Last year, Daily Nous reported that Eleanor Dickey, professor of classics at University of Reading, had been collecting various possible responses to problems associated with the high ratio of PhD holders to academic jobs. The full report is here, and the helpful summary, which groups the more popular responses by type, is here.
Professor Dickey (et al) report the problem this way:
The high unemployment rates and poor working conditions of PhDs have been widely reported in the media (references are provided in the full report), and survey respondents generally agreed with that picture while providing additional nuances. The exact problems they reported differ greatly. For many questions UK respondents are slightly less unhappy than the average respondent, and Classicists are slightly more unhappy; for some questions the greatest unhappiness was reported by those who eventually did get permanent jobs. The worst problems, interestingly, are not practical ones such as poverty and constantly moving around but rather concern morale: uncertainty about the future (severe for all except those with primary employment outside academia), the anguish of not knowing whether to give up trying for an academic career, the demoralization of endless applications, giving up one’s intellectual identity, constant pressure (especially for the unemployed), the sense of failure (especially for Classicists), and the contradiction between the values professed by academia and how people are really treated (especially for those who eventually got permanent jobs). Conclusion: The morale problems should be taken seriously, since the respondents consider them to be worse than the more measurable and hence more widely reported practical difficulties facing PhDs.
As for solutions, they are grouped into the following categories:
– “changes in PhD programmes to reduce the oversupply of disappointed would-be academics.”
– “reduce the current oversupply of disappointed would-be academics by facilitating their transition out of academia.”
– “ameliorate the conditions to which the people without permanent academic jobs are subjected.”
The results are posted on the blog, Hortensii, which is dedicated to “Tackling the problems facing PhDs without permanent jobs.”
(image: “The Catch” by Alexander Calder)