There’s rapid change occurring in traditional professions. The common theme appears to be an evolution from self-directed work to activities in support of the mission of a larger organization.
Physicians, once the epitome of the self-employed, are increasingly employees of large organizations, members of big teams of co-workers. Lawyers, another profession where “hanging out a shingle” was the metaphor to launching a career, now increasingly find themselves within large organizations whose mission has legal guidance only as an auxiliary function. Many architects work within units of institutions that require design skills, but only because they need to house large groups of workers performing activities that have nothing to do with architecture. These are examples of traditional professions.
The morphing also seems to apply to products of graduate education in more traditional disciplines. A recent report of the National Science Foundation notes that many STEM trained graduates find themselves working in fields without major STEM focus. Another report on physics PhD’s in nonacademic settings probes levels of salary and job satisfaction. The Modern Language Association 2014 report argues for more interdisciplinary content to PhD programs in language and literature. In contrast to the decline of self-employment among physicians, lawyers, and architects, this attention appears to be associated with the decline in academic job markets, related to demographic changes in the university-age U.S. population and declining government support for higher education. Increasingly, PhD’s are working in large nonacademic organizations.
In short, something’s afoot on several fronts regarding the post-baccalaureate higher education graduates. What are the implications for educational institutions that launch such new professionals into the world?
It’s seems fair to say that the traditional role of many graduate professional and PhD programs was to provide the graduate very deep and broad understanding of a well-defined body of knowledge. Any curricular feature that strayed outside that well-defined body of knowledge was generally meant to prepare for a single dominant occupational class of the profession. For example, law students were given training in moot court settings and in clinics with individual clients (often disadvantaged persons). Medical students were given clinical experiences through rotations in various specialties within a direct health care service or in private practice. Architects served long apprenticeships within an architectural practice. PhD students were given teaching experience. In short, the programs offered practical experience in activities central to the execution of the dominant occupation of the profession.
In contrast, few PhD and professional graduate programs tended to provide education in the knowledge needed to be effective leaders in large organizations. However, increasingly the graduates of these advanced education programs find themselves working within large organizations. In these organizations, they are not self-directed scholars. They are team members working to achieve the mission of the organization, a mission sometimes only tangentially related to their advanced education. They feel the dissonance of self-identity to their profession versus allegiance to the organization’s success. They work with others completely unschooled in their field. They find themselves leading others, supervising others, and motivating others. They find themselves confronted with budget constraints, making tradeoff decisions among alternative goals (some completely out of their professional domain), forecasting production, analyzing performance, and dealing with personnel problems.
It seems clear that, for the most part, universities have been slow to recognize the mismatch between how they are educating these advanced professionals and academics, on one hand, and what these graduates will need to know to achieve success. There are some programs, both at Georgetown and other universities, that attempt to give PhD and professional students more interdisciplinary education to help them attain leadership positions within larger organizations. These have great merit in serving the changing job markets of advanced degree holders.
However, one of the more difficult challenges of advanced programs is to educate for the new career realities of a field instead of replicating the education of the current leaders of a field. We need to ask ourselves whether we are training students for careers we experienced or training them for the careers they will experience. For the benefit of our future graduates, we need to attend to these issues.