Conference at Berkeley:  Ph.D.s Explore Careers Outside of the Academia!

Dear Commons Community,

Approximately 400 people attended a two-day Beyond Academia conference that focused on careers for Ph.D.s outside of the academia. While mostly for current and recent Berkeley doctoral students, participants came from other California universities as well.  Sessions ranged from the practical to the esoteric, with titles like “The Enjoyment of Employment,” “The Job Hunt Process,” and “Branding Your Brain.” Attendees came from all disciplines, but mostly from the sciences.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required):

“Many students were not sure they even want academic jobs. But there seemed to be just as many who had tried to land on the tenure track until it became financially infeasible. …

A conference like Beyond Academia, organizers say, helps students think about their careers before going down the uncertain, financially straining adjunct path. Many attendees, however, were several months or even several years removed from their Ph.D.’s or postdoctoral positions, seeking transferable skills they wished their programs had taught them.

“Long-term forced free time is awful,” says Sven Chilton, who earned a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Berkeley in 2013. He attended Beyond Academia to focus his job search.

Mr. Chilton suspected early in his Ph.D. program that he wasn’t interested in academic research, but he suppressed those thoughts. “I hung on to that possibility for several years,” he says. “I think students, largely in STEM fields but perhaps the humanities as well, socialize that the academy is the pinnacle of society.”

… Change at Berkeley and in academe may be slow, but it is afoot, says Rosemary Joyce, an associate dean of Berkeley’s Graduate Division. “I’m not going to deny that there are individual faculty members who dismiss their students who explore careers outside academia,” she says. “But they’re not the majority anymore.”

Ms. Joyce says Berkeley plans to create a center on the campus this fall for graduate-student professional development. It will have one full-time staff member, she says. The university will also provide a website where graduate students can create individual development plans and learn about the range of careers in their field.

“We need to shift the national dialogue from the overproduction of Ph.D.’s to the underutilization of Ph.D.’s,” Ms. Joyce says, echoing a key theme expressed in recent years by groups like the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association.

Ph.D. recipients, even at an elite institution like Berkeley, Ms. Joyce says, have always left for careers outside the university. The Graduate Division conducted a survey of Berkeley doctoral recipients across all disciplines from 1968 to 2008, and found that 44 percent of respondents held tenured or tenure-track appointments, 42 percent had nonacademic careers, and 14 percent had other employment in higher education, including as adjuncts and administrators.”

For those of us who work with Ph.D. students, the issues raised at this conference are important and need to be addressed.  It is clear that there are not enough positions in academia to support our graduates.  As the organizers of Beyond Academia suggest,  appropriate career paths and alternatives to college teaching need to be part of our advisement and counseling services.



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