Would you recommend anyone go into academia right now?

(26 Posts)
McDougal Sun 11-Feb-18 22:03:32

I'm considering doing my PhD with the eventual aim of lecturing. I'm a mature student, returning to education after 14 years in admin (predominantly NHS).

Initially my degree was geared towards becoming a secondary English teacher; however getting some practical experience of this has put paid to that idea. I loved the teaching side but also loved my subject too much to be restricted to the NC.

I have a 5 year old DD and, while I have loved being around more for her, I'm ready to think about a career as opposed to just a job.

Is there anyone who would still recommend academia despite the shitstorm that is forcing an awful lot of university staff to strike?

OP’s posts: |
user369060 Mon 12-Feb-18 07:44:22

Leaving aside whether I would recommend academia, bear in mind that the vast majority of PhDs don't actually find academic jobs - and those who get permanent jobs typically spend a few years on short term contracts, moving from institution to institution. It is unrealistic to do a PhD expecting to become an academic.

Backenette Mon 12-Feb-18 07:47:32

t is unrealistic to do a PhD expecting to become an academic.

This. No I wouldn't unless you have a clear idea of what that PhD is going to open up for you. I went Into industry after my first post because the thought of constantly battling for funds to run a lab, constantly moving, the low wages, the sheer instability of it, wasn’t appealing. I enjoyed my PhD and it’s certainly not hindered my career but it’s inportant to realise that only a tiny fraction of PhD holders end up as actual academics. And of those who do only a minority have secure tenured posts.

user1494149444 Mon 12-Feb-18 10:43:43

I suspect the answer to your question from most posters will range from "no" to "no, never, run for the hills".
The situation isn't changing anytime soon, I think. The only way in which lecturer recruitment will be boosted is if the gov invests in HE and if there is a purging of the administrative class and regulations which are behind most of the recruitment over the last ten years.
In other words, if common sense prevails. So no chance.
A humanities PhD isn't a good career move in general. Many universities are pushing students to do them to keep the system going, but they aren't honest about the chances of getting a permanent academic job afterwards.
Also bear in mind most research time is getting cut in permanent academic jobs in favour of teaching and admin, so it isn't family friendly. Hence why research takes place in evenings, weekends and August.

Namelesswonder Mon 12-Feb-18 10:48:56

No. I’ve just finished a PhD (in a health related topic) and am really struggling to find work. So far I have had a 12 week contract and two 9 month contracts - all at different places. A lot of my peers have ended up working as researchers for charities - great work but v v poorly paid. Don’t know anyone who graduated recently with a permanent lectureship.

Namelesswonder Mon 12-Feb-18 10:50:30

Sorry forgot to add most contracts are also part time. Currently struggling on a 9 month contract on 3 days a week. The future is bleak!

McDougal Mon 12-Feb-18 11:44:53

Thank you for your responses. You've all definitely given me something to think about.

I think I need to speak to get some careers advice and find out what my options would be.

It makes sad reading but I suppose all education seems to be going the same way.

OP’s posts: |
Deianira Tue 13-Feb-18 12:10:38

No. I love my subject and I love academia (in theory), but I mostly hate my job at the moment. And I can't see it getting better, assuming that I find the next job after this temporary one!

McDougal Tue 13-Feb-18 15:37:07

Can I just ask what it is that makes the job so rubbish? I'm obviously very naive about the realities of academia!

I also can't shake the idea of doing my PhD and taking it from there. I don't know whether that is me wanting to stay in the student bubble though grin

OP’s posts: |
MrsJoshDun Tue 13-Feb-18 15:41:25

I'm a permanent lecturer. No phd, not even a masters. I love it.

user1494149444 Tue 13-Feb-18 15:44:48

Maybe I'm surrounded by cynics, but IME most people dislike their jobs in most industries.
The people I know who enjoy academia are all workaholics, that is they find working relaxing. They may get annoyed by the admin and constant changes, but they take it in their stride overall.
Michael Edwards had a good blog post on why he is leaving UK HE.
The student bubble is nice but it is time-bound, you can't stay a student forever and an academic job is a job like any other, with responsibilities, difficult colleagues, drudgery etc.
The secret to good work life balance is well paid part-time work IME. I left academia and now earn more than many FT academics and only work a couple of days a week. The rest of the time I spend reading and writing about the things that interest me, i.e. being a student. The only regret I had about leaving was to do with pensions but it looks like they are going to get shredded anyhow.
That's why the netherlands tops the happiness charts.

McDougal Tue 13-Feb-18 16:14:20

I suppose a lot of it depends on which area you work in but I agree that there are a lot of unhappy people in a lot of different roles.

User, part time well paid is definitely the dream but I need something that pays in general first before working my way up to a position where that would be a possibility! I honestly don't want to stay in the student bubble and it still feels quite alien to not be paying my way as I was previously used to.

How did you manage that, Mrs? Genuinely curious!

OP’s posts: |
Abitstatty Tue 13-Feb-18 16:17:13

The people who have it better are those who could do other things so have exit options. If you can move between academia and practice in health/policy roles, it might be fine - otherwise, no. The job itself is not that bad but morale is low and it's contagious.

McDougal Tue 13-Feb-18 16:20:47

Yes, that makes sense, Abits. Any situation seems better when you know you have an escape option.

I suppose the area I'd like to go into would have other options but I really need to do some research about whether these warrant going for a PhD in the first place.

OP’s posts: |
MrsJoshDun Tue 13-Feb-18 16:27:53

No idea. Just saw a job advertised for which I didn't meet the essential criteria. Got an interview and got the job.

McDougal Tue 13-Feb-18 16:38:21

Had you done anything similar previously, Mrs?

It seems like there's quite a few people that go into academia from industry and vice versa. I could kick myself for staying in admin for so long sad

OP’s posts: |
MrsJoshDun Tue 13-Feb-18 16:42:34

Been in industry and heavily involved in training junior staff.

user1494149444 Tue 13-Feb-18 17:18:18

Did you say what area your PhD is in?
If humanities, then you will definitely need a PhD. Industry experience not currently relevant, that could change though as there is more of an emphasis on creative arts/industries and employability.

McDougal Tue 13-Feb-18 17:27:53

I didn't, User, because I've spoken to quite a few people irl and trying not to be recognised.

I suspect the PhD would open up opportunities outside of academia but I think I really need to get some advice from someone at uni.

Thank you for all of your comments though. They have been really useful.

I'm sure I'll be lurking on academics' corner for a while yet smile

OP’s posts: |
squishedup Wed 14-Feb-18 10:15:10

At risk of sounding a little pollyanna'ish, I will give a slightly different answer to this. Before I do so, I should say that I am in the social sciences and in a field where there may be slightly more jobs than in other areas, due in part to sheer weight of student numbers. So I do recognise that in the humanities and elsewhere the lack of jobs is a very serious concern.

More generally, I would agree that the conditions in academia are undoubtedly getting worse. That said, I do think there is still plenty to recommend it. Though teaching and admin are increasingly dominant, I still have more autonomy than I would in almost any other job that I can think of. I also have the opportunity to research a subject that I find fascinating and which I think is important, and to some extent, that part of the job does not always feel like work to me. I am also quite fortunate to be in an area where I can and do boost my income quite substantially via consultancy work. Again, I know that's not available to all.

Ultimately, although I complain about the job, on the other hand I can't think of any other job that would be better for me at this point. I still consider myself lucky to do this, and I say that having worked for over a decade in the corporate sector, which I absolutely hated. So ... I think all the comments above are absolutely spot on, but if you really, really want to give it a go, despite everything above, then ... I dunno? Everybody I knew thought I was mad to give up my 'safe' corporate job, but I am still so glad I did.

McDougal Wed 14-Feb-18 11:50:21

Thank you for offering an alternate view, Squished. I do wonder if there are any other jobs where you could do something you love and I'd hope that would help the crap parts of it not seem so bad.

I'm thinking of going for an MLitt to hopefully gain some experience of the research side of things but it has been really interesting to hear everyone's experiences.

OP’s posts: |
user1494149444 Wed 14-Feb-18 14:27:46

What @squishedup has said is also the viewpoint of one of my best friends, who also previously experienced the corporate sector. He is a workaholic but says there is still no real comparison between the two, although he admits things are changing esp re metrics.
The truth is often somewhere in the middle. I know of humanities lecturers who have never set foot outside of the university, and therefore don't appreciate how hard corporate life is.
IMO the academic surveys re how many hours do you work are exaggerated. But they are right to say that things are changing for the worse (marketisation, the adminstrative class, bullying management - Marina Warner has written v eloquently on this shift and how a "category error" has taken place).
The things which used to make the job very attractive - job security, pension, independence - are ultimately disappearing, so the job is looking more like a corporate job.
If an academic job is then the same as a corporate job (students as customers, etc), then you would expect a higher level of pay to compare with corporate jobs. If you can get consultancy work then you can get equivalent pay, but most unis will try to get in on that after a while so they can charge for things like overheads.
At the same time, corporate jobs are changing to allow for flexible and remote working, so perhaps a traditional corporate job will allow for more work-life benefit in ten years than an academic one.
The main point remains the same - permanent academic jobs are incredibly hard to find, esp in the humanities. Will there be a massive recruitment drive? It may come down to who wins the next election.

Backenette Wed 14-Feb-18 14:33:34

Agree. I now work in the corporate world and the pressures are crazy. But.,, the pay is double at least what one gets in academia and there’s a possibility of remote working. Swings and roundabouts I suppose but if he freedom from meddling and metrics is removed then academia looks more like the pressure without the pay.

I still think that if you manage to land the holy grail of decent funding and an ok environment then academia research is the best job going. But the chances of getting that, from what I saw, are low. Even in the sciences which is where I worked.

My corporate job is soul destroying and I hate it, but it pays well. One picks ones poison I suppose.

squishedup Wed 14-Feb-18 15:46:56

I agree with all the above, absolutely, swings and roundabouts.

I guess I am in a set of particular circumstances, where the consultancy ensures that I am possibly paid more than what I might get in a equivalent corporate job, so in a sense that takes finances out of the equation but simultaneously contributes to an impact case study, which is useful in career terms. I am not under massive pressure to max out external funding but am also not at a top institution, or at the top of my bit of the profession. So I think that limiting my ambition (or having it limited!) in that sense has helped me to escape some of the pressures I might otherwise experience in a RG institution for example.

All this could and will change, and I certainly expect to see a gradual erosion of my autonomy over the years to come. Should that happen to an extent I am ultimately not happy with, I would expect I might move into some sort of freelance role using my consultancy.

Anyway, good luck whatever you decide McDougal!

user1494149444 Wed 14-Feb-18 15:57:17

@squishedup, I think you are actually in a very strong position. The consultancy/impact angle is only getting stronger, as funding streams are being diverted from research to knowledge transfer. If you can turn impact case studies into something very quantifiable like a new research centre with links to business then you will be a star in your department.
These changes will esp affect the RG negatively and I think some of the mid-table uni's will shift up in terms of gov funding at their expense. RG is not a great place to be at the moment and I think it is only going to get worse with these changes.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in