Data to PhD students: you’re screwed

Enough people have sent me this beautifully depressing picture that I figured I’d put it up here for posterity. It would be nice to see it broken up into field – this figure is for science and engineering, but science and engineering tend to have very different career paths! My friends who have PhDs in biology are much more likely to try the academic route than my friends in bioengineering, for instance, and physics and chemistry seem to have more post-PhD career options than biologists (in my experience).

I also wonder how this varies with university; I know in Economics (and the humanities) that you’re much, much, much more likely to get a faculty position if you come from Harvard than if you came from, say, State University. I at one point went through a random list of neuroscience professors at top universities and found that a majority of the professors had come from the same few schools – which, sadly, did not include my own.

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6 thoughts on “Data to PhD students: you’re screwed

  1. No No No …. this is so wrong! It assumes that ‘you’re screwed’ (sic) because the chances of getting a faculty job are low. In fact this is not what the Nature Biotech article is saying and is not true. There are exciting, stimulating creative opportunities for research aware graduates beyond academia. I have blogged on this http://blog.prof.so/2011/11/get-it-right.html commenting on http://thermaltoy.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/r-e-s-p-e-c-t/

    • Well, it *is* true that the chance of getting a faculty job is low, and one of the issues is the number of people who enter a PhD expecting to get a faculty job at the end. And I bet if you the cumulative number of postdocs is grossly overproduced as well, which are almost certainly mostly people who have in mind a faculty job at the end.

      I assume you’re in engineering from the title of your blog, and in your field there are plenty of research jobs open to graduates after a PhD. In biology? It’s very different (as I suggest above), especially because the skills you learn in academia are not the same ones that industry generally wants you to have.

      I agree that in general, it’s not bad that smart people exit the academic track into other jobs. After all, we need talented people in those fields, too! The question is one of unrealistic expectations and lost time, and, in biology, unused skills

    • No, it’s not what the Nature article is about but the graph itself was used in the article to highlight the issues with current PhDs. The issue is that most PhD programs are teaching students how to be classical postdoc researchers and academics when the opportunities for these positions a far too few for the number of graduates being produced.

      The article then went on to discuss how they are attempting to improve this issue by providing a broader range of training to students. And considering how rare this kind of extended program is within PhD programs then yes the majority of PhD students or graduates are indeed screwed.

  2. I wish this chart was available when I was making the decision to pursue a doctorate. One more reason universities should be required to publish doctoral graduation rates and job placement statistics.

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