Happy New Year to one and all! I thought I’d start 2011 with a controversial question: do you think that academia is still a viable career option for new PhD students? I was talking to colleagues at a conference last week and some of them gave a very pessimistic answer to this question!
I think that to deny that universities were going through very challenging times is be like burying your head in the sand. Of course financial uncertainties in both the UK and the US mean that the career prospects of all of us are also uncertain, with the arts subjects seemingly hardest hit.
The way that universities use temporary and part time teachers as opposed to replacing permanent lecturers and professors is also a key issue, meaning that the nature of the profession is changing drastically.At the same time, getting a permanent job depends on having a solid publications record, which is difficult to achieve while doing a number of part time contracts.
But does this mean that we should no longer be advising our brightest students that academia is a possible career? Some scholars think it does. I must admit that I have a more positive view of the future of the profession than some. I realise how lucky I was to secure a permanent job a few years ago, but some universities, including my own, are still creating new positions so the situation isn’t solely one of retraction.
Instead of discouraging new academics from coming through the system altogether, we should be encouraging them to be realistic and preparing them for a period of further apprenticeship where they might have to work several jobs at once to get experience, not settling in any one place, before hopefully progressing to a more permanent position.