October Newsletter: Entrepreneurship and the Arts Graduate Degree

In a 2021 report, researchers found that only 6% of people with PhDs are self-employed—as compared with 10% nationwide. In her article “The PhD Entrepreneur,” Letitia Henville notes that PhDs tend to choose university jobs at 12 times the rate as self-employment, even when academic jobs consistently decline in availability and security. The reasons might seem obvious: self-employment is risky, entrepreneurship seems better suited to MBAs, and PhDs largely train for academic jobs in universities, not for work in public-facing sectors.

Yet, completing a PhD may prepare graduates for successful self-employment in more ways than we think. Erica Machulak suggests that the PhD, like the entrepreneur, becomes proficient in four core skills for starting a venture:

  1. Articulating a value proposition
  2. Cultivating resilience in the face of uncertainty
  3. Being responsive to market needs
  4. Learning how to learn

The PhD, Machulak concludes, is largely entrepreneurial training. So, given a precarious and uncertain academic job market, why don’t more PhDs see self-employment as a viable option?

One reason, Henville suggests, is that entrepreneurship needs a brand change. The idea of “entrepreneurship” or “start-ups” might deter PhDs who have trained to be skeptical of capitalist or neoliberal systems.

This narrative can change. Rather than see the business sector as antithetical to the humanities degree, what if we look at entrepreneurship as a tool to bring humanities expertise into this sector? What if we view entrepreneurship as a skillset with which to pursue social change or advancement in ways that extend beyond profit-making?

To learn more about entrepreneurship at the Arts Amplifier, check out our resources: