Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Institutional Responsibility

A recent post on the Guardians 'Academic Anonymous' blog has raised some discussion today. You can read the article here.

Ultimately, it argues that universities are not doing enough to support PhD students find academic employment. It says:

'Unis need to stop merely training academics and instead start providing some of the jobs they have trained them for'.

Now, no one would deny that they would love to see universities create more academic positions for early career researchers in order to make the academic job hunt less brutal (especially in arts and humanities). But there is also a reality to be faced that there will simply never be enough academic jobs to go around, even if the situation improves. The number of people gaining a PhD is increasing and increasing, but the demand isn't there. Take the situation of history PhD students for example. This important blogpost by @brodie_waddell explains exactly how dire the situation is:

So, yes, it would be wonderful if universities increased the number of academic positions, but it won't solve the problem. If universities really want to support their PhD students they need to start looking at them beyond the research lens. The skills that PhD students gain during their studies have real world applicability, but too few are informed of this. For example, my History department put on a number of employment workshops but every single one was geared towards postdocs and lectureships. Not a single one discussed alternative career paths. No wonder so many PhD feel lost and helpless once booted out from the ivory tower!

And non-academic job workshops I have come across, predominantly cater towards STEM subjects where leaving academic for industry is far more the norm.

Academic departments and career services ought to work together to put workshops on that explore alternative career paths, based on skills developed during research-intensive PhDs in arts and humanities. It is my experience that students are more likely to attend department based workshops on careers, rather than set up 1:1 appointments with careers services. Furthermore, universities should be promoting the value of working outside of academic help to reduce the stigma that non-academic jobs are the "last resort" when the academic job doesn't manifest. 

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