Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

There's Another Way

PhD candidate in the sciences are often presented with academia as the only, or most desirable, career path. But the desire for a job in academia is not universal among PhD students, according to Nature News. A comprehensive 2017 survey of 5,700 science doctoral students worldwide found that 75 percent of respondents wanted to work in academia after graduation, but a significant portion of that 75 percent also reported an equivalent interest in working in the industry sector. Further, tenure-track job openings are rare, Nature News adds. A 2014 study of job availability found that only 13 percent of PhD graduates can attain academic positions in the US.

PhD programs, however, are designed to accommodate students set on a career in academia. Students are often taught to craft research proposals with an eye toward getting funding. And most events hosted by science departments tend to be of greater value to students taking an academic route, Nature News says. Jobs such as science journalism aren't promoted by most science departments, and students are often unaware of their existence or feel discouraged from participating.

Instead of catering strictly to academic career paths, the article proposes, science departments should show students that there are other options. For example, students interested in science communication shouldn't have to waste their time producing proposals for research they're not interested in performing. Instead, Nature News says, they could write a piece on their research targeted at a non-expert audience. And those students planning to enter industry could pitch a new product. 

As to the events hosted and sponsored by science departments, Nature News says graduate schools could become more inclusive and beneficial to students pursuing careers beyond academia, perhaps by inviting professionals in industry and non-conventional fields to come and speak to students. 

"To successfully implement these changes, we must first subvert the assumption on which PhD programs seem to be built: that their participants plan to pursue academia. This mindset is in part a consequence of PhD programs being crafted by professors who used their own career trajectory as a template," Nature News adds. "But I suspect it's also a product of the unfortunate reality that PhD advisers simply do not view non-academic careers with the same degree of admiration. ... If academia can't appreciate the inherent value of professions beyond 'research professor,' then maybe it can at least recognize the benefits it gains from having PhD-trained scientists in roles outside academia."