This week I wanted to write about a worrying phenomenon that is affecting the academic job market at the moment. PhD students coming up to the submission of their thesis are deciding to move out of the academic world and into other careers simply because of the lack of job security offered to them.
Anecdotally I have spoken to several PhD students about to finish their degrees and they have expressed grave concerns over the situation in the job market. When did it become normal, they ask, for someone who has already done 7 years at university studying their specialist subject to then have to do another 3 or 4 years working in temporary, part time contracts while they wait for something permanent to come along? That period in temporary work is crippling for some people who have already put off buying a house, or starting a family, for a number of years during postgraduate study.
Nobody feels that they are owed a job, but it’s obvious that in the current situation we are losing some of the brightest minds to other professions because our universities’ priority seems to be to get in from outside the best senior scholars and not bring on their own graduates through the ranks. This brain drain away from academia could seriously affect the future of scholarship in this country. It’s no comfort to know that the situation in the US is similar with many people forced into what they call ‘adjunct’ jobs while looking for something more secure.
What can we do about it? I think it requires a change of priority at upper levels of university management. Not everyone who does a PhD wants to go into academia, but many do, and so when universities realise this and offer more security to their newly qualified PhD students, the situation will hopefully improve.