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In 2022, the number of applicants for master’s degree students nationwide was 4.57 million, while the number of applicants in 2017 was 2.01 million, doubling in five years.

With the increase in the number of graduate students and the number of doctoral students, the number of doctoral students will gradually heat up, and the number of doctoral students in 2022 will exceed 130,000, and the number of doctoral students in China will reach 560,000.

“Whether to study for a doctorate” and “whether to stay in academia for a doctorate” have become hot topics.

However, it is obviously much harder to get a PhD than a Master’s degree.

How difficult it is in the end, can be glimpsed from these topics on Zhihu.

It’s like a besieged city, with a steady stream of people wanting to come in on the one hand, and a steady stream of people trying to come in on the other hand.

People outside the city believe that the doctorate is located at the “tip” of academic education and has a natural advantage when looking for a job; People in the city are bitter water, the thesis is difficult, the tutor is difficult, the topic is difficult, and it is not so easy to take academia as a profession.

So what does the academic career path look like?

If there is an insurmountable obstacle in the middle, is it a road to black, or should it be re-chosen?

The book “Modern Scientific Research Refers to the North” introduces the academic career path, hoping to help people who intend to choose scientific research as a career, find their own positioning, and make reasonable expectations and rational choices.

Broadly speaking, the academic career path can be easily divided into the following stages:

At the doctoral or postdoctoral stage (30% of the number of doctoral graduates in the same year), the main goal is to publish more high-quality papers and obtain faculty positions.

In the independent research group stage (the number of doctoral graduates in the same year accounts for 5%), the main goal is to be able to set up their own research group and ensure normal operation.

Academic leader stage (the number of doctoral graduates in the same year 1%), the main goal is that its characteristic research direction can continue to output research results.

The main goal of the discipline leader stage (0.1% of the doctoral graduates in the same year) is to obtain research resources from the state or the private sector for their own discipline.

The following table can be used to assess the Ph.D.’s performance at different stages.

If the elected academician (Chinese Academy of Sciences/Chinese Academy of Engineering) is the peak of an individual’s academic career, then the path to the peak can be glimpsed from the selection process of academicians.

What is the selection method?

Once every two years, a total of about 150 people are selected, and the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Sciences are divided into half, with an average of 75 people a year.

We assume that the number of additional academicians elected each year in a few years is still 75, because the total size of academicians of the two academies has not changed on a large scale over the years, even if you add the first level of liberal arts professors, there are only about 100 people.

At present, there are more than 60,000 doctoral graduates in the country every year, counting Shanghai Gui doctors, and the number of reasonable estimates in the same age group is about 70,000.

That is to say, among the doctoral graduates of the same grade, only about one-thousandth of the elite have the hope of becoming academician-level scholars in the future.

In addition, the number of doctoral supervisors can be used to estimate the size of the faculty, after all, every doctoral supervisor has a doctoral supervisor behind it.

So how many PhD supervisors can there be in the country?

Optimistic estimates are around 60,000, the age distribution is about 35 to 65 years old, if it is evenly distributed and 65 years old retirement is guaranteed, then 60,000 divided by 30 years, each year can produce about 2,000 senior positions, divided by about 70,000 doctoral graduates of the same age group in that year, the proportion of income is less than 3%. Even if you count those who do academic work but do not train doctors, the proportion will not exceed 5%.

The number of master’s degree graduates in China in 2015 is about 500,000, indicating that the number of master’s supervisors is at most, then 500,000 divided by 30 years, each year can produce 10,000 to 20,000 tutor positions, that is to say, about 20% of the doctoral can eventually reach the level of master’s supervisor.

This percentage is not very high, but it can be used as a career goal that most PhDs who choose to do academic work can envision.

In fact, only a quarter of the master’s supervisors can really carry out scientific research independently, the rest need to cooperate with people or attach to the large research group, and the proportion of doctoral students who have their own independent research groups in the future accounts for about 5% of their doctoral students in the same year.

In other words, most people who stay in the academic field are unable to continue to develop academically, become academic leaders and even have independent research groups.

Either the age does not meet the requirements or the family needs to be taken care of, it is normal for the doctor to stop at the deputy senior level for twenty years, which is the norm.

The ideal academic career path is only completed by one in a thousand people.

Therefore, even if you choose to do scientific research, in the end, many people will have sidelines or other work priorities, through consultation, training and other ways to achieve social value and self-worth.

Scientists who are at the forefront of their efforts to explore are certainly respectable, but when the total number of opportunities is fixed, the increase in the number of people will cause a talent spillover.

Some people may say that doing academics must have ideals, can not be so utilitarian, saying this kind of people have a considerable proportion of standing and talking without waist pain.

If you have been promoted to the level of professor or researcher, you can naturally talk to people about academic ideals. But frankly, the average time for doctoral supervisors and professors to obtain degrees today is 20 years ago, when more than 7,000 PhDs graduate in China a year, and now the number of doctoral graduates every year has increased by 10 times.

In other words, under the faculty gap at the time, the probability of a PhD graduate becoming a professor was about 50%, and if half of the graduates chose not to do academics, then those who remained would almost certainly end up becoming professors.

Even around 2010, the number of PhD graduates was about half as high as it is today, which means that the likelihood of a promotion to professor is 10 percent, which is reasonable.

But 10 years from now, if the number of Ph.D. graduates reaches 100,000, it will be nearly twice as difficult to become a professor than it is now, and the generational imbalance is very serious.

It is irresponsible to persuade people to do academics without understanding the basic situation, and the upper level of the occupational pyramid can accommodate so many people, blindly expanding the bottom almost means that a large number of PhDs will fall into an endless postdoctoral cycle to stretch the ranks.

I understand a lot of opinions about dissuading doctoral students to change careers after graduation, even if you have obtained a doctorate, the probability of setting up an independent research group in China is only 5%, about 1 in 20 people.

Considering that there are generally about 20 doctoral students in a department, if your academic level is not ranked high, you can basically reconsider your life plan. Because at this time, if you insist on choosing to do scientific research, you really need interest as a driving force, otherwise the gap with the people around you will torture yourself for decades.

And the above estimates have a serious problem, that is, a large number of use of uniform distribution, but the real situation is a very uneven distribution, academic teacher relationship and graduate institutions will make this distribution more extreme.

It should be noted that the number of domestic doctoral graduates is still rising, on the one hand, it shows that there is still room for applying for teaching positions, on the other hand, it implies that the academic employment environment for doctoral graduates will be worse in the future, and the competition will be more intense.

At the same time, the number of teaching positions will gradually stabilize, if not caught up with the new disciplines, new directions of the window period of the explosion, Ph.D. after graduation basically face such a competitive intensity, and will only be stronger not weaker.

Some research directions must be due to the decline of discipline development, at this time the direction should be turned, anyway, in the new research field everyone has no foundation.

If we look at the United States, the proportion of biomedical doctors in the United States who finally get permanent teaching positions is about 7% to 15%, and the rest of the people do not evaporate in the world, but go to the industry to do research and development (R&D), middlemen (product support, technical support, sales, scientific writing, etc.), operations (analysts, product managers, etc.), or engage in business (financing, investment, etc.), law and other related industries (patents, technology transfer, etc.). The proportion of 7% to 15% is lower than that of domestic doctors, that is to say, changing careers is a normal career choice for American doctors, and it is also an important way to send talents to society.

Chapter 8 of Modern Scientific Research Finger is devoted to career options in detail.

After graduating with a doctorate, it may also be a good thing to change careers, and it is better to dedicate your youth to the knowledge depression earlier and realize your own value.

Compared with doing scientific research in academia, doing research in the industry may be a good choice, after all, it should not be a problem to “bump” the doctorate, and it should not be a problem to do some other research.

It is necessary to make full use of the doctoral and subsequent postdoctoral stage, exercise their professional skills, and correctly evaluate themselves, expand the industry’s peer contacts through submission and participation, and master the ability to seek resources for the society to solve problems. This professional experience of knowing oneself, being “recognized” in the industry and “permitting” by the outside world is common in all walks of life.

Skills transfer and the additional employability skills needed are discussed in Chapter 8 of Modern Research Pointing North.

At the same time, if you choose the academic career path, you also need to know the probability we discussed earlier, you can not make a molecule first as the denominator, maintain a peaceful mind, convince yourself to calm down to do scientific research, enjoy it, why not? Don’t be afraid to spend your time.      

Whether it is “escaping” from academia or sticking to scientific research, it should be a choice after careful consideration, do not be coerced by the voices of the outside world, and understand that scientific research is only a part of life. As the author of the book “Modern Scientific Research Refers to the North” said in the preface:

Although this book focuses on scientific research, scientific research is only a part of life, and I hope that readers will not limit themselves to scientific research. Watch the sunrise and also go see the sunset; Up the mountains, but also down the basin; To experience the wind and rain, you can also idly watch the rainbow… Fully feel the conflict, accidents, beauty and ugliness in each process. Science is only a perspective, but man has to have a larger perspective.

“Modern Scientific Research Refers to the North” condenses the author’s precipitation and thinking of more than ten years of scientific research experience at home and abroad, covering topics such as modern scientific research status, scientific research skills, scientific research thinking, academic life, employment choices, etc., which is very suitable for students who are interested in scientific research and junior workers who are already engaged in scientific research to read and reference.

Publisher: Liu Enhui

Review: Chen Xinyi


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