Re: Beyond academia
Dear Gopi – and All,
Gopi’s post points to an important and growing trend, the uses and value of a PhD in careers outside the academy. While this is once again becoming important, this issue has been on the agenda several times since the 1970s.
One issue to raise here is that the standards for employment as a researcher outside the university are often higher than university standards, at least higher than those for any position other than a post in a strong research field at an elite research university.
Two good books cover employment outside the university sector: Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius (2007) “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia, and Margaret L. Newhouse (1993) Outside the Ivory Tower: A Guide for Academics Considering Alternative Careers.
Those who want to learn more about employment opportunities for graduated researchers outside the university will find a rich array of resources at the Harvard University Office of Career Services:
Derek Miller’s post represents an aspect of the issues that matter for employers that need research services outside the university sector.
Employers outside the university who hire people with a PhD need people who can really do research. They are not interested in debating whether drawing is research. They don’t want to redefine research to say that practice is really a form of research. Non-university employers don’t want researchers who publish in dodgy journals to create publishing statistics for government exercises, and they only send researchers to conferences that will further the organizational research agenda. Few design conferences attract researchers from the non-university sector, and those that do are not involved in practice as research.
A couple years back, I was at a meeting with government officials, deans, heads of some research programs in design and related fields, and leaders from industrial firms and research organizations. The head of one design research program complained that industry and government do not fund design research, nor do they hire many PhD graduates in design. He asked why this was so.
The head of a multi-national research organization said, “I can tell you why.” This was a board-level executive at an organization employing thousands of researchers. Most have a PhD. Their programs include product development and many kinds of work that would be perfect for design graduates if they also have research skills. His answer was that the vast majority of design school PhD programs fail to graduate people with the research skills that a PhD graduates master in most disciplines.
After the meeting, I asked him if this applies to all university-level PhD programs in design. “Not all,” he said. “We hire doctoral graduates from some design programs.”
“So there are PhD programs in the design disciplines that qualify people for jobs in your organization. How many universities are you talking about?”
“Oh, at least ten or twelve.” he said. “There might be a couple more I don’t know about.”
“So Australia isn’t doing so badly, then,” I said.
He started laughing. “Australia? I’m talking about the entire world. Only two of these universities are in Australia.”
We spent several hours talking about this, then and since. He says everything that Derek said, sometimes in different words, but addressing the same issues. Those who think I’m too blunt in my comments on research issues don’t want to meet that man. His organization has a constant and growing need for researchers, and he undertaken massive reviews of research training in several fields, including design. He knows what many of our programs do – and don’t – achieve.
He pinpoints areas where PhD programs in design are weak: knowledge of multiple research methods, methodological awareness, a strong foundation in comparative research methods and methodology, and – preferably – the ability to triangulate across methods, using statistical analysis together with qualitative analysis, and generative probes.
PhD programs in design schools tend to be strong in one area only, the ability to develop generative probes. Many PhD graduates in design can handle the inventive and generative aspect of practice-based research, but not the analytical and evaluative aspects of practice-based research. Both generation and analysis typify practice-based research in such fields as medicine, nursing, engineering, informatics, management, or law. PhD graduates need both for a career outside the academy.
In addition to methodological skills, Gordon Rugg and Marian Petre (2004: 6-7) offer a partial list of the other skills that PhD graduates must demonstrate in most fields, especially those who work outside the academy: [Use of language] “correct use of technical terms; attention to detail in punctuation, grammar, etc.; attention to use of typographic design … to make the text accessible; ability to structure and convey a clear and coherent argument, including attention to the use of ‘signposting’ devices such as headings to make the structure accessible; writing in a suitable academic ‘voice’; [Knowledge of background literature] seminal texts correctly cited, with evidence that you have read them and evaluated them critically; references accurate reflecting the growth of the literature from the seminal texts to the present day; identification of key recent texts on which your own PhD is based, showing both how these contribute to your thesis and how your thesis is different from them; relevant texts and concepts from other disciplines cited; organization of all of the cited literature into a coherent, critical structure, showing both that you can make sense of the literature – identifying conceptual relationships and themes, recognizing gaps – and that you understand what is important; [Research methods] knowledge of the main research methods used in your discipline, including data collection, record keeping, and data analysis; knowledge of what constitutes ‘evidence’ in your disciplines, and of what is acceptable as a knowledge claim; detailed knowledge – and competent application of – at least one method; critical analysis of one of the standard methods in your discipline showing that you understand both its strengths and its limitations; [Theory] understanding of key theoretical strands and theoretical concepts in your discipline; understanding how theory shapes your research question; ability to contribute something useful to the theoretical debate in your area; [Miscellaneous] ability to do all the above yourself, rather than simply doing what your supervisor tells you; awareness of where your work fits in relation to the discipline, and what it contributes to the discipline; mature overview of the discipline.”
Derek’s post failed to attract as much commentary and debate as I would have expected. If we’re interested in careers outside the academy, this should not be the case.
Universities can afford to keep people on staff with deficient PhD degrees and poor research productivity because universities can use these people as teachers and program managers. Industry, business, research-based companies, public service organizations, and government cannot afford to hire staff with deficient PhD degrees. If someone hired to do research cannot do research, they become an immediate drag on the organization. They waste funds and cripple research teams. The competition for non-academic research jobs is high, and organizations choose carefully when hiring.
Universities sometimes hire a second-rate or third-rate choice rather than launch another search. Non-academic organizations that need research do not. They hire first-rate candidates or they don’t fill the job. If they make a mistake in hiring, they fire swiftly. Both conditions also apply at first-rate research universities that develop and increase their research capacity.
Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | University Distinguished Professor | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia | [log in to unmask] | Mobile +61 404 830 462 | Home Page http://www.swinburne.edu.au/design/people/Professor-Ken-Friedman-ID22.html Academia Page http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman About Me Page http://about.me/ken_friedman
Guest Professor | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China
Basalla, Susan, and Maggie Debelius. 2007 . “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia. Revised 2nd Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Newhouse, Margaret L. 1993. Outside the Ivory Tower: A Guide for Academics Considering Alternative Careers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Office of Career Services.
Rugg, Gordon, and Marian Petre. 2004. The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research. Maidenhead and New York: Open University Press.
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