Higher Education

what percentage of English doctoral students ever write a scholarly monograph?

I don't know why my morning started out with this somewhat idle question. I suppose I was headed into some department meetings to discuss the assessment of our graduate programs and that started me thinking about this issue. I posted the question to Twitter and got some interesting feedback. Thanks to @noctambulate, @briancroxall, @joncgoodwin, @jtheibault and others who helped me out. 

Here are some things I can tell you. According to the National Center for Education Stats, 1332 phds in English were awarded in 09-10, and according to the National Council of Graduate Schools, 51.9% of English doctoral students complete their degrees within 10 years. I'm guessing that means around 2500 students are admitted into doctoral programs each year. So how many of these 2500 ever end up writing that monograph? 

But first, a digression: why ask this question? I suppose my answer is that so much of doctoral education is focused on preparing students to write a monograph with the dissertation as some kind of proto-monograph. In part, too, the question carries with it the realization that academic presses are in crisis and that the traditional monograph is increasingly a troubled genre: from an economic/market perspective, from a technological perspective, and perhaps, slowly, from an intellectual one as well. I would imaginge that a significant majority of those doctoral students who do not complete their degrees stall out at the ABD level. Those that do finish, tend to spend, on average, 4-5 years writing their dissertations. In other words, more than half the time in graduate school is spent specifically on the dissertation project. It is obviously the most important project in a doctoral program. 

Returning to my question. The best way to look at this would be to figure out how many authors publish their first scholarly monograph in English Studies each year. I had some conversations on Twitter about this, but I don't think I have a good answer about this. Here's a different way to look at this though. MLA job statistics indicate around 700 tenure-line assist prof jobs each year over the last 8 years. Some percentage of these jobs are book-for-tenure jobs. Others might require a book to get to full. At this point though I am starting to estimate. And, of course, some folks will right a book even though it isn't required (and some won't get tenured because they don't get the book done). 

Apparently there are 297 research/doctoral universities in the Carnegie Classification system. I would guess these are all book-for-tenure type institutions for English. These institutions represent 6.3% of all colleges. There are another 730 masters granting institutions, comprising another 15% or so of all post-secondary schools. I was on the tenure line at two such institutions before coming the UB. At neither was a book required for tenure, but some of these might. There are another 800 or so four-year schools (and the rest of speciality or 2-year schools). Dealing with these 1800 or so institutions, I'm going to guess no more than 1/3 are book for tenure schools. These can't tell us how many people actually publish monographs but it might tell us that of the 700 assistant professor jobs, only some fraction will be at institutions that require a book. So let's say 250 jobs are book-for-tenure. If that were the case, though we couldn't tell how many doctoral students will write a book, of the 2500 entering programs each year, only 10% will need to write a book to get tenure. Obviously don't quote me on that! That's purely hypothetical. 

The real interesting question about this would operate on the institutional/department level. On that level it doesn't matter much what happens as a national average. What one needs to know is how many of one's own graduate students go to jobs that are book-for-tenure type jobs. Let's say hypothetically (and let me be clear these numbers are in no way reflective of my own department) that one admitted 100 students over a decade: 50 completed the program, 20 got tenure-track jobs, and 3 got jobs that require a book for tenure. So maybe 5 of your grads go on to publish a book and maybe publishes multiple books. If a program had numbers like that, would that suggest anything about building a doctoral program around the premise of preparing students to produce book-length research projects? Looking back at my alma mater, which lists dissertations and current employment for the last decade, my estimation is less than 10% of those folks are in book-for-tenure jobs. I imagine that many, many non-Ivy phd programs would be similarly situated. Now, again, that's not to say those other people don't go on to publish books. I didn't need a book for tenure, but I published one anyway. 

I don't really know what I am suggesting here. Maybe nothing. I just think it is a little strange to put so much effort into a task that is not really that essential to the work so many of our students will do.

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