Before I returned to academia for a PhD and a career, I was an information technologist/software engineer for eight years. I began this work with a BA in English and History. I think IT is a wonderful career for PhDs in any discipline looking for alt-ac or non-ac work, and I’ve written an essay in how to market yourself and find a job on the topic for Hortensii, a project to help PhDs find employment.
I care a great deal about PhDs without permanent, meaningful employment. The employment situation for PhDs in most disciplines is terrible; it’s a little better for those of us in computer science and related disciplines because there is so much appropriate industry work available for us. I wanted an academic career and consider myself to be exceptionally lucky to have found tenure-track employment. Even so, it took me six years.
PhDs are forced to compete for a very limited number of academic positions, most of which are not tenure track, not full-time (and don’t include benefits), and not permanent. Add onto that the fact that many PhDs, even the ones who received institutional financial support for their advanced degree work, have high debt in the form of loans for college and graduate degree work.
Beyond just the bad employment situation, though, is the shameful fact that we, as a nation (although this applies to Canada and Europe, as well) have trouble finding employment for such a large group of exceptionally bright and hard-working people. I don’t think PhDs are owed academic jobs; the world doesn’t work that way. However, I can’t see a possible justification for our unwillingness, as a society, to find appropriate employment for people who have devoted so much of themselves and their lives to learning and the betterment of society. The issue isn’t that we owe them anything; the issue is that we’re fools for not using this workforce well.