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One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

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One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Dave Jensen » Wed Sep 20, 2017 12:00 pm

One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

CORNELL UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE

FOR RELEASE: Sept. 19, 2017

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – There are growing concerns that the challenges of landing a faculty job are discouraging young science and engineering Ph.D.s from pursuing careers in academia. The assumption is the majority aspire to a faculty career but drop out of the academic pipeline because there just aren’t enough tenure-track jobs to go around.

But a new Cornell study suggests that assumption may not be true for many Ph.D.s. The research was published Sept. 18 in PLOS ONE.

“They’re not being forced out of academia and into less desirable jobs. Instead, many lose interest in the faculty career itself,” said the study’s co-author, Michael Roach, the J. Thomas and Nancy W. Clark Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

Roach’s co-author, Henry Sauermann of ESMT Berlin, added, “Our key contribution is to dig deeper to understand why students lose interest in the faculty career, and we consider a broad range of factors such as job market expectations, self-perceived ability, or preferences for research and autonomy.”

Roach and Sauermann followed a cohort of 854 doctoral students studying science and engineering at 39 U.S. research universities over the course of their graduate training. The doctoral candidates took a survey at the beginning of their graduate studies and again three years later, which asked about their career preferences and explored potential drivers of changes in their preferences.

The study finds that although 80 percent of students started the Ph.D. with an interest in an academic career, by the time they neared graduation one-third of these students had lost interest in an academic career entirely. At the same time, there was no difference across Ph.D.s in their low expectations of getting a faculty job or the difficulty of obtaining grants, suggesting that these factors do not explain why some lose interest while others remain highly interested in an academic career despite these challenges.

Roach and Sauermann were prompted to look into changes in academic career preferences because of concerns over the perceived labor market imbalance between the growing number of doctorates and the limited number of new faculty positions. One implication of this research is this gap overstates the share of Ph.D.s who intend to pursue an academic career.

When students start their doctoral programs, the majority have done research as an undergraduate and see academia as the default career path, Roach said. “But as they learn more about what that career path is like and the kind of work they want to do, that’s where we start to see a divergence, where people start to lose interest in a faculty career.”

This suggests the need for programs that provide students with more information on potential career paths and that prepare them for careers outside of academia.

For example, Cornell’s BEST program – Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training – enhances training opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to prepare them for careers beyond conventional academic research.

The study also has implications for companies’ efforts to recruit recent doctorates. Rather than trying to lure Ph.D.s by emulating the academic environment, firms should recognize that many Ph.D.s who lose interest in academia are less interested in performing basic research and coming up with their own research projects, and more interested in commercializing new technologies, the researchers said.

“This is important as technology firms increasingly look to Ph.D.s to help them innovate,” Roach said.
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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Dick Woodward » Thu Sep 21, 2017 4:13 pm

That was certainly the case for me. When I started grad school, I was thinking academia. However, the amount of senseless competition in the labs convinced me that this was not the area for me. During grad school, I also was involved with motorsports on the weekends - it was quite a contrast between the collegiality in the pits (motor racing is considered to be one of the most competitive sports) and the cut-throat competition in the labs. It was easy for me to turn my back on academia!

One man's story.

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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby KML » Sat Sep 23, 2017 11:40 am

I think that this is an important topic to highlight! So many of my friends from my PhD had no desire or intention to stay in academia by the time we were ready to graduate. I do wish we had a bit more exposure to other fields to make the transition easier. It is so important to let students know there are plenty of exciting career paths available to them. Especially ones that can afford them a much higher quality of life in terms of time with family and financial freedom.

I hope that a story like this also gets some departments to think about adjusting their policies so they are not turning so many people off.
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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Nate W. » Sat Sep 23, 2017 12:32 pm

Lack of jobs, hypercompetitive environment, lack of money, and PIs who don't care about those students who help them in their careers.

Check your facts and actually do something about it.

What is frustrating about these articles is academics over-analyzing a problem, yet they do NOTHING about it. They would rather talk about the problem endlessly than solve it. This is old old news to most graduate students. For the clueless academics, the problem is the hypercompetitive and non-egalitarian environment for career advancement called peer-review that favors the wealthy labs and those who cheat.

I love working in the lab from a creative and intellectual standpoint but I loathe the dysfunctional behavior of others in that environment and the BS politics of peer-review for papers and grants. The behavior of anonymous colleagues reviewing your work and then sharing it with your competition or selfishly using it for themselves. Plus, PIs who hoard graduate students because they are cheap labor and have no non-disclosure; so PIs make threats and lie in letters of references to keep them in the lab. Even worst, the MD PI who takes all the credit while he plays doctor in the clinic and the graduate students produce the papers that fill out his CV w/o even a "thank you."

Hey, clueless who wrote this article. Clean-up this crap and maybe I and others would consider a career in academia.

If you don't care about this situation, stop writing articles about this and focus on your grant writing.

If you truly care about the PhDs and jobs for them, give me a call and I will give you some practical suggestions. I am a VC and spin-out technology from academic labs.
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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Dick Woodward » Sat Sep 23, 2017 5:05 pm

Nate:

The authors are business school people. It is unlikely that they can do anything about the situation in the sciences. However, actually quantifying the situation is a start, but it is only helpful if it is read by the higher-ups on the science side.

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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby D.X. » Mon Sep 25, 2017 2:38 am

This was the case with the majority of my Peers, I'd say 70% of say 15 of us who graduated the same year from our PhD Program.

So definately more than 1/3 from. And it was mainly loss of interest in academic careers and NOT lack of Jobs.

Like me, they were open minded to academic pursuits when they entered grad School but as time evolved well an Overall Feeling of "we can do this acadmia Thing, BUT...been there, done that, got the T-shirt is there something else". Geez I took a post-doc for a year and I had to struggle to Keep Focus - i knew I wanted out of academia but the reality was it was easy to get sucked in. I was generating data pretty quickly, life was looking good actually in the lab and concurrent to exploring non-academic opportunities I was already writing grant. I was not too concerned about lack of Jobs at all, yes I struggled a bit in the lab, mentally due to other reasons, but there was some positivity.


The reality is, in academia or non-academia, it is more often the case that there are more candidates than there are Jobs. I can't think of any other industry were this is not the case save for some direct Patient care Jobs or IT. Yes it is challenging for folks to are looking for Jobs in the academic path to conclude there are a lack of Jobs in part due to competitiness (number of applicants) vs positions but in Terms of avaialbe resources, there can't be an infinite number of Jobs right?

But I just can't remember any one that i knew leaving a academia for a reason of lack of Jobs specifically, maybe that was a sub-reason or sub-Sub reason, maybe liked to risk of not getting good data? But it starts with, "Academia is not interesting to me, running a lab is not interesting to me, I want something else". No one I remembered said, "I can't do this", in fact, the opposite, "i can do this but I want something else" was more the Mantra i heard, as was mine.

Like me, These folks were investing in understanding other career Options during grad School which excited them more than - some even went directly into non-academia Jobs directly after grad School.

And I think Dave' article captures that.


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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Caroline Ritchie » Mon Sep 25, 2017 6:48 pm

I, too, am tired of reading all of the articles published about the woes of the PhD. However, I was glad to see this article that showed evidence that many people do, in fact, lose interest in academia. Many people continue to assume that a career in academia is the pinnacle of success for the PhD and that those who leave have given up; this idea is propagated throughout the media and is understandably (albeit, wrongly) the viewpoint of many in academia. I think that many PhD students and post-docs are afraid to admit (especially to their advisers) that they want something else out of a career, and I hope that this article helps bring more awareness to the fact that many people have other career goals. It's not just that those with a PhD need more awareness of what careers are feasible, but they need more support to pursue those other careers.

Advisers (not just university career offices) need to support their trainees to pursue internships, part-time work in relevant industries, and mentorships within industry. The occasional seminar on any given non-academic career is not enough. Similar to how physicians are required to obtain a certain number of CME credits, I think that anyone advising PhD students should be required to obtain a certain number of credits on career development so that they can become more aware of different career options and gain a better understanding of how one can prepare for different types of careers. Until advisers both respect the many career options for PhDs and have some level of understanding of different industries, I doubt that the training of students in regards to non-academic career development will ever really improve.
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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Dave Jensen » Mon Sep 25, 2017 7:15 pm

Caroline,

I like that idea of must-have credits for career oriented material. Let everyone see what every option is, early in their path and then support that with non-required by additional content such as seminars, workshops, and so on, by people who are specialists in these areas.

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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby D.X. » Tue Sep 26, 2017 2:46 am

Caroline Ritchie wrote:
Advisers (not just university career offices) need to support their trainees to pursue internships, part-time work in relevant industries, and mentorships within industry. The occasional seminar on any given non-academic career is not enough. Similar to how physicians are required to obtain a certain number of CME credits, I think that anyone advising PhD students should be required to obtain a certain number of credits on career development so that they can become more aware of different career options and gain a better understanding of how one can prepare for different types of careers. Until advisers both respect the many career options for PhDs and have some level of understanding of different industries, I doubt that the training of students in regards to non-academic career development will ever really improve.


I think the first step is not the University career Offices but at least in the US, it should be the PhD Student admistration Office or PhD Program Office (that administers the specific PhD program), or Dean's Office for Life Science (for example, not to negate physical/natural sciences) students who could be more engaged here.

At least during my PhD program (life science) ,our program Office based at the medical School was more focused on recruitment of new PhD students, less on Retention and certainly next to Nil on ex-academia career development beyond some bi-annual career Seminar or one-off Speaker.

To be honest, my PhD program dean and admistriation office was quite useless in this regard. So I had a Benchmark, and that was my undergraduate advisor for my degree program. Now of course the undegrad Setting is a bit different than grad School Setting but the practice that this adivsor implemented is well worth considering. She was a hustler and she found internships and experiences for EVERY Student in the undergrad program. The had secured promised internships that were paid for her students at companies such as Amgen in California and Novartis in Switzerland. Her fight was to get students to take those experiences, not to get experiences (basically her contacts in those companies made the promise on the expectation the would get an intern). She also secured foreign exchanges for research - so Italy, France, Scotland - again all she had to do was allocate students to These opps. And this also applicable to graduating students! If a Student wasn't one who was going to Medical School or had already secured acceptance to a PhD program, she had a JOB lined up for you, for example in Novartis or at Roche or at a biotect start up or at a government lab.

And why? because she huslted and she networked and was a powerful negotiator at These companies and unversities. She didn't have to do that. So yes, she recruited students into the undegrad program. All of her students were landed in a spot after graduation that was her Goal.

She is long passed now, but Need less to say because of that Benchmark that i had as an undegraduate, you can imagine why i felt my PhD program admistration Office/dean was useless from a career development perspective.

So until there are opportunities, well then its difficult to get an PhD adviser on board as there is no foundation for the discussion really. And if i was a dean of students, i'd do what my under grad advisor did, bust my butt to my students experienced and secured.

Though, let me not Forget, that despite my recommendation above for PhD Programs and repective Deans, the Primary responsilbity for individual career development and opportunities lies with the individual Student! Not with anyone else. So the above recommendation is foster that responsbility, not to tranfer the ownership of career opportunities.

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Re: One-Third of Ph.D.s Lose Interest in Academic Careers, but Not for Lack of Jobs

Postby Nate W. » Mon Oct 09, 2017 1:16 am

Maybe we should listen to the recent Nobel Prize Winner in Medicine, Jeffrey Hall, about why he left science:

“A principal symptom of this state of affairs involves the following: People are hired after they have undergone long stints of training; and a potential hiree must present a large body of documented accomplishments... now the CV of a successful applicant looks like that of a newly minted full Professor from olden times. Notwithstanding these demands, and the associated high quality of a fledgling faculty-level type, the job starts with some ‘set-up’ money for equipping the lab; but next to no means are provided to initiate that ‘research program’ and to sustain it during the years to come.”

I have posted comments by Stephen McKnight that only reinforce what Dr. Hall is saying.

Articles about Drs. Hall and McKnight's comments about science policy and funding:

http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201409/ ... tsMessage/

http://www.iflscience.com/editors-blog/ ... f-funding/

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/ ... story.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world ... 86441.html

I will say it loudly and more bluntly. We have a flawed funding and peer review system that makes decisions based on non-egalitarian and non-objective reasons. When there is limited money and academic jobs, decision makers will only favor their close friends, prominent established scientists with a proven track record, and anyone who will return the favor. This system favors the "rich" and well connected; not based on merit. It is a rigged system full of cronyism, politics, and favoritism. Plus, the expectations are unrealistic for even a modest tenure track position paying little more than what a manager of a Starbucks (~50-60K) would make and for teaching positions, college administrators are engaging in slavery by hiring 80% of teaching positions at an adjunct level (i.e. this is below the poverty level even at a full teaching load; you are just taking advantage of well trained scientists while you make a 100k for pushing paper). To make matters worst, we have such administrators advocating that there is a skills gap in science in order to increase enrollment in degree programs. Keep the "slavery system" going. For example, Dr. May is lobbying the Federal Reserve here in Dallas. His argument is flawed and hypocritical.

Skills Gap Article:

https://www.dcccd.edu/news/2017/pages/v ... ewsItem=45


Why not create a system in Texas whereby PhDs and MS can easily go back to school to get a medical degree (e.g. MT, PharmD, MD, MSN, etc)? If there is no biotech jobs here, why not help them transition to another career path that is based in Texas? This will create tuition revenues.

These college administrators in Texas are so ill-formed and misguided in their thinking about educational policies and the job market in the life sciences. I am better informed that Dr. May and have seen many well trained scientists from Texas medical schools unable to find work and leave the state to a hub to find work. Come on Dr. May, how does that help the local economy in Texas and it undermines your skills gap argument?


Personally, I didn't want to place my career and family to a system that:

1) depends on me lobbying the federal government to support my salary and career endeavors; especially given the government's deficit and budget problems.

2) will not judge my work objectively w/o undue bias and politics; and peer reviewers that make snide comments in their evaluations of our manuscripts just to let you know they have the power to do so.

3) favors those with a proven track record in order to get published in solid journals

4) has reviewers that share unpublished results with other colleagues in order to help their friends out; then has the audacity to bitch when they are called out for their selfish actions; peer review is anonymous!

5) has PIs who views mentorship as a slave trade to help his own career at the expense of his student's career; who does all the work!

6) has PIs who can't conduct themselves with integrity and honesty when funding is competitive; enables fabrication in the name of competition/ publications standards, and then blames his lab staff when articles don't get published in Cell, Science, and Nature rather than honestly look at his own abilities and track record. Maybe the PI is just not that good and stupidly does not realize there are other good journals out there. Duh!

7) has lazy and conceded MD PIs who want his lab staff to do his research work for him while he works in the clinic (because he doesn't have the time; then don't work in research, stick to the clinic) w/o any reciprocation of credit if an article gets published and tries through dishonestly to keep good productive lab staff onboard (w/o consideration of their needs).

8) has a huge pay inequality based the PI's temperament and the politics of the University HR wage and compensation department.

10) provides no opportunity for financial security given the merits of my accomplishments and my work ethic; it only favors the well published and those clones of certain well published labs.

11) hires PhDs at a poverty level to teach (80% teachers at adjunct level) w/o time off or medical benefits while administrators make 100K; come on stupid administrators explain why you justify this cogent hiring decision; amaze me with your brilliance and cogent response, coward!

Yes, I love science but I hate the system for advancement in science and the politics of University administrative work.

I share no sympathy for those college administrators and science policy makers who have contributed to this system and its competitive environment. You are the underlying cause of this exodus of potential scientists from the system and its competitive dysfunction. Frankly, most college administrators couldn't manage a Dairy Queen in a financially responsible way.

You may not like my comments and may take offense for which I say I don't care and hope it gets you off your lazy butt in order to take action. However, if want to run your mouth but do nothing, I say please shut-up and stop writing self promoting articles sugar coating this issue. If you want a debate, please respond and I will gladly defend my position against the University administrator who believes the system works perfectly, life science professions have a skills gap, and science policies have promoted economic growth.

My views on this profoundly changed due to a series of events in academia and the escalating unhealthy competition for grants and top tier publications. When money and jobs are tight it leads to people behaving badly and mistreating others selfishly. I had my job threatened in academia when I wouldn't agree to ignore the unethical and potential illegal acts of a fellow employee and a PI who enabled that behavior in the name of competition; getting the right publication and grant renewal.

In regards in adjunct teaching positions, this practice is just blatantly unfair and provides a perfect example of administrators taking advantage of the glut of PhD in the job market. I had better jobs and more reasonable managers while employed in high school and during college as golf caddy, salesperson, and lab tech for a state agency.

People should take heed to what these distinguished scientists are saying. Reasonable people lose interest in academic careers is because it is impossible for most PhDs and students to get the right credentials to land a tenure track position; no matter what they do! It is not because they lose interest in science; they dislike the system for advancement and its unfairness.

Only a select few will have the opportunity to compete for a tenure track position due to the inequities in funding and unrealistic expectations for hiring by University administrators. The longer a post-doc stays in the system, foolishly hoping he will get the right credentials, the more it jeopardizes his financial future and that of his family. Plus, you have the stress of competition for grants and publications that makes many administrators people behave like unreasonable jerks (w/o any justification and cogent reason); ultimately making it more difficult for you to progress in your career. Often this takes the form of a PI or administrators using you selfish for their own careers w/o an reciprocation. This is no incentive in the system to be a good mentor and these problems only get worst at lesser tier schools where money is tighter.
Last edited by Nate W. on Tue Oct 10, 2017 12:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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