Where do we put all the PhDs?

Article titled “The PhD Factory” in Nature 2011volume 472 is a part of the reading materials for this semester in Preparing the future professoriate course. The core of the article is in the high levels of PhD production and the future of those PhDs. Situations between countries like China and Germany were explored and they differed quite significantly based on the economy of those countries.

The worth of spending the time in higher education was brought up with a comment, that does not sit well with me.

…it is not clear that spending years securing this high level qualification is worth it for a job as, for example, high school teacher.

I say why not? Would I want extremely qualified, passionate teachers for my children? As shown by the graphs in the article, the salary is not much changed between PhD and non-PhD in Europe or US. So it might actually not be the money that we are after when getting a PhD. How could we put worth on knowledge and experience research training gives? Could the society get more out of the trained PhDs than just research? Their educations is at least partially paid from the tax money.


Statistics from Nature vol 427 article “The PhD Factory” by Cyranoski et al. 2011

The need for soft skills on the side of hard core research will play a big role in offering PhDs an opportunity to leave academia as well as have a productive career in academia. I found this lacking in my Finnish institution during my master’s studies. Virginia Tech has answered this need with the future professoriate and other certification opportunities.

Getting the PhDs outside of academia after graduation is extremely enticing idea, when we see current faculty fighting over grants fiercely and stressing over their ability to keep their labs afloat. The examples of Germany and Singapore seem like good models for economies similar to them. However the balance of drawing PhDs to the outside world can go overboard and cause problems to the academia, as seen in the example of India. Striking a balance in this issue should involve political decisions as the future of a whole country can be affected by it.

An issue brought up in the article is the differing view for the need of PhDs between academics and politicians

To Paula Stephan, an economist in Georgia State University in Atlanta who studies PhD trends, it is “scandalous” that US politicians continue to speak of PhD shortage.

Are there really too many PhDs or are they just trained towards too narrow career paths? The policies in place to award universities monetarily based on how many PhDs they produce, has in Finland led to problems. The amount of PhD students has increased while the next level jobs have decreased. Is the number of PhD degrees in a country some sort of status symbol in politics? This is why more academics need to get into politics. The divide between academics and the people who actually steers the society surrounding the universities needs to be addressed to have healthy development of academia.


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