Career Development inside Academia

Career inside academia is a very delicate topic. It is a common initial ambition for a PhD and often translates into an illusion.  While there is a constant pressure to do better, learn faster, work harder, publish and teach more, the system doesn’t always recognise individual merits. There is not a commonly accepted metric that is accepted in hiring processes,  and current practices are not sufficient to block Nepotism or Parochialism.   

The academic system is ‘abusing’ the work of Post Docs: researchers with a PhD that works in academia up to several decades (called super Docs) without rights and long term ambitions/perspective. These scientists have failed to find a permanent position in academia and often they find them-self to be too old to be attractive for industry. Consequences are significant both on the professional and private life. The system doesn’t care about the ‘losers’ and their number keeps growing (Post Docs and Forskers). High competition is considered legitimate and desirable in a job market since increases competition. Problem is that, as clearly stated in ‘game theory’, when the competition is brought to extremes, it leads to deteriorating consequences for individuals and institutions.   

While Norwegian institutions are trying to  reduce the controversial practice of permanent temporary jobs, the situation is far from being solved. Temp researchers are not sufficiently supported by unions and they are reluctant to protest because retaliation can be fatal in such a delicate career path. Merit is too often replaced by senior researcher perception. It is not recognised in an arbitrary way, and researchers are locked in gambling games at the cost of their future. 

The work group is trying to report the current situation with the aim to inform young researchers towards the risks and challenges in these career paths. Most aspects here discussed are, as a minimum, controversial. Career development within academia is not an easy topic because different disciplines, regions, institutes, head of departments and HR can significantly influence the hiring procedure. To provide young researchers with information we rely on examples of story-telling. We will limit ourselves to report a number of short interviews taken from success and failure stories. It is a reader’s responsibility to rationalize these stories and investigate its individual reality.

We report only two numbers:

  • The average age for associate professorship in Norway is between 37 and 43 years. 
  • About 95% of PhDs have a career outside university.

Wikipedia article on Norwegian Academical Paths (English).