Friday, February 22, 2013

Academic ambivalence, part 2: poor prospects

The topic of Caroline's excellent post on why we choose grad school and an academic career seems to be hitting an on-line crescendo. A number of blogs and numerous posts to the ECOLOG listserve have been arguing and lamenting the state of job prospects and the grad school experience in general. What has been lacking is an analysis of the job numbers. In a case of perfect timing, Jordan Weissmann, and The Atlantic, has posted an excellent analysis of the numbers of recent PhDs employed across fields. The general message is: the number of fulltime, permanent jobs waiting for PhDs has been declining. However, the proportion of PhDs taking up post-doctoral postions has not declined (and in fact has increased for many disciplines).

From PhD comics

People in graduate school need to be cognizant of the available options, but it seems that if there is an emerging bottleneck, it certainly is not at the postdoc stage (the proportion of postdocs has not changed recently). Of course, the academic stream is but one option for recent PhDs, and the loss of other opportunities is a serious concern. The graphs in the Weissmann post enumerate full-time jobs, and I wonder how many people are taking up part-time, sessional positions as a way to move forward? Regardless, employment opportunities are changing.

My feeling is that academic institutions should be doing a better job of researching, and presenting viable career options to their graduate students. There are a number of industry, governmental and non-governmental postions out there, but people in academia often have a very limited understanding of these types of positions -where they are, how many are available and what kind of training they are looking for.

Perhaps it is time for graduate programs institute real career training.

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