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Help solve the mystery of the disappearing Ph.D.s

One of the great mysteries of the scientific world is what happens to Ph.D. recipients after they finish their degrees. Only a small percentage get the tenure-track faculty positions they ostensibly spent years training for. The rest move on to other careers, obviously, but little is currently known about their exact destinations. Now Melanie Sinche of the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School is trying to learn more. “If you earned a PhD in any of the physical, life, computational, engineering, or social sciences between 2004 and 2014 and have ever worked, trained, or studied in the U.S.,” you can help by participating in a confidential online survey estimated to take about 15 minutes.

Sinche wants to know “where recent science PhDs are currently employed” so that she can “create a visual map of career clusters,” according to the survey website. The study also aims to “identify the skills and experiences required to enter different fields, and … determine whether these skills were developed in the educational/training period of the PhD or on the job, thereby informing the design of graduate and postdoctoral training programs.” One hopes.

In keeping with human-subjects protection requirements, the survey consent form warns of the risk of 'mild discomfort with some of the questions, depending on how you feel about your employment situation.'

If helping to answer questions central to the welfare of early-career scientists is not reward enough for participating, you can enter a drawing for one of five $100 Amazon gift cards. Beyond that, you may ultimately enjoy the benefit of “enhanced understanding of your career options through the publication of a career map for PhDs in science.”

In keeping with human-subjects protection requirements, the survey consent form warns of the risk of “mild discomfort with some of the questions, depending on how you feel about your employment situation.” A clear picture of the available career paths, though, could help reduce the discomfort, mild or otherwise, that numerous Ph.D.s feel when contemplating their employment. You can find the survey here.

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