The Academic Job Market

(49 Posts)
Godstopper Fri 19-Aug-16 14:26:36

... or lack thereof, should be the title.

Is anyone else in a similar predicament?

I finished my PhD in Jan., and have a one year fellowship at my own institution (this looks good on the c.v, but it is not salaried like the equivalent roles elsewhere ....) and have been applying for suitable jobs.

The number of jobs that I've actually had any business applying for over the entire year? THREE.


I was straightforwardly rejected for one, received good feedback for another (your specialism isn't quite what we want, but please re-apply when we re-advertise something else), and an interview for another.

At my interview for a part-time Teaching Fellow was: someone who has written a book on x, someone coming off a three year post-doc, and someone with several years lecturing experience. These are people that, to me, should be good candidates for lectureships. I got good feedback on my interview, but ultimately, someone was a specialist in x (whereas I am y) and could teach it to a higher level.

That's fine. What's worrying is that this seems to be representative of the situation for humanities PhD's in the U.K. Meanwhile, universities continue to take on PhD students and, frankly, tell lies about their job prospects: not intentionally, but the situation is painted to be a lot better than it is.

Then, if you fail to get one of the three jobs in your area for which about 100 people applied, some regard you as a failure. It was my first ever experience of the academic interview process, and I understand where I can improve for the next time - but the whole worry is that the likelihood of a "next time" seems slim!

So now it is time to keep my head down for the next year and work on pubs (I have one paper out there under review, a second to be sent after presenting at an International Conf in Sept, aim for 3rd by Dec, another over the Spring ....). And by the way, we now have to have more pubs than established lecturers to be even considered for an interview. That's pretty crazy.

Meanwhile, we have ancient Professor's on fractional overpaid contracts who deign to enter the dept. for two hours a week and do no teaching or other duties, and block the way for people like me trying to get started. But then, in these times, I'm not even sure their positions would be replaced.

It is awful, demoralizing, and I would caution anyone thinking about a PhD in my topic NOT to do it if entering academia is your aim.

This is more of a rant. Can anyone empathise ?!

OP’s posts: |
impostersyndrome Sat 20-Aug-16 08:19:18

I sympathise of course - I read just a few days ago the statistic that only 3.5% of PhDs get a permanent academic post, let alone a professorship. I agree that more should be made of preparing 3rd year PhD students for the non-academic job market. Having said that, the maths must be pretty obvious, if you look at the ratio between graduates and permanent positions. Though of course it's just so hard to concede that you aren't the one that can make it, especially if you've spent the past years buried in an archive. Have you looked at applying for non- academic jobs at all?

LordRothermereBlackshirtCunt Sat 20-Aug-16 08:37:15

They key now is to ensure that you have a strong REF hand. In the humanities, my university was insisting that anyone appointed in the last cycle had "a big fat book". As it turned out, the REF scores didn't seem to indicate that the panels regarded a book as being of higher value than a journal article, but this is the kind of criteria and thinking that you are likely to find yourself up against.

More emphasis will be placed on impact too, so you'll need to show you understand what this is (not the same as public engagement) and are working towards it.

I'm finding now that many of our PhD students are no longer interested in academic jobs, they have been going into museum work, civil service, etc. If I was to start over, I would give academia a wide berth. I'm seriously considering getting out because the pressures and working hours are intolerable. Yes, there may be a few Professors out there doing very
little, but that's not the reality of the job for most academics, and every year (just when you think you're more experienced and so things should get easier) another substantial element is added to your workload.

TheWindInThePillows Sat 20-Aug-16 11:30:24

I don't know where you work, but at our institution, the Professors have the same workload model, including substantial teaching as everyone else. I agree a few have their eye on retirement and so aren't necessarily pushing forward in every way, but most that I know are still extremely active in their fields- they have to be in the REF, get grants and supervise like the rest of us.

That said, your point is right- there are indeed more PhDs around in some areas than lecturing jobs available.

I've been thinking about my students and the department's students, and some of the options they've taken in the face of this are (and remember the recession is not new):

1, Apply for their own funding as a post-doc either through specified schemes or as part of larger funding bids, say with a supervisor.
2. Apply for all relevant post-docs/fellow positions, including abroad, so I know several people who have gone to Australia, to Germany and so forth, wherever the work is to be found, and there's quite a lot out there if you don't need to be in the UK.
3. Publish anyway and spend longer in post-doc period, so you have the book/journal articles- you are completely right that the level now needed to enter at really quite a low grade is much higher than it used to be, hence you get professors at some of the not so well known unis who have fewer publications than our new lecturers.
4. Move side-ways in academia, so you work in the adminstrative part of the uni, not research- we have lots of great administrators who do things like co-ordinate grants, and they prefer PhDs who know the system for some of these posts. Once you get in the door, even as a temp admin, you can usually move upwards/into different roles much more easily than if you apply from outside. There are job cuts in this sector though.
5. Reconsider what you are an 'expert' in- so at the moment, in social sciences, there's lots of jobs needed in quantitative methods, and in criminology- so if I were someone who had anything linked into these, that's where I would be heading. I know people who are sociologists who have worked primarily in business schools, humanities people who work in medical schools- if you can be flexible about what you can offer in terms of transferable skills, more options are available to you.

I wouldn't give up hope, I'm not in humanities but I am in social science and I would say pretty much every one of the PhD's I've encountered over the last few years has managed to squeeze into somewhere to do something interesting, consultancy, museum work, post-docs around the world, teaching posts and so forth.

There is a huge issue about then making the leap from post-doc to lectureships as these are being cut/offered to higher qualified people. You have to be persistent though- and if you have the opportunity to write for a year, then go for it and then look for jobs where your REF profile will be helpful.

Godstopper Sat 20-Aug-16 13:11:06


Agreed on becoming REF-able. This year will be all about getting pubs for me, and if I'm honest, a part-time (50%) teaching job might have slowed that down. I should have the opportunity to do some lecturing over the year, subject to funding (the lecturer needs to be released from taking the module). I've also got several years teaching experience as a GTA, so teaching-wise, I'm more or less fine.

One of the three jobs was an EU-postdoc! Certainly considering anywhere within Europe, although I am not sure how the Brexit will affect us: it's clearer in STEM subjects, I think, but I'm in a traditional humanities subject.

Certainly agree about moving sideways, and that's something I'll be looking to do at the end of this fellowship if nothing is forthcoming.

I am in a good position in that I don't need a job to keep my house and pay the bills, but ... being out of the loop, so to speak, leads to all sorts of horrible, negative, feelings. My fellowship starts in Sept, and I'll be back on campus involved in things which is good.

It is still v. early days to be thinking too seriously about a non-academic job, but having experienced the non-existent job-market this year, I will be making plans of some sort.

The lecturers in my subject I've seen appointed this year (and that's not many) all had at least 5-10 pubs, and post-doc experience. In fact, the requirements of some are changing in that people without post-doc experience are no longer eligible to apply. My dept. appointed a temporary one-year lecturer, and even they had 5 pubs.

As for a book (?! faints at shock as I could barely look at the thesis after submitting), I am thinking about trying to turn the thesis into one: it passed without any corrections, and the examiners suggested that this is exactly what I should try to do with it - but surely, only established academics get contracts with e.g. OUP?

I feel quite disillusioned with the insane-professionalization of my subject, but not the subject itself (yet!). Hanging in there ....

OP’s posts: |
TheWindInThePillows Sat 20-Aug-16 13:28:10

If you don't need to work to pay the bills, then you are in a better position than most who leave their PhDs and end up having to take disadvantageous teaching assistant positions which then scupper their ability to write. Honestly, you have it all to play for here- a year in which to write, book possibilities (definitely investigate these early in the year, just shortlist who you'd like to publish with, contact the right person within the companies and ask them what they'd need from you to secure a book deal- don't be shy about this, just crack on). Realistically, a one year post-doc into a lectureship probably is unlikely in the current market, although I do know of them in shortage areas, but two or three year in and you sound like you'd be extremely well positioned to try for better post-docs/lectureships.

Dancingupthewall Mon 22-Aug-16 10:26:21

I know you're having a rant, but it's a partly unreasonable one. So here's some tough love.

I'm one of those professors "clogging up" the system, apparently. I do a full teaching load, put my own research on hold for at least a year to do our REF return, and spend a lot of my time mentoring my younger female colleagues. Not all of us are useless. You'd be lost without us frankly. And I'm in my late 50s but still have a mortgage. Single my entire life so there's been only me, and I will have to keep working till almost 70. I love EngLit thank goodness, and I enjoy teaching.

I worked throughout my PhD in a full time teaching fellowship, plus teaching adult education courses for extra cash. There were no post-doc fellowships in the Humanities, no research funding, no professionalisation sessions at conferences. There are many more opportunities now in the humanities, and those of us running the scholarly organisations (yes, I do that too) or in the AHRC peer review college (tick) are very aware of the need to provide career paths for new post-doctoral colleagues, and Early Career Researchers.

I know it's tough. But it's no tougher now than in the 80s when I started my career. I graduated into a recession. I looked at having to leave academia. I was incredibly worried about my mortgage (and anyone remember the interest rates then??) I was looking at having to sell my house at one point.

So yes, I understand your frustration - I felt it also, 25 years ago (which doesn't feel so long ago, actually). But there are jobs. There is also far more understanding of the way that Humanities Post-docs can work beyond academia, or in research roles within universities.

I applied for jobs with friends, who got jobs in front of me, despite us having pretty similar VCs. It was upsetting & frustrating. It is sometimes about 'fit' - one person will fulfil what the committee's looking for just a whisker better than another. These decisions - in my experience of doing a lot of hiring - are never taken lightly.

Nowadays, there is a realistic expectation that post-docs in the humanities will need to spend 2-3 years in part-time or short-term jobs before landing their first "proper" job. I don't know where you did your PhD, but some places are not good at preparing their PhD students for the hard slog. I've interviewed some very entitled PhDs from the most elite places. Sometimes they have very little idea of the rest of the profession.

You are incredibly privileged that you don't "need" to earn at the moment. I had to take a Saturday job to tide me over at points. So, what are you doing with this gift of time?

Do you go to your discipline area's annual conference in the UK and/or internationally? Do you attend the postgrad/ECR professionalisation sessions? Are you preparing a book proposal? Are you looking at Leverhulme/BA/EU (MarieCurie) postdocs, and making contact with academics in institutions who would sponsor you?

You know all this, I'm sure.

Godstopper Mon 22-Aug-16 11:59:21

Hello Dancing,

Well, I probably needed to hear that!

1. I wish our Professor's (the one's on fractional contracts) were as active as you, but most are not: none teach, their publications have ground to a halt, and they do not represent the dept. in various activities. It was flagged up in our REF-report (culture of isolated academics hindering research somewhat ....).

2. My institution is a top 10 RG one. I don't feel it should open doors anymore than most other places. We haven't had much training in e.g. how to teach, and I think this could be improved (workshops for early career people, more understanding of how we can use our PhD, workshops on teaching specific to our subject ....).

3. Yes to conferences! I've been having a look at turning my PhD into a book, and it would seem that since I've had to deposit it into the uni's e-theses system, it is deemed to be publicly available, and hence, not eligible to become a book. I'm investigating this further.

4. Post-docs - really non-existent. I applied for a Leverhulme, and was one of 30 at one uni, and one of 100-ish at another. I have no chance with this until I start getting pubs. The BA has opened up, but so far, I can only see 3 uni's inviting apps in my area for it (Oxbridge + one Northern one). Again, it will be a publication issue, I think.

5. You're right about being fortunate to have time. That's what this year will be about - keeping head down and trying to get stuff out there! (Journals have 90-95% rejection rates in my area, so again, it seems like a battle ....).

I did my PhD part-time, and that's now going against me as some fellowships stipulate it must have been completed full-time, and within 3 years (i.e. be AHRC funded or have wealthy sponsor, but it's worded a bit differently!). I did part-time teaching throughout, and various other small jobs. I'm glad I did it this way, despite the situation now.

AHRC funding has become non-existent in my discipline, well, certainly much less, e.g. we'd usually get one funded student per year, but now that one studentship is made available to three dept's and it sometimes doesn't happen.

It is v. early days for me .... so trying to remain hopeful!

OP’s posts: |
Dancingupthewall Mon 22-Aug-16 12:15:32

I've been having a look at turning my PhD into a book, and it would seem that since I've had to deposit it into the uni's e-theses system, it is deemed to be publicly available, and hence, not eligible to become a book. I'm investigating this further

That really isn't the case: you've been badly advised, or have misunderstood Open Access (OA). You can also request an embargo for the specific purpose of re-presenting the material for publication. Get back to your OA people.

The BA has opened up, but so far, I can only see 3 uni's inviting apps in my area for it (Oxbridge + one Northern one)

Oxbridge tend to see BA PDFs as an extension of their JRF system, so do contact them.

We haven't had much training

Some scholarly associations offer this via their annual conferences. The 2 I've been heavily involved with always do at least one PGR/ECR seminar on publishing, editing etc etc. If there isn't something like this in your discipline's scholarly associations, suggest it! Get together with some other PGRs/ECRs and set it up.

The PhD students I've supervised who've been reasonably successful in the next stage/s of their careers have networked and have impressive CVs in this area, as well as publications on the way.

In my area (top 10 research department), I'm looking for a comprehensible & legible (in terms of theme & activity) research trajectory, as much as achieved publications. But when I've been on selection committees in other areas (History, for example) there's a different expectation.

You seem to be doing all the right things - I'd say have a look at your networks. Who do you like to play with? Who is exciting to talk to at conferences? This is how to build a network - hang out with sympatico people, and bounce ideas off them, as well as plan informal activities - even if it just starts as lunch once a month with three or four people in your area.

I wonder if you're a bit isolated in your research?

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 12:34:57

Just a note on the REF. The last one did treat papers as of identical weight to books. The next one looks as though it will continue to do so, though there will be up to 6 publications that each individual can submit instead of 4. (The equal weighting to books is absolute madness, of course. Stuart Elden has written in his blog about how his institution refused to give double weight to The Birth of Territory - and if that doesn't count as 2 papers, I don't know what would).

BUT - huge but - the Stern review is proposing that papers belong to the institution at which they were published and not to the author. In other words, if you are already employed somewhere, you cannot 'port' previous publications published over the years to another institution for REF purposes. The idea is to stop there being a transfer market in REFable research close to the deadline, and to encourage proper funding to be applied. I personally think it is the wrong approach, though, because many publications are written in hours that universities do not pay for. Academics are effectively working unpaid hours, evenings and weekends, to produce this work. I think for universities to 'own' them this way amounts to what Marx would call an act of enclosure: basically, the proposals would allow them to 'enclose' the time spent on personal research for their own capital. Academics would have only the cultural capital of having produced the work to stand them in stead for a job, not the actual product of their labour. The exception is early career researchers working outside the system, with no institutional position.

I suspect that those who are best placed for the next REF will be those with 6 (yes, it's rising to 6) 4* publications under their belt. I think this might become the model even more than it already is in the social sciences, with books becoming a quixotic pursuit of those who have buy-outs. In arts and humanities, however, I can't see the model of cultural capital trending away from people who are writing books any time soon, which means that the screws will be on terribly hard for those in those fields, because the already existing contradiction between the cultural pressure within fields to produce high quality books and the institutional pressure to produce a volume of high quality papers for REF score will widen. It's crazy that a&h are in this situation.

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 12:46:39

In relation to the age thing: there are departments with appalling workload allocations where seniority is used in a way that is totally unacceptable. My friend is in an English department where virtually all of the work gets shovelled onto young, often female members of staff, who also have childcare responsibilities (they are taking a stand on this, finally, thank goodness). However, that's just a sign of a place that's not being managed fairly or appropriately.

In other places, senior members of staff do a lot to pull weight, so it's unfair to generalise about professoriats across the board. There is a hell of a load of pretty boring work in academia that goes unseen. DH is a Head of Department, and works very long hours, yet I honestly think 50% of his colleagues believe that the place just runs itself. They honestly have no clue about the admin side of the job, the institutional politics, and they can be frustratingly naive about the business end (bums on seats matters even at the top end of the Russell Group).

There are also massive differences between how well places are administered. DH knows the NSS results for his departments seconds after they are available. His counterpart at a well-regarded London university rang him three weeks after the results were out to ask where they could find them online!! Go figure!!

haybott Mon 22-Aug-16 13:17:14

Our Professor's (the one's on fractional contracts) were as active as you, but most are not: none teach, their publications have ground to a halt, and they do not represent the dept. in various activities

I don't believe this is representative of most departments. Whenever my post-docs and junior staff complain about their workload, I show them mine (as a professor). It is far, far higher. As pp said, this is a sign that the department you are in is poorly managed.

The idea is to stop there being a transfer market in REFable research close to the deadline, and to encourage proper funding to be applied.

This is a really important point and one which anyone in the job market has to take into account right now. The rules are not yet clear, but for your work to count for your new institution's REF it is likely it has to be published after you arrive there. So you might need to demonstrate that you are sitting on a lot of work which is almost ready to appear....

In general I think the Stern recommendations about lack of portability are in the universities' favour, to drive salaries down, but that is another discussion.

Nowadays, there is a realistic expectation that post-docs in the humanities will need to spend 2-3 years in part-time or short-term jobs before landing their first "proper" job.

And in my field there is the expectation that post-docs will need to spend 4-8 years all over the world before getting a job which may not even be permanent at the start (Royal Society URF, for example). There is also the knowledge that only 5-10% of PhD students will get permanent positions at all. Not needing funding to live is a massive advantage in the early career stage.

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 13:23:55

I am SO relieved you agree about it being a tactic to reduce wages haybott. I think there are 2 elements to it: firstly, to enclose a number of hours of work that are currently done on a kind of semi-self-employed basis (with the product being something that belongs to the author) and anchor them in an institution; and secondly, to reduce individual bargaining power on job negotiations. I said so on Twitter, but got leapt on by a lot of very average angry male academics who said I was being a silly little girlie. angry

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 13:25:45

*and anchor that work in an institution. Apologies!

Godstopper Mon 22-Aug-16 13:27:51

I am indeed somewhat isolated. However, I will join a weekly discussion group once term starts, and hope to be arranging a conference as part of my fellowship. Also presenting at a major international conference within my field in a few weeks, so that's good!

I don't know how concerned people in my position should be about the potential non-portability of pubs. I guess if I submit a paper to a journal which is then accepted for publication, it will be attributed to my own institution rather than any possible new one [i]even if I have already left[/i]?

I was not naive and expected to be bouncing around for a few years: however, I may have been naive in thinking the situation was better than it in fact is. I am no longer sure that dept's in my area should be taking on so many PhD students given their realistic prospects (but that's a whole other topic!).

We have a new external HoD this year, and I'm hoping things will improve a bit culture-wise. As it stands, it's the younger lecturers that seem to be doing a disproportionate amount of work.

OP’s posts: |
haybott Mon 22-Aug-16 13:35:21

(Apologies for hijacking the thread for Stern.)

There has been a lot of discussion on Twitter about the impact of lack of portability on ECRs. There has been surprisingly little discussion about the impact on those who already have permanent positions and yet it is clear that lack of portability all make it much harder to get pay rises and promotion, particularly towards the end of the REF cycle. If you can't move due to lack of portability, what motivation would an institution have to promote you and pay you more?

I think the devil will be in the details. I am in a field where I might be able to evade lack of portability by publishing online before publishing in a journal, holding back appearance in the journal, publishing a short version of results but holding back full results etc etc. I'm curious to see how the portability rules will deal with this.

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 13:41:57

If Stern is implemented, I can see the onus being on hiring people who are average but very productive (who produce 6 x 2* or 3* papers) rather than people who write very high quality stuff (who produce 1 or 2 4* item(s)). What will matter is the number of publications and the consistency with which they are produced. It's a very science-based model that fits less well with a lot of qualitative ss/a&h.

I think it also means a bit of a timing nightmare with regard to whatever material you have that is at some phase of the process between submission and publication. It's definitely something you need to be aware of and smart about in your early career work, as you are moving from institution to institution. You probably won't be able to hold everything back, but having something in the bag is probably wise.

The actual date of a paper is already a murky issue, with all kinds of publication-in-advance happening, blurring the boundaries of when a paper is 'actually' considered to be definitively out! I suspect that what might happen is that people will get in touch with harassed journal editors/managers and ask them to delay publication in various kinds of ways. The whole thing may become a nonsense if people agree to publication in advance and then hold back on official publication to fit with job offers.

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 13:46:02

Ooops, x-posted with haybott - that is exactly what I think people will do. I think it will be almost impossible to avoid doing it, in fact! As a formal journal editor, my heart sinks a little at the thought!

Agree completely on promotion cases & the difficulty of negotiating these, particularly in a landscape where promotion via managerial role rather than publication is now a stronger and stronger route. I have great sympathy for the argument that those doing that work need reward, but I do fear that we are getting a system that is less and less likely to produce really world-beatingly original research. In my original doctoral field (I've since moved disciplines!) the Americans are now kicking the arses of the British in terms of the quality of the research, whereas 20 years ago the situation was the reverse.

haybott Mon 22-Aug-16 13:47:42

Asking for 6 publications is also ludicrous for many areas of STEM. Some of the strongest researchers in "theoretical" areas only publish 1 or 2 papers per year.

Of course, the idea is also that you submit everybody (no gaming there) but you can submit with variable numbers of publications (back to gaming) so not everybody needs 6 publications.

BTW if this rule goes ahead it is likely to be bad for even the strongest researchers. I am a researcher who could be expected to produce 6 4* papers and I would certainly be put under pressure to do so.

shovetheholly Mon 22-Aug-16 13:58:31

That's interesting haybott - I always assume STEMMERS are churning out paper after brilliant paper based on their data! But, of course, that's very stupid of me. There must be all kinds of differences from field to field.

I, too, fear that producing 6 will be the pressure - that the moment you say 'up to 6' what will actually happen is the 'norm' will become 6. And I think it's stupid and short-sighted, because it's far better to produce 3 world-beatingly good papers than 6 average ones. Yet that is not at all what the system now rewards. I worry that we are basically degrading the very thing that makes the British university system very special indeed: a focus on quality research.

Those who argue against counter that the cultural capital will still be associated with the 3 world-beating papers, whereas lower levels of appreciation will be attached to the lower quality 6. But that assumes that cultural capital exists in some kind of fair, objective way - and we all know that it doesn't! Also, I think that institutional cultures have a way of drawing assessments of quality in a certain direction; that the two aren't separate, as if they happen in different groups or areas of society, but closely interrelated.

There has always been a problem with research that is ahead-of-the-curve, in that it can sometimes be poorly understood or under-appreciated for a time. In my DH's social science field there is even a kind of creeping anti-intellectualism now - inside academia itself - a sort of 'get out of your fancy pants theoretical books and do some more basic empirical work instead for the REF'. If that's replicated elsewhere, it's a bit sad really.

TheWindInThePillows Mon 22-Aug-16 17:49:07

I have the opposite problem, in an area which values theoretical work (often quite obscure) instead of good solid empirical work- I face more than one audience and have been hammered recently by internal reviews from one discipline where they are looking for the former, and not the latter. More flowery pieces which were less solid were more appreciated.

Thanks for the heads up about the 6 submissions. Most likely I will not be producing 6 x 4* publications anyway, but it's good to know the layout of the terrain.

OP- I don't agree that the department should take fewer PhDs, because not all PhDs want to go on to be lecturers, indeed, many find after doing their PhD and seeing their supervisor's jobs, they'd rather be better paid and jump ship! There is a surfeit of lower paid (PhD/post-doc) positions though, because that's so much cheaper. We are effectively encouraged now to outsource our research to research fellows rather than conduct any ourselves, which if you work in an area like anthropology (I'm not in this) where being embedded in the communities where you work, it's a disaster. It's hard to truly do some types of social science by proxy.

I still think you are in a fairly lucky position though, compared with most PhDs coming out with similar humanities PhDs- you have time and money/space on your side to advantage yourself, most have to take work like teaching assistantships which are exhausting but rarely lead anywhere permanent.

shovetheholly Tue 23-Aug-16 08:20:32

I agree that the answer is not reducing the number of PhDs. I do think there needs to be a more secure route between the PhD and the lectureship/permanent job for the best candidates, though. I fear that the current system deeply disadvantages those who are less well off, and may be a contributing factor in the sometimes less-than-diverse class, gender and racial mix of academia. Several people with arts & humanities jobs were in a position to take time out to write a book to get that first job, yet that's not a luxury everyone can afford.

On the other hand, I think it's easy to say 'Oh you're lucky not to have to work'. Speaking as someone who had an extended break due to quite severe illness that left me virtually housebound, being entirely supported by your partner might look lovely from the outside but actually has its downsides. For one, in ego terms, it is full of anxiety, and not remotely as nice as having your independence and your own status. Also, it's easy to forget how much institutional position oils the wheels of academia: it is an area where that status is enormously important. Being unable to borrow a book from an academic library, having to wait an hour longer than registered staff to be able to get into a collection - these are very real difficulties to getting work done. Not to mention the fact that writing is hard at the best of times, let alone when you have no contact with anyone else all day. Working outside of the system, even supported, can be as brutal as being inside it, though in a different way.

haybott Tue 23-Aug-16 08:57:26

I agree that the answer is not reducing the number of PhDs

PhD educated people are valuable in many roles in society outside academia. The issue at the moment is that those leaving academia get very little support to find appropriate roles for themselves which use to the full the skills acquired during a PhD.

There are some small moves to address this e.g. networking meetings between current PhDs and ECRs with those who have left academia and pressure on doctoral training centres to demonstrate that their PhDs benefit society and that the DTCs have connections outside academia. But these moves are not enough given that 95% of PhDs will end up leaving academia.

I do think there needs to be a more secure route between the PhD and the lectureship/permanent job for the best candidates, though.

This might not be relevant to OP but it is interesting to note that there are more personal fellowships available for ECRs in other European countries (which have not cut research funding so much for austerity reasons). Belgium (both parts), Holland, Sweden, Austria.... all have 2 and 3 year fellowships which can be applied for. And in small countries the standards can be quite variable i.e. it is not as competitive in fields which are not particularly strong in that country. (By contrast the UK has cut so many RCUK fellowship schemes for ECRs that fellowships like Leverhulme are ludicrously over-subscribed in all disciplines.)

TheWindInThePillows Tue 23-Aug-16 18:38:40

Although everyone quotes the 95% don't stay in academia, most of the PhDs I know who wanted to do so have done so, not all on long-term contracts yet, but several walked out and into good 3-4 year post-docs or tenure-track positions. Not all, and it's hugely competitive, but I think the harder leap is from post-doc to permanent lecturer, not just after the PhD stage.

haybott Tue 23-Aug-16 19:21:07

Yes, many postdocs (particularly in STEM where there are many fixed term researcher positions) will leave academia because of not finding a permanent position. And hence there has to be more effort put into helping ECRs transfer their skills into jobs outside academia.

However. it really depends on field whether most PhDs who want to can get post-doc positions. In my field if you get a first post-doc position it will be a decent one of 2 or 3 years. It will never be tenure track straight from PhD: you would need 2 or 3 years postdoc experience minimum to be competitive for a tenure track or permanent position. But the post-doc positions are very much in demand. I would estimate that even from top universities less than a third of PhD students who want a post-doc get one. There is no culture of staying around unpaid or by teaching a bit either - if you don't make the cut for a first post-doc it would be virtually impossible for you to make it to the following stage so people just quit academia. I think the statistics of PhD -> ECR -> lecturer vary a lot between fields.

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