During nearly fifty years of existence, the Program in History of Science has compiled an enviable record in its efforts to place those who complete the Ph.D. Even during the worst periods in the job market for academics, the Program has been successful in placing its graduates in academic positions as well as in other careers chosen by the candidates, such as museum curating or consulting. We are pleased by those results, and we take pride in the often-distinguished achievements of our graduate alumni and alumnae both in and beyond the academic field of history of science. The list of alumni posted on the Program website details their dissertation topics, supervisors, and current situations, when known.
We have a continuing commitment to maintain our record in this area. In particular, the course of study outlined above seeks to meet three of the desiderata that prospective employers now emphasize:
- the relatively prompt or predictable completion of a dissertation of high quality, especially when reinforced by other evidence of publishable work;
- the broad competence in history and history of science that is increasingly valued by history departments, including those in liberal arts colleges, and by employers outside of academe;
- at least some teaching experience. Recently, it should be said, the discipline of the history of science seems to be moving toward a pattern where a year or more of postdoctoral work is increasingly common before appointment to an assistant professorship. For other careers (as in museums and libraries), some form of advanced training or internships may be necessary.
Our placement efforts can be divided into two major stages, of which the second is by far the more important. The first stage comes after successful completion of the General Examination, when the student should begin to compile a dossier of credentials, including letters of recommendation from the faculty members who participated in that exam. At this point, the student should also decide whether or not he or she wishes to designate any existing written work suitable for submission to a prospective employer. If so, the submitted work will typically consist of one or both of the research papers required of students before they complete the General Examination.
The second stage comes as the dissertation nears completion. At that point, usually during the fifth and last year of enrollment, any prior written work must be supplemented with more recent evidence of scholarly progress in the form of draft chapters of the dissertation. No less significant, prospective employers in academe also expect to see recent letters of recommendation, above all from faculty members who have read part or all of the dissertation-in-progress. Most of the academic positions available in any given year are announced during the Fall, though a prospective candidate should never assume that the hiring “season” is over. These positions are generally advertised in publications, including the Newsletter of the History of Science Society, the Employment Information Bulletin of the American Historical Association, or the Chronicle of Higher Education, or the H-Net Job Guide —all of which are available online.
For positions announced as beginning the following academic year (i.e., in September), job interviews usually take place in the preceding fall or winter. Some may occur at the annual meeting of the History of Science Society, held in October or November, and candidates should plan to attend that meeting if possible; it is even more likely that such interviews would take place at the American Historical Association annual meeting, in January. Students’ employment prospects may also be enhanced if they present a paper at one of the sessions of the Society. (But note that the deadline for submitting a paper for the program is April 1, at latest, and that the competition for slots on the program is strong.) The placement process makes it highly desirable that candidates be in residence or within easy reach during their last year of enrollment. If dissertation research requires travel abroad, it should be scheduled, if at all possible, for the third or fourth year of study.
In addition to our main placement effort on behalf of finishing students, we also try to help former students (both post-enrolled and alumni) in search of employment. We must, however, restrict our efforts mainly to current Ph.D. candidates or very recent graduates of the Program. According to Departmental guidelines, we can maintain dossiers for employment-seeking students only until a student obtains his or her first tenure-track position.