The actual, real-life purpose of The Grad School Experience image that I posted on Friday was an attempt-at-humor introduction to a discussion with my research group.
As part of this discussion about academia, careers, life etc., I presented some histograms that showed how many graduates from our research group were doing different types of jobs after obtaining a PhD or (graphed separately) MS. The categories for PhD graduates were Academia, Industry/Business, and Government; those 3 categories accounted for all PhD graduate students from this research group from the past 20 years. I then compared these data with those reported for PhDs in our general field of science, compiled from the NSF survey that tracks the careers of doctoral recipients.
The database for my research group represents the advisees of 4 faculty members in related fields from 1990 to 2010, and therefore consists of quite a few individuals. These data are not secret. My research group maintains an active, easily accessible directory of current and former graduate students and postdocs, including a listing of current employment. I don't think anyone had recently compiled it, though, so it was interesting to see and discuss the graphs.
There has been a lot of talk in the media/blogosphere about how graduate programs should show the current employment data of their alumni/ae so that prospective (and current) students will have a better idea of their chances for PhD-relevant employment, especially for academic jobs. The general idea has been that these statistics are grim, and therefore some potential grad students may be convinced to pursue a different education and/or career path.
But what if the data for a particular program show that 98% of graduates who wanted an academic job, no matter whether the PhD was obtained in 1990, 1999, or 2009, got an academic job? The danger there, of course, is that you will appear to be promising something that you (as an advisor or as a department) can't promise: that if a PhD graduate of that group wants an academic job, they will definitely get one.
Nevertheless, these data are real, the dataset includes a large number of individuals, and the results show that our graduates have been successful at obtaining academic jobs if they wanted that type of job. Perhaps owing to the nature of this particular research subfield, the % of graduates in academia is higher than the average for our general field of science. I have not yet broken out the data into finer-grained categories -- e.g., how many graduates from our group are at different types of academic institutions -- but that would be interesting to do as well.
It was also interesting to see that all of our former PhD students who are in non-academic employment sectors have careers that are relevant to their PhD training.
I think the data were useful to show, at least as a launching point for more in-depth discussions of career paths (academic or not) that have been taken by graduates of our research group. And I would go even further and say that these data were important to show because they indicate that getting a PhD in our research group/department/institution is worthwhile and is likely to lead to interesting and PhD-relevant career opportunities.
It is quite possible that not everyone will agree with me on that, so my question to readers is: Do you think that employment data such as these:
- should be shown whether or not they paint a grim or rosy picture of PhD-relevant employment opportunities: individuals can make their own interpretation and choices;
- should be shown if they indicate a slim chance of graduate degree-related employment, but not shown if they seem to give reason for optimism about employment (because that might be misleading and give false hopes and make the few who don't get their preferred job feel even worse?);
- should not be shown at all. Students and postdocs are responsible for educating themselves about career opportunities and/or it is irrelevant what other graduates of the same program have done in the past;
6 months ago