Letter: 'Scary' talents of PhDs

August 24, 2001

As a fellow mature postgraduate, I empathise with the plight of Chris Willis and others entering the job market (Letters, THES , August 24). But Willis will probably find that age and set ideas held by prospective employers will continue to work against her.

I got my PhD while working in book publishing at the age of 37, but after seven years searching have concluded that I will probably never get a full-time academic post.

Most of those appointed to such posts are now at least ten to 15 years younger than me.

That does not mean that I have not achieved a lot as a result of my qualifications. I teach and research part time for the Open University while also working as an agricultural journalist. Before that, I sold advertising space for a political weekly magazine. I have also published several papers and a monograph on Sri Lanka, and regularly speak at conferences. Like Willis, I have turned my hand to most things to crawl up the greasy ladder of life.

The main barrier in academic and professional life is that there are plenty of professors and bosses (mainly men), who climbed to the top of their tree in the 1970s and 1980s, and are determined to stay there despite the competition. Many of them are possibly less well-qualified, in terms of higher degrees and life experience, than Willis, myself or many other applicants.

Ultimately, money aside, our maturity, diverse talents and different backgrounds are precisely what scares them off employing us.

Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells.

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