Jobs in academia and the race to the bottom!
Everybody has an objective after a PhD. To get a job! We won’t speak of those who do it for other reasons, however bizzare they might be. To land a job, one has to choose a path! So, what are the options?
Most likely there are two options: academia, or industry and non-academic job. For the latter, why doing a PhD in the first place and be trained in a very narrow and limited topic? The skills one learns, however neat they are, are mostly of no use in industry and if they are, they can be acquired over a short time in an intensive program like MSc. Therefore a PhD doesn’t give an edge and is just a waste of time and effort, not to mention money!
The academic path has became a non-ending commitment for most of PhDs. Those “passionate” graduates who have been lured by a permanent tenure track in academia have learned it the hard way…there aren’t many of those jobs in the first place! While the number of graduates is just skyrocketing, the number of tenure track positions is shrinking or frozen altogether. According to the book “Higher Education”, the US has produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009, and only 16,000 new professorships were created. In short the odds of new graduates landing a job after a PhD (and few postdocs) are 16 to 100. Not only the odds are against most PhDs, the graduates from non-famous universities would have no chance against the graduate of Harvard, MIT and such…and there are so many of these Ivy league PhD holders.
The main reason why the universities/institutes are not hiring more, is allegedly the lack of funding, or so they say. But clearly the universities/institutes prefer the cheaper way: hiring temporary staff who do the same work for less and no benefits! These are postdocs, non-tenure track, adjunct and visiting professorships! And why should they hire permanent staff and pay them decent salaries and benefits when they can find a lot of non-employable hard-working PhDs settling down for anything in hope of a better future. Not only this, some universities are nowadays hiring instructors to teach specific classes for about 40$/hour (check http://www.higheredjobs.com/). In short it is almost like the starbucks and wallmart hiring scheme. According to American Association of University Professors, more than 50% of faculty hold part-time appointements (http://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts). Why so? because most presidents of universities prefer non-tenure track for majority of faculty. In a survey by Pew Research Center, in association with The Chronicle, less than 25% of college leaders prefer full-time and tenured professors, and 69% prefer faculty under long-term or annual contracts (http://chronicle.com/article/Most-Presidents-Favor-No/127526/).
The hiring process nowadays is like a race to the bottom, with the salaries and quality of jobs in academia are going down and down. This is because more and more PhDs (mostly foreigners) are pumped into the system on one hand, and on the other hand policy makers prefer cheap labour. But despite all of these, one hopes/believes that it will be different for him/her!? Yes, sure, it will be! Although the word denial somehow comes to mind!