“I used to tell my senior staff to get me poets as manager. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They look at our most complex environments and they reduce the complexity to something they begin to understand” – Sidney Harman, Founder, Harman Industries

I culled this quote from a session I attended yesterday at Trinity College Dublin on career paths for Humanities PhD students. I gave a quick talk about what I have done with my Doctorate in Social Anthropology, as I have done on various occasions in London, Edinburgh and Stockholm. Central to my talk was the danger of continuing to talk about a distinction between the academic world and the ‘real world’ – since it just serves to reduce boundaries between the two domains that are artefacts of discourse more than practical reality, and rarely serve anyone’s interests, either those of academics or practitioners.

All of which put in me mind of the research recently conducted by Jonathan Spencer at Edinburgh in which he examined a cohort of PhD Anthropology graduates between 1992 and 2002 in the UK. The research was funded by the ESRC and is available here. He makes some interesting points – that the number of students graduating annually has risen from c.50 per year in 1992 to c.90 in 2002 with no similar expansion in academic job opportunities. He also noted how three anthropology departments – at LSE, Cambridge and Oxford – were most successful in reproducing the discipline. In other words, their PhD graduates are most likely to have tenured lectureship positions in UK anthropology departments.