Friday, February 17, 2006

Thesis Complete, Boards Next, What Next?

I handed in my MA Thesis yesterday and will be sitting for my oral comprehensive test a week from today. Though I haven't been blogging, I've been trying to keep up with things and noticed Ralph Luker's post about how the AHA's Anthony Grafton had mentioned fellow (and unfortunately now former) history blogger Invisible Adjunct in his article "What We Owe Our Young: Honest Information about Placement" in the latest Perspectives. I always enjoyed the Adjunct's blog and her honest and open posts offered me a glimpse into a world that I had toyed with entering. In the end though, I became content with the idea of stopping at the MA (for now) because I don't need to pursue a PhD for professional reasons. In this I'm lucky.

Ralph mentioned scaling back the amount of PhD programs to around 50 overall and around 100 MA programs as one way to relieve the pressure on the academic institutional-based history job market. I can see where doing so would benefit the academic-centered History job market, but I get the sense that many PhD holding historians already look at MA "only" historians like they're cute little pups who just couldn't hang with the big boys. [Not all, of course, and Ralph, Jonathan Dresner and Sharon Howard are but a few of those who have been open and welcoming to non-PhDers. One benefit of history blogging is its ability to offer non academics entre into scholarly historical discussion. As such, even without the Master's degree, I've felt like my opinions and (sometimes naive) theories have been considered fairly, for the most part.] Because I work outside of the history field (I'm an engineer), I don't need to play some of the games behind the walls of academia to which Ralph alludes. Because I don't need the degree as an avenue to employment, I think I have at least a bit more autonomy than on average and I can ignore the eyebrow raising and dismissiveness of any who might think not having a PhD somehow makes me less of a historian. (Besides, as one of my advisors told me, good scholarship erases artificial boundaries).

I come at this from the angle of a non-teaching Historian. Based on my experience, I've come to believe that an institution could make itself very attractive to History PhD-seeking people if they would remove the teaching and residency requirements and generally make it easier for "non-traditional" professionals to follow a PhD track. So while Ralph thinks fewer MA and PhD programs would help the academic market, I support a fundamental restructuring of the PhD program to accomodate those who want a PhD but don't want--or need--to teach. In short, some schools should offer programs that put an emphasis on research-only type PhDs. I think the field would benefit as a whole and that the pressure on PhD holders to fight for a spot in academia would lessen a bit. Anyway, I'm rambling and must be off to my real job. I'll be back in a week or so as an all but degree-in-hand Independent Historian. Wish me luck!


Anonymous said...

Actually, Marc, I didn't call for more M.A. programs. There probably are enough M.A. programs on the books already. To my knowledge, at least, no one knows how many M.A. programs in history there are already.

Marc said...

My apologies Ralph, I really don't intend to misread you!!! (I think this is the second time...) In my too-quick read of your post I misinterpreted "there's a good case to be made that the United States ought not have more than 50 doctoral programs in history and another 100 or so master's degree programs" by not applying your "ought not" to the master's degree programs as well as to the doctoral. I've fixed the post to reflect that. Thanks.

Kevin said...

Congratulations from Kevin at Civil War Memory Blog