All entries for September 2012

September 25, 2012

The pitfalls and scourges of the ‘by default’ pre–conditioned academic

So, you have a Phd? The facts you know and are terrified to admit:

1. Academic jobs are greatly diminishing in number; I believe we’re all in agreement on this one.

2. Many PhD students and graduates are increasingly compelled to decide against academic careers due to, more often than not, unfulfilling doctoral experiences, poor supervision, and finger-pointing lack of mentoring and support by supervisors and relevant university-wide support services; I believe many of us will be in agreement on this one.

3. Nascent academic recruitment strategies require that early career academics have published triple the amount of their erstwhile counterparts seeking their first job a decade ago. Moreover, their potential for research excellence is shamefully dependent on, if not deterred by, their chances of (or even success in) income generation. As for their teaching abilities, they will always come second place in reputable research led institutions. Have I been crude enough or can you take more?

4. With the upcoming Research Excellence Framework, taking the above into consideration is paramount to your turning your PhD traineeship into a promising and rewarding academic career.

But what happens if there doesn’t seem to be a way into academia, or if academia is not for you? Hmmm! Tough one! In the current economic climate a great number of high calibre, intelligent individuals exit the academic bubble after years of hard work in research, analysis, and production of praiseworthy original projects, feeling lost for words (and actions) as to how to identify and pursue opportunities for employment, market themselves effectively, and commence potentially fulfilling careers . Poor employability and careers guidance by Academic staff and Careers Services that, let’s face it, have increasingly ignored this disenfranchised cohort, have contributed towards the intellectual inquisitiveness of doctoral candidates taking over any career curiosity, not to mention planning! As for employability… academic research will do, right? WRONG! Can you take more honesty?

In my personal experience as a doctoral graduate seeking employment outside academia, I was shocked and aggravated to realise how little value the British recruitment system places on early PhD graduates. As a Job Search Adviser working with PhD students, the reality check is even more tremulous! On a daily basis I witness the formidable scene of many PhD students/graduates, not only unaware of what’s out there for them, not only clueless as to how to market themselves effectively, but mainly accepting that they are ‘overqualified’ and ‘lack practical experience’. Playing the same tape that employers play non-stop, they have accepted their fate and are - unwillingly - willing to start climbing career ladders from way under their intellectual level, pursuing jobs that will allow them to build practical experience in most cases already acquired, yet oblivious to its existence. Let's put things into perspective then. You have a PhD? It’s not about climbing, it’s about embarking!

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, a career choice is up to the individual to decide upon. It is your responsibility to search within yourself and outside to understand what your calling in life is. No one can do this for you. Maybe the exhaustingly ubiquitous intellectual activity as a result of your doctorate has desensitised any other pursuits of needs, wishes, and ambitions. Yet, the skills you have developed as part of this process can and should form part of your employability armour for whatever you chose to do. And if you still haven’t found the time to sit down and list them, I’m sure you’ll recognise in yourself a few of these:

  • Research, data analysis, written and verbal communication
  • Time, budget, and project management. Add ‘Supervisor Management’ on the list, as well!
  • Intellectual maturity, ability to process information in a timely and efficient manner
  • Ability to work with limited or no supervision
  • Ability to work in a team, using relevant lab equipment
  • Strong commitment and work ethic, perseverance and management of uncertainty (and change)
  • Natural (by this point!) aptitude towards high quality work, originality, excellence
  • Ability to effectively impart knowledge and deliver training
  • Administrative experience (organising module timetables, producing student and module progress reports, participating in departmental meetings, managing whole modules)

Have I listed enough? So, to conclude… the ‘let’s start over’ attitude, let’s face it, is completely unacceptable! You are a highly intellectual individual who had the guts to take up an unknown project, breathe life and soul into it, and create something potentially original world-wide, something that adds value to scholarship and beyond. You have worked under the most uncertain conditions, more often than not with no remuneration, and you still made it. You have built and enhanced a highly sought after skillset you are most probably not even aware of. You are a hard worker that dared to take the difficult route and you should be incredibly proud of what you have achieved. If all this applies to you think impact, think innovation, think initiative, think creativity and communicate your PhD via these prisms. At the end of the day, it’s all about how you market yourself. It’s up to you… have you got faith in the product?! And this is not only a message to you but a note to self, as well!

Stay positive!


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  • Oh dear Ioanna your blog entries are always so inspiring to read…!! I have experienced the same th… by Terry on this entry
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