The Mizzou Advantage: a Plan to Address the Ph.D. Employment Problem

The job market in nearly every area is pretty tough right now. At the beginning of the recession, many people decided to try to wait it out by attending graduate school. Most markets haven't improved, though, and now there's a surfeit of Ph.D. graduates without many prospects. In response to this problem, and the general weak academic job market, the University of Missouri has come up with an interesting plan.

By Sarah Wright

The Mizzou Advantage

Formally, the 'Mizzou Advantage' refers to five areas in which the University of Missouri (Mizzou) has identified institutional strength. These areas are: new media, food sustainability, human and animal medicine, education, sustainable energy and technology management. These areas require interdisciplinary study that are believed to be attractive to undergraduate students. Additionally, Mizzou has established research strength in these areas.

Postdoctoral fellowships are being established for each these five areas. Fellows selected will gain valuable teaching experience, which will benefit them, and will help supplement the university's faculty, which will benefit the institution. Perhaps most interestingly, though, the move is partially designed to enable and encourage these doctoral students to graduate and move on to teaching positions, which will open the door for new Ph.D. students to enter.

graduation cap and degree

Forestalling Graduation

Part of the reason it is so important for space to be made for new doctoral candidates is that many Ph.D. students are stalling their graduation. With few job prospects in the business and nonprofit worlds, even students who never wanted to enter academic careers are without much hope for earning a living without graduation. And prospects aren't much better for those doctoral students who have planned to become professors. These days, few faculty positions are open. Those that are open are highly competitive and offer less appealing benefits than positions available before the recession.

With doctoral students stalling graduation, some programs have fewer open spaces to admit new students, reducing the size of incoming cohorts. Mizzou's plan to address this problem is an interesting one, but how will it play out? Only time will tell, but the Mizzou Advantage does look like a well-considered plan. In addition to endowing fellowships and providing these fellows with teaching experience, the university also provides planning assistance. Each fellow works to develop a personalized training plan before beginning his or her fellowship. This plan details the ways in which the fellowship will help prepare the fellow for post-graduation work life.

This kind of training plan may be seen as more hands-on than a lot of universities usually are with doctoral and postdoctoral students' career planning. But with a bleak job market both in and outside of the academic sphere, that kind of assistance may be increasingly necessary. If the Mizzou Advantage fellowship program ultimately helps the selected fellows find work after graduating, perhaps other schools will follow suit. At the very least, the program is an interesting attempt to be proactive about a very real problem that may not get better on its own.

If you'd like to read more about the academic job market, click here for an article about efforts to eliminate tenure for academic professionals.

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