Via Drew Conway, a great quote this morning from Stephen Curry, a professor at Imperial College London:
Students should think more broadly about what a PhD could prepare them for. We should start selling a PhD as higher level education but not one that necessarily points you down a tunnel…We should not see moving out of academia as a failure. We need to see it as a stepping stone, a way of moving forward to something else.
Curry was commenting here on changing the mindset of the students, but I would argue in many disciplines the problem isn’t the students, but the professors. There are still large groups of people in academia that not only disagree with this sentiment, but actively work to undermine students who choose to take their education and apply it outside of academia. My experience has been in the realm of political science, but certainly know others that have had similar experiences in other disciplines.
The skills one learns in graduate school are absolutely applicable outside of academia. In many cases, students may be better positioned to apply what they’ve learned and have a more fulfilling career in either government or business. Not everyone is cut out for this type of career, but then again not everyone is cut out for a life in academia either. In many cases, it takes a different set of talents to thrive in either environment. And when we take into account the utter dysfunction of the academic labor market, I don’t think pressuring students to seek a career in that market is the most responsible thing to do.
Bottom line: the focus should be on the students and what will be the best move for them, not what professors think is the ‘proper’ career for those pursuing and holding a Ph.D.