Report PhD employability in a precarious labor market

PhD candidates Gili Yaron and Andrea Gammon conducted a study into the career trajectories and job-searching strategies of WTMC alumni working inside and outside of academia. This study aimed to gain insight in the employability of graduates, formulate recommendations for making their transition to a next positions smoother, and put the issue of PhD employability on the WTMC agenda.

 

APPROACH & METHODS

To gain insight in the employability of WTMC graduates, we circulated a survey through the WTMC email list and by contacting recent WTMC graduates. The survey sorted respondents into three groups: those who remain in academia (IN AC), those who work outside academia (OUT AC), and those who work both inside and outside of academia (BOTH). Starting with several demographic questions, it continued with open-ended questions about respondents’ experiences and good practices on the job market. Topics included job preparation, skills, CVs, networking, and precariousness.

 

42 respondents hailing from different universities completed the survey. STS (or STS + another area, e.g., innovation, sustainability, philosophy) was the most common field (~80%). ~65% of the respondents worked in academia; ~20% worked outside, and ~14% identified as working in both.

 

FINDINGS

Almost all respondents, across all groups, were happy to have done a PhD, even if they did not need the PhD for their current position. Some nevertheless suggested that people beginning a PhD should consider the job market before they begin.

 

Most respondents were satisfied with their current employment situations, although there were important differences in job satisfaction and concern about career prospects between the IN ACs with permanent positions and the IN ACs with temporary positions. Most, across all groups, noted that they experience some level of precariousness because of the temporary nature of their job.

 

Respondents all named grant writing as an essential skill they did not develop in their PhD. IN ACs also named teaching and supervising; OUT ACs noted that they had to learn how to speak and write for various audiences, work ‘quick and dirty’, and  manage shorter and firmer deadlines, politics, and new organizational structures.

 

Most respondents reported that the issue of employability was addressed at some point during their PhD. Often, they were the ones to take the initiative herein, and many felt these initiatives were more effective than institutional guidance they received.

 

Respondents shared many tips regarding gaining transferable skills (internships, extracurricular activities), networking (collaborate on projects), and CVs.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

The issue of employability should be addressed more consistently and in greater depth during the PhD trajectory. We recommend that the candidate and their supervisors repeatedly discuss the candidate’s career options, and identify and approach organizations and individuals–both in and outside of academia–for whom the expertise and knowledge of the candidate can be made relevant. This could be part of the effort to valorize the PhD.

 

WTMC could offer workshops on employability (possibly within summer schools). Universities could also provide tailor-made support for PhDs, or expand student employability initiatives to include PhDs.