No future for you, no future for me, no future for someone with a PhD?

I attended a departmental meeting today in place of the student rep who couldn’t make it. It was very interesting to see what is going on at UCL IOE and the department from the staff, manager and strategic perspective that you are not always so aware of as a student where your life revolves around yourself and your lovely project. However, it made me feel really depressed and realise that I don’t think I will be able to get a job in a university after the PhD, especially not a prestigious one like UCL, but I suspect not in any other establishment either.

Why I hear you ask?

Well, I’m not really much competition to other candidates for jobs that may come up in the future, although I must point out that I did not do a PhD to get a job because I was fully aware of the too many PhDs, not enough PhD level jobs situation. So I’m realistic. I’m not an amazing student that staff have their sights on as a ‘future star’, I have no teaching experience and to be honest am too scared to teach (well, undergraduates in particular), I don’t have any ‘REFable’ publications and I can’t see that I would ever do any ‘groundbreaking work’, I don’t have a massive urge or drive to be promoted to whatever sort of higher up positions there are in universities.

But I don’t particularly want to be a high flyer. I’m happy to be ordinary. I just want to be a researcher as I have done since I was 16. I would like to work in a nice place (ideally a university or somewhere that is for adult learners) and to be in a team that does interesting work and where I can be an apprentice as well as help others learn too. Ideally it would be a permanent research assistant job where the employer is keen to help each assistant grow in their experience and seniority rather than kick them out when the contract is over.

I don’t want to be an academic star. I’m happy to be anonymous.

I don’t think that this humble aspiration is achievable these days and maybe it never was, but in the meeting there was talk of preparing for REF2020, setting up of early career forums to help people get published and get funding and get promoted and all that.

Perhaps I am just feeling my age…. I am 35 this month but I know Professors who are only 5 or 10 years older than me and younger people who have more experience and done amazing, impressive things that makes them stand out. As time goes on and my PhD journey is in its middle phase, soon I will need to start looking for employment. But there are not many jobs about anywhere it seems, not only in higher education, and with this Tory government things are bound to get worse.

I get a feeling of the grimness of the late 1970s and 1980s. It feels really strong. Can you feel it too?

I know I am very very lucky to have funding to do a PhD, so I am happy as can be at the moment and do not want to come across as ungrateful, I’m just expressing the massive feeling of sadness that comes over me from time to time regarding my future (un)employment, which I am mentally preparing myself for. And since I was around in the 1980s, growing up on the dole, it feels like when this PhD is over, my life will come full-circle.

  1. I’m really sorry to hear just how tough it is out there for bright, competent researchers who don’t yet have a foot on the ladder. Yes, I knew that there aren’t many jobs around. And I knew that there are many talented new people looking for posts, as well as some very talented oldsters who are being pushed out at the other end of their careers. But this sounds most dispiriting. Still – you have a great skill set, you can write and communicate a sight more clearly than most comfortably employed social scientists, and your research contribution is shaping up nicely. Your day will come!


    • I think this post must have stuck a chord with many people as it has received many more hits than any other post (nearly reached 100 views!). I will write a positive and more pro-active post soon to balance it out. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonathan Hughes said:

    I also felt moved to respond to your post. I agree with thelearningprofessor comments about how well you come over and that you shouldn’t loose heart.
    Also I would like to invite you to come to our Seminar at the OU in Camden on 17th June and to consider presenting at the AEA conference (on either 23 or 24 September) in Miton Keynes. I’ll send you a flyer for 17th June.


  3. yes, we can all feel it. And given all I know, you will probably be unemployed for anything between a few months and 1.5 years… look around you, how many unemployed people do you know who finished their phd more than 2 years ago. Yes it is difficult but the impossibility is an illusion…


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