Beyond Academia: Examining the Versatile Career Paths of PhDs
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This dissertation employs a mixed-methods approach to examine the career transitions of Canadian PhDs. Moving beyond dichotomous definitions of PhD outcomes (as “academic” or “non-academic”) this research aims to identify and explore the expansive career opportunities available to PhDs outside of academia. It draws upon the confidential version of Statistics Canada’s 2013 National Graduates Survey as accessed through the South Western Research Data Centre (SWORDC), and national-scale primary data collected between April 2018-April 2019. The results are informed by human capital, credentialist and field theories. The quantitative analysis of Chapter 2 examined the job quality and experiences associated with PhDs from numerous disciplines in three main employment sectors. Using Statistics Canada’s 2013 National Graduates Survey (NGS), the results showed that PhDs were most strongly represented in the private and academic sectors. Social science and law graduates were most likely to be employed within the public sector. In comparison, those from the physical and life sciences as well as hard sciences were most likely to be employed in the private sector. Relating to job quality, those employed in the public sector were most likely to be employed part time. Furthermore, PhDs employed in non-academic sectors were more likely to be overqualified. This finding suggests that PhDs may be less certain of how to market their skills to a non-academic audience, or it may point to a lack of non-academic opportunities for PhDs. The quantitative analysis of Chapter 3 considered how measures of technical competency (e.g., publications, funding, research assistantships, sessional positions) may affect candidates’ ability to secure initial employment within academia. Employing primary survey data gathered from social science PhDs across Canada, the results suggested that publications, as a measure of technical competence, are a strong predictor of reporting an initial career within academia. However, certain socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race, parental education) were better predictors of securing academic employment than measures related to respondents’ technical competency (e.g., research assistantships, sessional appointments). These results may indicate two things. First, the decreased likelihood of females and certain visible minorities may indicate weaker practices of affirmative action occurring within institutions. Second, that highly-educated parents may provide mentorship that is more aligned with their children’s goal of obtaining an academic appointment. Finally, the qualitative analysis of Chapter 4 draws on field theory to examine the strength of the connections forged between social science PhD programs and employment sectors beyond academia. To determine social science PhDs career preparedness, the research examined: (1) Whether career opportunities presented and promoted to social science PhDs have evolved alongside market demand; and (2) Whether institutional initiatives have promoted stronger academia-industry connections. Drawing on 28 interviews with PhDs from 5 social science disciplines, the results suggested that academic career norms are perpetuated at the department level. Though institutions—more generally—have broadened the career preparation offered to PhDs, ties to industry remain weak. To forge new norms strengthening academia-industry links, some participants reflected on the benefit associated with an internship opportunity during the PhD program. Future research would benefit from examining whether work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities for PhD students are associated with a greater level of work-readiness in employment sectors beyond academia.
Cite this version of the work
Brittany Etmanski (2020). Beyond Academia: Examining the Versatile Career Paths of PhDs. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/15852