People leave academia for all sorts of reasons. For some it’s an active choice: maybe they want more job security or a better work-life balance, or maybe they’re just not as fond of research as they had once anticipated. For others the decision may be taken out of their hands, as they move from post-doc to post-doc, finding it increasingly difficult to secure the next role or chunk of funding. Dr Shelley Sandiford, ex-researcher and founder of science communication business Sciconic, has written a Next Scientist article to encourage those in the latter group to make the move out of academia before “wasting years in postdocs”.
The article isn’t for the faint-hearted. As Sandiford sets out the difference between PhD “Student As”, those with potential, and “Student Bs”, those who will never make it, she attempts to send out an early wake-up call to those she says simply won’t succeed in today’s competitive academic sector. These are students who’ve found themselves with disappointing PhD projects in poorly-resourced and/or unsupportive teams, and who haven’t built a respected research profile by the end of their doctoral degree.
But Student Bs shouldn’t feel too bad, because Sandiford says they’re the norm not the exception. In her opinion, “upwards of 90% (or more) of PhD students SHOULD LEAVE Academia“. Indeed, we know that the vast majority of PhD grads do eventually leave academic research. And outside of academia, the playing field is level; PhDs, whether they’re Sandiford’s Student A or B, are all high achievers with an equal chance of building successful, fulfilling careers.
So are you a Student A or a Student B? If you’re feeling strong enough (!), give the article a read and see. If it feels a little too cutting in places, remember that Sandiford considers herself to be an ex-Student B, so her harsh words are an attempt to save others from making the same post-docing mistakes she feels she made. If you don’t have the time or the stomach for the full article, why not try out her handy “Do you have what it takes to become an academic?” flowchart, right.