Need a Career Boost? Get a Ph.D.

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Ph.D.s get a bad rap. Whenever the economy’s raging and Wall Street/Silicon Valley/stay-at-home blogger types are dragging in buckets of cash, those eternal students with their carefully collected knowledge of 15th century French love poetry get slathered with the sniggers.

Eternal students (and your parents), rejoice. Your time has come.

A spate of recent studies seems to show the job market’s in your favor. An analysis of jobs for post-doc historians indicated that 2006 saw a record number of job postings–though a more careful look showed the demand was hottest in certain, specialized sectors, such as Asian and African history.

The Ph.D. shortage is affecting staffing at the country’s top business schools. From a recent WSJ article:

AACSB International, the accrediting organization for business schools, estimates a shortage of 1,000 Ph.D.s in the U.S. this year that will grow to 2,400 by 2012. Some universities, particularly public schools, have cut back on Ph.D. programs because they’re costly to operate. In addition, AACSB found in a survey of deans that many have limited their enrollment because of fewer qualified applicants.

The Scientist magazine just announced its top five best places to work for post-docs:

1. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

2. The J. David Gladstone Institutes, San Francisco, CA

3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, NC

4. Genentech, South San Francisco, CA

5. The University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

More employers are valuing super-high education these days, meaning post-docs no longer have to narrow their employment sights to academia. That said, if all the Ph.D.s go to work for Google or P&G, who’s left to teach our kids Bio 101?

Maybe I’m naive, but I like to think people pursue six years of post-college schooling because they really, really care about the subject. I recently interviewed a guy named Josh Ruxin who got his post-doc from University College London in medical history. He went on to become a management consultant. Then he started up a nonprofit applying those management practices to hospitals in Rwanda. And he still finds time to teach at Columbia.

Ph.D.s are really just intense, slow-cooked versions of ourselves–the workers we’d be if we’d taken some extra years and studied the snot out of a topic. They deserve to be on the winning end of the job market. Even–or especially–if all they want to do is teach French love poems.

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