On the final Thursday of each month you'll get this in your inbox featuring digests from my personal blog, Reflections, and updates and news related to higher education and career and professional development for advanced-degree holders. This effort has grown out of my experience as a graduate student and postdoc and now as a professional working in postdoctoral affairs.
Ph.D. Recipients Employment Trends: Insights from NSF Data
The United States' National Science Foundation (NSF) Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) data offers a window into employment prospects for recent US Ph.D. recipients as well as general trends in career pathways, including the prevalence of postdoctoral training by field. In addition, these data contain details on median salaries for recent Ph.D. graduates. I delve into some of the NSF SED data in this month's blog post.
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many working in academia from faculty to staff to postdocs, have been pushed to the brink.
A survey conducted in October 2020 by The Chronical of Higher Education and Fidelity Investments found:
55% of faculty have seriously considered changing careers (leaving higher education) or retiring early
74% of female faculty and 63% of male faculty indicated their work/life balance deteriorated in 2020
We need to support all those working in higher education. Treating them as complex, human individuals with lives beyond "work" whose wellness and wellbeing is essential to a university's long-term success.
Investments in science and those who perform it pays off over time.
Credit for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine belongs in part to discoveries made 15 years ago. Lesson: It is hard to measure the return on investment of funding scientific research over the short run as the impact of the work is often not immediate...rather, knowledge and solutions to the problems facing society are produced over time.
Furthermore, investing in people at all levels of knowledge production will be critical as we adapt to a world that was transforming quickly before the pandemic and whose transformation will only accelerate as a result.
Historically, potential workers sought out in-demand skills required by the economy and society through apprenticeships or schooling.
Skills are evolving ever more quickly as the pace of change has accelerated. IBM has measured the half-life of most skills at about 5 years while more technical skills have a half-life of 2.5 years.
Our traditional method of codifying skills that are "in-demand" and creating training programs to teach them is too slow to adequately address skill gaps that have & will emerge...rather we must empower students and all humans, really, to be curious, lifelong learners.
We must invest in uniquely human skills that are difficult to automate, chief among them the ability to learn, adapt, and relate to others.
Now we find ourselves in an environment that asks us to explore the unknown well beyond our studied area of expertise, to find and frame novel challenges, and to create new knowledge and value.
We need to focus new learning on knowledge that is durable, rather than skills that are perishable.
Implications for Graduate Education
A doctorate degree is conferred to individuals who have produced new knowledge, investigated novel hypotheses and ideas, synthesized information, and shared insights learned with the broader community. Ph.D. training, in its most ideal form, provides individuals with the confidence to push the boundaries of knowledge, question standing assumptions, think creatively, and advance our understanding of the world. Current and former graduate students and postdocs should be the ones leading us in the human capital area. The question is will we empower them to do so? Will they see the impact they can have in a variety of areas of our society? For all our sakes, I sincerely hope so.