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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

What Do Researchers Do?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Vitae have recently released a report "What Do Researchers Do? First Destinations of Doctoral Graduates by Subject" (2003-2007). This is a follow-up to their earlier groundbreaking study "What Do PhDs Do?" The new report is typically concise and neatly presented, so postgraduates should find it easy to find information relevant to their own disciplines. However, here are a few of the headlines that most interested me in relation to the Arts and Humanities:
  • Research occupations account for 18% of post-PhD employment for Arts and Humanities graduates, with 14% researching within the Higher Education sector. This is significantly lower than the averages for all PhD graduates, which were 35% and 23% respectively. In other words, graduates from Arts and Humanities disciplines are half as likely to continue in research posts than those from other disciplines. This should not be surprising given the emphasis on post-doctoral research in the sciences and the prioritisation of public funding to STEM subjects or investment in technological research by the private sector.
  • Whilst half of all doctoral students continued into employment in the education sector, for Arts and Humanities doctorates, education comprised the career destination for two-thirds of graduates. Again, this is not surprising, given that generally the only careers which will allow continued pursuit of Arts and Humanities subjects in their purest sense will be teaching-related.
  • Arts and Humanities doctorates were slightly less likely to find employment or go into combined employment and training than other doctorates. 76% of Arts and Humanities doctorates were employed or training post-PhD, as opposed to 81% of all other respondents. This is good news, in that it suggests that the model of the employable and "useful" sciences graduate, and the unemployable because "useless" arts graduate, is a fallacy, at least at doctoral level.
  • At 3.4% in 2007, the unemployment rate for doctoral graduates was consistently lower than for those with just one first degree (6.8%). In my essay on The Value of an English PhD, which worked with data from the earlier study on "What Do PhDs Do?," I noted that the unemployment statistics for English PhDs versus English graduates were marginal, 6% versus 8.2%. The good news for PhD students across the Arts and Humanities is that the value of having that further qualification seems to be increasing, something that would seem logical given that recruiters are increasingly looking for second degrees to distinguish ever-larger cohorts of candidates with first degrees.
On the whole, then, for Arts and Humanities doctorates the report makes pretty positive reading. There is, however, a skeleton in the closet. This report surveyed doctoral graduates from 2003-2007, largely before the credit crunch and certainly before the squeeze on public sector spending that will come in this new parliament.

Investment in science research from the private sector will no doubt have been affected as corporations trim their budgets. However, with the recession being less intense than expected and business being systemically aware of the value of entrepreneurship and innovation, it is likely that the subsequent hit on science doctoral graduates will be restrained. By contrast, since Arts and Humanities doctorates rely so heavily on the education sector, especially Higher Education, to provide their employment prospects, that there seems little doubt that they will be hit by the squeeze on Higher Education funding, which will seek to protect STEM subjects at the expense of those deemed as being of less relevance or "impact." This is especially true of my own subject, English, for which an astonishing 77% of doctoral graduates were subsequently employed in education.

That self-fullfilling cycle, where Arts and Humanities post-graduates are needed to teach future generations of Arts and Humanities under-graduates, is set to slow down dramatically over the coming years, with drastic consequences for the three-quarters of doctorates who rely on the sector for their future jobs.

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Posted by Alistair at 9:00 am


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