Finding a “real” job

The postdoc journal of today’s issue of Nature has Katherine Sixt lamenting about the lack of “real” jobs (ie tenure track, academic positions) for PhD graduates and postdocs, and how making the sideways shift into an alternative career can feel like a failure.  She cites these figures from the US:

According to the US National Science Board’s report Science and Engineering Indicators 2010, 56% more science and engineering doctorates were awarded by US institutions in 2007 than in 1993. The number of postdocs grew by 44% between 1993 and 2006. The number of tenured and tenure-track faculty positions increased by only 10% in the same period, and the number of non-tenure-track academic positions increased by 51%.

In New Zealand the situation is even worse, as with the dumping of the FRST postdoc scheme there are only a tiny number of postdocs available, and for most PhD graduates the career bottleneck comes immediately after graduation (either that or they leave the country).

I can really relate to this article, being one of those postdocs searching for a “real” job and grappling with the idea of doing an alternative career, while trying not to feel like this would be some kind of failure.  But the reality is that, by the very nature of academia, there will always be more PhD graduates than postdocs, and more postdocs than permanent academic positions, and alternative careers like consultancy, writing, patent attorney etc should be held up right from the start as perfectly viable career options.  The thought of an alternative career doesn’t need to be a dirty little secret.

K. Sixt. Finding a ‘real’ job. Nature 466, 519 (21 July 2010) | 10.1038/nj7305-519b


3 Responses to Finding a “real” job

  1. Tania says:

    I too am grappling with the task of finding a “real” job. I did “all the right things” and left Australia after my PhD to do a post-doc overseas only to return and find that no-one can employ me on more than a 12 month contract and that grants and fellowships are still out of my reach. The only solution I can think of is to leave science, which hopefully will enable me to get a more stable and secure job. It really sucks as I don’t really have any desire to do anything other than benchwork and am not sure if I am “qualified” to do anything else. Hopefully I will to find my niche out of science.

  2. anon says:

    The lack of long term science funding in NZ remains a real problem in my view. Sure, an alternative career doens’t need to be a dirty little secret, but the lack of current opportunities will turn away many researchers who have enormous talent at a time when surely we need high quality research.

    I also think the new postdoc fellowships the govt has brought in are also not likely to be gender neutral; talented women scientists may well be less likely to take up postdoc opportunities overseas, for example, if they have partners (the issue of the two body problem is a common one in science). I’d like to see some stats on women postdocs and women scientists in permanent positions in NZ, as it seems there is considerable inequity in the current system, and the new postdoc fellowships are likely to perpetuate that.

    • hilaryml says:

      The other problem with the new “postdoc” fellowships is that they are not really postdoc fellowships at all, as there is a requirement for the institute to employ you on a permanent contract in order to take up the fellowship. Most of the postdocs I know can’t even apply for them as they can’t get an agreement of a permanent position from their department (which is not surprising really). It seems like they are really targeted to junior academics who already have permanent positions, so do nothing to improve the career path of postdocs.

      I agree it would be interesting to see some stats on women scientists in NZ – but I think that family issues are also an issue for male postdocs too.

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