Graduate School researchers awarded grant to study career pathways of humanities PhDs

Dean Linda Mason congratulates a recent graduate during commencement ceremony. Linda Mason, dean of The Graduate School at Purdue University, congratulates a recent graduate. The Graduate School is participating in a study of the career trajectories of humanities doctoral alumni.

Purdue University Graduate School has been awarded a grant from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) to collect data on the diverse career pathways of Purdue humanities doctoral students and alumni. The two-year, $15,000 grant will enable researchers to gather and analyze the career outcomes of PhD-holders and to share these data with campus stakeholders to inform career development within programs.

Melanie Morgan, Associate Dean in The Graduate School, Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, and co-investigator of the study, said that the end goal of the project is to understand the career trajectories of humanities doctoral alumni and the career aspirations of current Ph.D. students so that graduate program administrators can design curriculum that prepares students for a broad range of career options.

“Most doctoral programs train students for careers in academia,” said Morgan. “But not all PhD students are bound for the professoriate. Some have career ambitions in the private sector, and others may aspire for a career in academia, but for a variety of reasons, don’t realize that outcome. The question is, how do we better prepare our students for versatility in the job market?”

In the first year of the project, researchers will capture the range of career outcomes and aspirations for PhD graduates and currents students from English, History, and Languages and Cultures. In the second phase, researchers will broaden the scope of their study to include more PhD programs.

The study will identify the first jobs obtained by PhDs in the humanities, says Lisa Nielsen, Director of the Postdoc Office in The Graduate School and a researcher associated with the project, but also track the lesser known long-term career trajectories. The data will give insight into the range of jobs PhD-degree holders have relative to their degrees and examine how well prepared they felt to meet career demands.

Linda Mason, Dean of the Graduate School, hopes that campus stakeholders will use the results to inform decision-making in such areas as curriculum, mentoring, professional development opportunities, and career counseling services, with the aim of evolving and diversifying PhD programs to better prepare students for a wide range of career options.

While the Purdue study will focus on collecting data on Purdue PhD students and alumni, partner institutions will conduct similar studies at their institutions. At the culmination of the study, stakeholders will have an opportunity to analyze patterns across all partner institutions.

The study is entitled “PhD Career Pathways Data Collection in the Humanities,” and is a sub-award of the CGS PhD Career Pathways project, a multi-university, multi-year study to collect, analyze, and share PhD career pathways data for program improvement. The broader CGS project is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Science Foundation. It involves a coalition of 70 doctoral institutions that are collecting data on humanities and STEM fields.

Writer: Korina Wilbert

Sources: Melanie Morgan,

Linda Mason,

Lisa Nielsen,

August 10, 2020

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