One can click on particular categories of majors, revealing for example that more than half of engineering majors end up doing engineering, but that only about a tenth of physical science majors end up in physical sciences (image below). This of course highlights the importance of developing transferrable skills! (Note: I haven’t looked at all into the methodology behind the graph, what years the end-points for careers are tabulated at, etc. This would be interesting to do.)
Of course, this point about transferrable skills applies to graduate students as well as undergraduates. It is (or should be) obvious to everyone that most graduate students will not end up in academic faculty positions — structurally, there are vastly more students than positions. In biology, less than 10% of Ph.D. students will become tenure-track faculty, as illustrated in this excellent graphic from the American Society for Cell Biology:
A sensible thing to do would be to explicitly declare that training for diverse outcomes a goal of graduate programs, and to convey to undergraduates that they should look for (and demand!) this in graduate programs. There’s an editorial in this week’s Nature that makes this point as well:
But instead of culling graduate students or abandoning the PhD, why not rebrand it? Rather than being a first rung on a ladder that ends with tenure-track professor (unless you tumble off), doctorates could be treated more like a trail that feeds through to a number of different paths (some easier, some harder, some even rather scary)
(There’s also a neat story profiling a few excellent scientists who left academia: www.nature.com/news/life-outside-the-lab-the-ones-who-got-away-1.15802)
So what can one do about helping the development of transferrable skills? At a small scale, at my and Eric Corwin’s joint group meetings, we decided to try something new this summer. We’ve invited so far two physicists-outside-academia to join us by Skype for 20 minutes or so — i.e. not long enough to be too burdensome to them — to tell us about their career path and answer questions. One was my first Ph.D. student; another was a friend from graduate school. Both careers are centered on programming, at Microsoft and Stellar Science. Both sessions have been great — very interesting, and very useful. They’ve helped outline how to not only develop skills, but how to communicate that one has skills worth being paid for. The second of these challenges is, I think, as difficult as the first!
We’ll see if we come up with any other interesting activities…