In a fascinating article in this week’s Chronicle, Leonard Cassuto explores how universities treat their postgraduate students. You can read the whole article here. A few respondents to this blog have also highlighted the precarious position of doctoral students in the UK so I thought this would be a timely topic for discussion.
Cassuto argues that the experience of most PhD students studying at university bears little resemblance to the teaching jobs that they will end up doing (if they’re lucky!) in the first few years after finishing the doctorate. He claims that supervisors need to be realistic with their postgrad students so that their expectations match the opportunities available in the job market. Having a PhD from a research-focused university does not mean that you will get a job with a low teaching load and good research support.
Essentially Cassuto’s message to PhDs is that most academic jobs are not like the job your supervisor does. Your expectations need to change to meet the job market. Of course, this difference between hopes and reality is not the fault of the student but of the individuals, departments and institutions who are training them for an academic career.
Most universities offer PhD students very little academic career development training. It is assumed that your skills and expectations will be honed by imitating your supervisors and colleagues. What is actually required is a professional development strand to the PhD.
One commenter on Cassuto’s article suggested inviting back former postgrad students to talk to current ones about the jobs they do now, including non-academic roles, which sounds like a great idea, but could it ever happen? This would also help to solve the problem that many graduate students feel abandoned by their alma mater once they have finished their PhD by showing that their opinions and experience are valued for years afterwards.