Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin

Shifting career pathways of Ph.D. ecologists: Is it time to redefine the "alternative" career?"

Dec 26, 2014

Gretchen J.A. Hansen

Graduate programs in ecology tend to emphasize academic

careers for Ph.D. candidates, while viewing non-academic
careers (e.g., those in government, non-governmental organizations,
and industry) as “alternatives.” Here, we demonstrate that
although the number of Ph.D.’s granted in ecology has increased
nearly 3-fold since 1966, less than 20% of those graduates obtain
jobs in academia within 5 years of graduation. Furthermore,
while it takes a median of 3 years following receipt of a Ph.D. to
obtain a tenure-track job in ecology, high variability in recent
decades means that Ph.D. graduates have an approximately equal
chance of spending anywhere from one to more than five years
in soft-money, post-doctoral positions. In sum, the majority of
Ph.D. graduates in ecology do not end up in academic careers,
and those that eventually do will spend a significant yet variable
amount of time in soft-money and temporary positions.
We therefore argue that academia is the new alternative career,
and that ecology as a discipline would benefit from tailoring
graduate training to include skills relevant to non-academic
careers while also increasing transparency about the career paths
of Ph.D. recipients