Safe Haven

Seeing grim job prospects for its graduating Ph.D. students, a college at Vanderbilt offers stipends and ongoing teaching positions to help students buy some time.

April 15, 2009

How’s this for a scary job market? Things have gotten so bleak out there that Vanderbilt University is offering some of its graduating Ph.D. candidates a chance to buy extra time on campus.

Vanderbilt’s Peabody College, which houses education programs, will offer stipends and ongoing teaching opportunities to students who’ve completed their dissertations but can’t find quality faculty positions. The Pre-Doctoral Fellows Program provides an unprecedented safety net for students who, during more prosperous economic times, would be positioned to land academic posts at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, according to Vanderbilt officials.

“I didn’t want them to go out there and take whatever they can get to put food on the table,” said Camilla Persson Benbow, dean of the college.

The fellowships will be competitively awarded to somewhere between 6 and 12 students, Benbow said. Those who participate will be permitted to continue at Vanderbilt for up to two years, continuing to teach, conduct research and write scholarly articles. The students, who will be given a monthly stipend of $1,500, will have their activity fees covered and retain health insurance.

In addition to riding out the tough job market, Vanderbilt officials expect the fellows to be more marketable in the coming years because of their additional training and experience. While the initial motivation was simply to give Ph.D. students an alternative to seeking jobs in a tough economy, university officials say the additional training would benefit students regardless of the job market.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” Benbow said. “We should have thought about it a long time ago.”

Students who participate in the program must have successfully defended their dissertations. As such, they have essentially completed their degrees, but will wait to officially receive the parchment until the fellowship ends.

There are potential benefits to the university as well as to the students, according to Craig Anne Heflinger, associate dean for graduate education. For one, the university can continue to place some of its most experienced students in classroom and research settings. Moreover, Vanderbilt has a reputational interest in its graduates finding good jobs.

“Frankly, it’s a benefit to us if they end up with more prestigious faculty positions when the job market opens up,” Heflinger said.


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