My title, of course, like that of most historical pieces, promises far too much. But I think my data is interesting: its an attempt to track the fortunes of the other medievalists who took their MPhil in medieval history at Cambridge in the same year as me: 1998-99. There were twenty two of us who started the course: here is what has happened in the last ten years:
Dr Gemma Bristow technical writer for software company
Sophie Brown – not known (MPhil on late medieval English peasantry)
J Cranfill – not known (Examination in Historical Studies)
Alex Day – not known (MPhil on C14 crusading)
NLA Doimi de Frankopan – not known (MPhil on Venice)
Katy Hawks – not known (MPhil on C15 gentry)
Michael Heath – not known (MPhil on medieval science)
Dr Ewan Johnson lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, 2007
Lauren Langer – not known (MPhil on Crusades)
William Lee – not known (MPhil on Edward II and Richard II)
Dr Erin McGibbon – academic administration, Edinburgh
Dr Emily Mitchell – Cambridge University Library
Dr Maria Osowiecki secondary school teaching?
Fionn Pilbrow – barrister
Dr Christina Pössel – lecturer, Birmingham (permanent)
Luke Potter – running historical travel company
Dr Caroline Smith working in New York (book Crusading in the age of Joinville, 2006, Penguin translation of Chronicle of the Crusades, 2008)
Dr Kaele Stokes – not known (PhD on Welsh kingship)
Dr Myra Struckmeyer – not known, formerly U of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (PhD on female Hospitallers)
Rebecca Tait – not known (MPhil on Yorkist Wiltshire)
NOTE: All the post 1999 information on people is taken from publicly available sources (Google, International Medieval Bibliography, the IHRs Theses completed etc); Ive included names so that if anyone knows more they can let me update this. But if anyone mentioned would like their details removed, I will do so. (I can be contacted at magistraAThotmailDOTcoDOTuk.)
Of the 22 of us who started the MPhil course 21 passed, while one got a lower qualification. Of the 21, 11 (including myself) went on to get a PhD. Of those, as far as I know, 1 (Christina Pössel) has a permanent lecturing post, although there are several other people working as temporary lecturers, in other academic related jobs or still researching.
Is this sample typical of postgraduate students of medieval history? Its obviously hard to be sure, but the people on this course were (in theory) more likely than those on most other UK medieval masters to end up as academic historians. First, unlike most other masters courses, the Cambridge course is purely for historians. It was also a full-time course and unusually expensive: the students either had to be able to get funding for the course or have other support available. Finally, the course was particularly research orientated: students were required to propose a research topic for their dissertation at the time of their application, unlike in many other masters courses. The very high completion rate for the course confirms both the commitment of the students and their favourable personal circumstances.
The commitment of the students to academic careers is also suggested by the number who completed their PhDs. I dont have comparative figures, but I suspect that almost half going on to get PhDs is higher than average for such cohorts.
What is surprising (and pretty depressing when I came to look at it en masse like this) is the progression rate after that: just how few of those with PhDs go on to get academic jobs. I had presumed that most medievalists who got their doctorate and who still wanted to carry on would be able to get something (I appreciate that there are a fair percentage of people who have had enough of academic life after 3 or 4 years research and are only too willing to bail out). And the AHRC career statistics seem to support this view: their survey found 38% of those funded for arts and humanities PhDs between 1997 and 2000 now had permanent academic jobs. (Of course, the response may have been biased towards those who were successful, but I filled in the survey as well). But the statistics from Cambridge suggest a more gloomy view: either our year was unusually unlucky, Cambridge is doing something wrong or medievalists are really not that employable. Maybe I was wrong in my previous post on my lack of success: maybe it wasnt all about me after all.