STEM Ph.D. students have declining interest in research

Being extremely curious about the world around me, I excitedly entered graduate school a decade ago to train to become a scientist. In the ten years since, I’ve completed a Ph.D. (in not one but two programs), and have had a few years under my belt as a research fellow. This decade has been great for me in terms of how much I’ve grown intellectually, but the more time I’ve spent on this path, the less enticing high-end research has become to me. The reasons for this are many, and I leave you to a tragicomical piece from a long time ago by Washington University physics professor Jonathan Katz to highlight why grad school in science might not always be your best bet.

This is why I’ve been trying to explore other options, ones that deemphasize abstract research. For instance, I love to teach. I enjoy making websites. In the next months, I am going to complete my research responsibilities for now and focus full-time on connecting these dots through my mechanics education website.

But enough about me.

Recently, a story in Inside Higher Ed pointed out that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. It summarises the results of a recent study that found that STEM doctoral students have declining interest in research:

“Scientists-in-the-making in research university graduate programs are growing less and less likely to want tenure-track jobs, and even when they do want an academic job, many of them might be more inclined toward teaching than research.

Connolly has a list of reasons: Tenure-track faculty are being asked to do more with fewer resources, there are only a few faculty members whose lives represent the work-family balance that doctoral students might aspire to, and there are fewer available tenure-track positions. The challenge is even greater for an academic couple looking for jobs, he said.”

I can recommend that you spend some time pondering this piece as well as the original study if you’re in this business. They’re enlightening, if sobering, reads.