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Why No One Can Get Academic Jobs Right Now

I talked with a PhD two days ago who said they applied to 60 different academic positions, filling out all of the extensive required materials.

CVs, letters of recommendation, on and on.

They had two dozen interviews.

Zero job offers. 

I couldn’t believe it. 

The academic process of getting hired into a faculty role is so extensive and so impossible. 

But few PhDs talk about it because they feel like it’s their fault.

As if they’re just not smart enough or good enough to get hired.

After all, there are still some faculty positions.

Less than any other time in history and still plummeting, but there are some.

So, of course, as PhDs, we notice there are some and think, if I was just better I would have got hired, it’s my fault.

Look, it’s not you, it’s academia.

Academia has replaced well-paying faculty positions, the kind that used to be promised to PhDs even without doing a postdoc – that’s right, postdoc-ing is a relatively new thing and not too long ago the majority of PhDs would become faculty and the majority of faculty would get tenure – over 70% in fact in the 1970’s.

Now, all of this has been replaced by dirt cheap postdocs, TAs and adjuncts – and it’s only getting worse.

One of the primary reasons for the difficulty in securing academic faculty positions is the sheer number of PhD graduates entering the job market each year.

Universities worldwide are producing a record number of doctoral graduates, but the number of available faculty positions has not kept pace.

This imbalance creates a highly competitive environment where even highly qualified candidates struggle to find tenure-track positions.

There’s also a funding problem in academia, and it’s worse than ever before.

Academic institutions rely heavily on external funding to support their research programs and, by extension, their faculty.

However, the landscape of research funding is increasingly competitive and unpredictable.

The dependence on grant money to finance faculty positions creates instability and uncertainty in the job market, with many institutions unable to commit to long-term academic roles.

Don’t forget about the “adjunct predicament” too.

The rise of adjunct and non-tenure-track positions has further complicated the academic employment landscape.

Many institutions, facing budget constraints, opt to hire adjunct faculty as a cost-saving measure.

These positions, often part-time and with little job security or benefits, have become a stopgap for many PhDs seeking to stay in academia. This trend not only undermines the stability and attractiveness of academic careers but also raises concerns about the devaluation of faculty work.

Finally, the pressure to publish in high-impact journals is another factor contributing to the strained academic job market.

The “publish or perish” culture places immense pressure on scholars to produce a constant stream of research outputs, often at the expense of teaching and mentoring responsibilities. This emphasis on publication records in hiring and promotion decisions can lead to a narrow focus on research output, sidelining other important academic contributions. 

The issues of oversaturation, funding instability, adjunctification, and the publish or perish culture all contribute to a job market that is both competitive and exclusionary. 

The solution? 

Get into industry while you can, before you’re seen as even more overqualified and even more of a lifetime academic.

Academics Are Trying To Save Their Way Into Industry Jobs & They’re Failing

“I can barely pay my rent, Isaiah. Every time I go to the grocery store I feel more uncertainty.”

“That’s why you need to get out of academia” I told this PhD.

“You don’t have a savings problem, you have an income problem.” I also said.

But, this PhD was convinced they could somehow save their way out of living in poverty.

So, I asked, “Do you have more savings now than you had a year ago, or less.”

“I have less, for sure” they said.

Something behind their eyes clicked.

They got it.

Their savings was decreasing and the longer they waited to make a change, the more desperate and uncertain they would become.

This is a cycle I’ve seen too many times – a PhD thinks they can save and apply for jobs and eventually get hired into a better role. They see the job market like an eventuality.

They’ll eventually get hired. But they don’t.

They just keep getting rejected.

Meanwhile, their savings get less and less because inflation keeps getting worse and worse (I’m not talking about manipulated CPI stats from the government; I’m talking about gas prices, food prices, rents – the stuff you see right in front of your face costing more. $20-$30 for a burger and fries, $8 for a coffee, etc.

You can’t save your way out of this.

You can’t save your way into a new job either.

You won’t eventually get hired. Not now with AI resume filters that share your rejections with other companies and reduce your visibility more and more with each rejection. Inflation affects all sectors of the economy, and for PhDs, whose wages often do not reflect these rising costs, the impact is particularly severe.

The financial struggle is not just a matter of economics but also affects the mental and emotional well-being of PhDs and other academic professionals. The stress of managing personal finances on an inadequate salary can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction, prompting some to reconsider their career paths in academia.

But you can’t get hired in industry and get paid what you’re worth just by considering other paths. You can’t just apply for more and more jobs either. You need a strategic approach that includes getting access to a network of people who can refer you to jobs that fit your highly specialized background.

Most importantly, you need to act with a sense of urgency.

You can’t hide from the data.

You must realize that your savings will continue to be less and less and inflation persists and academic wages do not keep up.

As a PhD, you are sitting on a golden ticket that you deserve to cash in.

That ticket is the collection of your skills and expertise, which can be traded in for an incredible career that pays you well and allows you to do meaningful work in industry. The majority of the population will never get the chance to make such a substantial career transition, but you can.

The failure of academic wages to keep up with inflation is a pressing issue that threatens the stability and sustainability of academic careers.

The rising cost of living, exemplified by escalating rent prices, alongside stagnant wages, paints a grim picture for PhDs striving to maintain a decent standard of living.

The only solution is to transition into industry. Now is your time. Don’t waste it.

How To Leave Academic & Get Hired In Industry (3 Creative Strategies)

As PhDs who have worked hard to get our advanced degrees – degrees that put us in the 2% of the population in terms of education – being ignored, told we’re overqualified, told we’re underqualified …it’s frustrating.

It’s also depressing.

So, we typically resort to two strategies – we stop applying and just stay stuck.

We figure that spending hours targeting a resume just to get no response after uploading it to another job portal isn’t worth it.

Learned helplessness takes over and we just do what we do best – learn and consume information, think about possibilities, but that’s it. We stop executing.

Or, we apply the brute force strategy and just apply to hundreds of jobs every week, 10 jobs at one company, we spam people, and beg for a job.

Neither strategy gets us anywhere and both hurt our reputations in the job market.

To get hired today, and to get unstuck in a job search that’s going nowhere, we have to use the number one advantage we have as PhDs – our creativity. Our ability to innovate.

What can we do that most people won’t do?

Even if it’s uncomfortable?

Here are 5 ways to use your creativity to leave academia for industry…

1. Write a creative professional narrative for your career so far.

The first creative strategy is to be more creative in writing our professional narrative.

As PhDs, we have a wealth of knowledge and experience but often struggle to communicate this effectively to non-academic employers.

Begin by reframing your academic experiences into compelling narratives that resonate with industry needs.

Highlight transferable skills such as project management, data analysis, and problem-solving, and connect them directly to the job requirements.

Consider creating different versions of your resume and cover letter for various sectors or roles, emphasizing the most relevant experiences and skills for each.

Rewrite your LinkedIn profile to tell a compelling story about where you want to go next, instead of just adding all your previous positions and skills in a long list and hoping the employer figures it out.

2. Get creative in your networking efforts.

You can’t get hired in today’s job market without connecting creatively with other people.

As in, get out of your chair, your lab, your department, your university, your home, your current office, whatever.

Go. Meet. Other. People.

In. Person.

In person networking is crucial, yet often underutilized by PhDs. Step beyond academic circles and engage with industry professionals.

Attend conferences, workshops, and seminars related to your field of interest, but also venture into broader networking events that might open doors to unexpected opportunities.

Utilize platforms like LinkedIn to connect with alumni and industry leaders, participate in discussions, and share your insights.

Networking can provide not only potential job leads but also invaluable advice and mentorship.

3. Pursue more creative companies and job titles.

The final creative key to getting hired is to embrace more diverse careers.

As PhDs, we often focus narrowly on academic or research-intensive positions, but many of us can find very fulfilling careers in alternative paths where their skills are highly valued.

Explore roles in consulting, policy-making, technical writing and editing, program or project management, or even entrepreneurship.

Companies and organizations value the analytical and critical thinking skills that PhDs bring to the table.

By considering a broader range of career options, you increase your chances of finding a rewarding position.

In conclusion, the academic job market presents numerous challenges for PhDs, including oversaturation, funding instability, adjunctification, and the pressure to publish. These factors create a competitive and exclusionary environment, making it difficult for highly qualified candidates to secure tenure-track positions. The solution lies in transitioning into industry roles strategically. This involves reframing your professional narrative, creatively networking with industry professionals, and exploring diverse career options outside traditional academia. By leveraging your creativity and transferable skills, you can successfully navigate the transition and build a rewarding career in industry that values your expertise.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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