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When it comes to jobs, Ontario's PhD is working
There's new hope for today's beleaguered PhDs. Amid pessimistic reports about job prospects for university doctoral students, a new study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) finds that the PhD is working.
Using an internet-based search, the study examined the career outcomes of 2,310 doctoral students who graduated from Ontario universities in 2009. The study found that half of the PhDs are working in postsecondary education and more than a third are working in business, industry and other fields outside of the academy. Half are employed in Ontario while the remainder are evenly divided between the rest of Canada, the United States and other countries.
According to the study, just under 30% are full-time tenure or tenure-track professors at a university, while another 21% have other jobs within academia – such as researchers, lecturers, college instructors and administrators. Over a third are employed outside academia in a variety of sectors, key among them health care, government, professional and scientific services (engineering companies, scientific research and consulting) and manufacturing. The study was unable to find employment information for the remaining 15% of 2009 graduates.
Just under half of the PhD graduates are working in Ontario. Of the balance, one-third are working elsewhere in Canada, one-third in the United States and one-third in another country around the world. Those working as a university professor were the most mobile: about half are working at a Canadian university, 16% in the United States and 31% in another country.
"We recognize that this [mobility] cuts both ways," says study author and HEQCO senior researcher Linda Jonker. "We want our graduates to be internationally competitive and to take Ontario out into the world, but we also want them to stay in Ontario and lend their talents back to us."
The study also found that more than half of the PhDs from 2009 earned their degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or health-related discipline. These graduates are more likely to be employed outside academia than humanities, social science and business graduates.
There were slightly more male PhD graduates than female and both are working in similar industries and sectors. Four out of five earned their PhD from what HEQCO defines as a research-intensive university in Ontario (Toronto, Guelph, McMaster, Ottawa, Queen's, Waterloo and Western). Toronto far outpaced all of the other universities in PhD graduates who are working as professors in top-tier international universities.
"The jobs our 2,310 PhD graduates from Ontario's universities hold today, six years after graduation, appear to be the very kinds of jobs we hoped for," says Jonker. "As governments and institutions worked together over the last decade to increase PhD enrolments they had both goals in mind (jobs inside the academy to renew the faculty and jobs outside the academy to support the greater economy), and we see both goals reflected in these outcomes."
The study does not address the question of whether the province should be focusing growth in PhD enrolment on the research-intensive leaders, although Jonker says the evidence suggests that this is not happening. The number of Ontario universities graduating PhDs has expanded from 14 in 2007 to 16 in 2009 to 17 today. The overall number of PhD graduates in Ontario has increased by 4.3% from 2009 to 2014 (from 2,310 to 2,409) but the proportion graduating from Ontario's research-intensive universities has remained unchanged.
Jonker says a follow-up study asking employers whether they perceive a premium return from their PhD employees would clarify whether PhDs are working on and adding value to advanced, innovative, leading products and projects. She also says a study integrating institutional administrative data would identify how many of Ontario's graduates are international students as well as the net flow of international students in and PhD graduates out of Ontario.
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