I graduated with a PhD in January 2020. Since then, I have received four emails asking me to complete surveys on my current employment status. Three of these have been sent by the university where I spent four years of my life, with the most recent email carrying a survey entitled ‘Graduate Outcomes’. I usually overlook these emails and never open the links to the surveys. I am just one example of the graduates discussed during the session ‘Tracking multiple career pathways of doctoral candidates’ at the EuroScience Open Forum, held as a hybrid event between the 2nd and 6th of September 2020 in Trieste, Italy.
I don’t have a good reason for why I never previously bothered filling out ‘Graduate Outcome’ surveys. I think one of the possible reasons is my feeling of not accomplishing enough and after I finished my PhD, I did not go straight into a postdoc like many of my peers. Instead, I spent the following months as a freelance science communicator in Slovenia, which seemingly does not require a PhD.
What I learned at ESOF, whilst listening to a couple of panel discussions on career pathways of doctoral graduates, was that maybe I should be answering the surveys. Tracking the careers of PhD candidates gives higher education facilities invaluable feedback on the support graduates need. I really enjoy science communication and was also active in it as a doctoral candidate at a British university. However, I had not received (for example) a workshop on the topic or even how to cooperate with policy makers or talk to journalists, which I could have suggested in the Graduate Outcome surveys. This would also normalise the diverse career paths PhD candidates might take after finishing their PhD degrees.
One particular thing to note, raised by Eurodoc representative Iryna Degtyarova, is that not everyone who undertakes a PhD stays in academia. Highly educated individuals are still a valuable contribution to industry and society.
This brings us to the second panel discussion, titled: “Who is responsible for transferable skills and how can Responsible Research and Innovation and Open Science help?”. By developing transferable skills, PhD candidates open doors into other possible career paths outside of academia or support roles that might improve science in the future. The Open Science movement, and structures that support it, seek to revolutionise science and make it more transparent and accessible to anyone.
The other panel discussions I joined were mostly focused on science communication, with particular emphasis on communication during the current COVID-19 pandemic. At this point in time, we are reminded almost daily how important and valuable good science communication can be. Recent graduates can shine with their deep knowledge not only of science, but also of the scientific process. Amidst the present infodemic, where we often find ourselves overwhelmed with novel information of variable reliability, some inaccurate scientific messages can mix into our stressful daily lives and spread easily. Therefore, we will increasingly require knowledgeable individuals to help decipher important information from the sea of fake news, misinformation and disinformation.
I still do not know whether I will remain in academia or outside of it - I am somehow currently in between both. I will complete the ‘Graduate Outcomes’ form to share where my PhD skillset has led me, and I hope this might inform current PhD candidates that their expertise and knowledge are not restricted to academia, but are more broadly applicable and valuable to a wide range of career paths.