How are Psychology PhDs doing on the job market?

psychcogs(UPDATE: For those interested in the content of this post, check out Friends don’t let friends study Psychology).

I am a reformed and rehabilitated ex-academic. In my previous life, I aspired to be a professor of Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Science. I described my experiences in the academic stream in a series entitled The Grad School Gospels.  In The Grad School Gospels I have been pessimistic about the value of most Psychology graduate degrees. I argued that the tenure-track job market for Psychology PhDs is devastatingly competitive and that for most Psychology sub-fields non-academic career paths are limited. That is, there often aren’t many jobs to go around that reflect one’s training and interests and that offer an income that duly compensates the massive investment that goes into earning a PhD.

A friend of mine, David Barner, who is a tenure track professor of cognitive psychology at the University of California at San Diego was sympathetic to the perspective I was offering, but provided credible evidence that Psychology PhDs were actually doing better than I thought. Most notably, he cited a blog post by Patrick Schnarrenberger Forscher (who, out of laziness, I will refer to as PSF), a Psychology PhD student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. PSF reviewed National Science Foundation (NSF) science, technology, engineering and mathematics PhD employment statistics from 2006.

The numbers for Psychology PhDs looked better than I would have guessed. The unemployment rate among Psych PhDs was a mere 1% – much lower than the national average which, at the time, was 4.6%. What is more, only 1.3% of Psych PhDs reported being involuntarily employed outside of the field. Not bad at all. And the average income for Psychology PhDs across employment settings was $75,000. So. There’s that… Nevertheless,

I Remain Pessimistic on the Value of Research-Only Psychology PhDs

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The Grad School Gospels – Part 4: On Grad School Goggles and the Cult-Like Nature of Grad School

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

In this, the fourth, installment of The Grad School Gospels, I speak to how I – a person who had long prided himself on his advanced critical thinking and research abilities – could have fallen into what, for many, amounts to a Grad School Trap. Continue reading

The Grad School Gospels – Part 3: Academe Can’t Be Your Everything

bullpen_gospels_dirk_hayhurstThe Grad School Gospels is a series of posts inspired by Dirk Hayhurst‘s The Bullpen Gospels. In the Bullpen Gospels, Hayhurst tells stories from his struggle to self-actualize through professional baseball. Inspired by Hayhurst and the many commonalities I noticed between the minor league track to the Majors, as he described it, and my experience in the grad school track to cognitive science professorship, I began the Grad School Gospels series.

As with Part 2 – Passion, Fear and Indifference – the present installment was inspired by a set of quotes from Hayhurst. After a few disappointing seasons Dirk was having his best season in years. His pitching coach was curious as to how Dirk had made such a turn-around. Hayhurst ventured the following explanation (my edits bolded in parentheses):

“…I (formerly) put so much stock in what it meant to be a baseball player, I became afraid to fail at it. I’d be out of a job, and out of an identity. I thought I’d lose everything without it.”

“…I wasn’t able to get to this point (i.e., his recent success) until I was okay with the idea of baseball coming to an end.”

Analogous to Dirk, I put so much stock in what it meant to be an academic. I couldn’t afford to fail at it. If I did not eventually become a professor, I too would have lost everything. Continue reading

New Rule: Only People With PhDs May Give Opinions.

This appears to be the premise of an unduly dismissive commenter responding to a recent post on homeopathy. For your enjoyment, here is what he/she had to say:

Hi Ron,

I hope you will forgive me for sounding a tad harsh here, but a trade school certificate from a tenth rate university does not qualify you to speak about scientific research, pro or con. An OT MA is science only in pretension, not in fact. Ditto for an undergrad BA in psych, albeit at a much better university. Get a good Ph.D. in a hard science, then get a few decades under your belt as a real researcher, publish in major peer reviewed journals, and perhaps you will have earned sufficient knowledge (and humility) to be able to comment intelligently. Otherwise I regret to say, it just may be possible that some of your blogging may be more about the hubris inherent in being young (29 years old) than about carefully weighed, thoughtful analysis.

So we’re all clear on the new rule, yes? Until you have earned a PhD in a hard science (i.e., bio, chem, physics) from an Ivy League school, have gotten a couple of decades of research under your belt, authored publications in major peer reviewed journals, and are much older than 29, if you have an opinion on something scientific, for heaven’s sake,

SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU ARROGANT LITTLE BASTARD!

Because of course, if you don’t meet all of those qualifications, you couldn’t possibly have done extensive research. You couldn’t possibly have thoughtfully looked at both sides. And, if you are like me, all of the following is not even close to qualifying you for any type of scientific thinking:

* Hon. B.Sc in Psychology Research and Cognitive Science with High Distinction from the University of Toronto;

* A 3.9 GPA in my MS/PhD program in Cognitive Psychology at Rutgers University – before I dropped out, having finally realized how terrible the job market is for psych profs and how tedious I found most of what I was doing to be;

* Completion of an MSc(Occupational Therapy) at the University of Western Ontario, which far from being a “10th rate university”, is among the top 15% or so of Canadian universities; furthermore, the average incoming GPA to the OT program was ~3.6/4.

* 4-5 years of experience working in labs in Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology, and Social/Personality Psychology.

* 12 full course equivalents (FCE) at the undergraduate and graduate levels in statistics, research methodology and design, and lab research. Since a typical school year contains 5 FCEs, this experience is equivalent to taking nothing but scientific methodology, statistics and lab research courses for about 2.5 school years.

* Being an intellectually curious person who regularly reads up on areas of interest.

What this commenter has demonstrated is a form of elitism. What is more, the comment exudes incredible ignorance with regard to everything it addresses. In addition to radically under-estimating pretty well everyone that has not become a tenured university professor, it radically over-estimates the value of the education and experience required to meet the commenter’s criteria.

The 50 year old PhD that our commenter has given exclusive speaking privileges to need not be dramatically more scientifically literate in a broad sense than a Masters graduate, a very keen B.Sc graduate, or an exceptionally keen person without university education but with a determined willingness to engage in years of independent study of critical thinking, scientific methodology and particular areas of research, and intellectual fellowship with other rigorously interested parties.

It really does not take nearly as long as our commenter seems to believe to become scientifically literate and informed. The 50 year old PhD’s understanding of how science works, scientific thinking, and the like, was probably for the most part about as developed as it was going to get by the time he or she was part-way through their Masters, if not earlier. In terms of developing expertise in their field, they could easily have been quite up to snuff before the completion of their PhD. Speaking from personal experience, I was able to hold my own quite well with leading scientists in my area of research – first language acquisition and related areas of cognitive development – prior to even starting my Masters at Rutgers. Most of the many years invested by mid and late career PhD scientists are spent doing the laborious, time-consuming and often tedious work that goes into doing and getting funding for good science, not in developing scientific literacy or subject matter expertise.

However, as a service to the commenter, I’ll recommend that he visits the blog of University of Toronto biochemist, Larry Moran, if he wants more credentialed views on homeopathy. Maybe while our commenter is there, he’ll notice that like many other esteemed scientists, Larry positively encourages the masses to engage with science.