This week a colleague returned from a conference with some interesting feedback on the conversations she had been involved in around the purpose of a PhD and the views held by various stakeholders. One of the sessions reflected on the views held within Universities of those who completed a PhD and then went on to work outside of the Academic or Research sector.
Failure. Apparently, the finding was that whilst the expressed view might be that it is fine to pursue whatever post PhD career one chooses, the tacit feeling amongst some Academics is that people who did this had failed. Wow!
One is left to reflect on why this outcome would be seen as failure. Fair to say that a PhD is the traditional route to an Academic career. However, if Universities take on many more PhDs, for business or other reasons, than there are Academic/Research roles available it seems disingenuous for University staff to view those who move outside of the Research/Academic sphere as having failed.
In a previous blog posting I explored the issue of professional standards and the fact that whilst many professions, from doctors to security staff, are required to regularly update their skills this has never really been the norm for Academics. Indeed, it is extraordinary that a profession that is focused on customer service is not required to undergo regular skills refreshers. Such refreshers might enable more informed views on the contemporary job market.
Of course it is important to recognise that it is ‘some’ Academics who were found to hold this view, and certainly not all. However, it is the some with that tacit assumption that will cause PhD in their environment to pick up the message that leaving Academia/Research is tantamount to failure.
In the contemporary professional world a PhD is a demonstration of learning, project management and the development of a wide range of career relevant skills. The challenge for the PhD researcher is to be able to conceptualise and communicate all of these to a potential employer. Hopefully, the first step in a fulfilling and successful career as a professional in their chosen field. A professional who respects the roles held by others, and does not regard someone who has not followed the same path as themselves as being a failure.