Finding a “real” job

July 22, 2010

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