The British media is a curious entity because it has so many different views. This is not only found in general stances eg The Telegraph vs The Guardian, but indeed it is common to see articles reporting on the same subject projecting entirely different views, yet published by the same source within a matter of weeks of one another. How, then, can you discern the reality of your job prospects after your PhD when no-one can seem to make up their mind whether you should panic or not?
Understand that ‘The PhD labour market’ doesn’t exist
There is no such thing as a ‘PhD labour market’. Absolutely, study goes into the roles PhDs enter, whether their PhD was a defining factor in getting work and so on, but PhD students do not have a separate market consisting solely of PhD-specific jobs; in fact, PhD students are generally able to enter other labour markets, both graduate and experienced, on account of the skills developed throughout their PhD. Certain companies may be set up in a way in which you’re left between a rock and a hard place – too experienced for a graduate scheme, not enough experience outside of academia to enter the industry in a more experienced role – but in reality these are few and far between. Ears still prick up when someone mentions they have a PhD. Most companies would kill for that level of expertise.
Review articles like they’re sources
When analysing sources for your PhD, you will inevitably judge each on its merits – who created it, when, for what purpose, and what biases are present? Articles regarding employment should be treated in exactly the same fashion. Every single source has an agenda, a purpose for being, and in particular a newspaper article is designed to get people to read, and then to get people to read some more. Shocking headlines generally stick more in the memory than ‘everything’s all right’ headlines, so be discerning. You may just be being played with.
A PhD has never been a golden ticket
With a PhD under your belt, you may think that you have a boost against the competition. In some cases this is true, in others not. It’s important to recognise that having a PhD is only relevant when it comes to the requirements of a specific job. You could be applying simultaneously for a graduate scheme, an academic post and an experienced hire position. Only in the case of academia is a PhD a fundamental requirement, save certain technical positions in industry. Much can be taught on the job – so, while your PhD will always be an indication of the level of your abilities, it is also a luxury – and you have to weigh up whether an employer will consider it a luxury they can afford, or whether they’re able to pay less and still get the results they need from a less academically qualified applicant.
Do not despair
Despite those last, possibly overly dramatic words, the main aspect of judging your abilities against conflicting reports is to base yourself in realism. You need to have a wider view than MA < PhD < 5 years in industry. It all depends on the job, the tasks you’ll be asked to do and the company’s requirements. So, for the most part, you can ignore the median statistics; just concentrate on the job itself.