Phd Jobs are scarce

Phd Jobs: What Universities Should Do

Phd jobs are scarce.

We live in a time when there is increasing doubt in the value of our current educational frameworks, and where the relevance of degrees, faculty and departmental systems and structures are questioned. We also live in a time where the learning outcomes and financial expenditures of university programs are scrutinized, and universities are facing the pressure to drive positive socioeconomic impact. Education has changed dramatically in the past decade, and while professional schools have identified a path forward to innovate and contribute to society in a more meaningful way through leadership development programs, a quick look at graduate programs in the Humanities shows that very little has changed in the least fifty years. Why are doctoral programs still afraid of that infamous L-word, leadership?

The role of academic programs is to prepare students for post Phd jobs beyond the ivory tower, provide them with the best strategies for advancing their careers, and encourage them to make significant and positive contributions to society. If we look at the current situation of the job market, can we truly say that Ph.D. programs fulfill their role from a leadership standpoint? Are Ph.D. programs still shaping future leaders?

The post-graduation career profile of Ph. D. students has changed drastically over the last fifty years. Not only a large portion of graduates transition out of academia, but they also integrate a workplace that is very different from the highly traditional training they receive as pre-professionals within the existing academic structure. How long can academia continue to ignore the disparity between the training it provides -solely focused on intellect- and a workplace where adaptability, self-awareness, collaboration and network thinking are among the most sought-after skills? We can only wonder how much longer this disconnect can go on before students stop enrolling in doctoral programs and truly jeopardize the future of academia. What can the academic community do to save itself from imploding? In this new world of informational overload, where the boundaries between systems and traditional organizations are blurred if not dissolved, how can academia redefine success beyond its own boundaries in order to keep up with the disruption of traditional work practices and meet the needs, values and expectations of future generations?

It can only start when doctoral programs reconnect with their core mission of leadership and start implementing professional development programs that prepare students for a wider spectrum of non-academic Phd jobs. Doctoral programs must prepare students for the reality of the post-graduation job market by giving them better insight into non-academic Ph.D. careers.

How can that be achieved?

• By setting up mentoring programs that leverage alumni networks so that students can team up with and receive guidance and feedback from Ph.D.’s who have excelled in other industries.

• By promoting increased awareness so that students gain clear personal clarity, assess their skills, and align their passions and strengths with their career goals within and beyond academia.

• By connecting students to a manageable short-term action plan to explore non-academic opportunities while in graduate school.

• By providing them with the preparation for non-academic job interviews to optimize their chance at gaining employment across a wider variety of industries.

Academia cannot flourish when talent wilts on the sidelines. Ph.D.’s need to learn how to effectively engage with others, capitalize on their difference as future members of the workforce and improve the effectiveness of the group they represent. And it will only start when doctoral programs reconnect with their role in shaping future leaders.

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2 Comments
  • Tim D

    August 27, 2016 at 11:23 pm Reply

    You make strong, relevant points. However, wouldn’t it be better for PhD programs to just stop admitting so many students? If I hadn’t gotten into grad school over a decade ago, I almost certainly would be at a better place in my career today, because I would have been forced to find a different avenue for meaningful and prestigious work than the mirage of academia. That said, I’m curious why you suggest that academia would implode if less people went to graduate school. I’m inclined to think it would be a healthier environment if everyone wasn’t blindly rushing to out-do everyone else with larger graduate programs (and more diverse departments, more guest speakers, more conferences, more publications, so on).

    • Philippe Barr

      August 28, 2016 at 6:07 pm Reply

      Thanks for the comment. I agree that fewer students would make a for a better learning environment. Unfortunately, the reality is that universities are organizations that have expenses and that have to rely on revenues in order to survive. Sadly, it all comes down to the cost-per-student factor. A lot of departments are already working with the minimal amount of students which is still way too many students if we consider the number of tenure-track jobs available. My fear of implosion had more to do with the thought that one day very soon, people are just going to stop pursuing Ph.D.’s, and the mirage of academia, as you nicely put it, might soon dissipate.

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