A distinguished panel of Canadian higher education experts will come together to address a question of long-standing concern: “What are the main challenges that PhD students in Canada face in transitioning to the labour market, and how do these differ by field of study?” Their final report, which will offer an independent and “comprehensive portrait” of the issues at play, is planned for release some time in 2020.
Convened by the Council of Canadian Academies at the request of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the panel will be led by Elizabeth Cannon, who served as the University of Calgary’s president and vice-chancellor from 2010 to 2018.
“This is going to be a fascinating project,” Dr. Cannon said. “There is so much expertise and experience at the table and we’re really committed to delivering a product that reflects the real-life challenges PhD graduates in Canada are facing.”
The 12-person panel comprises faculty and administrators from a mix of disciplines and with a range of expertise on the PhD experience and labour market transition. Reinhart Reithmeier, who spearheaded the 10,000 PhDs project at the University of Toronto, is on the panel, as is McGill University’s Paul Yachnin, who started the TraCE project to collect data on humanities PhD graduates. Susan Porter, president of the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies and dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies at the University of British Columbia, adds her voice as well.
Perspectives outside of academia include Diane Gray, chair of the board of directors of Mitacs and founder of CentrePort Canada; Tina Gruosso, a translational research scientist at Forbius; and Jennifer Polk, co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate and a columnist for University Affairs.
The impetus for the panel’s work is that, while Canada’s supply of PhD graduates is growing, anecdotal evidence and formal studies suggest that more can be done to support these highly-skilled individuals to transition into a variety of sectors in the labour market.
“Recent trends, such as an aging population that is remaining in the work force for longer, an increasing number of PhD graduates studying in Canada, the cross-border mobility of doctorate holders, and a perceived increase in competition for academic positions, are affecting the transition of PhD graduates from their academic studies to careers in a broad variety of sectors,” according to a summary by the CCA.
The panel has just begun its work, which has the ultimate objective of informing federal government decision-makers. “Over the next 18 months or so, we will be collecting evidence, debating the issues and writing a report that answers the important questions the federal government has asked us,” Dr. Cannon said. “It’s an important job and we are excited to accept the challenge.”