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I have a PhD but can’t seem to find any kind of work

I would like to work in the science sector but it seems to be almost impossible. I would be lucky to find paid (not underpaid) work in any field. I would be content to take any role that pays the legal minimum wage, even in a supermarket.

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Illustration: John Shakespeare Credit:


Thanks for writing and thanks for providing more details after your initial email (not all of which I’ve included in your question).

This is a tricky problem and one that left me feeling a bit downcast after I read it. It was disappointing to read that someone who’s spent so much time and effort (not to mention money) earning excellent qualifications – and the skills and knowledge that come with them – is consistently overlooked by recruiters.

Dr Ian Li, an expert in the fields of education and labour who works at the University of Western Australia’s School of Population and Global Health, says it’s a difficult situation, but there’s room for optimism.

“The challenges your reader faces in finding work are further compounded when you consider that the science sector is highly competitive and graduates from science have relatively high levels of underemployment,” Dr Li said.

“The current economic downturn due to the pandemic brings further challenges, even for entry-level jobs.”

In a Work Therapy column this month, we covered the phenomenon of a job being generally more difficult to land the longer a person remained out of work. In your area, however, Dr Li says it tends to be difficult to get a job immediately after graduating and progressively less difficult after that.

Data from the Graduate Outcomes Survey indicates that while postgraduate research students in science have relatively low employment rates six months after graduation, the employment rate improves substantially by three years’ time.”

With that in mind, Dr Li says it’s worth continuing your search in the field of science.

“My advice is to be persistent and persevere with the job hunt while asking what value the PhD brings to the positions sought.

“Consider what specialised and general skills you have developed in your PhD training, and how that can be brought to the attention of the recruiters.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working in a supermarket – I’ve done it and, putting the odd snappish customer aside, enjoyed it. But someone with your educational background and love of science is likely better suited to a career in that area.

I hope you remain determined and that determination pays off very soon.

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