Is There Life After PhD? Jobs Market is Terrifying...

posted
06-Dec-12, 18:44
edited about 25 seconds later
by eimeo
Avatar for eimeo
posted about 8 years ago
I'm feeling very despondent about the jobs situation, and I hope someone can offer me some kind of light at the end of the tunnel? I was awarded my PhD in June of this year, and of course I wasn't expecting to just walk into a job straight away, but the jobs market seems to be IMPOSSIBLE! My PhD is in the Arts and not transferable in any way, shape or form to the business world, so I'm exclusively pursuing post-docs and lecturing positions, but I'm seeing post-docs advertised that want 2 or 3 years' post-doctoral experience and supposed entry-level lecturing positions (advertises as suitable for early career researchers) wanting experience of supervising research students. I got my first ever interview last month, and, of the five of us who were shortlisted, 3 had a minimum of 1 year's experience in a post-doctoral position. These are for the short-term contracts, the ones that still aren't sufficient to persuade the bank to give you a mortgage, and I'm just not sure how the likes of me even gets on the job ladder at all.

Sorry for the whiny, self-pitying tone! Hopefully someone can knock some sense into me. Maybe it's just a particularly bad patch? But I'm starting to wonder how long one's PhD remains relevant enough to even get the CV off the slush pile when one is obliged to take whatever (non-academic) work one can get in order to pay the bills.
posted
06-Dec-12, 18:59
edited about 23 seconds later
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 8 years ago
Quote From eimeo:


My PhD is in the Arts and not transferable in any way, shape or form to the business world.


Your topic is unlikely to be transferable, but you have a skill set that you can 'sell'. Writing, tracking down sources, project management, meeting deadlines - all useful generic skills. If you want to get a job outside of academia (even as a stop gap) then you need to translate that training your PhD has given you into a set of things that non-academic employers look for.

The academic job market is (from what I gather) fairly dire, especially in the arts. So be willing to be a chameleon and make employers realise that there's more to you than just a set of qualifications.

In the mean time, could you be turning any of your thesis chapters into publications? That might help your prospects.

Good luck.
posted
06-Dec-12, 23:27
by eimeo
Avatar for eimeo
posted about 8 years ago
Hi HazyJane, and thanks for your reply! I probably should have been clearer - I'm 34 with seven years' solid work experience on my CV before I went back to study for the PhD, and I'm working at the moment (on a short-term temporary contract as basically a glorified data entry technician). I used to work in HR so I have a good idea of how to make a CV work for me, in terms of which bits to sell and how to sell them. The problem is, the PhD is actually a liability when it comes to looking for non-academic work - employers just aren't looking for a generic set of transferable skills, and they don't want to or need to employ someone who's over-qualified and probably going to leave them for a job more relevant to their training at the first opportunity. I thought it might get slightly better when the PhD was awarded (I had a year of corrections after my viva, and I was applying for jobs for about six months prior to that, so I've literally been applying for academic jobs for two and a half years now) but if anything the Person Specs seem to be getting more and more draconian. I know we'll come out of this recession at some point and the job market will pick up; my fear is that I'll then be competing for entry-level positions against newly qualified PhDs, whose work is more current and who have more recent academic experience - and my PhD is going to just be four years of my life down the drain. I know this dark and pretty morose and I apologise for the tone! I'd love for someone to tell me I'm wrong...

(Also, I have already published several articles during the course of the research and have a contract in place to publish the thesis itself, though the publisher has started ignoring me lately, but that's another story...:-) )
posted
06-Dec-12, 23:42
Avatar for HazyJane
posted about 8 years ago
Oops! Sorry for the slightly redundant advice!

I haven't got to the job hunting stage yet, but there are several posters on here who will be able to sympathise with your circumstances, having had similar experiences. One issue that does come up is whether you are better off removing the PhD entirely from your CV and describing that period as 'Research Assistant' or similar.
posted
06-Dec-12, 23:53
by eimeo
Avatar for eimeo
posted about 8 years ago
No, thanks so much for your reply! I really appreciate it.

Ooooh I can really see the logic behind that, but ouch, though! Removing it altogether... Though it's beginning to feel like a millstone around my neck. And sorry if my ranting has given you the heebies in advance of job-hunting! How much longer do you have before you'll be looking?
posted
07-Dec-12, 23:56
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for pikirkool
posted about 8 years ago
hey eimeo,

is there a way for u to repackage ur phd into something technologically oriented?
i've heard of an arts postgraduate student who became a successful consultant by finding a way to market her knowledge in term of I T.

for example, she found a way to channel her research on personality in figuring out the predisposition of a person when working in a group. she repackaged the finding into something that can be applied in a job application software and got hired straight away.

i think u have a lot to offer the industry, eimeo. it's all about how u market what u have. all the best! :)
posted
08-Dec-12, 00:47
Avatar for Badhaircut
posted about 8 years ago
I think its important you see the reasons behind what you are experiencing, so you are not feeling its anything you are doing. Its not just you, what you are coming up against are some fairly severe structural issues that have been happening for some time. This is why according to Vitae over half newly graduated PhDs end up working outside the university system, because there isn't enough space for all of us.

As you notice, more and more posts are being advertised as short term or sessional because these save universities money. Those already in the system are expected to do more with less and this is accelerating in the states. Political drivers like the REF and the need for impact are the reason for entry level posts keep getting higher.

They can do so, because the oversupply of PhDs means there are always people in the lower levels that are kept desperate so keep on accruing that unpaid experience/writing papers which means its a buyers market. Some smart students tend to have an exit plan before graduating, but those wanting to stay are usually well connected as they have realised it's as much about patronage as it is about producing good work. Many will have partners that can support them, pay the mortgage and subsidise their low paid work. Others will just forgo these things and live like undergrads well into their 30s and 40s.

However, people do get jobs and these are the more visible ones that you see as lecturers and academics at university. What you don't see are the line of people that had to leave in order for that one person to stay. There is a life after the PhD, but it may not look like the one you envisaged.
posted
08-Dec-12, 13:05
edited about 3 minutes later
Avatar for Mackem_Beefy
posted about 8 years ago
Much of what I was going to say has been said in the above. The oversupply of PhD-qualified people means it's a buyer's market and many people with PhDs end up outside academia as a result. One point not made is it's cheaper to hire a PhD student to carry out a research project rather than a qualified post-doc, this further exacerbating the situation.

As regards removing your PhD from CV, as late as 2007 or 2008, I would have suggested this as a strategy and I have had it suggested to me before I found employment. Portraying your PhD period as a Research Assistant position (with permission and help of your former supervisors who will no doubt act as employment referees) seems to avoid the overqualified tag and at least precipitate employment in the real world outside academia.

However, there are two problems with this. Firstly, when moving on from this first non-academic job, how do you explain hiding the PhD or do you continue to hide it in future employment? Some employers may be understanding of this but some might not and see it as deceit.

Secondly, the introduction of http://ethos.bl.uk (plus equivalents outside the UK) and electronic repositories at Universities mean there's a searchable record of your PhD past. Again, some employers will be sympathetic and some will see it as dishonest.

On Linkedin on the PhD Careers outside of Academia group, there's been a long running debate on removing the PhD from your CV. The USA-based people (making I guess 70% of the posters there) almost to a man see this as a gross dishonesty. The few European voices seem to be drowned out, where there is sympathy for this strategy.

If you try this, you had better hope the potential employer does not attempt to Google your name and manage to match up the details on your CV with the your PhD work.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)
posted
08-Dec-12, 22:25
edited about 19 seconds later
by eimeo
Avatar for eimeo
posted about 8 years ago
Hi everyone, and thanks so much for your replies. I guess it's both a relief and just unspeakably depressing to hear that it's not just me. I mean, I'm not naive enough to think that it was going to be easy to get that first academic job, but I suppose it never crossed my mind that it would be *impossible*. I fought so damn hard to get this PhD, and the thought of never being able to use it just breaks my heart. But I haven't got a partner to support me while I keep scrabbling about for crumbs under the academic table and the thought of putting my life on hold, indefinitely, for a job that MIGHT come up some time in the future is just... not where I want to be. And it's really not like I can use this PhD to parlay my way into some tangentially-connected industry role: in my field, it's academia or nothing.

I've basically thrown away four years of my life. Wow.

Forgive my ignorance, but is there any chance that this might get better once the economy improves? Though, the longer it goes on, I suppose, the harder it gets to make my research remain relevant. I really thought I'd done all the right things: I'd built up my teaching experience, I'd published in journals, I'd got a publisher for my thesis... Well. The biggest irony of all, of course, is that I walked away from a permanent job with excellent prospects in order to study for this PhD, and it's now left me in a far worse position than I was in before. I don't think I'll be removing it from my CV, though. I don't think I can bring myself to do that!

Thanks again, everyone! All advice is very much appreciated.
posted
09-Dec-12, 00:51
edited about 26 seconds later
Avatar for Badhaircut
posted about 8 years ago
It's just my opinion, but I think the situation goes beyond the current economic turmoil.

Its part of a much larger public reform of higher education. Since the 1980s UK Universities have engaged in increased marketisation, and with developments like introduction of tuition fees and lower research investment its looking less and less likely that things are going to return to the old ways of high levels of public subsidy and academic job creation that was the old model from the 1960s-80s. (In some ways its a reversion to pre-20thCentury situation where academics often were independently wealthy, but that's another discussion).

You can read about some of the other wider issues here:
It sounds like you have done the right thing, but you also have to bear in mind that many of your peers will also have done the right thing too. Its almost like an arms race, where the price of entry is getting higher and higher as time moves on, with people willing to go further and do more at each stage. Again, always remember its not you. By getting your PhD and doing the right moves you have shown your motivation and drive. Most of these factors are beyond us.
posted
09-Dec-12, 10:52
Avatar for bewildered
posted about 8 years ago
Eimeo, there really is a massive problem of over-supply of PhDs in the arts for the academic jobs available (this is true to an even greater extent in the sciences & social sciences but the training is at least more easily transferable in some cases). It's probably not anything you have done wrong that's stopping you. It's structural. I do blame your university for not having made this clear and helped you develop a plan B in case (as is likely) academia doesn't work out - I really can't understand why the AHRC isn't pushing this more onto their funded departments. There have been quite a lot of redundancies in the UK, and then people in lectureships at universities with known financial problems are also looking to move to less-threatened departments, couple this with the well-known last year of REF transfer activity, and currently the market is next to impossible for new PhDs. I think once the REF cycle closes, things might be a little less frenetic in terms of publication expectations but even then government policy means that it's very risky for universities to hire into permanent posts as they can no longer guarantee undergrad recruitment. THat basically means greater reliance on buying in hourly paid teaching - and as we know there are plenty of under / unemployed PhDs only too willing to do it, as it keeps them in the game. For your own sanity, I'd give yourself a set amount of time to break away, develop plan B and if it doesn't happen implement it.
posted
09-Dec-12, 11:27
by Eska
Avatar for Eska
posted about 8 years ago
Hi Eimeo,

I've been having some similar feelings lately, as I am - hopefully - coming towards the last leg of my PhD...

We are all hard working bright people though eh? The grit and determination I have had to have to get just this far in the process is collosal, much more I'm sure than is needed for most professions. I think if we can do this we can do most thinks we set our minds to. Yes it is very, very sad of we cannot use our PhDs for our careers, but that may be the case in the future... I'm just trying to deal with this possibility myself now and stay motivated to finish. I am determined to find career success after the PhD, in academia or otherwise. For me the PhD was always something I wanted to do for itself, so at least I will have the knowledge that I have done it to console me if academia doesn't pan out, or even if it does!

Perhaps there are better things out there than academia... Have you considered teaching in a private school? It is something I am considering as an option. By all accounts it's a good life with plenty of time to spare for your own interests and family etc. If you have a curriculum sibject at any level this could be a possibility for you.
posted
09-Dec-12, 16:30
edited about 1 minute later
by Eska
Avatar for Eska
posted about 8 years ago
I meant to say if you have a curriculum subject at any degree level! Haven't figured out how to edit on the new format yet! Just worked it out!!!
posted
10-Dec-12, 16:38
edited about 13 seconds later
by Slizor
Avatar for Slizor
posted about 8 years ago
"There have been quite a lot of redundancies in the UK, and then people in lectureships at universities with known financial problems are also looking to move to less-threatened departments, couple this with the well-known last year of REF transfer activity, and currently the market is next to impossible for new PhDs. I think once the REF cycle closes, things might be a little less frenetic in terms of publication expectations but even then government policy means that it's very risky for universities to hire into permanent posts as they can no longer guarantee undergrad recruitment."

I'd echo the point about the REF cycle. The emphasis on publications should drop slightly after the REF has been submitted and Universities can broaden their horizons a bit.
posted
11-Dec-12, 22:37
edited about 27 seconds later
by journey
Avatar for journey
posted about 8 years ago
Hi eimeo. Sorry to hear you're having a hard time. A lot of what you are experiencing is the same for me and probably many others. As others have said, this isn't ever explicitly mentioned to you before applying for a PhD or even during careers talks aimed at PhD students!

I always kind of guessed falling out of academia was possible, but (aside from myself) I don't know of any cases personally. When I think of all the people I know who started their PhDs before or at the same time as me, they are all now doing really well in their academic jobs. Okay, some may be on two or three year contracts, but they are earning salaries well above the average and gaining lots of academic work experience. A minority of former PhD students I know hated doing PhDs and never wanted academic careers so chose to work in industry long before completing their PhDs. I have just never personally come across anyone who wanted an academic career but couldn't succeed at it. That's why I have turned to this website!

Like you say eimeo, it's heartbreaking, but if you cannot make it in your chosen career then maybe you simply have to move on. I sometimes think of it like wanting to be a pop star or an actor - only the lucky few actually succeed. I just happen to personally know so many of the lucky few! I'm trying to accept this.

There's not that much point in hiding your PhD, though. What's more important is trying to get work experience after the PhD. An arts PhD in combination with work experience could make you look good in jobs to do with culture or education,for example. You can always say you never intended to stay in academia (even if that's a slight exaggeration of the truth) because the few people I know who genuinely wanted out of academia before completing their PhDs seem to have actually done alright.

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