PhDs shun academia

March 9, 2001

When Susan Basalla entered a PhD programme after her undergraduate degree, she had every intention of becoming a university professor like her father.

"It's easy to follow the track laid out for you," she says. "But it just didn't feel right. It's like entering a monastery. Everyone believes this is a higher calling, worth sacrificing things like quality of life and income for, and you're not supposed to question that."

In the end, Dr Basalla did receive her doctorate, but she did not become a professor. Instead, she became online editor of a financial investment website and living proof of the conclusions of a new report that says many PhD recipients in the United States are choosing careers outside academia for which their doctoral study does not prepare them.

The report, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that doctoral students are not being adequately trained for the careers they want. Most are still being steered towards increasingly scarce university faculty positions.

According to the report, based on a survey of 4,000 PhD candidates, doctoral programmes continue to train students to become research faculty, even though fewer than half will do so.

Dr Basalla has co-authored a book about career-changing for PhDs, So What Are You Going to Do With That?, and many of the PhD candidates she interviewed "felt isolated in their graduate programmes". When they seek jobs outside academia "they're overqualified in some ways and underqualified in others".

"One minute you think, I should be a vice-president," she said, "and the next minute you think, I'm not fit for the mailroom."

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