Since the amount of available PhD positions by far exceeds the amount of available post-doc positions in the academia, not every PhD candidate will be able to continue working as a scientist after finishing his or her thesis. Unfortunately this is not known by a significant percentage of both PhD candidates and their supervisors, leading to unrealistic expectations and potential disappointments.
Consequently it can be said that it is essential to also incorporate possibilities to obtain non-academic skills in PhD programs, improving career-perspectives for the PhD candidates and making the choice to do a PhD more attractive. While considering a PhD as well as while doing a PhD it is crucial that the PhD candidate takes his chances on a non-academic career in consideration. For example it can be beneficial to obtain cross-border experience when one aims for an academic career.
Next to aiming at an academic career one could also focus on a non-academic career. A PhD can certainly be of additional value when focusing on a career in finance, or governmental organization. The additional value of a PhD for these sectors can be significantly increased by doing a dual PhD, or by gathering external contacts by cooperating with interesting companies or organizations. Regarding the acquisition of non-academic skills during the PhD project it is important to realize that the obtained skills are as much as possible transferable to a setting outside of research. Improving communication, management and presentation skills are just a few examples of the many possible benefits of doing a PhD project. Universities can also play a role in improving post-doctoral career perspectives, for example by offering career support or keeping overview of available post-doctoral positions.
Career support for PhD candidates affiliated to universities
In the CAO-NU (article 6.5) it has been determined that every employee that is appointed for at least 2 years has to have the opportunity to seek professional career support. This has to be paid by the university. The moment on which career support is seeked, has to allow the possibility of increasing individual career perspectives. This way universities seek to improve career perspectives of their PhD candidates.
Although the Opleidings en Begeleidsplan (OBP) already has to describe the PhD’s rights regarding education and supervision, article 6.9 of the CAO-NU on the other hand describes the right of a PhD to obtain relevant education. A PhD is obliged to participate necessary educational programs and the university is obliged to allow the PhD to participate educational programs that he or she thinks are relevant. Workshops or educational programs in non-academic (transferable) skills that increase the PhD’s career perspectives can also be seen as relevant. Internships can also be seen as relevant.
Career support for PhD candidates affiliated to UMC (academic medical centers)
Chapter 3 of the CAO-UMC describes career development, education and personal functioning of employees. When appointed as an “OIO” (onderzoeker in opleiding) the PhD candidate has the right to participate in educational programs necessary for the appointed position. Working hours and expenses have to be paid by the UMC. Furthermore, the PhD candidate has right on additional education for a different function in the future when this has been approved by your employer in an annual progress evaluation. Fifty percent of the expenses for this are paid by the employee, but possibly the employer can be persuaded to compensate all of the expenses.
In addition to salary every employee of an UMC receives a personal budget. Over the year 2008 the personal budget valued 0.25% of the annual salary. In 2009 this was 0.5% and in 2010 1%. In concept the personal budget is to be used for individual development purposes. For example this can be used for career support, although career support can also be obtained via the employer, who can refer you to any form of internal career support. PNN advises to seek for external career support.
Career support for PhD candidates affiliated to a research institution
The CAO OI describes the possibility of making an arrangement to use 10 leave days for career-purposes. Since 2007 it is obligatory to first have this approved by the employer during an annual progress evaluation. Since PhD candidates often do not use all of the available leave days, an arrangement can be made to transfer the 10 leave days in a budget to participate in career support programs. This budget has maximum of 950 euro’s in the first year, up to 1250 euro’s in the fourth year. You can also collect information regarding the possibilities by asking your local HR department.
It is important to realize that your career is your choice. PNN’s evident view is that the employer’s role in the PhD candidates’ career perspectives has to be an active one, but this doesn’t mean that the PhD can’t play an active him- or herself as well. Inform yourself well about the possibilities of a career after finishing your PhD, for example by asking your promoter, supervisor(s) and collegues. Also don’t forget to use the facilities that are offered by your employer. 8 out of 10 PhD candidates end up working outside of academia.