Where are all the PhD’s in Canada?

Doing a quick online survey the other day of PhD positions posted on Indeed. In my home city there were three postings for PhD’s; one for a biochemistry major for a naturapathic products company (formulator), the other for a biopharmaceutical company looking for a medical liaison for the health care field, and one other for an enterprise software development company looking for a project manager with a Master’s or PhD that had preferably in the fields of computer science or engineering, and with 1-2 years’ work experience in professional services or support, preferably in the information technology sector.

In my province there were 223 jobs advertised, of which only 72 were full time, and only 23 were in the post-secondary sector. I don’t need an employment website to tell me that while universities are churning out PhD’s in Canada, the post secondary field has no place for them…they are simply not in demand.  The Conference Board of Canada, using facts from Statistics Canada, noted that only 4.1% of PhD’s are unemployed, which falls well below the Canadian average of 6.2% unemployment. However, only 18.6 % of PhD’s are working as full time university profs, and the percentage is even lower when looking at how many are in tenured or tenure track positions. So where are all the PhD’s in Canada?

“More than three-fifths of PhDs are employed in diverse careers outside the academy—in industry, government, and non-government organizations—drawing on their skills as researchers and critical thinkers to improve policy, organizational performance, innovation, and economic and social well-being.” (Conference Board of Canada, 2015 -http://www.conferenceboard.ca/topics/education/commentaries/15-01-06/where_are_canada_s_phds_employed.aspx).

The numbers play out as follows:

17% work in the natural and applied sciences;

11% work in health-related occupations;

11% work in law, social, community, and government services and education other than PSE;

9.5% work as managers across the economy;

5.3% work in finance and administrative occupations;

2.3% work in art, culture, recreation, and sport;

2.6% work in sales and service; and

1.4% are listed as working in other occupations.

PhD’s in Canada can be found working outside of academia predominantly, with the majority working in sciences and health related positions. The numbers don’t lie; if you have a PhD in anything not related to the sciences, the chances of getting a full time decent paying job in Canada are not great. The fact remains, universities are not hiring PhD’s – educational budgets no longer allow for the hiring of full time tenured faculty; part-time, sessional positions are the norm. So where does that leave the over-educated and underemployed?

I have blogged previously about the school system turning out unprepared graduates, and these numbers reflect that a call for more relevant applied skills is definitely needed. When universities start to see reduced enrollments in grad schools, maybe they will light the torch and start leading again, by listening to industry and business mentors, and offering degrees with relevant employable skills. Maybe there needs to be less seats open for PhD’s and more in the Master’s programs – each with an employable specialty.

I don’t know the answer, and even with a PhD, I may never be in a position to offer my thoughts or experiences at an educational board meeting or curriculum discussion. I counsel young students to choose their programs carefully and pay attention to numbers, like those presented by the Conference Board, when choosing a career path. There are far too many underemployed and overeducated people and after all the years of study and debt building, there needs to be something worthwhile in the end.