Impact of COVID-19 on aspirations of PhD students – summary of an early investigation

In this blog post, I will briefly share the findings of a recently published journal article in the Journal of Experimental Political Science [1].  In this article [1], the authors were primarily concerned with investigating how COVID-19 affected
current lower and senior year PhD students’ career aspirations, perceived career preparation and support, and professional development.  In particular, they constructed the following hypotheses and examined them with the responses collected from a survey of over 750 participants between March 2nd, 2020 and May 5th, 2020. Due to the timing of the survey, they were able to collect responses prior to and following the coverage of COVID-19  in the media.

Hypothesis 1. COVID-19 will make Ph.D. students more receptive to nonacademic careers and will lead them to invest more heavily in non-academic skills.

Hypothesis 2. COVID-19 will make Ph.D. students less optimistic about their chances of obtaining an academic position and/or more desirous of non-academic job characteristics that provide financial security.

Hypothesis 3. COVID-19 will make Ph.D. students more likely to report that they have difficulties managing stress and to express greater uncertainty in the direction of their post-graduation career.

Hypothesis 4. COVID-19 will lead Ph.D. students to express greater dissatisfaction with their academic department’s support and preparation for their desired post-graduate career.

Hypothesis 5. COVID-19 effects will be greater among 5th-year students, and among those from comparatively more advantaged social groups.

Surprisingly, they found that COVID-19 did not significantly alter Ph.D. students’ aspirations and priorities. But they do mention that they found limited evidence that Ph.D. students became more desirous of non-academic jobs with senior Ph.D. students more willing to change their career paths to non-academic jobs compared to junior Ph.D. Students. The survey also revealed that respondents felt that their departments are better meeting their needs and that they are better able to manage stress, following the pandemic outbreak.  They also make the following key remarks and explanations for their findings that I found were very interesting:

“…it is possible that COVID-19 was an insufficient shock to students’ commitment to an academic career.”

“… the efforts of departments and universities to blunt some of the worst consequences of the pandemic were effective at reducing students’ concerns.”

“…pandemic may have reaffirmed some students’ commitment to academia.”

“… the cutoffs we consider were too early to capture more substantial effects. It is possible that students were still processing the consequences of COVID-19, and that they would have offered more pessimistic opinions had we surveyed them later.”

[1] Haas, N., Gureghian, A., Jusino Díaz, C., & Williams, A. (2020). Through Their Own Eyes: The Implications of COVID-19 for PhD Students. Journal of Experimental Political Science, 1-21. doi:10.1017/XPS.2020.34

Future of the University Blog Post

As I was researching on this week’s blog post prompt, one of the discussion themes that popped up, again and again, is that – “will the pandemic change American universities the way we know them?” In this post, I would like to share a very interesting article by Prof. Ian Bogost – a distinguished chair in media studies and a professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, that I found.

In this article, the author first provides a brief history of American universities. He then discusses how the pandemic threatened what it means with an underlying argument that they are not built for education: they are built for the “coming of age” and college experience. Eventually, the article starts questioning whom to blame for rising COVID-19 cases in university towns and communities and then reveals a more complicated dynamic between universities, ordinary people, and policymakers. Some of the points that hit the spot for me are below

  • American colleges and universities have always sought isolation rather than integration. 
  • How the entire structure of American family life became oriented towards college and how universities evolved from a rite of passage into the prestige of the upper-middle class to an aspiration for the middle-class.
  • How the college experience soon became a prison experience for students returning to campuses during the fall semester.
  • How people objected to the “do not party” stand of few universities as a threat to the college experience and how policymakers tried to introduce a college-student bill of rights to protect students from those “Draconian” measures.
  • A fantastic point – “Students acted recklessly toward the virus not because they are necessarily careless or juvenile, but because college promises them a place apart, where ordinary rules don’t apply.”
  • Finally, this satisfying concluding paragraph where the author disagrees with others in the field that speculate that the pandemic will kill American universities the way we know it.
    The pandemic has made college frail, but it has strengthened Americans’ awareness of their attachment to the college experience. It has shown the whole nation, all at once, how invested they are in going away to school or dreaming about doing so. Facing that revelation might be the most important outcome of the pandemic for higher ed: An education may take place at college, but that’s not what colleges principally provide. Higher education survived a civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the 1918 Spanish flu, the worst pandemic the U.S. has ever faced. American colleges will outlast this crisis, too, whether or not they are safe, whether or not they are affordable, and whether or not you or your children actually attend them. The pandemic offered an invitation to construe college as an education alone, because it was too dangerous to embrace it as an experience. Nobody was interested. They probably never will be.

I agree with all the points that the author has raised in this post. What do you think?