Monday, February 3, 2020

The Role of the PhD in the Modern World

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network for the launch of
"PostAc", to help PhD students into non-academic research careers. Professor Keith Nugent ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, explained that the ANU was redefining the PhD for wider roles outside academia. Professor Elanor Huntington, ANU Dean of Engineering and Computer Science, pointed out she had a Masters of Computer Science as well as a PhD in the more esoteric area of physics. Also she pointed out that the PostAc service will also collect information on PhDs and jobs. Dr Mewburn mentioned they were open to offers from companies, such as LinkedIn, to purchase PostAc.

One option I suggested to Dr Mewburn that PostAc might consider is auto searches. The student may not know what to search for.  Perhaps the tool could read the student's thesis and suggest a job based on that, and whatever else is publicly available on them. This might include hobbies: an academic in a job interview once told me that had no leadership skills, but then mentioned the lead the university alpine climbing team (if you can get people up a mountain, that shows leadership).

PostAcc is a clever hack to overcome a public policy failure. Unfortunately none of the speakers directly addressed this policy failing: universities produce many more PhDs than there are research jobs for. While someone who has an advanced research degree might be able to find a non-research job with PostAcc, it would be better if they enrolled in a degree which suited those jobs. In most cases a coursework masters is a suitable postgraduate qualification for a job. If more specialized skills are needed, then there is the option of a professional doctorate. These are at the same academic level as a PhD (with the title "Doctor"), but the focus is on skills for industry, rather than just research. PostAcc can provide a palliative for the failure to direct students to these more useful degrees, but not cure it.


Pitt, R., & Mewburn, I. (2016). Academic superheroes? A critical analysis of academic job descriptions. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 38(1), 88-101. URL

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