Updated: May 24, 2021
Most of us did a PhD having in mind an academic career or leaving our impact and legacy in STEM research or, at a more grounded level, our enthusiasm for our undergraduate and Masters subjects. This article series is not about discussing how valuable PhDs are to the society, academia or the non-academic sectors, but what the PhD candidates and those who consider pursuing a PhD need to know to achieve a fulfilling career.
In the second part of this article series, we will discuss what one might wish to do before considering or while doing a PhD.
Unfortunately, in Europe, the permanent academic or research staff has not stepped up to the pace of increasing PhD candidates. PhD holders of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries increased from 0.8% to 1.6% per year; that might not seem huge but let us consider that approximately 37% of PhD students did not obtain their PhD after enrolment in the US. Also, women PhD candidates in STEM are less likely to progress from year one to year two by 10% when no female peers exist in the same programme.
What is also well-understood by current PhD candidates and PhD holders is that there is no formal agreement on the relationship between the supervisor and the doctoral candidate regarding employability/ professional or research skills development.
Of course, PhD candidates who publish their research findings at conferences or research articles enhance their visibility. In many cases, when industries or many partners are involved in consortia to finance PhD studies, doctoral students cannot disseminate their research findings, crucial to their career and employability.
Is there a benefit in looking for an academic career?
Even better, how could one secure an academic career under current trends within academia and its future needs? Let’s keep in mind that the Universities in the UK transition towards exclusive research or teaching-focused staff structures.
Emphasis should be given to the lack of academic strategies grasping the vision of the future higher education as an integral part of the society and the economy to reach “A new era in higher education (HE)” and “Empower research and Innovation”.
The most up to date statistical survey on the employment of PhDs in the UK comes from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), showing that more than 70% of PhD holders did not work in academia after 3.5 years of award. Such outcomes further underline the misalliance between PhD candidates’ hopes and reality.
No data show preliminary career planning, including research development either or both institutionally and personally.
Many PhDs might have been exploring and developing their networking skills as graduates, but having a PhD or exploring the PhD route after a master’s degree makes the preparation more demanding and strategical.
At the same time, we have to be reminded that “One True career path” does not exist as it can be misleading to the unexplored potential talents, needs and skills of an individual masked behind a Masters degree or PhD title or before considering them.
In the third part of this article series, we will see how one can assess at a personal level the potential career value by considering or doing now a PhD in STEM.
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