Thursday, August 18, 2011

Career Progression in Academic Science from the Royal Society

I can't actually remember where I first came across the below diagram, but I keep wanting to refer to it and as finding it on the Royal Society website is not trivial (it's in a report called "The Scientific Century" from March 2010) I thought I would write a quick blog post so I could always find it.

Diagram from "The Scientific Century" by the Royal Society. Their caption reads "This diagram illustrates the transition points in typical academic scientific careers following a PhD and shows the flow of scientifically-trained people into other sectors. It is a simplified snapshot based on recent data from HEFCE, the Research Base Funders Forum  and for the Higher Education Statistics Agency's annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. It also draws on Vitae's analysis of the DLHE survey. It does not show career breaks or moves back into academic science from other sectors."
I think all incoming graduate students, and graduate students thinking about getting a first postdoc should be made to spend at least 10 minutes staring at this diagram. It probably wouldn't make a difference, because I think all of  us start out our PhDs thinking we'll make the 3.5% with permanent jobs (probably also the 0.45% making Professor). And actually I think that's natural. Almost every single person starting a PhD will have been used to coming top of the class through school, and probably also has done very well at University, so is just not used to thinking of themselves as anything but the top 3.5% of a population.

 I think this diagram illustrates the numbers I already technically knew all about much better than anything else I've seen. I'd only like to add in some little people making comments about what they think of it. For example I could add a politician looking at the 79.5% of people with science PhD ending up in "Careers outside science" and say how fantastic this is that they are contributing to other sectors of the economy. I could add a Professor saying "It obviously works to select the best scientists out of the incoming pool". And I could add the postdoc approaching the transition to "permanent research staff", after having already devoted around 10 years to building up an academic career (PhD +postdoc time) and by now having realised that everyone of the other postdocs around them is equally dedicated and excellent at science as they are wondering how on Earth they persuade anyone they should be part of that 3.5% who get to make a life-long career out of it....


  1. Thanks Karen, I too had seen this once in a presentation and had struggled to find it ever since. The information conveyed should have bearing on the choices post-grads make; to me it says we (broadly defined) should do better at preparing for a non-academic career during the PhD/Post-Doc. Cheers, Dr. Ben

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