Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blog XLIX (49): A Debate

I am fortunate to work in a department that is multi-disciplinary in nature. A few weeks back, an undergraduate contacted Dr. Stan Carpenter, a historian and an associate of his and mine, asking advice about going to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in international affairs--the branch of political science that covers foreign policy. Carpenter forwarded the note to the rest of my department and a small mini-debate took place via e-mail on many of the issues that I have been addressing in this blog. What this debate shows is that these issues are not limited solely to the history profession. Each of the participants raises important issues and although some are specific to international relations, most are equally germaine to history.

The first participant in this debate is Timothy D. Hoyt. He earned his Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University. Before coming to the Naval War College, he taught at Georgetown University. He his the author of Military Industries and Regional Defense Policy: India, Iraq, and Israel. Here is his view:


The job market in IR right now is very poor, at least in academe. Most people who a few years ago were looking at a retirement date of 2010 are now looking at their IRA's and putting decisions off until the economy stabilizes - so tenure track positions aren't loosening up much. Very solid people are not getting tenured in political science departments, which may have something to do with methodological feuding and may also have something to do with finances and the changing economics of tenure decisions.

In general, an MA is the currency in DC. If you have one (and LOTS of people do), you're competitive for a lot of jobs both in government and in thinktanks/contracting. If you don't, you have to be prepared to intern someplace or have the good fortune of "knowing a guy" to get the door open. A Ph.D. program is a good place to hide for a few years (3-5, or even more). But if he's not going to a top-ranked program (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Chicago, Stanford, maybe Duke), I'm not sure how optimistic one should be about job prospects. On that, I'll defer to my colleagues.

Thomas G. Mahnken earned his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Planning from 2006 to 2009. He is the author of two books and the editor of another four. He currently edits The Journal of Strategic Studies. Here is his response:
Marc A. Genest is the Forrest Sherman Chair of Public Diplomacy at the Naval War College. He received his Ph.D. from Georgetown University. He taught at Georgetown, the U.S. Air War College and the University of Rhode Island. He is the author of several books including, Negotiating in the Public Eye: The Impact of the Press on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Negotiations. Here is his response:


I am more optimistic about job opportunities for IR PhD's than Tim and Tom. First, with a doctorate in IR Ken can pursue jobs in the government, private sector and academics. Depending on his speciality - he can pursue jobs with State, CIA, international banking, universities, consulting groups etc. tell him to take plenty of courses in international political economy and languages like Arabic, Chinese, Spanish etc. Moreover, I would strongly encourage him to find a professor who likes to co-author with grad students so that he can learn how to produce publishable articles. I coauthored two articles in grad school and this helped get me several job offers.

In short, tell Ken to go for it - he'll land on his feet - he may not get his dream job coming out of grad school but he'll do fine especially if he goes to one of the fine programs that you identified. Life is simply too short not to take chances.


Karl Walling, the author of Republican Empire: Alexander Hamilton on War and Free Government weighed in on this debate as well. Before arriving at the Naval War College, he taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Carleton College, Ashland University and Colorado College. He was also a Fellow at the Liberty Fund. Here is his response:

There you have it. A number of views. In closing, I should not that Genest was far more pessimistic about the options available for the history Ph.D. Nonetheless, this debate provides a number of different views about the future of academic employment.

I stand somewhere between the pessimists and the optimists, though I started in political theory and used my secondary concentration in IR to put bread on the table. Max Weber once called the choice of an academic career the equivalent of a river boat gamble, because there are few spaces and tenure is uncertain. Maybe 50% drop out of Ph.D. programs. Maybe a third of those left do not finish their Ph.D.s. A third of the remainder will not find academic positions. Of those who find them, the majority will wind up teaching at mediocre schools with low pay, frequently bitter colleagues, and semi-literate students with the enthusiasm of snails.
That said, if you can get into a very good program, if you can co-author an article or two with a well known professor, and above all, if you can get the program to grant a fellowship including full tuition, medical insurance, and a living stipend, then the gamble can pay off, though it takes a while to get a foot in the door. Even if you decide not to get the Ph.D., getting a masters with someone else paying for it is a reasonable idea.
In the current market, I would not recommend seeking a Ph.D. at any but the best programs because the top five or so programs already produce enough Ph.D.s to fill all the available openings each year. True, you could go to work for the government, if you have marketable skills (foreign languages are crucial), but then why get a Ph.D.? Under no circumstances does it make sense to fund the program yourself, with work or loans or whatever--that is almost a certain road to poverty. And some of us do win the lottery. I feel that I have. It just took a long, long time.


I agree with Tim. Bottom line, there is a huge glut of IR Ph.Ds, and unless Ken is driven to teach, there is little to no reason for him to pursue a Ph.D.

Best, TGM

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