Filling the Information Gap About PostPhD Careers

For years and years, reports and studies have called on universities to track the careers of Ph.D. alumni to give prospective students and postdocs some idea of the future that awaits them after they graduate. Institutions that are otherwise proud of their research prowess routinely fail to fulfill the conceptually simple task of finding out what jobs their doctoral graduates take. (One explanation that’s frequently proposed: They don’t want to know, and they don’t want their prospective students to know.)

Now, at long last, an organization with the potential to do something about this persistent lack of information has announced the start of an effort to solve the problem. The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon and Alfred P. Sloan Foundations, will study the feasibility of tracking Ph.D. career pathways in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM] fields as well as the social sciences and humanities, according to a statement issued 6 December.

“The combined one-year study will determine the potential value of implementing a long-term project recommending best practices in tracking the career pathways of PhD-holders,” the statement continues. The study will survey the current tracking policies and practices of more than 500 universities and issue a report next year.

“This project”—the “first of its kind,” according to the statement—”addresses a major gap in the understanding of PhD career outcomes, one of the key outcomes of graduate education that has not yet been measured on a large scale across a broad spectrum of fields,” the statement quotes CGS president Debra Stewart. “While past and current efforts to map the career pathways of PhD holders have furthered our understanding of this issue, this project addresses the specific need for program-level data, which will most effectively allow institutions to improve their programs, and students to make more informed decisions.”

The unsurprising result, according to the statement, is that “pathways into careers are not always transparent to prospective or current graduate students, faculty, employers, or graduate program administrators.” Studying the feasibility of doing something that other types of schools, both undergraduate and graduate, do as a matter of course won’t fill the information void in the immediate future. It is, however, at least a step in the right direction. Here’s hoping that subsequent steps bring long-needed change.

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