When we organize career events for PhD students and postdocs locally or at the national level we realize on a regular basis that most young researchers envision an academic career.  When we confront them with the fact that only 3-5% of them will actually end up as academic staff they are shocked.

Only 30% of all doctorate holders stay in academia – mostly as postdocs

The “Centre for R&D Monitoring” Research Group at Ghent University of ECOOM follows up the career paths of young researchers in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. Their data clearly indicate that about 30% of young researchers in natural sciences, engineering and life sciences continue their career in academia. This means that about 70% find a job outside academia – for example in industry, government or hospitals. In humanities and social sciences the percentage of PhD graduates who stay in academia three years after  their PhD is about 50% (ECOOM-Belspo: CDH survey 2010).

10% of all postdocs stay in academia but nearly 80% hope to pursue an academic career

Data from our own and other universities in Belgium indicate that most of the young researchers who stay in academia become postdoctoral researchers, only a few take over staff positions such as organizers of doctoral schools or specific study programs. Of these postdoctoral researchers only 1 in 10 finally reaches a long-term academic position as a professor.

Thus, about 90% of the postdoctoral researchers find a job in the industry or public sector – and NOT in academia! Surprisingly, this fact is not known by most young researchers!

To investigate the expectations and needs of postdoctoral researchers we performed a survey in entire Belgium (Belgian Postdoc Survey 2012). We received  feedback from 413 postdoctoral researchers from all scientific domains at Belgian universities.

Surprisingly, nearly 80% of all postdocs hope to pursue a career in academia although only about 10% really end up in higher education.

3% of all doctorate holders become professors

If you are a PhD holder you have a 30% chance to become a postdoc and a 3% chance to become a professor.

In other words: there is a 97% chance that you are going to work in a non-academic environment.

Should I worry about this?

possibilitiesNo. You should make a conscious decision whether you want a career in academia, industry, government, NGOs, hospitals or somewhere else in the public sector. If you are not sure maybe this post may help: The 8 best tips to find your dream job in science and How to become a professor?

After making a clear decision it is much easier to plan your career, get expertise and increase your market value.

Should I take the risk?

If you want to pursue an academic career you should know exactly what the advantages and disadvantages of the job are. Here are a few posts which may help you to develop an idea whether pursuing an academic career is the right choice for you:

* How to become a professor? – European perspective

Three things you should know before deciding to become a professor – Canadian perspective

Why Being a College Professor Isn’t Worth It: New Report Finds that Lack of Job Security and Low Pay is the Norm – US perspective

Top 10 Reasons Being A University Professor Is A Stressful Job – US perspective

Should I become a long-term postdoc?

Please tell us what you think and add a comment.

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