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Expert panel to address challenges PhD graduates face entering the labour market

The new panel appointed by the Council of Canadian Academies will be chaired by former University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon.

BY ANQI SHEN | MAY 29 2019

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.

Dr. Elizabeth Cannon.

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.”

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  1. X. Antxon / May 29, 2019 at 12:49

    Panels like this should also look at the incentives and pressures faced by tenured faculty to produce more and more PhD graduates in order to maintain a high level of research output for the purposes of promotion maintaining research funding, etc. Maybe we need to rethink how research output is evaluated for tenured faculty altogether. I would rather just supervise 3 students at any given time and work closely with them but Then my paper count will drop and my funding will decrease. That’s a real shame.

  2. A. William Richardson / May 29, 2019 at 15:42

    This is not a new problem – at least 50 years old by my personal reckoning. This of course varies to a great degree by discipline.
    This article says nothing about how information relevant to the project is to be collected, who will be collecting it and who can have input. Will there be further information on questions such as these provided?
    There is also nothing about to whom any report will be directed and whether any findings will have any effect upon whatever the current system is. That is, should anybody get their hopes up?

  3. Ridha Ben Rejeb / May 29, 2019 at 17:01

    I have little hope,if any, the report might end up in dusty shelves of federal government Archives. I do not know what is the chair excited about or how is this endeavour challenging compared to the struggle of PhDs during their journey and after graduation. The only hope I have is a package of down to earth ( action plan) recommendations that would not go unheard by the federal decision makers who pour the tax dollar into higher education to subsidize PhD students only to find themselves in limbo.
    One last thought why PhD grads or candidates are not represented in this panel as well? As other commentators stated the issue is not recent and there is more into it like Antxon put it.

  4. Letitia Henville / May 30, 2019 at 16:39

    In response to Ridha Ben Rejeb – Jen Polk is a PhD grad, and works regularly with current doctoral students as well as recent graduates. I believe that she will be representing their perspective.

  5. Sikandar hayat / May 31, 2019 at 18:00

    I came across this article & have read on the subject in relation to the prospects of PhD graduates in Canada in my 15 years of stay on Canada. I really surprise what this panel will propose as from the composition it seems all have enjoyed prestigious academic positions in their work time now well it is good time to sit down around table talk about other PhD’s miserable life
    I really wonder none of these people have suffered in their academic career . The reason is very simple well connections are required.i will briefly share my episode of being PhD graduate. I completed PhD in molecular microbiology & genetic engineering before I came Canada. In 2006 by somehow I got 3 years PDF at Alberta Innovates until 2010 till that it is almost 9 years are passed struggling in get entry level position in research & development or faculty
    Since that iam out of position doing various jobs for my family . In fact this is reality that this country has no vision for highly educated academics or scientists. It is only me my wife she got PhD in microbiology same time even never got any chance of work in her position although she completed master in renewable Resources from university of Alberta
    To me all these discussions and recommendations are just good way of spending time because there is a fundamental defect in this society & country about higher education at governmental all there is no culture of technology based approach in industry . Some one will lucky if gets any break to stay in academic other wise good luck with panel & & their proposals
    Sikandar Hayat PhD MS
    Can be reached at [email protected]

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