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202. Academia Has a Postdoc Problem

A few generations ago, you could probably graduate from a PhD program and immediately land yourself a junior faculty position at a nearby university. But as grad school enrollment grew, a new quasi-professional job-description emerged in the nebulous middle ground between student and professor.

Lacking a better name, we just called them ‘postdocs’. It was an academic adolescence that implied they were ready to leave the nest, but not quite ready to fly freely.

Over time, academic institutions realized they had a good thing going. Here was a group of highly-skilled scientists who could churn out papers and grants with little oversight. And as a bonus, you didn’t have to pay them a salary commensurate with their position! They were ‘putting in the time’ in the hope that they, too, could one day run their own lab. “Think of it as an ‘investment.'”

The one-year postdoc/job search evolved into a two-year affair. Then it grew to two two-year affairs (in different labs, of course, so you can broaden your horizons!). Now, a postdoc may last 5 or 6 years, earning around $55,000 per year, and there’s still no guarantee of a faculty job light at the end of the tunnel.

But about ten years ago, something changed. The number of PhDs continued to rise, but the proportion of those graduates pursuing a postdoc declined.

What caused this shift, and what does it mean for academia and research in general?

We talked with a journalist who has been tracking the trend for years.

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200. Want a Degree Without Quitting Your Job? An Online PhD Might Be the Solution.

Karla already has a successful career. After completing her training, she’s worked as a pelvic-floor physical therapist for over ten years! Her patients love her, and she loves serving them.

But no matter how skilled she becomes at her craft, there’s still a limit to how many people she can help. A PT, working in a clinic, can see only so many patients per day if she wants to give each one the time they deserve.

That’s one reason Karla decided to go back to school to earn a PhD. She wanted to find a way to continue serving her patients, while also advancing the practice of physical therapists everywhere through research and teaching.

But quitting her job to enroll in a traditional PhD program wouldn’t work for her patients, or her lifestyle. She had to find another way.

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100. The One Where We Celebrate (R)

Graduate training has many milestones, but a few stand stronger in memory due to their importance.

You may remember the day you passed your comprehensive exams, officially becoming a ‘PhD Candidate.’ Or maybe you’ll remember the day you saw a paper you co-authored published in your favorite journal. 

And of course, every PhD remembers their defense – presenting years worth of work to an audience and receiving the committees’ blessing to graduate.

After each event, it’s important to take a moment to celebrate the achievement before pushing toward the next goal.  Maybe that means gathering with friends, popping a bottle of bubbly, and remembering the road that brought you to this point.

Well, at least that’s what we do with a milestone.  This week, we celebrate 100 Episodes of Hello PhD with a few of the friends we’ve met along the way.

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