ISOBEL HEINTZ/THE VARSITY

Where do U of T doctoral graduates end up after donning their graduation caps and receiving their diplomas?

A study commissioned by the School of Graduate Studies and led by Professor Reinhart Reithmeier of the Department of Biochemistry sought to find out. Reithmeier and his colleagues published their findings in the peer-reviewed open-access journal PLOS One in January 2019. 

The researchers behind the 10,000 PhDs project, who first released their findings online on U of T’s website in February 2018, collected publicly-available data of U of T PhD-program graduates from the cohorts between 2000 and 2015.

Over 9,500 graduates across all disciplines were examined for information about the employment prospects of a U of T PhD graduate. The data revealed that U of T graduates are among the most employable in academia —  with 26 per cent finding a coveted tenure-track academic position after graduation. A further 25 per cent were employed in non-tenure-track appointments, including teaching-stream professors, adjunct or lecturing faculty, and post-doctoral fellowships.

Out of profiled graduates working outside the academy, making up half of the graduates, 18.3 per cent were employed in the private sector, 9.7 per cent in the public sector, almost three per cent were in charity work, and close to three per cent were self-employed.

What are tenured positions, and what are the odds of receiving one?

Tenured positions are the ‘gold star’ of academic employment: permanent appointments at a post-secondary institution that carry implications of generous funding and promotions. Tenure-track positions comprise three academic ranks: assistant, associate, and full professorships.

In Canada, assistant and non-tenured associate professors may be able to receive tenure a few years after their initial hiring, making them highly sought after.

Unfortunately, the numbers are not favourable. Statistics reveal that the likelihood of landing a tenure-track position in North America vary between 10 and 25 per cent.

While that grants less certainty than many doctoral candidates may hope for, U of T graduates are among the luckier ones. Since 26 per cent of graduates found tenure-track positions, a U of T PhD will maximize your chances of finding a career in academia.

“The number of our graduates who are currently tenure-track professors was about 200 per year, every year,” said Reithmeier to The Varsity, reflecting on the data. As the size of PhD cohorts has grown, however, the relative likelihood of tenure-track has decreased.

“Our graduates are very competitive, and they’re getting tenure-track positions in the very best schools. That absolute number [of 200] has not decreased [over time] whatsoever,” Reithmeier added.

The University of British Columbia and Stanford University are two peer institutions that similarly give their graduates an almost one-in-three shot at tenure-track.

But at U of T, the numbers vary vastly at the departmental level. Humanities and social sciences graduates enjoyed one-in-three odds of tenure-track, compared to physical and life science researchers, for whom the odds were one-in-five.

Faculty matters too. An astonishing 72 per cent of alumni from the Rotman School of Management went out to tenure-track prospects. The Factor-Inwentash School of Social Work degree trailed closely behind at 58 per cent.

What about the private sector?

After completing their PhD, U of T alumni go on to find a diverse array of jobs in the private and public sectors.

If your doctorate is in the humanities and you work in the public sector, your employers will most likely be Canadian Heritage — the federal government’s department for cultural and historical initiatives — and the City of Toronto.

Meanwhile, life science students find jobs at pharmaceutical companies like Janssen and Sanofi Pasteur. The biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry absorbs a quarter of all graduates who work in the private sector.

If you have dreams of working for Google or Apple, you might want to consult one of the graduates who make up the 17 per cent of physical science PhDs who work for Internet companies.

The study’s authors believe that U of T doctorates clearly have weight beyond the university setting. “[Graduate students] are pretty resilient,” Reithmeier said. “They’ll come across a problem… and they’ll persist, find a solution of some kind.”

“[Graduate students] are bright, motivated, hard-working, problem solvers — those are the kind of skills that [entrepreneurial companies] want today… They need those kinds of inputs.”

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