With more people opting to take PhDs, how can postgraduate researchers stand out in the job market against increasingly well-qualified competition?
The answer, according to a study conducted at University College London’s Centre for Global Higher Education, may be to move abroad. Giulio Marini, a sociologist based at the centre, focused on the careers of people with PhDs in arts, humanities and social sciences, and found that relocating to a different country was associated with higher pay.
He took data from 2,652 PhD holders across 13 European countries, and collected information about their lives and career paths, and on a range of factors relating to their PhD including subject area, university and measures of “impact”.
These impacts were the beneficial activities that candidates undertook during their PhD, such as publishing papers, giving media interviews, collaborating with non-governmental organisations or serving as a company board member. “[These] can be considered relevant as what you experience can make you more or less ‘employable’,” Dr Marini said. Analysing his data with a basic model controlling for variables such as average income in different countries, he uncovered some expected and some more surprising results.
The study supports previous research suggesting that women’s careers are negatively affected by having children, and that people on permanent contracts working outside academia typically have higher salaries. He also demonstrated that PhDs from business schools are more lucrative than those in social sciences, with arts PhDs trailing behind.
While constantly changing sector can negatively affect your career, Dr Marini reported, seeking your fortune in a different country can have a positive effect, possibly because “inflation of PhDs in some countries can be, at least partially, avoided”. His analysis also suggested that the prestige of the university at which a PhD is completed, measured using the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, while positively linked to salary, is not enormously significant.
“I think prestige is very important,” Dr Marini said. “But it is not a contradiction if it [does not play] a major role when we talk about employment outside academia.”
Most significantly, the study identified the “impact” factors that have the greatest impact on career: these experiences demonstrate being “in touch with the real world”, the study suggested. The PhD experiences that had the greatest impact on future salary were media interviews, project management, and serving as a policy adviser.
“What do you do when you [want] to win the game of life? Consider [moving to] a different country as part of the most qualified global labour force, and learn those three impacts,” Dr Marini advised.