Day 2ish?

I suppose the title of this post would be more appropriate if I had started it around the same time that I began my degree, but it’s not. It’s not even the second day after I began this blog. But hey, this is how it’s being run. Think of the titles of this blog as a interaction between two dimensions, one being the day after my last post, the other being the actual number of the current blog post in the chronological order of blog posts… .. Upon further thought, this will likely change.

But a blog post wouldn’t be much good if it was just a discussion about the title of the blog post. So let’s get to it.

Last week the lab met with our Supervisor. Though the meeting covered a number of the topics, the one that stood out was a lengthy discussion on how it’s extremely unlikely myself and other graduate students would find a job in academia, especially directly after we finish our Ph.D.s. Though this idea has been on the fringe of my awareness for awhile now, it was still tough to have it so focused on, especially coming from the Psychologist I work with and study under. This is unfortunately the reality of a career in Psychology, and perhaps academia in general. But let’s break this down. What does a career in academia look like and why would it be so difficult to get one today.

What are we working with here?

Academia is a very large body of researchers, scientists, educators and administrators who contribute to humanity’s understanding of the world around us. This is an incredibly broad and fallible definition, but it will work for the current discussion. In order to work in academia you typically need to complete a Bachelor’s degree with Honours specialization, a Master’s degree with a thesis, and a Doctorate with dissertation. Now this is not always the case, but that’s my experience thus far. Once you finish your Bachelor’s, you’ll work as a Graduate student under an already established Professor conducting research and running undergraduate classes. Over the next few years you’ll build an academic resume (Curriculum Vitae; CV), outlined with your contributions to academia, papers published, grants received, conferences attended and classes taught.

So you’ve been living out of your office at the University, rarely seeing the light of day – but you’ve got a few publications and gotten invested in the scientific community. Now what?

Get a job.

Now the Problem

You’ve done well to make it this far. Many people find that the rhythm of academic work isn’t for them, leaving their degrees early to pursue other paths. But you’ve stuck with it and paid your dues. It’s time for a job. Remember that CV you’ve been working on? Well it’s important now. Most jobs in academic institutions are one part teaching, ten parts research. So I hope you’ve been working on your publications, because your future employers are going to be looking at all the papers you’ve published, what journals accepted them, and how many times they were cited by other researchers. They want to know that the person they’re about to hire is actively contributing to the field. This person is going to make the institution look good, and is going to bring money (via government or private grants) into the fold.

Unfortunately, it’s tough to get these jobs directly out of University. Why? Unless you did a PostDoc, it’s very likely that you just don’t have very many publications to make you competitive in the market. So you get a PostDoc, spend a year or two conducting research and publishing papers, and now you have yourself a nice looking CV. Regrettably, this might not be enough. In 2010, Canada (where I am), and many nations besides, went through an economic decline. This meant that many institutions were simply just not hiring academic positions. All those people in 2010 who had PostDocs couldn’t enter the job market and instead remained in their current roles, spending another 3 – 5 years publishing papers. As such, when these people later left to join the workforce, they already had 20 to 25 publications –¬†more than double what it was before the recession.

During our lab meeting, my supervisor¬†said that if he were to apply for his own job now, he probably wouldn’t get it. So what do we do? Do future graduates like myself spent another 4 – 8 years as a PostDoc, like those who went through the recession, or do we look for other career paths? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. Psychology hasn’t really prepared for this eventuality. Over the past two centuries that Psychology has existed, it’s only prepped its students for two major routes; that of clinical practitioner, and that of institutional researcher. As someone who was trained in the scholar tradition, I can only work as a researcher. When the jobs aren’t available, Psychology department’s just don’t know how to prepare graduates for work outside of academia. This isn’t too much of a problem for other domains. Engineers can work inside and outside of academia with little trouble – the same can be said for chemists.

I’m fortunate that I work with a young and ambitious supervisor. We don’t really know how to prepare for work outside of academia, but my supervisor genuinely cares about his students and wants to make sure that we do well after leaving the lab. As such, we’re taking steps to make current and future students adapted to the private sector. This means that we’ll have to cultivate constructive skills, like data analysis and programming, that employers will want.

So what’s next?

Over the next few years, this will be my focus. I’m going into my second year of Ph.D., which means that I’ll three more years to work on research and publications. But in my spare time, I’ll be reevaluating my programming ability and attempting to learn more about coding and analysis. Additionally, I’m going to strive to get my digital fingerprint out there, so as to become more engaged in the online academic community – I may write on the important of this in future posts. Hopefully, this will prepare me for the future, whatever that may hold.

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