Many junior scientists need to take a hard look at their job prospects


Most PhD students will have to look beyond academia for a career.

For his 2012 PhD thesis, the sociologist Chris Platts surveyed and interviewed more than 300 young footballers — aged 17 and 18 — at UK club academies who were hoping to pursue a career in the game. He told the newspaper The Guardian this month that just four of them currently have gained a professional contract. That’s a drop-out rate of 99%.

For our Careers section this week, Nature surveyed more than 5,700 early-career scientists worldwide who are working on PhDs. Three-quarters of them, they told us, think it’s likely that they will pursue an academic career when they graduate, just like Platts — now a senior lecturer in sport development and sport business management at Sheffield Hallam University, UK. How many will succeed?

Statistics say these young researchers will have a better chance of pursuing their chosen job than the young footballers. But not by much. Global figures are hard to come by, but only three or four in every hundred PhD students in the United Kingdom will land a permanent staff position at a university. It’s only a little better in the United States.