To Serve Frappuccinos or to Starve? Thankfully, Another Mellon Grant Boosts Job Prospects for Humanities Grads

What is the state of the job market for humanities graduate students? Two recent articles provide two divergent assessments. Let's start with the harrowing one first.

That would be an piece in Slate entitled, "The Job Market for Academics is Still Terrifying." The American Academy of Arts and Sciences analyzed the number of job postings in various disciplines from English to religious studies, and the bad news is that the number of postings is far below their heights in the halcyon days of 2008. For example, in 2008, the academy identified approximately 2,000 postings for English positions. In 2013-2014 that figure had dropped to 1,000.

The causes for the precipitous drop are twofold: delayed retirement of tenured faculty and the continued "adjunctification" of the academy.

But rather than barrage you with more depressing data—of which there is no shortage—let's instead turn to the second article, one whose prognosis is a bit more encouraging. A piece last year in Atlantic Monthly claims, "The choice to leave academia does not have to mean life as a barista." Phew! (Although Starbucks, for example, offers their baristas a litany of amazing perks, from health insurance to stock options. But we digress.)

Preliminary reports released in the past few months show that 24.1 percent of history Ph.D.s and 21 percent of English and foreign language Ph.D.s over the last decade took jobs in business, museums and publishing houses, among other industries, the article notes. That's good.

All of which brings us to recent news from the foundation that seems to be single-handedly pushing humanities students out of the ivory tower and into the "real"—e.g., non-academic—world. That would be the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, of course. The foundation recently awarded a $400,000 grant to the University of California, Davis Humanities Institute to launch a new program that will support humanities graduate students in leading community-based research projects beginning this fall.

The institute will invite 10 graduate students at UC Davis to participate in a quarter-long seminar that will cover all aspects of the public humanities scholarship—from research methods and practices to project management, fundraising and marketing. Each student will be paired with a faculty mentor whose research connects to a community organization or public agency. In the summer, each student will serve in a paid internship with the organization to translate their research into action.

By pairing community organizations with graduate students, the program will—and we're quoting UC Davis' press release here—"provide graduate students opportunities to apply their research in real-world settings and explore possible careers outside of the academy."

The key takeaway here? Sure, the job market for tenure-track faculty may continue to shrink. But don't quietly weep in your iced soy mocha latte grandes just yet.