PhDs who had no plans to find work in academia do : UK survey

In the UK the proportion of doctoral students who find academic jobs is greater than the proportion with a definite aspiration to do so – except in the arts and humanities, a major survey of PhD students’ career aspirations have found. The survey was carried out by Vitae, a research careers organisation.
The online survey, carried out in 2010, attracted more than 4,500 responses from doctoral researchers across 130 UK universities and research institutes. An overwhelming majority of respondents had entered doctoral study for reasons of intellectual curiosity, and only about a third had formed definite career plans, even by the latter years of their doctorates, the survey found.
In a report on the survey, Times Higher Education (THE) said that physical science and engineering students were particularly unlikely to have definite plans, while those from the humanities were the most likely. Of the latter group, 61 per cent envisaged becoming lecturers in higher education and another 14 per cent planned on entering academic research. The academy was also a popular career destination for social science students, but was much less favoured by science students.
Just 9 per cent of students in the biological sciences aspired to become lecturers and 13 per cent aimed to enter academic research, compared with 55 per cent who sought research careers outside the academy. The Vitae report on the survey, What Do Researchers Want to Do? The Career Intentions of Doctoral Researchers, also highlighted previous figures on the known destinations of doctoral students, which indicate that only 58 per cent of doctoral students in arts and the humanities actually get jobs in the academy, according to the THE.
However, the proportion of students from all other disciplines who obtain academic jobs exceeds the proportion of respondents to the Vitae survey who have a definite intention of doing so. The findings may assuage concerns about the mismatch between the number of young researchers entering the system and the availability of academic positions, the THE said.
As Campus Review reported last week, research in the US has found that the PhD could symbolises the end and not the beginning of an academic career. A conference in Sydney heard that for some in Australia this was becoming the case, The NTEU conference on the future of Australian universities was told by researcher Robyn May that there were multiple reasons why there should be growing concern about the casualisation of academic work in Australia.
And among the reasons she quoted was a pessimism among PhD graduates about their futures in the university sector. She said that in the Work and Careers in Australian Universities survey 2011 casuals (many of them with PhDs) were asked where they would like to be in five years time, and where they expected to be in five years time and the results reflected a genuine concern about the availability of jobs in the sector, 
Half of all respondents, and almost two thirds of those with a PhD said they would like to be working in a continuing academic position in five years. The figures halved when they were asked where they expected to be in five years, and women were slightly more pessimistic than men.  May’s PhD research is part of a Griffith University ARC project Gender and Employment equity, strategies for advancement in Australian universities.
“It is a picture of thwarted ambition, and wasted talent and investment in particular for those who had undertaken PhDs with the specific purpose of pursuing an academic career,” May said. “We should also care about casualisation because it raises serious questions about workforce planning, about who are our future academics, what will the university look like when supposedly everyone retires and just why would anyone do a PhD these days?”
THE reported that in the UK a report on PhD careers had been prepared last year by the grass-roots pressure group Science is Vital and presented to David Willetts, the universities and science minister.
In Australia a report commissioned by Chief Scientist Ian Chubb into participation in physical and natural sciences at universities has just been handed to government. In the UK respondents to the Vitae survey had been scarcely more likely than other students to aspire to academic careers when they began their undergraduate degrees. Just 13 per cent overall had done so, rising to 35 per cent in the arts and humanities.
The report also found that even in the final years of their studies, only 10 per cent of doctoral students would not have pursued PhD study if they could make the decision again and 69 per cent would pursue the same or similar programs. 
With Times Higher Education

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