It’s a problem years in the making. Students are graduating from PhD programs at an extraordinary pace compared to just a few decades ago, with academic positions growing at a comparative crawl. In 2014 alone, there were 8,000 PhD graduates according to a departmental document. “There are not enough academic jobs vacant in Australia each year to employ all our PhD graduates,” observed senior lecturer Gwilym Croucher from the University of Melbourne.
These stats and assertions have been felt across the country, with first-hand accounts being heard all the time; the guardian recently featured a doctorate holder forced to work as a waitress despite all her qualifications. She cited complaints of ‘being overqualified’ among others as reasons for being rejected for employment, bitter about her choice to pursue postgraduate research. Fortunately, there are ways to defy the odds both during and after completion of a PhD.
This latest method of undergoing a PhD allows students to publish a series of six or seven works in various journals before compiling them into one large, interconnected work later. This is known as the PhD by publication, which you can learn about in detail here. The advantages of this over a traditional PhD thesis are two-fold.
It can be slightly more arduous having to submit your works for review all throughout your program, but it’s certainly worthwhile.
The viability of this depends upon discipline, but all PhDs require skills that any employer would consider valuable. Academic positions might be shrinking, but working for businesses around the world is valuable even if you never aspired to it. If your end goal is to one day enter academia, a prior career in the private sector show your mettle via the practical application of your knowledge. You show you’ve committed to the company’s schedule and culture, which automatically conveys the fact that you’re organised and able to work diligently to any future employers or universities afterwards.
A May 2018 article in the Financial Review argued exactly in favour of this. “We need to have our students enter PhDs with an aspiration to work in the private sector,” author Geoff Prince stressed. “Our private sector under-utilises PhDs compared to Australia’s competitors.”
This piece of advice can seem generic, as it’s often used as a ubiquitous catch-all tip for employment. In this context however, it’s particularly relevant because many PhD graduates are entering the workforce without any experience. So what does this actually mean then? It means:
Another classic, I know. What they say about networking is all true though. Going to public industry events, asking for introductions and learning who’s who in your field of interest are keys to breaking into a job, especially in the private sector. Start by seeing if your old supervisor or colleagues know someone who knows someone. This way, they can put a good word in for you. Send out emails and offer to buy people a coffee. At worst, you meet someone interesting and learn a thing or two. At best, you find your first job. Definitely worth a shot.