Dispel illusion of PhDs leading to jobs for life, says Royal Society

Universities told to help doctoral students explore wider career opportunities

December 18, 2014

Source: Alamy

Test an alternative: junior researchers must know of options outside academia

Universities should have a “proper dialogue” with PhD students from the start about the fact that they are “not walking into a job for life”.

That is the view of Dame Athene Donald, head of a Royal Society working group that has published new guidelines about doctoral candidate development.

Dame Athene said the guidelines give a “clear statement” about the role of universities in managing the expectations of junior scientists at a time when competition for academic jobs has never been fiercer.

Students should also take responsibility for establishing and managing their own career expectations, according to the document, Doctoral Students’ Career Expectations: Principles and Responsibilities.

Dame Athene, professor of experimental physics at the University of Cambridge and fellow of the Royal Society, told Times Higher Education that academia should be “honest and up front” about the fact that there are far more PhD students in training than there are faculty positions for them to fill.

“If they don’t find out until quite late, they can be quite angry,” she said. “One of the key things is to make sure right from the outset that students know that they are not walking into a job for life. There should be a proper dialogue about what a PhD is for [and] that it is not simply the first step in a logical career progression.”

The Royal Society outlines its expectations for students, supervisors, career services and universities in the document, due to be published on 18 December. It says that students should talk to funders and career services about options available to them post-PhD and find a mentor other than their supervisor – possibly outside academia – to regularly offer impartial advice.

Supervisors should signpost careers information to students and allow them to take time out of their work to explore career options and to complete training, it adds.

Meanwhile, universities should offer appropriate training in transferable skills and arrange visits from people outside academia to outline alternative careers to students.

There should also be a role for career advisers in providing a tailored service that specifically addresses the needs of different academic departments, it says.

“There are so many careers where science training is invaluable. We feel exposing students to some of this would be helpful,” Dame Athene said.

She added that some universities and supervisors already do many of the things recommended in the document. But others may not have thought about the wider picture of training in doctoral education, with some supervisors focused only on getting research results out of students, for example, she said.

“It is not a question of putting blame anywhere. It is a question of saying this is what we believe, as the Royal Society, is needed to fulfil everyone’s expectation. The amount of extra time that this puts on a supervisor is really trivial, and they really should be doing a lot of it already,” she added.

holly.else@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest