Compiled by Christopher Just, ASA Research Coordinator

The American Studies Association redesigned its Survey of PhD Recipients in 1997 and has been collecting information from individuals at the end of each academic year. During that time there has been an ongoing discussion regarding the state and type of employment that is available to those individuals completing a PhD in American Studies. The initial article “If We’re So Smart, Why Are We Still in School” (ASA Newsletter, March 2000) and the responses “If We’re So Smart, Why Not Advance the School?” (ASA Newsletter, June 2000) and “If We’re So Smart, Why Romanticize the Adjunct?” (ASA Newsletter, December 2000) have shown a concern about and a commitment to the profession. One of the goals of the ASA Survey is to collect statistical and demographic information about those receiving doctorates in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Women’s Studies, the other goal is to determine the types of employment they find upon graduation and what they desire for their long term career.

American Studies Departments reported 336 doctorates awarded between the 1997-1998 and 1999-2000 academic years. The ASA received a total of 172 responses to its survey, slightly more than 51%. Female respondents out numbered male respondents 99 to 73. The majority, 82% of the respondents, categorized themselves as “white”, followed by “African American” at 11%. The majority of respondents were between 30 and 45. This seems to correspond with the fact that the majority of individuals complete their PhD in 5 to 10 years, and began relatively soon after completing an undergraduate degree. Of those earning their doctorates 55% did so with a debt of $10,000 or less, but 10% of respondents indicated a debt of $50,000 or more, the remainder incurred a debt ranging between $10,000 and $50,000. The primary source of financial support indicated was almost equally split between an individuals own and/or family income and university support. The same was true of secondary financial sources, although student loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized) played a larger role as a secondary means of support than as a primary means.

The employment status of recent doctoral recipients is very much in line with those of humanities disciplines as a whole. Of those responding to the survey 28% indicated that they had obtained tenure-track positions and another 14% indicated that they had taken full-time renewable positions. Slightly more than 5% had taken full-time non-renewable positions or been awarded postdoctoral fellowships, respectively. Another 16% responded that they had taken part-time positions. Those working in non-academic fields (defined as non-faculty positions), or seeking employment made up the remainder of the respondents, frequently measuring as little as 1-3% for the various categories.

The fact that almost half (49%) of those responding indicate that they have found full-time faculty positions is encouraging. When those with part-time faculty positions are included the percentage of those obtaining faculty positions rises to slightly over 65%. This is fully in line with the general trend within the humanities. On the average it is expected that one third of individuals earning a humanities doctorate will not find employment in their desired field. The desired field, as indicated by those responding to the survey, is overwhelmingly a position at a four year U.S. college or university. When all teaching positions are considered (four year college/university, junior or community college, foreign institutions, and secondary and elementary schools) 83% of respondents indicate a desire to work in a teaching capacity.

This desire to obtain a faculty position is also noted in “At Cross Purposes: What the experiences of doctoral students reveal about doctoral education.” By Chris M. Golde and Timothy M. Dore. January, 2001. A report prepared for The Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, PA.. The findings of the survey are available in their most complete form online at What its findings indicate about the professional expectations of doctoral students is that the majority (63%) are interested in obtaining a faculty job once they had completed their doctoral work. The institutional setting of students desired positions are almost equally divided between liberal arts colleges and large research-oriented universities (54.3% and 54.1% respectively), while only 3.9% indicated a preference for community or junior colleges. These figures support the findings of the ASA survey about desired employment. The lower percentage found the in the Pew survey stems from the inclusion of students earning a doctorate in the sciences, a larger number of whom are interested in non-faculty positions. 

Overall American Studies as a discipline is growing in much the same way as the rest of the humanities. The statistical information gathered by the Pew Trusts survey as well as the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) bear this out. The SED, initially administered by the National Research Council and recently transferred to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, provides general information about the statistical and demographic development of academic fields. Compared with information available about different humanities fields American Studies does not appear to vary greatly from that of other disciplines. Moreover, the survey funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts supports to some extent the findings reported by Lynn Sacco in her article “If We’re So Smart, Why Are We Still in School” (ASA Newsletter, March 2000). Thus the experiences of American Studies doctoral recipients and graduate students are overall consistent with those facing other PhD recipients and students in humanities disciplines.

The articles, surveys, and results noted in the above article are available online at different URL addresses. To review any of them in their entirety please go to: