Higher EducationPop Quiz

Pop Quiz: Is There a Doctor in the House?

In my field of astronomy, and all across academia, graduate students are fretting about post-Ph.D job opportunities. It’s become clear that finding a tenure-track position in the sciences is far less likely than it was in the “good old days.” The American Astronomical Society does some tracking and reports on statistics, causing many of us to sigh and wonder at every conference. Nature demonstrated one of the issues in this in a devastatingly simple graph of new faculty positions versus new Ph.Ds since 1982.

Growth of science and engineering Ph.Ds and new faculty positions, by Schillebeeckx et al. in Nature.

Growth of science and engineering Ph.Ds and new faculty positions, by Schillebeeckx et al. in Nature.

In response, many new academics are exploring non-academic job opportunities, sometimes before their dissertations are even finished. Support from faculty is on a case-by-case basis, and the Ph.D itself is being re-evaluated by our society.

Many embrace the wide range of opportunities and appreciate the skills and knowledge built up during the process of working on a Ph.D, such as these people in a recent New York Times article. However, such stories tend to highlight only a small sample of non-academic Ph.Ds and there is a fear that only the best stories are coming to the surface. At a recent conference of astronomers, we asked, what is the average experience for a Ph.D leaving academia? What is the range of paths we can expect to take? Who left, why, and where are they now? And can we contact them to ask a few questions? There are several self-selecting communities where one can find some answers, such as the “Astronomers Beyond Academia” group on LinkedIn. However, these won’t provide the full data set.

Scicurious made an eloquent plea to academic advisors to stay in touch with former students who have left academia, for they will be useful contacts for future students! Deceptively simple idea, but it needed to be said. Though long-term tracking isn’t standard, several universities and programs track their students, including my own alma mater of the University of Virginia. Few are as thorough as the sociology program at the City University of New York profiled in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article. It’s a worthwhile project, but it takes quite a bit of dedicated work. So I’m wondering:

If you’re in a Ph.D program, do you know where your alumni are? If you have a Ph.D, are you in academia? Do you know which of your compatriots are or aren’t? How do you keep in touch? Where do you find non-academic ob opportunities and advice?

The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons (ET).

P.S. Happy Turkey Day tomorrow, fellow United States-ians!

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Nicole

Nicole

Nicole is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at a small liberal arts college. Her home on the internet can be found at One Astronomer's Noise.

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