Well I don’t yet, but soon, hopefully soon, I will. But what will I do next? Therapy probably.
Today there has been an online chat forum on what to do with a Ph.D and yesterday the THE website ran an article about deluded young scientists thinking they’re going to become permanent academics. So what use is a Ph.D. and what should we expect to be able to do with it?
Ph.D.s can be done on all sorts of crazy things but for clarity, I’m talking about science doctorates here.
Only 30% of Ph.D. graduates get post doc positions, according to a report by the Royal Society. Now I know many students, including myself, who have been put off academic research but this figure is amazingly low and is set to get lower as funding dries up and jobs become scarcer.
Most students don’t realise what they’re getting themselves into when they sign up to a Ph.D. and most have dreams of becoming an eminent leading expert in their field. And on the face of it that’s all you need a Ph.D. for: it’s not a vocational qualification and very few jobs outside academia require one so why start if you’re not intent on getting to the top in research?
The reality is that in the long run 90% drop out of academia and move on. Now I don’t think that is because these people didn’t reach the top. Everybody wants career progression but I think it’s unreasonable to think you deserve to become a lecturer/Principal Investigator just because you’ve worked in research for many years – however horrible that experience has been. How many people in other professions get to the very top? Academia is a pyramid like almost all other workplaces.
The problem as I see it is that science is full of short contracts. Young scientists are expected to move around the world to experience different specialist areas of their field and master many different techniques in order to become a fully equipped research scientist. This creates instability which puts many people – especially women – off. It’s very hard to settle down, get a mortgage and start a family when your contract expires after three years.
Luckily Ph.D.s are valued in many areas outside academia: from the pharmaceutical industry through to teaching (the most popular destination for graduates) and even in government. Since the Roberts’ Report universities have got a lot better at broadening the training that a Ph.D student receives so that the graduate leaves equipped with skills that are valued in the big bad world outside of academia. Amongst others I think it proves better than any other piece of paper that the individual is determined, a Ph.D. is long and not easy after all!
I’ve been looking at job advertisements and many state a post-graduate qualification as desirable and I know of lots of people who’s bosses have been very keen for them to get those two distinguished letters in front of their name asap. Because a Ph.D. impresses people, it’s relatively rare in the employment market and it sets you out from the crowd.
So what use is a Ph.D. and what should we expect to be able to do with it?
Everything and anything. But at the end of the day it’s just another qualification and it is you as a person who will get a job and become a success if you deserve it.