Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Problems of the Doctorate 'In Hand'

I recently read a blog post about job vacancies which requires the candidate to have the doctorate 'in-hand'. Sadly, I can't find the link to that blog, but it did inspire me to address some of the issues that may face job-hunters post-doctorate, in both the academic and non-academic fields.

The original blog post talked about whether one should submit an application without the completion of the PhD. That in itself a tricky word - completion - because it is subject to variation from institution to institution, and often misinterpreted by the non-academic world.

At what point can you consider the doctorate complete?

  1. After submission?
  2. After the viva?
  3. After the submission of minor/major corrections?
  4. After the confirmation that the corrections were accepted?
  5. After the faculty/department awards the PhD?
  6. When you have the degree certificate in hand?
Of course, this varies from place to place. But what the laborious process does is delay the whole trial of job hunting after you submit your thesis. The doctoral student can feel like they are in limbo, waiting for the point on the line where they can start apply for jobs which require the doctorate. And, all the while they are seeing potential dream jobs fly by because there is no point in applying.

That is frustrating, and academic institutions rarely seem motivated to expedite the process or make it easier. But, at least when applying to other academic jobs there is an internal awareness that this is the process, it takes this long for a reason, and allowances can be made. For non-academic jobs, the situation can be worse.

At my current institution, the award of the doctorate from viva onward can take an inordinately long time. For example, here is a rough timetable based on a candidate receiving minor corrections:

  1. September 2014: Viva
  2. October 2014: Receive a list of minor corrections to be submitted in 1 month
  3. November 2014: Submit corrections and receive approval from examiners
  4. December 2014: Receive a letter informing you of the award of the doctorate
  5. December 2014: Submit hard copies and electronic version to University
  6. March-June 2015: Graduation (since graduation ceremonies get booked up, you could wait 3-6 months for the official ceremony
Now, that's the ideal situation. Candidates awarded major corrections can add another 6 months to that process. But imagine that after your successful viva, you land a job in a non-academic role, but they need proof that you have the doctorate in hand. In their mind, a degree certificate would do, but you won't get that for at least 6 months. So, you try to explain corrections to them, you get the department to send the employer confirmation of the doctorate, in a process which is far more complex than it needs to be. Even the terminology can be baffling to non-academics. The official letter confirming the award of the doctorate is called 'Leave to Supplicate'. Unless you are academically institutionalized, this is meaningless.

This post was not meant as a rant (although it may have veered in that direction). Rather, it is a plea for more transparency from the universities and more sympathy for the needs of graduates to get on the job ladder. The more labour-intensive and drawn out the process is means that postgraduates are losing valuable opportunities to start their careers, whether academic or not. 

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