Just one in three PhD candidates stays in science. But the doctoral pathway does not yet reflect this reality. Within doctoral education and supervision not enough attention is paid to careers outside science, says the Rathenau Institute in its recent report on studying for a PhD in the Netherlands. And Wageningen, then?
Is thought given to other options here? What could be done better? What is Plan B for our PhD candidates?
PhD candidate in Environmental Policy
‘I wouldn’t call the doctoral pathway limited; the graduate school has enough courses for non-academic skills. The main thing is to learn how to present yourself, for example to show that you can manage a project
independently, because I don’t think a PhD is universally thought of as work experience. Ultimately it’s up to you to design your PhD. This means considering what you want to do later on and developing in that direction during your doctorate. Having spent so many years at university, I think I’m ready for a new experience outside academia, not least because I sometimes doubt the societal relevance of scientifi publications. That’s why I have collaborated with various organizations during my PhD, some based abroad, to see whether that was the right thing for me.’
Johan van Arendonk
Dean of Sciences, Wageningen University
‘The report implies that research is conducted only at universities, but that hasn’t been the case for years. Our figures show that doing research is an important part of the work of 85 percent of our PhD holders, while ‘only’ 42 percent of them work at a university. Most of our alumni report that their PhD programme prepared them well for their later work. I think that’s mainly because the graduate schools are responding well to the needs of PhD candidates. With the training and supervision plan and a strong emphasis on T- shaped skills, which have relevance beyond the specialization. Some PhD candidates even choose to do their doctoral research within a company. The most important point is that early on in the doctoral pathway, the PhD candidate and supervisor discuss the PhD candidate’s career ambitions. Then they can be borne in mind throughout the whole PhD programme. Starting in the last year is just too late.’
PhD candidate in Human Nutrition
‘Every PhD candidate has to compile a training and supervision plan at the start of his or her PhD, and there’s no shortage of career-oriented courses. That’s why I started taking courses and going to conferences in my first year. But I still don’t know where my future lies. I’m one year from completing my PhD and I’m not yet actively looking for a job. I’d prefer to stay in research, but I know jobs are scarce. I don’t yet have a Plan B. In the coming year, together with my supervisor, I do want to map out my future direction.’
PhD candidate in Public Administration and Policy and PhD Council chairperson
‘I think it’s less of a problem at Wageningen than at other institutions. Many PhD candidates already have contact with and insight into trade and industry because a lot of applied research is carried out here. What’s more, as a PhD candidate you are offered all sorts of courses, including those on, say, how you can use your skills and expertise as a PhD candidate in your later career. Much depends on your supervisor, whether he or she gets involved in thinking about your future. It’s my impression that supervisors here are generally attentive to the idea of a career outside science; we hear few complaints about that. The most important thing is that a supervisor responds to the questions asked by PhD candidates. That’s why as the PhD Council we are advocating that all supervisors take a coaching course.’
PhD candidate in Bioprocess Engineering
‘I find the scarcity of jobs in science less important than the problem of short-term contracts in science. You’re more likely to get a permanent contract in trade and industry.
Because we do mainly applied research with companies here, I’ve already developed the skills needed in trade and industry. But I’m not yet looking at jobs. I’m still up to my ears in work on my doctoral research and my contract doesn’t expire for another eight months. I haven’t yet dis- cussed with my supervisors what they would advise me to do after I obtain my PhD. We’ll have to do that soon in my Performance & Development interview. In January though I’ll be taking a graduate school course on finding your way in the job market and writing a good CV.’