic job search is a gamble at best, Newhouse says. "Plums are rare, and people really have to be willing to take their chances," she says.

Even the Harvard name no longer seems a help for students desperate for a job.

"At the beginning, I was convinced that there would be a job waiting at the end for someone with a Harvard Ph.D. says Peter G. Alexander, who will get his degree in music today. "The question was not 'if' but 'where.'"