Academia Less Attractive to Senior Grad Students

A very interesting study published in PLoS ONE turned up in my RSS feed this week. It looks at how graduate students in the sciences change their outlooks on careers in academia as they progress. PhD students in the life sciences, chemistry, and physics were asked to rate the attractiveness of various careers. The researchers wanted to see if the answers given depended on how long the student had been in grad school. The results, especially for the life sciences, were striking. The later the stage of program progress for the student, the less likely he or she was going to find a faculty-teaching or faculty-research position as “extremely attractive”. In all fields, careers in “other” or “startup firm” become much more attractive to grad students as they near graduation.

Students rated careers as “extremely attractive” by field and stage in program. From Sauermann and Roach (2012).

Two other things to take home from the results of this study that the authors point to: (1) it is right to be concerned that there are far fewer tenure track faculty positions in academia than the market of graduating students will demand, and (2) the fact that PhD advisors strongly encourage academic career paths to their students reflects a growing disconnect with what actually may be attainable.

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