[USA] Careers In Traditional Academia : Outlook Bleak

PostDocsForum | February 16, 2012 | By Meghan Mott
mardi 13 mars 2012
par  antonin
1 vote

Why the odds are against you getting a tenure-track position

As postdocs, we toiled away our early 20s in graduate school working 50+ hours a week in research labs and teaching as a necessary rite of passage on the career path to academia. We justified our meager stipends, long hours, and general dissatisfaction in life with the promise of a brighter, better-paying future as principle investigators. Over-worked and under-paid, we were motivated by expectation. We were confident that in the not-so-distant future, our passion for scientific inquiry and contribution to a community of knowledge would culminate in a position worthy of our training. Our doctoral commencement marked the end of being disposable academic lackeys. Or so we thought.

In December 2010, The Economist published an article showing that the production of PhDs in America far outweighs the demand for professorships. It reports that between 2005 and 2009, “America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships.” Competition is fierce, but our doctorates are still worth something, right ? Surely we have better paying job prospects compared to those with master’s degrees ! Not really. Adding insult to injury, the article cites that when it comes to earning potential, “a PhD commands only 3% premium over a master’s degree.” A crisis in higher education is looming in this country.

Unfortunately, you can’t escape the dismal tenure-track landscape simply by relocating. PhD production trends show an increase across all disciplines worldwide, where the fastest growth is in the life sciences. An article published in the April 2011 issue of Nature reveals growth in doctoral degree production in China, Japan, Mexico, Korea, India, Denmark, Poland, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. With more PhD holders in the life sciences than ever before, the job market is flooded with qualified well-educated competitors all vying for a handful of academic positions. According to the article, “in 1973, 55% of US doctorates in the biological sciences secured tenure-track positions within six years of completing their PhDs…by 2006, only 15% were in tenured positions six years after graduating.” Sobering statistics for a young and hopeful proletariat of scientists.

But here we are, pursuing our postdocs, hoping to publish groundbreaking work to guarantee us the glorious K99 or RO1 that would solidify our survival in independent academic research. Grant in hand, we would be invulnerable : a shoe-in for a tenure-track assistant professorship anywhere. If they were hiring, that is. And according to a report produced by the American Federation of Teachers in 2009, they’re probably not. Analysis of 10 years of tenure-track academic staffing in post-secondary education found that the number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members declined from approximately one third the instructional staff in 1997 to just over one-quarter in 2007. So who is picking up the teaching slack ? Contingent faculty, part-time instructors, and graduate students, apparently. It makes sense, they are cheaper to hire and easier to fire.

Today, the probability of achieving faculty positions in science are staggering. Based on employment trends in academic jobs provided by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, it has been estimated that the chances of a PhD holder obtaining a job as a science or engineering faculty member are 27:1 (Read about how this was calculated here). Only 1.3% of the US Science and Engineering workforce have full time tenure-track academic faculty positions. So what are all these science PhDs doing for work in academia ?

The 2012 Science and Engineering Indicator published by NSF reports that, “full-time faculty positions continue to be the norm in academic employment, but [Science and Engineering] doctorate holders are increasingly employed in other full-time positions, postdocs, and part-time positions.” It also indicates that the current generation of young scientists is spending more time in their postdocs and doing multiple postdocs compared to their older counterparts. The logical incentive is that more training will result in more publications and a better CV, improving our chances of achieving the few assistant professor tenure-track positions that actually are available.

However, as an article published in the May 2011 issue of The Nation points out, we may need to adjust our expectations. Because of “an advent and rapid expansion of full-time positions that are not tenure-eligible” in higher education, “yet another academic underclass” has been created. Our post-postdoc options in academia are not what they used to be. A 2004 article published in Science cites an array of non-tenure-track academic positions, including such illustrious titles as staff scientist, research associate, lecturer, and research assistant professor to name a few.

Discouraging statistics aside, it is still possible to achieve the tenure-track Holy Grail in academic America. It’s just going to take a few more years, a few more postdocs, and probably a few lackluster titles on the long road to independent research.

By Meghan Mott

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New Analysis of Employment Outcomes for Ph.D.s in Canada

Thursday 5 February 2015

An analysis of where Canada’s Ph.D.-holders are employed finds that just 18.6 percent are employed as full-time university professors. The analysis from the Conference Board of Canada finds that nearly 40 percent of Ph.D.s are employed in higher education in some capacity, but many are in temporary or transitional positions. The other three-fifths are employed in diverse careers in industry, government and non-governmental organizations: “Indeed, employment in diverse, non-academic careers is the norm, not the exception, for Ph.D.s in Canada.” - Inside Higher Edu, January 8, 2015

[Sweden] New legislation to help foreign postgraduates stay on

Sunday 27 April 2014

On 1 July this year, new legislation will come into force in Sweden that includes measures which will make it considerably easier for foreign doctoral candidates and students to stay and work in the country after graduating.

An agreement between the outgoing Alliance government and the Swedish Green party will secure a majority vote for the proposal in the parliament. (...) – University World News, by Jan Petter Myklebust, 21 March 2014 Issue No:312

On the Web : Full news here

US : Dwindling tenure posts

vendredi 18 avril 2014

Tenure is dying out at US universities.

The proportion of non-tenure-track and non-tenured faculty posts continues to rise across all US institutions, finds a report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington DC. Losing Focus : The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 201314 surveyed 1,159 public and private US institutions and found that the overall proportion of assistant professors in non-tenure-track posts was 23.4 for 201314, compared with 20.8 in 201011. Dwindling tenured and tenure-track posts threaten the ability of scientists to conduct research without interference from funders or administrators, says John Curtis, the report’s lead author and director of research and public policy for the AAUP. - Nature, 508, 277, 09 April 2014

Sur le Web : Read on nature.com

Les coupes budgétaires pèsent sur la recherche académique américaine

jeudi 12 décembre 2013

Aux USA, les répercussions des coupes budgétaires fédérales pour la recherche académique sont bien visibles selon une études récentes :

  • moins de place pour les étudiants dans les labos (stages, doctorat, ...) : - 31% ;
  • moins de CDD à temps partiel : -30% ;
  • moins de postdoctorants : - 24% ;
  • moins de postes fixes dans 22% des cas.

Une recherche académique en récession aux USA...

Étudiants étrangers : la sénatrice Dominique Gillot dépose une proposition de loi visant à améliorer leurs conditions d’accueil et de séjour

vendredi 15 février 2013

« Il n’est (?) ni dans l’intérêt des pays d’origine, ni dans le nôtre, de renvoyer chez eux les étrangers dès la fin de leurs études. Au contraire, c’est après au moins une première expérience professionnelle que ces diplômés pourront, à leur retour chez eux ou à l’international, mettre à profit les compétences acquises en France et en faire la promotion. » Voilà ce qu’écrit Dominique Gillot, sénatrice (PS) du Val d’Oise, dans l’exposé des motifs de la proposition de loi relative à l’attractivité universitaire de la France qu’elle dépose mardi 12 février 2013.

« Droit illimité au séjour » pour les diplômés d’un doctorat français. Dans son article 4, la proposition de loi « crée un droit illimité au séjour en France pour tout diplômé d’un doctorat obtenu en France, à qui la carte ’compétences et talents’ est délivrée sur sa demande ». Il est précisé que « cette disposition a vocation à favoriser les échanges entre les pays d’origine et la France, permettant de développer une coopération économique continue, enrichissante, sans pillage des cerveaux des pays émergents ».

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