With Halloween around the corner, PhD students probably felt safe from any nasty surprises for a few more days but their careers in academia may have hit a snag.

PhD students work very hard, but surely it is all worth it for the guarantee of a good job at the end of it all? A study carried out by Nature has indicated that this might not be the case. In fact, just 3-4% of PhD students are likely to have the chance to continue in academia following the completion of their PhDs. This suggests that universities and PhD supervisors should make it clear to students that they may have to prepare themselves for a career outside of academia.

Nature surveyed over 5,700 scientists young scientists, 75% of which were hoping for a career in academia. But, statistics suggest that only around 4% of them will make it in the UK, with numbers for the US not much better. In comparison, Chris Platts, a sociologist, interviewed more than 300 young footballers at UK academies hoping for a career in the game. He told The Guardian this month that just 4 of them gained a professional contract – a drop-out rate of 99%.

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The survey also picked up that mental health is a major area of concern, with over 1/4 of students worried about it. 45% of them sought help for anxiety or depression caused by their PhD, but 2/3 of these did not receive useful help and 5% said no help was available. This highlights the general difficulty in accessing mental-health support in many countries.

Some PhD students may have to wave goodbye to the lab.

The onus is on universities and supervisors to do more for young scientists, to prepare them for whatever happens at the end of their PhD, which, unfortunately, does not appear to be the case at the moment. Nature’s survey found that 1/3 of responders did not have useful conversations about careers with their supervisors and the same number disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that their supervisor has useful advice for non-academic careers.

Despite this, the majority of students, almost 80%, are pleased with their decision to start a PhD and they can rest easy knowing that there will always be a place for them outside academia. And the outlook is not as bleak as it may seem, as there are a huge number of opportunities available to PhD holders in industry, both in the lab and in other roles – perhaps in biotech!


Images – Rawpixel.com / shutterstock.com; anyaivanova / shutterstock.com

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