You’ve toiled hard for years to maintain that brilliant academic record. You’ve chosen a research topic that you’re passionate about and worked your way through the grind and overcome innumerable hurdles to land that coveted PhD degree. You’d think it’s time to rejoice and conquer the world. Hold your breath and the celebrations! Sadly enough, many PhD students are not aware of what’s in store for their career until it’s too late.
Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of Science, remarked in a 2013 Science article that “The declining opportunities for research funding have made survival for some of the most able researchers resemble a lottery—or perhaps Russian roulette is a better analogy.” Research funding has only worsened in the past two years. So, the postdoc dream too isn’t going to be any easier.
Dream of a tenure track position? More disappointment awaits you. Nature reports that, ” Whereas about 65% of US PhD-holders continue into a postdoc, only 15–20% of those move into tenure-track academic posts. The European situation is even more competitive — in the United Kingdom, for example, about 3.5% of science doctorates become permanent research staff at universities.” Postdocs used to last a year or two, but now, scientists toil away for six, seven, even 10 years.
You focus your attention towards options in the industry only to realize that the odds are stacked up against you. In academia, you spend your years going deeper and deeper in a topic. You end up knowing a lot about a very little thing. And “because of your age you are a bit expensive“. A young Masters student might be seen more favorably in the industry. Ironically, in a world of increasing specialization, it turns out that a PhD degree can, at times, hurt your job prospects!
So, what options are PhDs and postdocs left with? There are hundreds and thousands of small and medium businesses out there who are looking for skilled researchers with expertise in niche subject areas for one-off projects. Many principal investigators are looking out for help in an interdisciplinary field or want to get a quick data analysis or statistical review done. In most such cases, help is not readily available, and innovation suffers as a result. The sad part is that this phenomenon continues to occur despite many talented but underpaid doctorates and postdocs waiting in the wings to change the pace of innovation worldwide.
Effective collaboration can help end this drought on both ends of the spectrum. Businesses and research labs need to open up to tap into this huge talent base and accelerate the pace of innovation. Kolabtree is one small step towards making PhD-qualified subject matter expertise readily available to businesses and academia.
I’d like to invite comments from PhDs and Postdocs on how they can contribute to innovation in the industry and from business heads/executives on the avenues where scientific collaboration can help them take the innovation leap.