Nature's 2017 PhD survey highlights challenges faced by trainees.

By: Margot Karlikow

November 06, 2017

Commenting on the results of the Nature’s 2017 survey conducted on 5700 PhD candidates, one editorial and one feature were published in the October 25th issue of Nature. Both point to two main concerns for trainees in academia: job prospects and mental health.

Nature’s polling has highlighted at the harsh academic job market – there are more than 6 PhD graduates in biomedical sciences for each tenure-track academic job posting. While more than 50% of the respondents hoping they get a job in academia, only 15% found useful career resources at their institution and 18% reported the absence of useful careers talks with their advisers. With an improbably high 60% of the students finding career advice on internet, “Simply put, most PhD students need to make plans for a life outside academic science. And more universities and PhD supervisors must make this clear.”

The second main point revealed by the survey is that 25% of the respondents pointed at anxiety, depression and stress as a major concern (some of it caused by concern on future employment). And help is not always easy to find in your institution.

These issues are not new. The 2016 White Paper released by SPE, emphasizes lack of career awareness. Followed by the Naylor report in 2017: “changes are needed to ensure that all PhD graduates have the skills to find good jobs and build successful careers”. But things are starting to change as the 2017-2018 federal budget includes major funds to be allocated to skills development and training.

Despite the difficulties, not many are doubting with their choice and PhDs are more committed than ever to pursue a research career.