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I'm a M.A. student in Art History looking to apply to PhD programs in the Fall. I have heard that it is important when choosing an advisor to pick one that is good/efficient in getting their students academic postings/postdoctoral work. I'm not sure what the validity of this statement is given that it came from a fellow graduate student, but the person seemed very adamant that it is really your advisor's job to get you an academic posting after your PhD and not your own responsibility.

I am wondering if this is true? Also, if it is true that job placement is important in picking an advisor, I am wondering where/how I would find out specific advisor's job placement rates?

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  • I am afraid many of the response you will receive here are STEM oriented, where there are (almost) more jobs than PhD holders (and even candidates). I would say that although your point will be seen as näive, it may be true in a field where there are way less opening than candidates: the network of your advisor may play a huge role. Please weight the answers you receive accordingly.
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 4 at 5:00

5 Answers 5

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There are a lot of factors to consider in choosing an advisor, including this one, but this isn't the overriding concern. You need to do good, publishable, work in a doctoral program and you may (probably will) need guidance and assistance in that.

So, the more important considerations for an advisor is their knowledge and helpfulness in guiding your progress. This requires that they spend some time and effort in their advisement.

But even when an advisor is very instrumental in getting you a postdoc position, after that it is pretty much up to what you produce (even before that, actually).

I'll agree that an advisor has responsibility to help you get into the marketplace initially, but to say that it is only their job is a mistake. It is, fundamentally, your job, though at the start you are only a novice at it.

I'll also guess that, generally speaking, advisors who have a good track record at placing their students also do a good job on the other aspects.

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  • Thank you so much for this insightful answer! I really appreciate it!
    – Eve.S
    Jul 3 at 13:24
  • are you discussing the situation in STEM field or is your experience much broader?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 4 at 5:02
  • @EarlGrey, I have had two family members with such experience, one education and one philosophy.
    – Buffy
    Jul 4 at 10:12
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that it is really your advisor's job to get you an academic posting after your PhD and not your own responsibility.

This strikes me as extremely naive. It is certainly your advisor's job to help you, and some advisors do a better job of this than others -- but ultimately your career is your own responsibility.

I recommend that you look before you leap. There are likely to be far fewer tenure-track jobs available in art history, than there are strong candidates. (You do not want an adjunct position, at least not in the long term.) Are you dead-set on academia? Are there other jobs you might enjoy doing? Would you enjoy doing a PhD in art history, even if you end up at a job that is not directly related? You might get lucky but you probably shouldn't count on it. The narrower your career ambitions, the more cautious you have to be.

Looking for career placement rates is an excellent idea. Probably a good first step is to try to find CVs of professors in your target department. These often have lists of former graduate students, and you can do a little google-fu. This is nowhere close to foolproof, but with some internet sleuthing you can often end up finding out where some of them ended up.

This is a good idea independently of your advisor choice: it will give you a sense of what some of your long-term options may be.

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  • is your field Mathematics?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 4 at 5:02
  • @EarlGrey Yes, and I am basing my answer on what I have heard and read about the US academic job market in the humanities.
    – academic
    Jul 4 at 10:53
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the person seemed very adamant that it is really your advisor's job to get you an academic posting

They are wrong.

Is job placement an important factor in picking a PhD advisor?

Yes. Those advisors whose former students have jobs that appeal to you will be able (but not necessarily willing) to help you meet the people who are hiring for those jobs.

I am wondering where/how I would find out specific advisor's job placement rates?

Check their website. You might find that information there 10% of the time.

If you are not getting your PhD in computer science or one of a very small number of similarly fashionable fields, your chances of becoming a professor are extremely small.

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  • is your experience in physics?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 4 at 5:01
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Others have discussed the question of who is responsible for your career. I endorse those answers and have thumbed-up them.

I want to discuss a means to attempt to find where a prof's students have gone after their degree. In physics there are some magazines with titles like Physics Today and similar names. They are non-technical magazines giving such things as creation of new departments at different universities, who has been hired, what conferences are happening, changes to grant agencies, new journals or changes in journal staff, and many other related items.

One thing they often have, possibly only once per year, is recent graduates at MSc and PhD level, and where they have gone on to. So you can get back issues of such magazines and find out where profs have sent their students.

Yes it is your responsibility. But if a prof has sent his last five students to a similar sort of career, it's a good indicator of how you should expect to proceed if you get a PhD working with that prof. If 4 out of 5 are now in tenure track positions, that means something. If instead 4 out of 5 are doing something else, that is probably indicative.

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  • 4 out of 5 are doing something else: extend your time frame to 10-15 years after PhD and you will see that even considering tenure, that is a very optimistic estimate. Is your experience in Physics/STEM?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 4 at 5:04
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It is certainly not the advisor's job to get a PhD graduate a job placement after they finish. They should be big and ugly enough to look after themselves by then. What a supervisor should do is be willing to provide a timely letter of reference and reference for job applications, and be willing to provide general career advice to the extent of their knowledge. In some cases advisors might be able to open doors for their graduates through their own professional networks, but this is not obligatory (and not something you should rely on).

As to the broader question, I think it is a bit sad that an incoming PhD student would look at their choice of advisor in this way. An academic program to get a PhD should be driven by love for the subject matter, interest in the field of study, and the degree to which an advisor's work and approach inspires and assists the student with respect to the substantive field. Ideally, the career prospects of the student should then be determined by their skills and the quality of their work, not the professional network and glad-handing of their advisor. It is certainly a shame if job placement is an overriding concern for an incoming student. That is not a criticism of you --- I know you didn't invent the tough job market for art history doctorates, but it is still a real shame to look at things this way.

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