The number of doctoral graduates is on the rise, many of them looking outside academia for employment. Many prefer to do so. However, finding a suitable career path may often present challenges, whether one is oriented towards a career inside or outside academia.
LERU, the League of European Research Universities, investigated the employment opportunities and desires of researchers. According to the Delivering Talent report published in summer 2018, there are plenty of interesting employment opportunities on offer to researchers both at universities and elsewhere.
However, the report indicates that new methods of supporting the various career paths of scholars will be needed from universities in the future. Among the report’s principal messages is that junior researchers must be helped in finding career paths outside the world of academia. Then again, support for navigating the complexities of an academic career is also in demand, since academic working life too is experiencing rapid change.
“In Finland, doctoral expertise is yet to be fully utilised outside the university community, for example, by businesses. In addition to their own research field, holders of a doctoral degree have broad expertise in, for example, leadership and management,” says Paula Eerola, vice-rector in charge of doctoral education.
Developing mentoring and job-seeking advice
Skills required in professional life are changing in sync with the changes taking place in working life. For universities to better be able to develop the education they provide and support doctoral students in an appropriate manner, information is required on the placement of recent doctoral graduates and on the skills modern working life requires of them.
This data is sought in the ongoing career monitoring survey, targeted at doctoral graduates from 2015. Requests to take part in the survey have been sent by regular mail or email to all known addresses. The University will not gain this information from any other source, which makes the responses extremely valuable.
The responses will be utilised particularly by doctoral schools that are responsible for providing training in transferable skills to doctoral students. Career Services will use the responses to develop, among other things, mentoring, coaching and job-seeking advice.
Doctoral education monitoring groups are one example of improvements already implemented to support doctoral students.
“In addition to a supervisor, all doctoral students are appointed a monitoring group to support them, its members providing fresh insights on writing a dissertation. Often these groups also have members from outside the University,” says Maija Urponen, head of services at Research Services of the University of Helsinki.
Good examples highlight options
The data gained from career monitoring surveys has the potential to help junior researchers clarify their career aspirations. This is exactly what prompted Sanna Lehtinen, who graduated as Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Helsinki in 2015, to respond to the survey. She wanted to share her personal experiences and opinions to better help future doctoral graduates prepare for the next stages of their careers.
“After receiving a doctorate, the career path of each researcher becomes unique. Yet the career stages following the defence of the doctoral dissertation are comprised of similar building blocks, which undoubtedly makes understanding them useful. What was most important to me was to recognise that at the postdoctoral stage, the skills needed to launch my career were rather different from those needed when writing my dissertation,” Lehtinen points out.
Lehtinen also yearns for more good role models:
“As a doctoral student, I felt that examples suited to illuminating my next career stage were few and far between. Just a handful of good role models would be enough to illustrate the multitude of ways in which scholarship can be utilised in working life.”