Industry-involved PhD programs are all the rage now. The NISA (National Innovation and Science Agenda) has really put a spotlight on universities working more closely with industry; and what better place to start than a PhD. Added to this, PhD graduate data paints a stark picture of employment – with less than 5% of graduates turning their training into a long term research career. That is, only 1.5% of PhD graduates spend ten or more years in research and go on to be
professors (see figures below). This is a daunting statistic if you’re undertaking a PhD. And it is a scary statistic if you manage or offer PhD programs. It is even more scary if you see a PhD as training to be a researcher – rather than training to be a thinker (but that’s the topic of another blog).
Figure 1: PhD Careers (UK Data)
Figure 2: PhD Careers (US Data)
Figure 3: PhD Careers (Aus Data)
These statistics are compounded further when the employment data are viewed. On average1:
There are 45,000 students are enrolled in a PhD in Australia at any one time. If a PhD is 5 years long, then that’s an average of 9,000 per year. If its 4 years long, then more like 11,000 and 6 years, perhaps as few as 7,000.
Completion data suggests 6,500 finish each year. So, if we’re taking more than 6 years for a PhD at the same number start as finish. If we take 5 years the completion rate is 70% - about the rate being reported by individual universities.
University jobs are growing at about 1,400 per year.
If you have not already made the leap that’s 6,500 graduates for 1,400 positions! And those 1,400 positions cover the entire university – not just research- or PhD-requiring positions.
If these data weren’t bad enough, there are two other statistics (admittedly both from the UK) that are worth bearing in mind:
Two thirds of students in their final year of their PhD have no fixed idea of their career. That is, they don’t know what they want to do when they finish their PhD.
About 30% of PhD graduates said “They would not do their PhD again if given their time over!”
On top of all that having a PhD is not necessary for a research job. Employment data suggests less than 30% of the researcher workforce have PhDs. The rest have Masters by Research (15%), Degrees (45%) or other (10%)2. Thus, doing a PhD – and therefore staying out of the workforce – may put you behind your peers who have otherwise been working for the last 4-7 years (depending on how long you have been doing your PhD for). That’s time gaining experience. That’s time working in industry. That’s time building and growing a network. That’s time being mentored as a staff member – not as a research student.
Figure 4: Minimum Qualification by Researcher Type3
So – what does all of this mean for you? What does it mean for the person designing or implementing a PhD program?
It’s worth noting the situation is not all bad. Although clear employment data don’t exist for Australian PhD graduates, we do know that most newly employed researchers have the skills to be productive4.
Figure 5: Extent to which employer (respondents) agree that newly employed researchers have necessary skills to be productive
Therefore, there is not a lot that needs to change. Or that should change.
1 Data via UCube – University-reported data held by the Department of Education (http://highereducationstatistics.education.gov.au/)
2 Employer Demand for Researchers in Australia, 2010
3 Employer Demand for Researchers in Australia, 2010
4 Employer Demand for Researchers in Australia, 2010