Categorized | Education

Young academics struggle with the transition from school to work

Posted on 28 May 2014 by admin

A couple of recent studies, The 2013 Canadian Postdoc Survey and Beyond Labs and Libraries: Career Pathways for Doctoral Students, confirm that many graduate students aren’t getting the support they need to prepare for non-academic careers.

The Postdoc Survey, a partnership between the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars and Mitacs (an organization that coordinates industry-university research partnerships, including internships) consulted 1,830 of the estimated 9,000 Ph.D. graduates working as entry-level “postdoctoral researchers” in Canada. They found that their average age was 34 and roughly two-thirds earned less than $45,000 annually, many without benefits. Half reported no exposure to non-academic careers and 87 per cent said they either had no access to career counselling or were uncertain thereof. Nearly seven in 10 said their career goal was to become a professor—despite the odds. While large numbers agreed they wanted training in things like grant or proposal writing and project management, few were getting any. Some of their comments were revealing: one said non-academic careers were seen as “selling out or failing.”

The good news is that most master’s and doctoral graduates who leave the academy eventually find high-paying work. Statistics Canada’s 2013 National Graduates Surveylooked at where the class of 2010 ended up three years later. Among master’s graduates, 90 to 95 per cent were working full-time, depending on the province (the rest were unemployed or not seeking work). Among doctoral graduates, employment rates ranged from 90 to 100 per cent. Median pay was $70,000 for master’s graduates and $75,000 for doctoral graduates, compared to $53,000 for bachelor’s graduates.

The other good news is that a group of Ontario academics is working to develop training to ease the transition. Allison Sekuler, AVP and dean of graduate studies at McMaster University, is part of a project that will, this fall, launch 18 learning modules for graduate students covering everything from resumés to networking. “They have a lot of skills but don’t know how to adapt those for non-academic careers,” she says.

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