This is a good question. Just a few weeks ago, the creators of Gradshare and I were chatting about this blog over a delicious plate of fried green tomatoes (the first, but certainly not the last, time I had this dainty dish). What is a current and meaty issue these days? The economy, of course, I chimed in. Given the budget cuts at universities and layoffs in industry, most graduate students are worried about their funding and careers as well.
While the recession has affected many universities adversely during the last few years, concern about post-graduation career paths is not new. During the time I interviewed PhDs for my book, I noticed an unsettling trend. It seemed like many professionals were disappointed in themselves for not pursuing academic careers. Some were even berated by their advisers for leaving the academic world and pursuing employment at the “dark side” (i.e. industry). Fortunately many departments are moving away from this philosophy, and are beginning to encourage diverse career paths.
In 2009, over 48,000 doctorates were awarded in the United States but there are not nearly so many new faculty positions a year. In fact, as the attached graph shows, only about 51 percent of doctoral candidates sought employment in academia in 2008, including postdoctoral research positions.
The good news for PhDs seeking employment outside of academia is that they have significantly higher salaries to look forward to. The average salary for an assistant professor is about $55,000 and the average salary for all PhD’s with 1-4 years of experience is about $64,000. Since this last statistic includes assistant professors and postdoctoral fellows (about half of all PhD’s with 0-4 years of experience), the average salary for entry-level PhD’s outside of academia can be estimated to be close to $80,000. Estimates of work-life earnings also increase significantly with advanced degrees. Synthetic work-life earnings estimates for Bachelor’s level workers is $2.1 million, for Master’s $2.5 million and for PhDs $3.4 million (in 1999 dollars).
In spite of higher earnings on average by people with doctoral degrees, graduate students are frequently concerned about how a PhD degree will affect job opportunities and salaries. To answer many of these concerns, I publish a series of articles on job searching strategies, online tools for job seekers and interviewing skills over the next few months.
In order to keep the “younger” graduate population interested (i.e. those who are still several years from graduating), I will alternate the job-searching posts with articles about graduate work-life balance, coping with advisers, and financial stability. In fact, my blog next week will be an overview of funding options for graduate students, including specific resources for women, minorities and international students.
The Academic Job Search Handbook by Julia Miller Vick, Jennifer Furlong (2008)
Tomorrow’s Professor: Richard Reis (1997)
Alternative Careers in Science, Second Edition: Leaving the Ivory Tower by Cynthia Robbins-Roth (2005)
“So What Are You Going to Do with That?” :Finding Careers Outside Academia by Susan Basalla (2007)
A PhD Is Not Enough, Peter Feibelman (1993)