Does NZ have a 'PhD student problem'?

Several NZ PhD students are keen to take some action on addressing the problems faced by NZ graduate science students. We're looking for collaborators to assist us with this and to help us network with the wider commmunity. Some of the topics we wish to specifically address are:

  • Increasing public and student awareness of the realities of PhD student life (low pay, poor career prospects in academia, poor job security, high mobility, high skills)
  • Pushing and preparing more students for non-academic, career pathways (specifically IP analysts, software engineers, data analysts, startups, commercialization careers etc)
  • Asking and answering the question - "Does NZ produce too many PhD students?" Is public funding being spent wisely to educate us?
  • Generally increasing awareness and engagement with science from young researcher's perspective.

This list is by no means comprehensive, and we would be interested in any feedback on the scope of these goals as well as their relevance and possible ways to approach all of them - but mostly we need people. If you know motivated science students who would like to help create their future in NZ, please encourage them to get in touch with us. Spread the word - early scientists need to be more active in defining their future in NZ!

Maybe NZ does have a PhD student problem, and so do others

You may be interested in this study published last week. The authors identify essentially the same issue in the US that you describe here in NZ.

- Most science PhD students favour a career in academia, although this preference slightly decreases when approaching the end of the PhD.

- Students perceive a bias towards academic careers from their supervisors. Probably not intentional, but that is just what the road they are familiar with.

- Mechanisms are needed to help students weigh up the costs and benefits of a PhD, and to help supervisors give better career advice. 

that clarifies the problem but what about solutions....

I did read that study and it does raise some interesting concerns, particularly those concerning PhD student becomeing 'disillusioned' with science in general as they approach the end of their PhDs. It's true, supervisors should be better trained in giving career advice, but that's yet ANOTHER thing for them to do ontop of everything else - perhaps the academic institution should push career advice from a perspective that's not an academic's? Personally I'm excited to see, Kaiarahi beginning in NZ (a group dedicated to finding non-academic menors for interested PhD students) to encourage the broadening of student's horizons. But even this is only a small solution for a select few student who choose to participate in it.
Personally, I would love some clarity on what a future science career might look like (contrasted to those that exist at the moment). Will we continue to have 'academimcs', industry researchers, etc or will we move to a single scientist occupying multiple roles, i.e. lecturer, researcher and commercializer at different times of the day or week? For instance, I would dearly love to pursue a full-time career in science, but this currently doesn't appear to be a valid career path for myself and about 90% of my peers. So assuming I do manage to find employment in NZ post-graduation in industry or a non-science job (even that'sa pretty large assumption) - will there ever be any role, even in a part time way, for me to continue to participate in science? Or are all the specific science skills I have accuulated during my PhD doomed to go to waste?
In a world were people are free to travel and connect with researchers worldwide, to collaborate with those from all ends of the Earth, from all fields and disciplines - will science and research keep looking like it does now? Or can we possibly change what it means to be a scientist, and in doing so retain and USE the full gambit of a PhD student's skills and ambition in NZ? Because if we dont, overseas will always be a viable option!