Why You Should Ignore the News About the “Catastrophic” Academic Job Market

Feb 25, 2021

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

Many ProFellow.com readers and people that I mentor are pursuing a PhD or other graduate degree because they have a goal in mind of achieving a research or teaching position in academia. I fully support those goals, and I’m the mentor who is going to push you to work hard to achieve them. You should pursue your biggest aspirations and dreams. 

However, it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room – the “catastrophic” academic job market.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of news about how horrendous the academic job market is, especially now. Yet, even in the midst of this pandemic, this news is not new. I’ve seen the same articles published every year for the last two decades. Academics love to talk about how horrible the academic job market and industry is. So, if you are someone dreaming of becoming a university professor, you have probably received plenty of solicited or unsolicited advice from friends, family and colleagues that your goal of becoming a professor is unrealistic or not a good goal to have.

I am adamantly against that negative perspective.

Should I pursue my dream of becoming a professor?

First of all, I don’t want you to go into your graduate degree with blinders on. It’s important to be aware of what the academic job market is really like and what opportunities exist. We can fret over what the academic job market looks like right now, but we don’t know what the academic job market is going to look like in five to six years.

What I do know is that there are still people who will be getting tenured positions and academic research and teaching jobs, and there’s no reason why you can’t be one of those people if that is the primary career goal that you have. 

What I am going to advise to you today is to explore other career tracks while you are a graduate student – NOT because of the possibility that you won’t get the academic job that you want, but for the possibility that you might discover a career opportunity that you want even more

How to explore career tracks as a graduate student

As a graduate student, you should be asking your supervisors and professors to share with you the reality of being a professor in today’s academic industry – the opportunities, the demands, and the compensation – so you can make an informed decision about whether that’s a position you want to pursue. Too often we glorify these jobs with an outdated vision of what they once were.

Also, we know these positions remain an uphill battle for people who are minorities, older, disabled, or in other ways “non-traditional”. For ANY job you apply to, you really should be asking, does this job provide an environment that will be supportive and inclusive of who I am?

During the course of your graduate studies, you might also discover new interests, new relationships, and new professional networks that open up a world of possibilities for your career – if you are open to exploring those possibilities. I’m going to tell you that a master’s or doctoral degree will only open doors – it’s not going to close them. If you go into your graduate degree thinking that it’s going to shrink your opportunities, then you’ve already set yourself up for that disappointment. 

During the course of your graduate studies, you can investigate different interests and career tracks through the pursuit of summer fellowships, volunteer and consulting opportunities, professional networking events like talks and conferences, and in-depth coffee conversations with your supervisors, fellow students and experts in your field. Never turn down opportunities to connect with others and learn more. The world is full of abundance, and opportunities will come to those who seek them with an open mind. 

Again, this message is NOT to tell you to drop your goal of becoming a professor or an academic researcher. We need socially conscious and diverse people to fill academic leadership roles, and you should be the person in that role if that’s what you really want to do. If this is your dream, I don’t want you to be defeated by the media and the advice of gurus and mentors that tell you not to pursue those goals before you have even started your journey. That negative advice is against everything I personally believe in!

I believe that we should each pursue our own career adventure. I know from my own personal experience and from the experiences of the thousands of inspirational people that I’ve met in my career journey, that opportunities open up when you least expect them through the cultivation of your professional network and your openness to learning and experiencing new things.

If the news about the horrible academic job market is bothering you, don’t read it! Instead, find opportunities on ProFellow.com and ask questions and listen to the success stories and experiences of your fellow readers. 

Avoid student debt through fully funded graduate programs

My last piece of advice is: get your graduate degree fully funded. Period. The beauty of achieving a fully funded PhD or master’s degree is that you will finish that degree with little to no student debt. That decision alone will make it easier to pursue the many opportunities that will become available to you through your graduate studies. 

If you are seeking fully funded PhD and fully funded Master’s programs, we now have hundreds listed inside the free ProFellow database! Sign up or log in to browse and bookmark these opportunities to your ProFellow profile. We are adding many more every month!

Not getting your dream job, even after years of trying, is not a personal failure or even a failure of the higher education system. Not getting your dream job means you haven’t explored all the opportunities to do the type of work that you want to do and make the social impact that you want to achieve. 

This is where your professional network comes into play. If you see people achieving what you want to achieve, you need to be reaching out and asking them: how did you get there? Luck is hardly ever part of the equation. Simply asking these questions of the people ahead of you unlocks new information, networks, and possibilities. 

Be open-minded to the idea that you might find a fulfilling career in an unexpected place! There is an abundance of opportunities to do research and to teach and make a comfortable income doing so. It’s your responsibility to figure out the “how”. So, start dedicating your fears of the academic job market to your own positive curiosity and get the answers to the questions that you seek. 

Good luck my friends. The world of opportunity awaits you!

Sign up to use the free ProFellow database and discover hundreds of fully funded PhD programs, fully funded Master’s programs, graduate fellowships, summer fellowships, postdoctoral fellowships and professional fellowships.

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, her signature online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow 2021, all rights reserved