May 30th, 2013
We held our annual ceremony here in SGS this week. It was a happy afternoon, and not just because the sun was shining. So many talented achievers, so many proud family and friends in attendance to honour and celebrate success. I love this time of year, the tulips are singing in technicolor and convocation ceremonies speak to just how hopeful life seems to the freshly graduated—even for those holding doctoral degrees.
A timely, optimistic, myth-busting article in the Globe and Mail by SSHRC Vice-President Brent Herbert-Copley is making the social media rounds, and deservedly so. The piece takes on the current of negativity around the (un)employability of our PhD graduates. I have recently written about the federal government’s misinformed emphasis on trade skills, at the expense of research skills. This article acknowledges that we are necessarily moving away from the reproduction model of graduate education—that is, the view that a PhD student is destined—trained—only to secure employment in the academy. But university positions are few and far between and even the most naïve graduate student knows that these days. Why, then, are our graduate programs flourishing? We predict another 7% or so enrolment increase overall at Memorial, with more and more of the incoming cohort taking up doctoral-level research.
For starters, and as the Globe piece indicates, attitudes are slowly changing. I like to think we are ahead of the attitude curve here, having been offering special workshop and course opportunities for students eager to hear about how best to transition into a non-academic workforce. These offerings are always well subscribed, especially by international students who wisely do not take anything for granted.
The Globe article also points out that by comparison with highly industrialized nations we are producing far fewer doctorates, so far. Those whom we are graduating are getting jobs all over the map, not just in Canada, and that speaks to the value of brain circulation—a good thing. And they are getting employment in a wide range of jobs beyond the academy, in non-traditional workplaces where highly developed skills are valued more and more.
Herbert-Copley concludes his piece by saying the debate about the value of a PhD is a good thing. Indeed. One glance at the broad-beaming faces of the PhDs who walked across the stage at convocation this week to receive their hoods and their official pieces of parchment is enough to give one confidence in all our futures. I know that sounds corny, but at this time of year hope really does spring eternal.