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The Terrifying Reality of the Competitive Academic Job Market: Nobody is Telling the Truth to the Graduate Students

Nowadays, the academic job has become very competitive for Ph.D. graduates, and many Ph.D. graduates remain unemployed or underemployed. “The highest rates of academic employment are reported by doctorate recipients in humanities and other non-S&E fields (near 80%); the lowest rates are reported by engineering (15%) and physical sciences (29%) doctorates”( National Science Foundation.2014)

Few Ph.D. graduates (less than 17%) find tenure-track positions within 3 years after graduation. Others that remain unemployed accept low-paying academic jobs such as post-doctoral scholars or lecturer positions to stay in the academic job market for more extended periods with the hope to find their dream academic job. This fact happens because of the unbalance between Ph.D. graduates and job openings: each professor graduate 7-8 PhDs during his/her career but only one of them can replace his/her position as he/she retired. This reveals that only 13% of Ph.D. graduates can gain the academic job in U.S. (Larson and Ghaffarzadegan 2013). While the number of STEM Ph.D. graduates increased 57% from 1995 to 2014, the number of faculty positions is changing very slowly and depends on the retirement and exit rates.  If the system is saturated, why we are killing ourselves to finish our PhD?? This is horrifying for me as a graduate student who is seeking for an academic job. Does it mean that we must accept that we never become tenure-track faculty members and must accept post-docs and other PhD-level researchers positions as a career? What will happen to my dreams that I sacrificed my life for that?

The simple solution is to increase the number of faculty slots. But it is not going to work because increasing number of professors will increase their high birth rates (the number of future Ph.D. graduates). The prospective Ph.D. students are often unaware of ambiguous future when they start graduate schools. As they arrived at grad school, they will hear lots of positive lectures on how amazing grad school is and have no idea that the fact is: tenure-track jobs are by no means guaranteed. The higher education owe this to the graduate students to let them know about this reality, provide sufficient information on pros and cons of graduate school, and help them to appropriately manage their job expectations before, during, and after graduation.

References:

https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300/digest/nsf16300.pdf

https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c3/c3h.htm

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/sres.2210/full

3 Responses so far.

  1. Khang Pham says:

    Those are some scary statistics that you mentioned. I am not sure about this question, but are PhDs that have a couple of years of industry experience be more competitive? Or is it hard to switch between academia and industry positions?

  2. sogandmhz says:

    Thanks for reading my Blog! Yes, it is terrifying!
    Very good question! I am also wondering how easy would be the switching between industry and academia. I know that in my major, it is very difficult to do so, and even if you can come back to the academia, you would be an assistant professor of practice, that I really don’t want to be.

  3. Sogand,

    Thank you so much for your informative, eye-opening post. I specifically agree that there is a need for further informing the current and future graduate students about the job-market related to their field of study. However, I am also afraid that if higher education is solely considered as a ladder of progress for achieving higher level of income/social status then the PhD degree which stands for Degree in Philosophy= Love of Wisdom does not make that much sense! My point is even if many of us cannot find a job in academia (which is very probable) or end up un/under-employed yet, the higher education experience gives us new lenses for seeing and making sense of our worlds which yet in my opinion worth the time and effort 🙂

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