A quora user asked if government funding would help the PhD employment situation, citing the belief that PhDs hate industry jobs and consider them a failure. The asker wondered why complex jobs that are not easily automated are not being handled by people such as those with PhDs.
PhDs don’t hate industry or “alternative” jobs.
Many just assume they will, based on an environment that implicitly or explicitly reinforces the idea that PhDs provide value to society primarily by engaging in academic research. This is due in part to a systemic lack of accurate exposure and active encouragement within the academic system for PhDs to explore options outside the academic research environment.
Lack of government support per se is not the problem. The problem is the tenacious assumption that seeking employment outside academia means you’re a failure.
This is not true.
The government is not going to be the one giving all PhDs jobs and careers. Neither is your PhD or postdoc mentor, most likely. This is the reality – that the majority of modern PhDs find a life outside academia.
Each PhD is ultimately responsible for their own career development, just like anyone else.
We can’t all put our lives on hold, waiting for lighting to strike, or relying on academic or government systems to make reforms to our benefit and find us jobs. Like the old saying goes: we each have to be part of the change we want to see.
A reason why many positions that could be occupied by PhDs are not, is because so many don’t see a transparent path ahead for themselves at critical career junctures. They don’t even consider otherwise perfectly viable options for themselves.
PhDs fear “wasting” their PhDs in industry or elsewhere.
The reality is that there are too many of us actually wasting our PhDs standing in line in front of closed doors, ignoring other potential entrances that may lead to equally interesting, fulfilling and valuable destinations.
What’s a greater waste: looking for and finding ways to put your knowledge, skills and personality to use in the most impactful way for you? Or remaining paralyzed by what other people think you should do?
There is no easy solution to this problem we face today. The PhD trainee has a vital place in the academic research system, and that is unlikely to change much in our lifetimes. The way things are still serves the purpose of the system.
What can change, however, is how each of us use our lifetimes to expand the value of the PhD both inside and outside academic walls. The solution is to own our educational history, but not let it dictate the path forward that we choose to take.
“What’s a greater waste: looking for and finding ways to put your knowledge, skills and personality to use in the most impactful way for you? Or remaining paralyzed by what other people think you should do?”
By Vay Cao, Ph.D.