Home for Wayward Academics: A bold new idea to solve the PhD crisis
What were once quiet concerns whispered among peers at American universities have become a steady drumbeat of angst ringing out across the proverbial quad. Everyone, it seems, is aware of the woeful state of the academic job market for newly minted PhDs. Graduate students who’ve dedicated five, even seven, years of their lives in training for their chosen fields—even at top universities—often face a stark absence of professorial prospects. A fresh-faced PhD in, say, history, biology, or the classics might get only a couple of job interviews, even zero, never mind an actual job offer in academia.
Without a university position in hand, these highly educated would-be professors generally have two options: bounce from one part-time teaching job to another or take a job doing something else entirely. And while some—those with engineering and science doctorates, mostly—have the option of well-paid work in the private sector, others do not, and admit to feeling shame and frustration that they didn’t make it in academia. At conferences and in the higher-education press, they bemoan a broken system: one that generates experts with training they cannot use without that all-important title of professor.
What if there was an alternative? The Ronin Institute, a three-month-old experiment founded by one of these would-be academics, is asking that question, hoping to revolutionize academia by connecting unaffiliated scholars to research funding and giving them credibility at the same time—no university required.
“We want to change that perception,” said Jon F. Wilkins, the institute’s founder. “If you’re a physicist and you’re not at a university, but you’re an engineer, or you’re doing physics, or actively pursuing your field of study, you should feel like as much of a scholar, or a physicist, as someone who is doing so as a professor somewhere.”