Are you thinking twice about a career in academic research? According to a recent survey by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, student interest in academic research careers declines during the course of grad school.
Students close to finishing their programs in the life science, chemistry or physics reported that academic research careers were less “attractive.”
“Students may enter graduate school with overly positive views of the faculty career and may change their expectations upon experiencing academic life first-hand,” wrote the researchers.
Maybe students look at the lives and careers of their graduate advisors and decide to pick different careers, or they just get sick of the academic research environment.
The researchers offer another theory:
“Students may learn about career paths outside of academia and may come to appreciate their advantages,” wrote the researchers.
This makes sense to me. As they go through grad school, students will attend more meetings and meet scientists with different careers. They might need to collaborate with industry or government offices during their programs. Students will see that good research can come from many fields.
Or maybe the shift in career goals isn’t based on either theory. Budget cuts have led to a shortage of faculty positions. Even as university enrollment increases, many schools are hesitant to bring on new researchers. Maybe students see this trend and shift their goals to be more practical.
“Even though our question asked students to ignore job availability, the responses of some later-stage students may reflect that they realized over time that they are not competitive for scarce academic jobs and thus ceased to ‘want’ them,” wrote the researchers.
What do you think about these theories? You can post your opinion in the comments section below.
What might be most interesting about this survey is the career section marked “other.” Across the disciplines, only 4 to 8 % of respondents marked “other” as a career goal, but the number increased over time.
“We asked respondents to specify which particular career they were thinking of, and the most commonly mentioned careers include science communication/writer, science policy, non-university teaching, working for a non-profit/NGO, and consulting,” wrote the researchers.
So career goals may shift, but grad students never stop being resourceful.
This survey was titled “Science PhD Career Preferences: Levels, Changes, and Advisor Encouragement.” It was published May 2, 2012 in the journal PLoS One.